Household hacks: Fix home nuisances with your tech

Pigeons perched on your window? Cables cluttered? Use your tech to make your home life just a little easier.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dogbomb/  (Creative Commons)

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dogbomb/ (Creative Commons)

Blast Music Without Bugging the Neighbors

Want to rock out without knocking out the people next door? Here are a few tips that will help you improve the quality of your computer's sound without turning up the volume. (If cost is no object, on the other hand, check out "The Ultimate Home Theater.")

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1. Set up your speakers: For this step you'll need external speakers, either a 5.1 (five speakers and a subwoofer) system or a 7.1 system. Prices will vary, but you can find a brand-name 5.1 speaker setup for about $80 (such as the Logitech X 540).

Place the front center speaker directly underneath your computer screen, in front of you. Put the front left and right speakers on either side of your desk, as close to listening level (the level of your ears) as possible.

Finally, position the back left and right speakers in the back left and right corners of the room, at listening level or above. You can put the subwoofer anywhere in the room, except a corner (directly underneath your desk is ideal).

If you buy a 7.1 system, you will have two additional speakers. Place these in the middle of the room, on opposite sides, facing each other and as close to ear level as possible. You won't notice a difference between a 5.1 system and a 7.1 system unless your room is larger than 25 by 25 feet.

2. Configure your machine: To set up the sound, right-click the volume control in your taskbar and select Sounds (you can also go to Sound in the Control Panel). Click the Playback tab and find your speakers/headphones. Right-click your sound device and click Configure Speakers. If you have a 5.1 or 7.1 system, configure your speakers for 5.1 Surround or 7.1 Surround accordingly.

If you have just two speakers, you're not completely out of luck. Configure your speakers for Dual Stereo or Quadrophonic sound instead of Stereo sound, and you'll get a little more depth.

If you have a solid audio card, you can also get the illusion of surround sound with the card's preset effects--for example, Creative offers a number of "EAX Effects" that do a good job of creating the impression that you're listening to music in an amphitheater, stone hall, orchestra pit, or recital hall.

3. Splurge on some speakers: Unfortunately, if your computer lacks an optical input or stereo inputs, or a decent audio card, your surround-sound choices may be limited. You have a couple of options, though--you can purchase an adapter so that your 5.1 system will be able to plug into your computer's headphone jack, or you can splurge on surround-sound computer speakers. Bose offers a $399 2.1 speaker system that plugs into your computer via USB and uses digital processing to create the illusion of a 5.1 surround-sound system.

4. Soundproof your space: Tried all the audio tricks in the book and still not satisfied? You have a few ways to "soundproof" your space without installing extra drywall/Sheetrock. First, cover your windows with long, heavy drapes; you can also cover walls with heavy drapes, to cut down on sound bouncing.

If you have the budget for it, replacing your single-pane windows with double-pane windows will dramatically improve your sound insulation. Also, make sure your space is carpeted (at least 25 percent should be covered) and furnished.

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Sarah Jacobsson

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