BOOT CAMP 043
SOUNDING OUT YOUR PC
High quality stereo sound is a comparatively recent
innovation on the PC. Until the early 1990s the best most machines could manage
was a few bleeps and clicks during boot-up, and when things went wrong. (Much
to the amusement of Apple Mac users, who have enjoyed high quality sound since
the earliest days). The boot-up bleep from the PCs internal speaker is still
with us, it is part of the POST (power on self-test) routine which is a series
of checks conducted by the BIOS (basic input output system) program that runs
when the PC is switched on. One short bleep is good anything else is bad. For
example one long bleep or two short bleeps indicates trouble with the RAM
chips, 6 short bleeps suggests there's a problem with the keyboard processor,
and no bleeps at all means you either forgot to plug it in, or you've got a
The PC's internal speaker can be persuaded to do a lot more
that just bleep; in fact it's possible to play music and sounds through it. Needless
to say it's not very loud, and the quality isn't up to much, but it could prove
useful in an emergency, if for any reason your sound card failed, and it's a
way of giving laptops -- without a proper soundcard -- a voice of sorts. If you
would like try it out see the Tip of the Week.
The audio facilities on most Windows PCs are very poorly
explained in the instructions (if you had any…) and what little there is in Windows
manuals and Help is a bit starchy, which is why a lot of PC owners rarely stray
beyond the factory defaults. That's a pity because a few well-chosen sounds can
give your machine a real personality and help liven up otherwise dull tasks.
This week we'll have a look at the basic repertoire of sounds
stored on your PC, and how they are linked to particular 'events', such as
keystrokes, on-screen messages and programs opening or closing. Next week it's
the Boot Camp guide to soundcards, what they do and how they do it, but first, here's
a quick tip to make it easier to control the volume on your machine.
To install a volume control slider and mute button on the Taskbar
open Control Panel, click on the Multimedia icon and check the box marked 'Show
Volume Control on the Taskbar'. While you're at it it's quite useful to have
the CD Player icon on the Start menu. Click on Settings on the Start menu, select
Taskbar and the Start Menu Programs tab. Click on Add, then Browse and open the
Windows folder. Look for the CD Player icon, click on it, then the Open button,
followed by Next and select the Start Menu folder. Click Next and Finish.
All of the default sounds on your PC can be accessed from
Control Panel. Click on the Sounds icon and dialogue box appears. To hear a
particular sound click and highlight any of the names (with a little speaker
icon) in the Events window and click on the 'play' triangle in the Preview box.
Unless you've already had a fiddle you're almost certainly using the basic
Windows sound schemes, so see what you've got by scrolling through the list in the
Event and Name Windows. If you don't see titles like Jungle, Musica and Robot
then you are missing out on quite a large selection of interesting noises.
They're included on the Windows 95/98 CD-ROMs, but rarely loaded during a
normal installation. To put that right go to the Add/Remove utility in Control
Panel, select the Windows tab and check the Multimedia box.
To change an individual sound setting find and highlight the
'event' with a single mouse click then choose something new from the list that
appears when you click the drop arrow on the 'Name' field below. Click on the
new sound and test it using the Play button in Preview. When you're happy with
it click OK.
Why not have a go at creating your own exclusive sounds? It's
really easy; all you need is a microphone (if your PC doesn't have one). Almost
any sort will do but it has to be able to plug into the 'mic' socket on the back
of your PC. Check that it is working by adjusting the level slider on the main volume
control panel on the View menu on CD Player. Next, open the Sound Recorder
program, which you will find in the Multimedia or (Entertainment) folder in the
Accessories directory on the Start Menu.
Notice that the control buttons are similar to those on an
audio tape recorder; make a few test recordings by clicking on the red record
button, try the echo and speed effects for a little added interest. When you
are ready click on New and make your recording. Go to the File menu, select
Save As, give it a name (it will be automatically given a *.wav extension) and
save it in the Media folder -- along with all of your other system sounds -- which
is in the Windows directory. Now you can go back to Sound in Control Panel and
assign the new sound to the event of your choice.
This technique isn't confined to sounds that you make
yourself. You can use the Sound Recorder to 'tape' from other sources, including
a personal stereo, hi-fi system, even a VCR, all you need is an appropriate
connecting lead, from the line-audio output sockets on the source device, to
the line-audio input socket on the PC or its soundcard. This is usually a
stereo phono to 3.5mm minijack lead, but if in doubt consult your local PC or
Sound recorder has a few basic editing functions but if you
want to have some real fun and games with PC sounds then you need something a
little more sophisticated. There are literally hundred of different programs
available; a good place to start is the Internet, which is brimming with try-before-you-buy
shareware. You'll find a good selection at: http://www.passtheshareware.com/c-music.htm
A standard (of sorts) audio input and output connection -- or
set of sockets -- for linking audio and home entertainment devices together.
Random Access Memory, a set of memory microchips that the computer
and programs use to store information that needs to be accessed quickly or
Short for waveform; the extension .wav is used to signify
digital sound files used by Windows and most Windows games and applications.
To play .wav sounds and music through your PC's or laptop's built-in
loudspeaker you will need a little piece of freebie software from Microsoft called
Speak.exe. There's a chance it is already on your PC, use the Find utility on
the Start menu to check, otherwise you can download it from one of scores of Internet
web sites, or direct from Microsoft's own file library.
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.