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SOUNDS INTERESTING

SOUNDS UNECESSARY?

Do you really need to hear the Windows jingle at start up, and what about all of those other pings and dings? System sounds swallow up a disproportionate amount of your PC’s resources, especially during boot up, when the CPU, hard drive and memory are really busy with other, more important tasks. Unless you have an unquenchable urge to hear the Windows tune every time you switch your PC on then you might as well switch it off, and maybe save a second or two in the boot up time. While you are at it you might want to get rid of some of the other spurious noises you PC makes, by going to Sounds and Audio Devices in Control Panel. Simply highlight the event you want to silence and select ‘None’ from the drop-down menu then click OK to exit the dialogue box.

 

SOUNDING OUT YOUR PRINTER

The growing popularity of Wi-Fi and home networking means that a lot of people now share their printer amongst several users. Unless you are in the same room as the printer you have no way of knowing if the job has finished or not; Windows to the rescue. One of the available, but unused sound options is a Print Complete alert. To enable it just go to Sounds in Control Panel on the Start menu, select the Sounds tab and scroll down the list to Print Compete. Choose your sound from the Sounds drop down menu and test it by clicking the triangular ‘Play’ button. Click OK then have another look through the list for any other events that you want to assign a new sound, or change the existing one.

 

Tip-in-a-Tip. You don’t have to use the Windows default sounds. You can easily make your own, using the Sound Recorder utility and a microphone (Start > Programs > Accessories > entertainment). Just save the *.wav file in C:\Windows\media and it will show up on the list of available sounds.

 

RIPPING GOOD FACILITY

If you haven’t upgraded your Windows Media Player (WMP) for a while then you might want to think about downloading WMP 10 (free from the Microsoft website). As you may know WMP can ‘Rip’ or copy tracks from an audio CD and copy them to your PC’s hard drive. Until now it has done so using the proprietary Windows Media Audio (*.wma) format but now, in WMP 10 there’s an option to rip tracks to the hugely popular MP3 format, and there’s no need to install any third-party add-ons or plug-ins, it’s built-in.

 

Just pop in your audio CD, select the ‘Rip from CD’ when the Windows XP AutoPlay message box appears and click OK. To switch from the default wma to MP3 ripping go to Tools > Options, select the Rip Music tab then on the Rip Settings drop-down menu select MP3, set the compression level (‘Smallest’ 128kbs is fine for playback on a personal music player), choose the location where you want the files to be saved then click OK.  

 

SMALLER, SMARTER VOLUME CONTROL

When you double-click the little speaker icon in the System Tray (next to the clock display) the main Windows Volume Control panel opens but it’s quite large and blanks out a sizeable chunk of the screen. If you want to make it smaller, so you can keep it on the screen, then just click Ctrl + S and it toggles to a smaller display, and stays that way whenever it is opened. To revert back to its normal size simply hit Ctrl + S again.

 

CUSTOM TUNES

If you are bored with the cheesy tunes, ‘pings’ and ‘ta-da’ Windows sounds create your own from snippets of audio CDs, played in the CD-ROM drive. Load the CD and open the Sound Recorder by clicking on Start then Programs, Accessories and Multimedia (or Entertainment in Windows 98). Play the CD (the Audio CD player is also in Accessories > Multimedia/Entertainment), and click on the Sound Recorder red record button. You may need to adjust the level or enable the input from the CD player from Volume Control on the View menu on CD Player. Sound Recorder can also add special effects (echo, play backwards, change speed), and edit the sound (Delete Before/After on the edit menu). When you are happy with it, give it a name and save it in the Media folder in Windows. It can then be easily accessed from the Sounds utility in Control Panel and assigned to an event of your choice. Remember, no public performances if you're recording Copyright material!

 

 

CREATE YOUR OWN SOUNDS

Why not create your own sounds? All you need is a microphone; plug it into the ‘mic’ jack socket on the PC’s sound card or audio input. It should be on the back of your PC, close to the speaker plug. Find the sound recorder utility, it’s in the Multimedia folder in the Accessories directory. It’s easy to use, just like an ordinary tape recorder; full instructions are in the associated help file. When you’ve recorded your sound give it a name. From the File menu choose ‘Save As’ and put it in the Media directory in the Windows folder, then go back to the Sounds icon in Control Panel and assign it to the event of your choice.

 

SOUND CHECK

To check that your microphone is working go to Start > Programs > Accessories > Entertainment and click Sound Recorder. Click the Record button and whistle or speak into the microphone and see if the ‘oscilloscope’ display reacts.

 

Click Stop and play back the recording to confirm all is well. If it doesn’t work double click the loudspeaker icon in the System Tray (next to the clock), a microphone level slider should be displayed; set it halfway and make ‘Mute’ isn’t checked. If you can’t see the Microphone slider select Options > Properties and click the check box next to Microphone on the list of ‘Controls’.

 

 

VOLUME TIPS

You will often find that you want to change the volume of your PC’s sound system; however, the volume control is not very accessible on a standard Windows installation. Normally most users get to it via the View menu option in CD Player (Start – Programs – Accessories – Multimedia – CD Player – View – Volume Control) but there’s a quicker way, and you can have it permanently on the taskbar if you so wish.  From the Start menu click on Settings, then Control Panel and the Multimedia icon. Click on it and select the Audio tab. About halfway down there’s a small box marked Show Volume Control on the Taskbar. Check the box and it’s done. On the far left side of the taskbar you will see a small loudspeaker symbol; when you click on it a volume slider and mute switch will appear on the screen.

 

CD START MENU

If you’re in the habit of playing audio CDs on your PC it’s a good idea to put the CD Player on the Start menu.  From the Start menu click on Settings then Taskbar and select the Start Menu Programs tab. Click on the Add then Browse buttons and look for the Windows folder. Double click on it to open it up then move the horizontal slider along until the CD Player icon appears. Highlight it, click open, then next and select the Start Menu folder at the top of the file tree. To complete click next and then Finish. 

 

BETTER SPEAKERS

Your multimedia PC has a sound system that is capable of hi-fi performance but you're never going to realise anything like the full sonic potential of audio CDs and games with those speakers… The speakers supplied with most PCs have the acoustic properties of baked bean tins. If you've got a redundant hi-fi system or some half-decent speakers lying around, try connecting it to your PC and hear the difference! The soundcards used on most PCs have an amplified output and can drive speakers directly. Suitable leads are available from electrical accessory dealers. Make sure the speakers are at least a foot away from the monitor screen, otherwise the speaker magnets may cause colour staining on the display.

 

 

TAILOR YOUR SOUND

Windows 98 and ME have a little known speaker configuration utility that allows you to tailor the sound of your PC according to the size and type of speakers. Go to Start > Settings > Control Panel and select Multimedia, make sure the Audio tab is selected and click the Advanced Properties button. On the Speakers page Desktop Stereo Speakers will probably be selected, but it's surprising how many laptops have that setting too. Try some of the other options – you may have to reboot for any changes to take effect -- and the differences can be quite small but it's well worth trying. Whilst you are at it you may want to look at the Performance tab and if your PC is a relatively speedy model with a plenty of RAM, move the two sliders to the maximum setting.

 

Next, go to Add New Hardware in Control panel, double click Add, then Next, followed by No, then Next and in the Hardware Types box select Sound Video & Game Controller. Click Next again and Have Disk. Use Browse to find your copy of Speak.exe and click OK. Select Sound Driver for PC Speaker and click OK, then Finish and when prompted re-start the PC.  You will find the controls for the PC speaker in Multimedia on the Control Panel; on the Devices tab click the Audio Devices branch and Audio for Sound Driver for PC speaker and then Settings. On Windows 98 you'll find it on the Advanced tab.

 

 

SEEING SOUND

Here's a nifty freeware program that turns sounds on your PC into visual displays. Although the Sound Frequency Analyser download is only 31k this powerful little utility shows both the amplitude of sounds passing through your PC as a constantly changing waveform, and as a colourful Fourier Transform, which represents the spectrum of the frequencies contained in the sound. Even if you're not interested in the science and mathematics of sound analysis it's fascinating to watch the patterns on your PC screen. Sound Frequency Analyser is a zip file and it can be downloaded from: http://www.relisoft.com/freq.zip

 

 

SOUND CARD ANALYSER

The quality of your CD recordings is dependent to some extent on the capabilities of your PC's sound card. Sound Card Analyser is a small program the tests the performance of your PC's sound system, measuring frequency response, dynamic range, noise levels, cross talk and distortion. It's simple to use – all you have to do is connect the sound card's input to the output and click the Run Test button – and it generates a comprehensive report, complete with comments and impressive-looking graphs. Sound Card Analyser is freeware, the program's 'zip' file is quite small (454kb) and it can be downloaded from: http://chronos.cs.msu.su/~andre/alex/scan20.zip 

 

 

TALKING PC

Does your PC talk to you?  If it does, and you haven’t got Windows XP or installed a speech synthesiser program you might need help, but if it remains stubbornly mute, and you’d like it to read back your word processor documents, emails or web pages then have a look at a shareware program called TextAloud. It’s a sophisticated text to speech program and the delightful ‘Mary’ will read anything you paste into the Windows Clipboard or type into the text window. If you’d prefer to listen to another voice, or even another language there’s a good selection of free add-ons from the TextAloud website. The program file is 4.2Mb and the trial lasts for 20 days but it’s all yours for a registration fee of around £15. More details and the link to the download can be found at: http://www.nextup.com/

 

 

KEYBOARD MUTE

Here’s a useful freeware program, for anyone who listens to music on their PC and has scrabbled around with the mouse, trying to mute the sound or lower the volume when the phone rings. Global Audio Control (900kb) assigns simple keyboard shortcuts to all of your PC’s audio controls, it’s a real time-saver, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it. Suitable for Windows 9x/NT/2000 it can be found at: http://www.globalaudiocontrol.cjb.net/

 

 

WIN AMP ADD ON

This freeware program is an add-on for WinAmp, but it’s also available as a stand-alone program that works with Windows. G-Force is similar in concept to the ‘Visualisations’ in Windows Media Play 7, except that the pictures and patterns it generates – that gyrate and pulsate in time with the music -- are about a hundred times more dazzling and colourful. Be warned, it’s hypnotic, and works best on reasonably quick PCs, preferably 500MHz or faster.

G-FORCE, 2.1Mb, Windows 95/98/SE/ME/NT/2K, freeware

http://www.55ware.com/gforce/

 

 


Copyright (c) 2006 Rick Maybury Ltd.

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