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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | COMPUTER BASICS / KIM KOMANDO

Some Sound Advice for Audio Files

December 09, 1996|KIM KOMANDO

Forget your PC's humdrum beeps. How'd you like to start Windows and hear the theme to "Mission: Impossible"? Make a mistake in Windows and instead of hearing a bing or a bong, Kramer from the sitcom "Seinfeld" says, "That's peculiar."

It's simple to make your PC come alive with sounds from movies, celebrities and your very own family. Although most PCs have an internal speaker that's fine for run-of-the-mill beeps and other simple sounds, to savor fully the sound experience, you'll need a sound card and a pair of speakers.

Most home PCs sold today come with those items, but you can also invest in a multimedia upgrade kit for your existing PC (so long as it is a 386-based PC or higher; otherwise, you're probably better off buying a new PC). Look for a kit that includes an eight-speed CD-ROM drive with a 16-bit Sound Blaster-compatible sound card, stereo speakers, headphones, microphone and free CD-ROMs. Prices for multimedia upgrade kits have dropped to $200 to $300.

Whether you live by the PC's internal speaker or external speakers, the simplest way to hear sounds bellowing from your PC is to associate them with different Windows "events," such as starting and exiting. Windows comes with canned sounds, including beeps, chimes and dings.

To attach sounds to Windows events, open the control panel and double click the sound icon. In Windows 3.1, it's the icon with the ear and music notes. In Windows 95, the sound icon looks like a PC with something resembling a megaphone coming out of it.

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Here's how associating sounds works: You point and click on the system event you want to associate with a sound, then point and click on the matching sound clip to make the association happen. Simple stuff. By default, the dialogue box lists only .WAV files in the Windows directory or folder, but you can browse through other directories in search of sound clips too. Play around and have fun setting up your sounds. You can't hurt anything.

Let's say you associated sounds but didn't hear anything when you clicked the test button from within the sound icon's dialogue box. It's a common problem. First, make sure the speakers are turned on. Most PC external speakers have a power switch separate from the PC.

Next, look on the back of the right speaker and you'll see three plugs marked "Stereo input," "Output to L" and "DC power." Make sure the cable from the back of the computer's sound board is plugged into the right speaker's stereo input plug. Then make sure the left speaker is plugged into the back of the right speaker where it is marked "Output to L."

Find the volume controls for the speakers (marked "Volume" on the right speaker) and pump it up. And finally, check that power is flowing to the right speaker's DC power plug.

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If you are absolutely sure that all is connected properly, find the sound card's mixer software utilities. These utilities are usually inside their own special window, visible from the Windows 3.1 Program Manager or in the Windows 95 Programs folder. Find the master control volume and turn it up. Go back to the control panel's sound icon and click the test button. It should be working now.

If you have a sound card and speakers, you can play a .WAV file using the Windows Sound Recorder or Media Player too. Both applications are included in the Windows accessories group, but most sound cards come with their own .WAV file recorder/players. Most sound card utilities offer more options in mixing and editing sound files than those utilities included with Windows.

Recording .WAV files is easy. If the sound you want is on a music CD, pop it in your CD-ROM drive. Use your sound card's recording utility or the Windows media player to record the entire soundtrack or just parts of a song as a file.

As a guideline for evaluating the quality of sound files, 8-bit/11.025-kilohertz sampling (recording) is roughly equivalent to AM-radio quality. The 8-bit/stereo/22.05-kHz sampling is comparable to FM-radio quality, and the 16-bit/stereo/44.1-kHz sampling provides quality equivalent to that found on audio CDs. You'll probably see these options in your sound-recording utility software.

If you're technically challenged, take the easy route to getting new sounds on your PC: Download them. Commercial online services such as America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy, as well as the Internet, have tens of thousands of sound files available for downloading.

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Kim Komando is a Fox TV host, syndicated talk radio host and founder of the Komputer Klinic on America Online (keyword KOMANDO). E-mail topics you'd like covered in future columns at komando@komando.com

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