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Sound. Chapter 1: Part 13. Overview. In this chapter, you will learn to Describe how sound works in a PC Select the appropriate sound card for a given scenario Install a sound card in a Windows system Troubleshoot problems that might arise with sound cards and speakers.

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Chapter 1: Part 13


  • In this chapter, you will learn to

    • Describe how sound works in a PC

    • Select the appropriate sound card for a given scenario

    • Install a sound card in a Windows system

    • Troubleshoot problems that might arise with sound cards and speakers

How Sound Works in a PC

Sound-Capture Basics

  • Four components for capturing and outputting sound

    • Sound card

    • Speakers

    • Microphone

    • Recording/Playback software

Sound-Capture Basics

  • Sampling—capturing sound

    • Sampling rate is measured in cycles per second (KHz)

      • Low quality (11 KHz) to high quality (192 KHz)

    • Doesn’t capture every nanosecond of sound

    • Takes samples and extrapolates, or predicts, what the data is between samples

      • Dotted line—can you connect the dots?

Sound-Capture Basics

Sampling—capturing sound

Bit depth—Number of characteristics of a particular sound (for each sample)

Amplitude (loudness)

Frequency (tone)

Timbre (qualities from different instruments)

Sound-Capture Basics

  • Waveforms are commonly sampled with either 8 or 16 bits per sample

    • 8-bit stores 28 or 256 different characteristics

    • 16-bit stores 216 or 65,536 different characteristics

  • Tracks

    • Monaural—one track

    • Stereo—two tracks

  • CD quality

    • 44.1 KHz

    • 16 bit depth

Recorded Sound Formats

  • Pulse code modulation (PCM)

    • Developed for telephone calls

    • Better known as the WAV format

    • Large files

      • Four-minute song at 44.1 KHz and 16-bit stereo is greater than 40 MB

    • Compressor/decompressor (CODEC) programs

      • Algorithms developed to compress sound files

      • MPEG-1 Layer 3 codec or MP3 is one example of a codec

Playing Sounds

  • Every sound card can play WAV files using sound player software

    • Windows Media Player comes with Windows

    • iTunes is Apple’s media program

    • Many other good sound players are available


  • Musical Instrument Digital Interface

    • MIDI file is a text file

  • Contain a series of commands that describe

    • What note to play

    • How long to play it

    • Which instruments to use

  • Tiny in size compared to WAV files

    • Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is 78 MB as a WAV file and 60 KB as a MIDI file


  • Sound cards play MIDI files using one of two technologies

  • FM synthesis

    • Strictly electronic—software says what to play

  • Wave table synthesis

    • Uses recorded sounds (WAV files) to start

    • Modifies characteristics of sounds to create amplitude, frequency, and timbre desired

    • Polyphony of card—how many instruments it can play at once (128 instruments is common)

Other File Formats

  • Over 100 sound formats

    • Table lists just a few


  • Videos typically have sound built in

    • Some common video formats are


  • Many applications (especially games) play sounds

  • Most use the standard WAV, MP3, or MIDI file formats

Streaming Media

  • Broadcast of data that is played on your computer and immediately discarded

    • Internet radio stations

    • Most popular players are

      • Windows Media Player

      • Winamp

      • Apple’s iTunes


CompTIA A+Essentials

Getting the Right Sound Card

Getting the Right Sound Card

Sound Cards

  • A sound card typically has many built-in features

    • Two separate processors (one for MIDI and one for the rest)

    • Support chips for joysticks

    • Recording capabilities

    • MIDI support

    • More

  • Can be a separate sound card

    • Often just a chip built in to the motherboard

Sound Card Differences

  • Sound cards differ in five basic areas:

    - Processor capabilities- Speaker support

    - Recording quality- Jacks

    - Extra features

  • Processor handles communication between the application, OS, and CPU

    • Low-end sound cards let your CPU do most of the work

    • Better sound cards do most of the processing, which accelerates the sound process and provides better sound quality

Sound Card Differences

  • Speaker support

    • Basic support—two speakers or headphones

    • Better sound cards support five or more speakers

    • Often have a subwoofer

    • 5.1 means 5 speakers with 1 subwoofer

  • Recording quality

    • Signal-to-noise (S/N) ratio expressed in decibels

    • Low end have S/N ratio of 30 to 50 decibels

      • Records artifacts (noise) when there is no actual noise

    • High-end cards offer a 96 to 100+ S/N ratio

Sound Card Differences

  • Jacks

    • Line In and Line Out converters enable the sound card to send and receive input and output from other devices

    • The Line In connector runs to a Line Out or Aux connector on the back of a stereo receiving system

    • Rear Out connects to the rear speakers for surround sound

    • Analog/Digital Out for external digital connections

    • Microphone & Joystick

Sound Card Connections

  • Main stereo speaker is blue

  • Line out connector is green

  • Microphone connector is pink

Sound Card Differences

  • Extra Features

    • Almost all motherboards have built-in sound

    • Extra goodies needed to entice buyers

    • Digital output to integrate PC with home entertainment system

    • DVD receiver

    • Surround-sound speaker connections

    • Breakout box adding ports to front of PC

    • More

Audio Cables

  • To play audio CDs through your sound card requires a cable from your optical drive to the sound card

    • Most optical drives come with an MPC2 audio cable for this purpose

Speaker Standards

  • Stereo

    • Left and right

  • 2.1 systems

    • Pair of speakers called satellites and a subwoofer

Dolby Digital

Supports five channels plus subwoofer (5.1)

Front right, front left, front center, rear left, rear right

Digital Theatre System (DTS)

Competing standard that also supports 5.1

Sony/Philips Digital Interface (S/PDIF)

Uses single connector for entire 5.1 system

Surround-Sound Standards

Surround-Sound Standards

  • DirectX provides applications, primarily games, with direct access to hardware

    • Offers developers easy-to-use commands

    • Easy to program sounds in the desired channel

  • DirectSound3D (DS3D)

    • Can place a sound anywhere in 3D space

    • Known as positional audio

  • Environmental audio extensions (EAX)

    • Creative Labs’ response to DS3D

Speaker Features

  • Controls

    • Volume controllers

    • On/off switch

    • Can be on speakersor on special box

  • Headphone jack

    • Some systemscan automaticallysense when plugged in

Installing a Sound Card in a Windows System

Physical Installation

  • Installs like any other PCI card

    • Plug in the card

    • Load the drivers

    • Test

  • Hardest part may be identifying where to plug in speakers

    • Refer to documentation

    • Typical stereo or 2.1 speaker system plugs into Speaker or Speaker 1 port

    • Surround-sound speakers use single S/PDIF

Physical Installation

  • Basic steps

    • Shut down your computer, unplug it, and open the case

    • Find an open PCI slot and install card

    • Connect the CD audio cable to the drive and the card

Installing Drivers

  • Let Windows install drivers

    • If necessary/desired, use CD that came with sound card

  • If installing a USB sound card

    • Follow the cardinal rule for USB drivers: Install the USB driver before the USB device

  • Verify driver is installed by checking Device Manager

  • Test

Configuration Applications

  • Most sound card configurations can be done within Windows

    • Use the Sounds and Audio Devices applet in Windows XP’s Control Panel

    • Or Sounds and Multimedia in Windows 2000

    • Five tabs

      • Volume

      • Sounds

      • Audio

      • Voice

      • Hardware

Proprietary Configuration Apps

  • Many sound cards install proprietary software

    • Adds access to other features that aren’t otherwise available

    • Autosensing—allows hardware to be plugged in using different ports and the ports adjust

      • Plug microphone into speaker port and speaker port becomes a microphone port

Installing Applications

  • Some sound cards install extra software

    • Goal is to provide user with extra free software

    • These programs aren’t needed to use any of the features

    • Intended to provide extra value for the purchase

IT Technician

CompTIA A+Technician

Troubleshooting Sound

Hardware Problems

  • Volume

    • Check physical controls

    • Check software controls

      • Windows Volume controls

  • Speakers

    • Ensure they are turned on and getting good power

    • Make sure they are plugged in

    • Check for visual indicators that a sound is playing

      • Replace speakers if blown speakers suspected

Configuration Problems

  • First place to check: Device Manager

    • Consider reinstalling driver

  • Ensure the latest device drivers are installed

    • Check the manufacturer’s Web site for updates

  • Review the Sounds and Audio Devices applet settings

Application Problems

  • First, look for an error message

    • Check the application’ssupport site

  • Second, check the sound file

    • Sound files might be corrupted

  • Last, reinstall the application

Beyond A+

  • Sound card benchmarking

    • PC performance issues may be related to your sound card

    • Analyze your sound card with RightMark 3DSound from iXBT.Com/Digit-Life

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