Despite numerous technological developments in recent years, sound tends to be overlooked by PC makers. And high-quality audio is nearly always the first thing to be sacrificed when a company puts together a budget desktop PC.
So it's good to know that the tiniest of tweaks can make a huge difference to your home audio setup - especially if you have surround sound. It's easy to achieve that sweet spot where Beethoven is divine and Bioshock can almost literally blow you away.
Here, we'll show you how to fine-tune your computer's audio setup.
1. Sound cards and speakers provide their own audio managers, but we'll look first to the generic tools provided with Windows Vista. To access these, double-click the Control Panel icon and select the Hardware and Sound icon in the main window. From here, click Manage Audio Devices.
2. Vista will display icons for your sound card and speakers (you'll see more than one icon if you've got both onboard sound and a sound card installed). Click the icon for the audio card, then click Properties. You'll see tabs for input and output sound levels, as well as enhancements and effects.
3. A similar set of properties exists for the speakers. Adjusting settings on the Levels tab will affect your sound system's input and output. Settings on the Enhancements tab modify audio according to environmental settings, while those on the Advanced tab control the sample rate for your devices.
4. Choose Configure from the speaker icon to adjust the surround-sound settings (if supported by your particular hardware). Rather than dual speakers and a single bass output, you can select 5.1 or 7.1 (five or seven speakers and a subwoofer). Click Next to test this setup before you apply it.
5. The audio manager supplied with your sound card will differ from model to model, but most offer similar features. You should be able to select a speaker configuration (as outlined in the previous step with Windows Control Panel) and fine-tune elements such as bass control and speaker fill.
6. You may be able to play with environmental effects, selecting ambient settings that will sound best for the room where the speakers are located. Some managers also allow the settings to be altered for individual speakers, tweaking output to find the ‘sweet spot' where sound from each converges to the best effect.