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Sound Card

Sound Cards have blossomed into an array of powerful, high-fidelity sound products, capable of duplicating voice, orchestral soundtracks, and real-life sounds with uncanny realism. Not only have sound products helped the game industry to mature, but they have been instrumental in the development of multimedia technology (the integration of sound and picture), as well as Internet Web phones and other communication tools.This page is meant to provide answers to many common problems that you may run into with your sound card.


Why do I get a noticeable buzz or hum in one or both speakers?
Low-cost speakers use unshielded cables. Unfortunately, strong signals from ac cords and other signal-carrying conductors can easily induce interference in the speaker wires. Try rerouting speaker cables clear of other cables in the system. If problems persist, try using higher-quality speakers with shielded cables and enclosures. In most cases, that should resolve everyday noise problems. If the noise continues, regardless of what you do, the fault might be in the sound-board amplifier. Try moving the sound board to another bus slot away from other boards or the power supply. If that does not resolve the problem, try a new sound board.

No sound is produced by the speaker(s)
The lack of sound from a sound board can be caused by any one of a wide range of potential problems. If the sound board works with some applications, but not with others, it is likely that the problem is caused by an improperly installed or configured application. See that the offending application is set up properly (and be sure it is even capable of using the sound card). Also check that the proper sound driver files (if any) are loaded into CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC. BAT, as required. In many cases, one or two sound-related environment variables that are set in AUTOEXEC.BAT. Be sure that your startup files are configured properly.
Check your speakers next. See that they are turned on and set to a normal volume level. The speakers should be receiving adequate power and should be plugged properly into the correct output jack—if speakers have been plugged into the wrong jack, no sound will be produced. If the cable is broken or questionable, try a new set of speakers. Also see that the master volume control on the sound board is turned up most (or all) of the way.
If problems continue, a resource conflict might be occurring between the sound board and another device in the system. Examine the IRQ, DMA, and I/O settings of each device in the system. Be sure that no two devices are using the same resources. You might like to use the PC Configuration Form at the end of this book to record your settings. If problems persist, and no conflict is present, try another sound board.

CD audio will not play through the sound card
This problem can occur under both DOS and Windows. First, be sure that the sound board is actually capable of playing CD audio (older boards might not be compatible). If the sound card is playing sound files, but is not playing CD audio, check several things. First, open the PC and be sure that the CD-audio cable (a thin, 4-wire cable) is attached from the CD-ROM drive to the sound board. If this cable is broken, disconnected, or absent, CD audio will not be passed to the sound board. If the cable is intact, be sure that the CD audio player is configured properly for the sound board you are using, and check the startup files to see that any drivers and environment variables needed by CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT are available. If CD audio fails to play under Windows, be sure that an MCI (Multimedia Control Interface) CD Audio driver is included in the Drivers dialog box under Windows Control panel.

It has no MIDI output
Be sure that the file you are trying to play is a valid MIDI file (usually with a .MID extension). In most cases, you will find that the MIDI mapper under Windows is not set up properly for the sound board. Load the Windows MIDI mapper applet from the Control panel, and set it properly to accommodate your sound board.

Sound play is jerky
Choppy or jerky sound playback is typically the result of a hard drive problem—more specifically, the drive cannot read the sound file to a buffer fast enough. In most cases, the reason for this slow drive performance is excessive disk fragmentation. Under DOS, the sound file(s) might be highly fragmented. Under Windows, the permanent or temporary swap files might be highly fragmented. In either case, use a reliable DOS defragmenter, and defragment the disk thoroughly.

Regular “clicks,” “stutters,” or “hiccups” occur during the playback of speech
This might also be heard as a “garbled” sound in speech or sound effects. In virtually all cases, the system CPU is simply not fast enough to permit buffering without dropping sound data. Systems with i286 and slower i386 CPUs typically suffer with this kind of problem. This is often compounded by insufficient memory (especially under Windows), which automatically resorts to virtual memory. Because virtual memory is delivered by the hard drive and the hard drive is much slower than RAM anyway, the hard drive simply can’t provide data fast enough. Unfortunately, little can be done in this kind of situation (aside from adding RAM, upgrading the CPU, or changing the motherboard). If it is possible to shut off various sound features (i.e., music, voice, effects, etc.), try shutting down any extra sound features that you can live without. Be sure that no TSRs or other applications are running in the background.

The following error message appears: “Error: Wave device already in use when trying to play wave files while a MIDI file is playing” This problem often occurs with high-end sound boards, and it is usually the result of a device configuration problem. If “full-duplex” is turned on and you try to play a .WAV file and a MIDI file at the same time with the wavetable synthesizer selected as the MIDI playback device, an error will occur. To resolve this problem, you need to turn off the full-duplex mode:

You hear “pops” and “clicks” when recording sound under Windows
Cache is insufficient to adequately support the recording process (or cache is improperly configured). Try the following procedure to alter the way cache is allocated:

You hear “pops” and “clicks” when playing back prerecorded files under Windows
An excessive processing load is on the system, which is often caused by virtual memory and/or 32-bit access. Start by disabling virtual memory: Open the Control panel and double-click on the System icon. Select the Performance page and click on Virtual memory. Set the swap file to None and save your changes. Try the file playback again. If problems persist, try disabling 32-bit file access. If that still does not resolve the problem, try disabling 32-bit disk access.

“Pops” and “clicks” are audible on new recordings only, preexisting files sound clean
This is often caused by issues with software caching. If you are using DOS or Windows 3.1, disable SmartDrive from both CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT, then restart the computer for your changes to take effect. If problems continue (or you are using Windows 9x), an excessive processing load on the system might be caused by virtual memory or 32-bit access.

“Pops” and “clicks” occur when playing back or recording any sound file
In most cases, there is a wiring problem with the speaker system. Check all of your cabling between the sound board and speakers. If the speakers are powered by ac, be sure that the power jack is inserted properly. If the speakers are powered by battery, be sure that the batteries are fresh. Check for loose connections. If you cannot resolve the problem, try some new speakers. If the problem persists, replace the sound board.

The sound board plays back fine, but it will not record
The board probably records fine in DOS, but not in Windows. If the sound board is using 16-bit DMA transfer (typical under Windows), two DMA channels are in use. Chances are that one of those two DMA channels are conflicting with another device in the system. Determine the DMA channels being used under Windows, then check other devices for DMA conflicts. If you are using Windows 9x, check the Device manager and look for entries marked with a yellow icon.

The sound card will record, but will not playback
Assuming that the sound board and its drivers are installed and configured properly, chances are that a playback oscillator on the sound board has failed. Try replacing the sound board outright.

After the sound-board driver is loaded, Windows locks up when starting or exiting
In virtually all cases, you have a hardware conflict between the sound board and another device in the system. Be sure that the IRQs, DMA channels, and I/O port addressed used by the sound board are not used by other devices.

The microphone records at very low levels (or not at all)
Suspect that the problem is in your microphone. Most sound boards demand the use of a good-quality dynamic microphone. Also, Creative Labs and Labtec microphones are not always compatible with sound boards from other manufacturers. Try a generic dynamic microphone. If problems persist, chances are that your recording software is not configured properly for the microphone input. Try the following procedure to set up the recording application properly under Windows