How to Install a Sound Card
It is recommended that when you are installing a sound card, you remove all of your other hardware, such as a modem, video capture card, other miscellaneous cards and the software drivers that support them. You must leave your video card, however. Sound cards take up many of your system resources (IRQs - interrupt requests, DMAs - Direct Memory Access, and I/O Addresses - input/output, or port addresses) so they should be allowed to take all they need first. Later, after the installation, you can put in the rest of your hardware.
You must firstly read your manuals that come with the sound card. Some sound cards, especially the older ones require you to set jumper settings, including jumpers for the IRQ, and DMA settings. Some combo sound card/modems even have a jumper setting for the COM port. The standard IRQ and DMA settings for a sound card are IRQ 5 or 7 and DMA 1. If you use these settings, you are less likely to run into problems. The newer sound cards are Plug-and-Play, which means that the IRQ and DMA settings are software controlled. This means that you do not have to manually set jumper settings. Again, as with the jumper settings, you should use the sound card drivers or utilities to set the IRQ to 5 or 7 and DMA.
Remember to take anti-static precautions before handling the sound card – be sure not to touch any components on the PCB (printed circuit board).
Now that you have the jumper settings set, or you are waiting to do the Plug-and-Play settings, you can carefully, but forcefully insert the sound card into the appropriate slot (ISA or PCI depending on the card). Secure the sound card to the chassis with a screw (do not over tighten).
After you put the card in the slot, if you have a CD-ROM/DVD drive, you must hook up the audio cable. This small cable goes from the analogue audio output of the CD drive to the CD-Audio input on the sound card. If you are making the audio cable yourself, you MUST crossover two of the wires, because on the CD-Drive, the pins go Right, Ground, Ground, Left, and on the sound cards the pins go Ground, Right, Ground, Left. If you have a CD-ROM that uses an alternative interface to IDE or SCSI, you must also connect the interface cable to the card.
Once the new sound card is in place go to the BIOS menu and where applicable disable any on-board audio function. This is necessary because if the PC has an integrated audio system, then it will see this as the primary sound source and ignore all additional expansion cards. Only when the integrated sound system is disabled will the PC see the new expansion sound card.
How to Configure the Software for the Sound Card
After you have installed the hardware for the sound card, you must install the software. Typically, sound cards come with drivers and some mixing, MIDI, Waveform, and Voice Recognition software. The first thing you will need to install is the driver software. Windows '95 and later typically auto-detects your hardware when you turn on the machine.
It typically prompts you to insert either the Windows '95 or later CD-ROM or the disk that came with your sound card. Simply follow the instructions. You should also install any application software shipped with the card and connect any speakers where available.
How Does a Sound Card Work?
There are many different types of sound cards, but they all basically work the same. A sound card is used to play back digital recordings and synthesise reconstructed recordings. A sound card converts the digital data it receives into analogue data that you can use with speakers. The sound card receives basically two types of data: waveform and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). Waveform audio sounds nearly the same on all sound cards, except the newer cards which modify the waveforms to sound more realistic. Waveform audio is digitally recorded and played back, whereas MIDI, the other type is synthesised. MIDI sounds different on basically all cards, especially the cards which use wavetable synthesis. In wavetable technology, when a sound card receives MIDI data which it is to synthesise, the card instead takes preloaded waveform data (digital recordings), and changes the pitch to simulate how it should actually sound. If you have a MIDI file, which is supposed to sound like a piano, it will sound realistic on a waveform card, whereas on a regular card from which the sound is synthesised, it doesn't.
MP3 is a short form for MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group - a group of authorities that was established in 1988 to set standards for audi and video compression and transmission) Layer 3. It is the compression scheme used to transfer audio files via the internet and store in portable players and digital audio servers.
It has been the standard technology and format for compressing a sound sequence into a very small file. Different settings allow users to adjust the quality and resultant size of MP3 files (by defining bit rates and sampling - the level and capture of the original sound recording).
Widely adopted, MP3 is the most popular form of transporting audio around the World Wide Web. MP3 files can be imported into live channel for streaming. It has been effectively superseded by other sound formats such as AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) which offer better sound quality with similar bitrates, or others such as FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) which provide much higher quality sound (read CD quality) with larger file sizes, but will remain in common use due to the extent of its popularity and adoption across various platforms.
ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) drivers are used by most mid- to high-end music creation software and most high-end sound cards. ASIO drivers allow a much lower latency between devices and applications increasing performance dramatically. The driver acts as a ‘go between’ for the audio software package and the audio hardware to bypass the standard windows sound driver for much improved performance. ASIO drivers also handle musician specific data such as MIDI data, clock data and more.
Programs such as Steinbergs Cubase and Logic Audio use ASIO drivers for most mid- to high-end sound cards although it is important to check a specific sound cards’ compatibility when setting up music software.
Common problems with sound cards and how to solve them
- On some CDs, only the music can be heard but not the voices.
This is problem is basically caused by the wrong wiring in the speakers; therefore the wires of one of the speakers should be swapped before testing again.
- No sound recorded from microphone input.
The first thing to check in this case is whether or not the microphone is selected as the primary recording device, and whether or not the volume is set properly, and the microphone is compatible with the type of sound card you have. Also, some microphones contain an ON/OFF switch, which should be turned on before attempting any recording.
- Computer crashes after the installation of new sound card.
When a new sound card is installed on a computer, there is a possibility that the system would crash or lock up after the installation when you attempt to play any sound. This problem is mainly caused by the driver, but it can also be caused by the fact that sound is integrated into the system board in most computers. Therefore, when a third-party sound card is installed, it is important to make sure the integrated sound card is disabled, by changing some settings from the system’s BIOS, in order to avoid any conflicts by the 2 devices.
- No sound when playing a CD or a DVD.
This is a common sound card problem, and happens quite frequently, when you are unable to play a CD or hear sounds from the DVD, but you are still able to play sound saved on your computer’s hard disk. The first thing to troubleshoot in this case is the connection of the audio cable between the optical drive and the sound card, as this cable needs to be connected at both ends. It is also possible to install a sound card which supports multiple drives, so that if you have more than 1 optical drive in your computer, (such as a CD ROM drive and a DVD ROM drive, for example) you can still play sounds from both drives through the same sound card.
- Problems with the volume.
This is also a common sound card problem, when the sound played by the sound card has a low volume. It is possible that the sound card itself is faulty, or that this is a known issue for this particular sound card, so it is important to refer to the manufacturer of the sound card and check whether they have any known volume issues. The next step in the troubleshooting process consists of checking the speakers of the computer, as you may need to amplify the volume on the speakers to fix this issue. Usually, sound cards do not automatically amplify the sounds, so it is your task to amplify the volume using the volume control knob on the speaker unit, or the Volume Control located in the system tray in Windows.
- Unable to hear sounds from some of the speakers.
When playing sounds on a computer, the sound is sometimes not played by all the speakers. This is another common problem with sound cards, and the first thing you should check is whether or not the wiring is correct on all speakers. You might want to use the instructions manual supplied by the speakers’ manufacturer, because some speakers use complex wiring sequences and it is important to follow that to ensure the optimal performance of the speakers. You should also ensure that all the speakers are plugged in and receiving power. If the sound is still not playing from all the speakers, you should ensure that you have the right sound card configuration, as some sound cards have settings that require changing to specify the number of the speakers available.
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