Copyright Michael Karbo, Denmark, Europe.
Chapter 16. Sound software
The architecture of a sound card and its physical design is very interesting, but without the software, it wouldn’t be worth anything at all. It is the programs that make it possible to record and play back music and sounds in all sorts of formats and variants.
In this section, I will introduce the different types of software, which can be used in connection with a sound card. There are three important types of program, which you ought to know something about:
The first two programs are a part of Windows, but are also found in many other versions.
An editor can be found on the net, for instance, in the form of the freeware program Audacity. Let us look closer at these types of programs. For this examination, it will be advantageous if you have a microphone connected to your computer – so you are able to experiment yourself. Likewise, it would be very practical to have a pair of headphones connected to the sound card’s port in order to listen to the recordings.
Figure 82. A set of cordless headphones is a good investment. There are enough cables on the desk already.
The simplest program is a player. A player is a program, which can record, decompress and decode a great number of sound (and often) video formats. The result being a digital sound signal, which is sent to a sound card and played back over the loudspeakers or headphones.
All the versions of Windows have a program, which is called Windows Media Player. This is Microsoft’s player, which is published currently in new editions. With every new version more and more compressed sound and video formats are supported.
Figure 83. Windows Media Player with one of its coloured ”skins”.
Countless numbers of skins are to be found for changing the appearance of Windows Media Player, but I prefer the classical look, you see here:
Figure 84. The classical Window’s player.
If you, for instance, put a normal music CD in your computer’s drive, then it will presumably be played back, mostly automatically with Windows Media Player. A lot of people also use it for the playing back of mp3 files, etc., which also works very well. The problem is that a Media Player (which is a part of Microsoft’s software) is heavy, big, coloured and, in the end, not particularly practical. Which is why I, personally, prefer the freeware player Winamp from the company Nullsoft, which can be fetched from www.winamp.com.
Figure 85. Winamp – a good player for your computer.
Winamp is an ”old friend” for people, who have jumped on the mp3 bandwagon; it was one of the very first mp3 players. The program is 100 % free for charge, it works, and it is fast and easy to use.
There are, without doubt, lots of other players built-in in the program in your computer. Yu will find, for example, players in such different sorts of software as:
If you want to edit the sound contents, then it is not a player you need to get hold of, but a sound editor instead. Common for all players is the fact that they have to recognise as many sound formats as possible in order to be able to play via the sound card and loudspeakers/headphones.
Figure 86. Even Windows Explorer has a little player built-in (bottom to the left).
Some sort of sound card has to be installed otherwise the player won’t work.
Figure 87. Sound formats, which most players can read.
Because sound formats are published in new formats all of the time, players like Windows Media Player and Winamp are constantly updated, so that the new formats are supported. If a compressed sound format is to be played, a codec has to be installed, which can support the format in question.
Codecs are small files that are automatically installed in a computer, when you, for example, fetch a new version of a player from the net. You can see the codecs you have in your computer in Windows System information.
Figur 88. Codecs are a part of the devices in the Windows system.
If you want to examine your own codecs, then use, for example, the Windows key+Pause. This shortcut combination will open System properties, where you find Hardware and the Device manager. Here you will find a branch called ”Sound, video and game controllers”. Double click on the branch ”Audio codecs”, and a list will appear with the installed codecs.
Figure 89. List of audio codecs in Windows..
There are codecs for both sound and video and it is a lot of bother if you want to find out, which codecs are used in certain situations. You can double click on the individual codecs to get further information about them, but that won’t make you much wiser. Read more about codecs on page 3.
Luckily, everything takes place automatically. If, for instance, Windows Media Player runs into a sound file, it cannot decode, then it attempts itself to fetch the right codec from the Internet.
Preparing for a test recording
You can record your own sound files with, for example, songs and music on your computer. As with all other things, this can be done in a primitive way or with very advanced tools.
The most primitive is the little Microsoft applet ”Sound Recorder”, which is found in the folder Accessories.
Figure 90. You can only record quite small sequences with the Windows Sound Recorder.
Sound Recorder cannot be used for real purposes, because it can only record 60 seconds at a time. But the program is very easy to use and you can quickly test it.
Figure 91.Setup for Sound Recorder.
Start by setting up the parameters for the sound quality. The standard quality is 22 kHz sampling in 8-bit mono – which doesn’t sound any good at all; there will be a lot of noise in the recording.
Select the File menu Filer à Properties, and click on the button Convert now. Then select, for instance, the best possible quality of 48 KHZ and 16 bit stereo. This set up should obviously be used every time you make a recording.
When you have selected the right quality, then you are ready to begin recording. But what are you going to record? Select the Edit menu à Audio properties. There is a dialog box with three sections. Look at Sound recording. Click on the button Volume.
The volume check box opens, which can, incidentally, also be opened with the help of the Start menu (under Accessories, Entertainment). The check box changes its appearance according to the sound card installed in the computer. The Sound Blaster card has renamed the box Recording Control:
Figure 92. Check box for setting up the sound recording. There are five channels here, corresponding to the sound card’s five channels.
This check box looks after recording (there is a corresponding box which look after playing). It is divided into a number of channels. The same five channels are seen in Figure 94. As you have maybe noted, the sound card I described earlier in the booklet has more ports than the five, which are shown in the check box. Apparently, you just cannot see them in this Windows check box. If you select menu Properties, then all the ports in the check box can be activated:
Figure 93. All the sound card’s ports can be controlled in Windows .
Here are the five sound card ports:
Figure 94. The five channels in the check box.
The check box allows you the option of selecting which channels you want to record from. Then you can regulate the volume and the balance.
Figure 95. Section of a check box for recording. You can see two of the channels. The appearance of the box is determined partly by the sound card that is installed.
When you have chosen a channel, then you are ready to record. Click on the red button at the bottom on the right:
Everything you say into the microphone will be recorded – if you have selected a microphone channel. If you have chosen Wave/mp3, then the sound, which is played via that sound system, will be recorded. Remember, that the recording can at the maximum last for 60 seconds. After that you can click on Play:
And the recording will be played through your headphones or your loudspeakers. If the recording is a great success, then you can save it. Select the menu File à Save as.
The file, of course, has to have a name, and then it can be stored in an uncompressed WAV format as pure sound data. This file can later be edited in other programs, so that you can, for example, mix it with other recordings, add effects (ambience, for example) or convert it to mp3 format.
As described, the little Windows Sound Recorder cannot be used for very much more than small tests. You will need a better recorder for proper recordings.
The Sound Blaster sound card is supplied with an excellent recorder. I am not, personally, particularly impressed with its design, but that doesn’t matter too much, because the program works well. You can record just as long as you want, and you can control exactly what it is that you want to record.
In Figure 96 I am playing a jazz melody in the little Winamp player (at the top), which I am listening to with a set of headphones. At the same time I am recording with a microphone. I can sing/hum/growl/drum to the melody and my artistic contributions will be recorded.
Figure 96. I am singing to the music, which is being recorded by the microphone, at the same time as a melody is being played.
If I should prefer to record the sound both from a CD and with the microphone, then I can select the set up ”What U Hear”. Then everything that can be heard in the headphones is recorded, irrespective of which channel it comes from.
Note, by the way, that here you can see all the sound card’s nine ports:
Figure 97. The set up ”What U Hear” is practical – all the sounds are recorded irrespective of where they come from.
A lot of the fun of working with sound recording is the effects. Modern sound cards like Audigy have a computer power, which is very powerful. Which means, among other things, that the sound card can manipulate with the sound, while you are recording.
An Audigy card uses a system, which is called EAX, and which gives unbelievable possibilities with sound manipulation. It is really designed for games, where sound can be programmed to change itself depending on which locality you are in.
If you would like to have fun with your sound recording via the microphone, then you should try activating effects. The recorder has a button, which is called EAX:
Then you can choose between the different forms of effect. And it is quite unbelievable, how fine and exciting a sound you can get out of sitting and mumbling in a microphone and then giving it ambience with one of the effects (e.g. Guitar Flanger).
You can, by the way, activate the EAX effects; so that they work regardless of which program you are using to record with. This is done by using the very practical Taskbar, which is installed at the top of the screen in Windows.
Figure 98. Very impressive sound processing with Creative’s EAX effects.
The taskbar sort of ”floats” over your Windows environment, and gives you quick access for selecting various set-ups for your sound card, EAX effect, for example. It’s really very clever.
Figure 99. Creative Taskbar.
EAX effects can also be programmed for all sorts of purposes; the various channels can be provided with different effects, etc.
There is no doubt that the EAX system is well thought out. It gives nearly unlimited possibilities for sound manipulation. The problem with this sort of adaptation is that is uses a lot of computer power. But Sound Blaster achieves it s objectives elegantly by letting all the work take place on the sound card itself. Which means that the computer’s CPU is not burdened at all
Regardless of whether you use effects in connection with sound recording or sound editing or just enjoy the sound of a new game through a set of surround sound loudspeakers, you will be delighted with the possibilities, EAX give.
Figure 100. EAX control panel.
Recording sound is fine, but you have to be able to edit it too. And by edit, I don’t just mean turning the sound up and down. You can use software to alter the contents of a sound file just like you can edit photographs by altering the image’s pixels.
There are many sound editors on the market and they can be divided as follows:
Simple editors work with “raw sound”. A program can record sound, can load the most familiar file formats, it can edit the sound and it can save the recording in the same or a different format.
Figure 101. The most well known sound formats, which all editors can handle.
When a sound file is loaded in, the program shows it as a graphic signal, which runs over a time line on the screen. In Figure 102 an mp3 file has been loaded, which I have altered a little.
Figure 102. The content of the sound file is shown graphically here (WaveStudio).
Sound can be processed in different ways like:
When you have edited the sound file, then it can be stored in a format, you choose yourself
If you don’t have access to Creative’s excellent programs, then you ought to fetch Audacity with is free of charge. Get it at the web address audacity.sourceforge.net. Audacity can work both as a sound recorder and as a sound editor. It works with several soundtracks and the sound can be processed with a number of effects.
Figure 103. Editors can both record and process sound with various effects (Audacity).
You can use a computer for hard disk recording with an Audigy sound card. This, of course, requires that the computer be placed in the same room that you play in. The alternative being the acquisition of a real hard disk recorder:
Figure 104. A freestanding hard disk recorder.
Advanced sound editing
There are other more specialised and advanced sound editing programs like, for instance, Sonic Foundry AcidDJ, which also comes with Creative’s sound card.
Figure 105. Sonic Foundry AcidDJ can ”twist and turn” the music so that the tune and tempo, etc. is changed.
AcidDJ is a program, which can extract loops (small sound sequences, that are repeated again and again) from existing sound files. These loops can be reused and arranged in new musical compositions. This is done a lot in techno music.
In the following section, we are going to look closer at the software, which accompanies Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum eX. There are, as mentioned earlier, four CDs packed with programs (see Figure 73 on page 3).
The program package consists partly of a number of programs from Creative and partly of a handful of larger program packages from other companies, which we shall be looking at in the next chapter. I have earlier mentioned the Creative programs Recorder, WaveStudio, Taskbar and the EAX control panel. But there are a lot of other goodies in the package.
You can see here some Creative’s own programs, which are all tailored for operating and controlling a sound card and all of its ports:
Figure 106. A lot of software accompanies a sound card.
The Creative Remote Center is used for programming the remote control (see Figure 72 on page3). Surround Mixer is used for setting up and testing the loudspeaker system. Input from several channels can be mixed and EAX effects can be added both during the recording and the play back.
Figure 107. Creative Surround Mixer.
Then there is the Creative MiniDisc Center. Which is used to transmit music from a computer to a MiniDisk in the best digital quality, with intervals between the tracks.
Figure 108. MiniDisc Center inserts intervals between tracks, which isn’t otherwise done during digital recording for MiniDisc.