Sound

dos2unix

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Most of what I'm talking about relates to any OS. ( Windows, Mac, BSD, or even ... Linux )

Most PCs come with something called an Aux output. This gets a little bit tricky.
My main PC for example, has pink, green and blue 3.5mm ( sometimes called 1/8 mini audio jack )
Auxillary ports on the back of my case, it also has another one on the top of my case. So four in all
on this computer case. The pink one is for a microphone. The green one goes out to my speakers normally.
The blue one accepts "line input". For example I could use it record music from another PC without
using a microphone. The one on the top of my case is similar to the green one on the back of my case.
I can connect PC speakers, or a headphone to that jack as well. Normally when you plug something into
the headphone jack, it disables the speaker output port on the back of my PC.

I would guess over 95% of PCs come this way, and usually stay this way. But there are other options.
Something that has become more popular over the last few years, are small desktop speakers ( usually fairly low power )
that can be plugged into one of your USB ports. Usually these do not AC power cords, as they are powered by the
USB port on your PC. I've never a set of these USB powered speakers that had a very high output. Normally less
than 5 watts.

USB speakers normally take digital input, and Auxillary port speakers are normally analog ( also spelled as analogue )
Normally all 3.5mm 1/8 inch speaker ports are analog. I've never seen one that wasn't.

In my case, I use this audio controller.
Audio device: Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. [AMD] Starship/Matisse HD Audio Controller

It's not bad. It's not great, in fact I would grade it as "average", as far as auxillary sound ports go.
This is actually a Realtek ALC1200 chipset. That supports something called 7.1 sound.

This is a great site, if you're into that kind of thing... https://www.igorslab.de/en/realtek-...-is-really-different-from-the-larger-alc1220/

I don't want to get tooooo caught up in technical specs here, but I do want to mention a few.
There are few companies that make sound cards for PCs. Probably the most well known company is
Creative Labs, who makes the Sound Blaster cards. There are internal sound cards that plug into PCIe slots, and external
cards that usually plug into a USB port ( either USB type A or USB type C ). When you look at these cards to buy them,
You will often see something like...

32-bit/384 kHz or 24-bit/256 kHz or 16-bit/192 kHz​

The higher the bits and the higher the sampling rate, the better the card ( and the more expensive ).
Most axillary analog ports only support 16bit/192kHz. So even if you are paying a site like Tidal.com money
for higher resolution audio files. You're only going to hear them with as good of quality as your PC supports.
I know there are illegal ways of getting music files and downloading them, but that isn't what this article is about.

My main point here is, even if you have $10,000 speakers, but they're getting input directly from your PC's aux port.
You're likely only going to hear 16-bit 196kHz music. Now unless you're a musician (I'm a drummer in a band )
or an audiophile, you may not be able to hear the difference. In my case, I can definitely hear the difference.

Option two is, just go from one of your USB ports to a USB speaker. If you don't mind low volume, these
are usually powered by the USB port from your computer and don't need a power cord. The sound of these
speakers can be slightly better than your aux port speakers.
An example of this would be...

Option three. These are still USB input speakers, but they are AC powered.
Some examples of these would be...

The sound quality will be noticeably better than your aux port with any of these speakers. Some can get quite loud. I found
one model that was over 400 watts.

I actually have a couple of computers that do not have a 3.5mm 1/8 inch speaker port at all on them. So USB speakers are
really my only viable option for them. (They are in a small NUC type case, and will not accept a PCIe sound card )

Option four, buy a SPDIF/Toslink adapter for your PC. As mentioned earlier these come as internal PCIe cards or external
USB boxes. They come from fairly cheap ( less than $30.00US to over $300.00US ) The higher the audio specs,the higher
the price of the card. Generally 32-bit/384kHz is about as good as your going to get. You don't have to buy the most expensive
cards to get those numbers, some of the mid-range cards are virtually as good.

Now you will get even better sound from your PC, but the downside is... you need to buy speakers that support Optical
SPDIF/Toslink input. These speakers usually cost a little more. Usually over $100.00US for a pair.

This is the setup I have. I don't actually use that sound-card I mentioned earlier, even though my motherboard came with it.

Finally option 5. HDMI output.
If you have a HDMI video card that has two video out ports ( either display port or HDMI ). You can use one of the HDMI
ports that isn't connected to your monitor for audio out. Usually the only speakers that support HDMI input are typically
soundbars for television. If you by a discrete stereo head ( Think Denon, Sony, Pioneer, etc.. ) these will usually have
an HDMI sound input port. The best sound quality you can get these days. Is via HDMI. For me, I usually can't hear
the difference between HDMI and optical, so optical is good enough for me.

I need to talk more about the actual sound files themselves, but I'm out of time tonight.
The main six that you usually see are .wav, .mp3, m4a, mkv, opus, and webm. Some support higher resolutions than others.
So even if you have the best sound system, but the audio file was encoded in 16-bit/128kHz.. you're only going to get
what the audio file was made with. Most of these sound formats support up 48000hz.

I'll add a line here to remind me to talk about Pipewire also.
 


If you're used to listening to mp3's on ear buds, the first time you hear real audiophile sound it'll blow you away.
Stand in front of a couple of 10 inch or 12 inch woofers and you can actually "feel" the bass. You won't get that
kind of sound from ear buds, not even the $300.00US ones. I often hear people sound those big speakers are
bass heavy. Well not really, that's the way the song was meant to be heard. There's a reason stage bands use big speakers.
It isn't just because they are loud. A bank of 5 or 6 inch speakers can be made to be as loud as 12 ir 14 inch speakers.
The reason is because of frequency response.

Ear buds only have one speaker driver. And it can only vibrate at one frequency at any given moment.
To get around that most studio speaker have two or three drivers. A tweeter for high ranges, a midrange speaker,
and usually a large ( 8 inch or more ) subwoofer or bass speaker. Smaller speaker can vibrate faster and support higher frequncies, bigger speakers move slower, push more air, and support lower frequncies. Having multiple drivers
( speakers ) in a single enclosure means I have three different frequencies ( the cymbals, the guitar and the bass for example )
all playing at the same millisecond. Single speaker earbuds can't do that.

Human ears are amazing, they can usually hear any sounds from 20Hz to 20kHz. Some people can go a little above
or below that, but as a rule, you want to sound file that is encoded to at least these specifications.

This is how I convert a opus file to a mp3 file for example.

ffmpeg -i 'Love Will Find A Way 1978 .opus' -vn -ar 48000 -ac 2 -b:a 256k Love_Will_Find_A_Way.mp3

The -vn means get rid of any video if this is a video file. The -ar means take frequencies up to 48000Hz.
The -ac 2 mean make a stereo file with 2 channels. The -b:a 256k, means encode this file with 256bits
per sample.

No sense in making the file support higher values if my audio equipment doesn't support it.

I mentioned earlier that HDMI supported the highest music resolution, and so it does. However if
you are sending HDMI directly from your video card, it'll send the video information along with it.
The HDMI spec requires video encoding up to certain resolutions. There are splitters that can deal
with this, but usually it isn't a problem.

Next: what's the different between 2.0, 2.1, 5.1, 7.1 and 9.1 speaker systems?
 
When you to buy a set of speakers, you will usually see something that says 2.0, 2.1, 5.1, 7.1, or 9.1 on the box or display.
2.0 simply means it's just two speakers. Usually just a left and right stereo pair.
2.1 adds a subwoofer. Almost always when you see X.1, the 1 means there is a subwoofer.
I have rarely seen 4.0, this two front speakers, and two rear stereo speaker.
5.1 is like 4.0 but adds a center speaker, and a subwoofer. The front number is usually the number of satellite
speakers. Now why have so many speakers? If you're listening to music, most music is simply two channel stereo.
However many of the newer video games support 5.1 or even 7.1. That way it sounds like something is happening
in front of you, or behind you, close to your right side, and so on. If you have the right speaker, sound card, video game
combination, you can use something called "scout mode". You can hear the foot steps of the bad guys in the room
next to you. This can actually help you in a game. If you're watching a movie of television it's the same idea.
The bad guys are in front of you or behind you and a little to the left. This is also called surround sound. Most
blu-ray movies made to support surround sound. I'm not really a gamer, so I use a 2.1 setup. My personal opinion
is that 7.1 or 9.1 is probably overkill in most cases. ( I admit I have 7.1 on my main home theatre set up ).
Some speakers ( it seems usually sound bars ) have the ability to simulate surround sound, but in my opinion
it usually doesn't sound quite as good as the real thing.

The other thing you want to pay attention to here is, are the speakers "near field". Near field means the speaker sound good
up close. Usually less than 4 feet away. ( 1.3 meters ) If you go across the room, you can still hear them, but they won't
sound nearly as good. If you're sitting at your PC this is usually all you need anyway.

The most important things to look for in a set of speakers are.... linear response, frequency response, dynamic range,
loudness can be important to some people, and the type of connectivity.

Some cheap speakers, have good high frequencies, but bad low frequencies, and some are the other way around good lows,
but terrible highs. I mentioned earlier to human ear can usually hear 20Hz to 20kHz. Some cheap speakers I have seen,
go from 500Hz to 14kHz. Obviously these won't give very good highs or lows. You want something that has a good frequency spread. But you want to it have good response across all ranges, lows, mids and highs. Some speakers can be bass-heavy. Some speakers can be too bright. Sometimes you just have to find what sounds good to you ( and you can afford ).

Almost all PC speakers have built-in amplifiers. Usually these are two types. Class D or Class A/B. If you only care about loudness and volume. Class D is the way to go. You get the most bang for your buck with these. They usually sound "pretty good". Class B are more accurate, but only about 40% efficient as class D. Loudness vs accuracy, there's always a trade off.
Class A/B add some efficiency, they will usually get you in the 60-70% efficiency range.

How many watts does the amplifier have? This is usually what people who are buying speakers base everything on.
But as mentioned above, a class D speaker with lower wattage, will be louder than than a class A/B with the same wattage.

Dynamic range can be important, something you want soft, barely audible sounds. But you might also want to hear the loud
gun shots, explosions, car crashes, etc... you don't want to constantly be fiddling with the volume, turning it up and turning it down. This is called dynamic rangle. How soft and loud you can hear without changing the volume.

Be careful with high wattage speakers. Some speakers say they have -120db loudness. That's almost a jet engine 10 ten feet away. Or being in the front row of a rock concert. Take care of your ears. You may need them when you get older.

Finally what are you connecting these speakers to? Some speakers have aux ports, some have USB (usually USB-b) input,
and some have SPDIF/Toslink. Yet others are HDMI. I still see a lot of speakers with Coaxial, or RCA stereo connectors.
Some speakers support two or three of these. But some speakers only support one type of connector. Nothing's worse than buying a $500 set of speakers, just to get home and find out that won't connect to your system.
 
Let's see, this website is about Linux I think. We should probably mention some Linux stuff here.
Linux has had a number of different sound handling methods. pulseaudio, alsa, jack and jack2,
and last but not least pipewire. ( not to mention wireplumber ). Most distro's have switched over
to pipewire. It only makes sense. It's technical specifications are beyond any of the others, and it's
compatible with almost everything. If you're using Linux for serious audio production, it only makes sense
to use a distro that has pipewire.

I mentioned using the output from your second HDMI of your video card. This has pros and cons in Linux.
The sound really is better ( if your speakers take that kind of input ). But it can cause problems with the display.
When you turn on your sound bar, and the computer realize there is a digital speaker connected, the monitor
flashes on a off a couple of times while the computer and speakers say hello to each other.

Also, my soundbar turns itself off after a period of time. A few minutes after the screen saver pops on, the speakers turn themselves off. I suppose that's the green energy efficient way to do it. But it's hassle having to manually turn my
speakers on again every time I want to hear something on my PC.

One way to get around this, ( if you're rich like @KGIII ) is to get two video cards. Have one for video,
and one for sound. However this causes other problems. Let's say you're usung a nice nVidia 3070 or 4090.
Well that's great for your video. But those cards really don't any better audio sound than a cheap card costing
1/5th as much. You don't need an expensive Video card for good sound. But here's another problem, if I have two nVidia cards that are too far apart, say a 4090 and 960 for example. Then I need two different versions of nVidia video drivers installed.
How does the computer know which version to use for which video card? To get around this, some people use AMD Radeons for the sound, and nVidia for the graphics ( or vice-versa if you like ).

I realize this is an expensive option, having a video card for nothing but sound, but it does keep your monitor from
playing musical chairs with your speakers. :)

Hopefully all this is more helpful than confusing.
 
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Two last things I will talk about here.

Adapters. I have a friend, I have nick-named Mr. Adapter. He has adapters for everything.
USB to aux, aux to PCA. SPDIF to aux. You name it, he probably has it. When connecting speakers.
The less adapters, the better. Obviously is you from HDMI back down to Aux. You lose all the fidelity
that you had using HDMI. The other thing is that something long cables can cause signal loss.
I've had situations where the speakers sounded good and loud when using a 5 foot cable. But sounded pretty bad when using a 15 foot cable. It's also been my experience that more adapters equal more hiss and static. It's great that you
spent more money to buy a shielded pair of cables. But now that you put an adapter in the middle, there's no shielding
around that connection, so usually it will cause hiss or static, or both.

Bluetooth. More and more PC speakers want you to use bluetooth. Bluetooth is great, you get pretty good digital sound
from them, and the big upside is, you don't need cables stretched all over your house.

But bluetooth is a confusing subject all on it's own. Even if you're talking about other things besides speakers. ( Bluetooth keyboard and mice for example ) The standards are all over the place, bluetooth classic, bluetooth low energy, bluetooth mesh, and all the generations of bluetooth. Bluetooth 3.0, 3.1, 4.0, 4.1, 5.0, 5.2. It's enough to drive you crazy.
Keep in mind even you buy some nice Bluetooth 5.2 speakers, but your computer only support Bluetooth 3.0 guess
what you're going to connect at. Bluetooth 3.

I do not use Bluetooth speakers in my house at all. For 2 reasons.
1. Latency!!! Bluetooth speakers are always a few milliseconds ( sometimes up to about a 4th of a second )
behind what your computer is doing. This means you're already dead by the time you hear the gunshot or the guy sneaking up behind you.

If you're only listening to music, then the latency really doesn't matter too much. But if you're watching a movie, the movement of people's mouth's when they speak can be out of sync with your speakers. There is a bluetooth standard that helps with called
aptx. It means "low latency" bluetooth. But it's been my experience that even aptx still has at least some latency.
It's definitely better, and for movies and video games it might good enough.

But if you're a drummer in a band, using bluetooth speakers, that means you're a 4th of a second are so out of sync with the rest of the band. That's really bad news for a drummer who's keeping the beat for everyone.

2. Saturation of radio waves. These days we have wifi, bluetooth, cell tower signals, FM radio, AM radio, Sirius Satellite radio.
Short wave, CD radio, police radio, military radio, etc.... No one really understands the long term health effects of all these
things yet. I figure the less radio waves I have bouncing around my house. The better.

I have found the bluetooth on my computer to be a little flaky and unstable. It works in Windows OK, but not as good in Linux.
Maybe it's just my bluetooth chipset, maybe it's the distro I use and the drivers it supports. I don't know. But it even caused
a few system crashes in the past. Maybe it's better now, I haven't really tried in a year or two.
 
If you're used to listening to mp3's on ear buds, the first time you hear real audiophile sound it'll blow you away.
Stand in front of a couple of 10 inch or 12 inch woofers and you can actually "feel" the bass. You won't get that
kind of sound from ear buds, not even the $300.00US ones.
I agree with many of your points. The problem is that where I live, there are many people who know this very well, but don't understand to be polite with their neighbors about it. They are less than one kilometer radiuses away, and they play the music too loud to be reasonable, and risk hearing loss. This is often abused, playing bad danceable music. No more discotheques, each person has it right at his/her own house or apartment. (sigh)

Moreover this sounds even worse from a car. The whole darned car buzzing with that bass-heavy stuff.

So I don't care about audiophile sound. Give my my cheap ear buds. I hate MP3 format. I wish I could get out of such a trashy lossless format and stay on OGG Vorbis but I have two Chinese portable speakers that would only recognize MP3, WAV or WMA. I used to have a pocket Sandisk media player that recognized OGG Vorbis but that was many years ago. It had poor battery life between charges.

I have found Opus isn't significantly better than Vorbis for the same bit rate and for my purposes, it was wasted energy inventing that format.

BTW I'm a music hobbyist into "glitchtronica". I used to like stuff which was more extreme but not any longer. I emphasize a lot of stuff from Europe in particular from the mid-1990's. Also I like ambient, like with drones and interesting experimental manipulations. I also like chiptunes but those that are quirky and have an "infectious vibe", not the ones that just use that loud boring pulse wave (this is about 50% of the tracks I picked up from The Mod Archive). Oh yeah I do like music with bass but must be more creative about it, whether it's trap, trip-hop, dub, dubstep, drum-n-bass and stuff like that. Always interested in what could be done with computer programs like Csound, MAX/MSP, Super Collider, modular software like Cardinal/VCV Rack, music trackers and more. :)
 
I agree with many of your points. The problem is that where I live, there are many people who know this very well, but don't understand to be polite with their neighbors about it. They are less than one kilometer radiuses away, and they play the music too loud to be reasonable, and risk hearing loss. This is often abused, playing bad danceable music. No more discotheques, each person has it right at his/her own house or apartment. (sigh)

I agree, but there is definitely another trade off here. Big speakers can be too loud, but even some ear buds can be pretty loud.

I have tried the beats and the anker earbuds. They are definitely loud enough to hurt your ears.
But with earbuds, you get to pick what you want to hear. There are pros and cons to that as well.
If you have a neighbor with loud speakers, they can be rude and force everyone close to them to hear what
they are listening too. I'm lucky, I live out in the country on a dirt road, nearest neighbor is about a kilometer
( 2/3 mile ) away.

On the other hand ( at the risk of stepping on toes here, but what else is new ).
Some people use earbuds as a shield to lock people out. You can't talk to them. If you wave your hands at them
and motion that you want to talk to them, they motion back and say they are listening to music. That's equally as
rude having large speakers that are too loud.

I have also seen people ( usually younger people in their teens or twenties ) with earbuds on while driving.
This is very dangerous and illegal in some states here in the US. You can't hear emergency vehicles like Police
cars, ambulances or fire trucks behind you. You can't hear motorcycles beside you. A number of accidents have been
caused by people wearing earbuds ( or even headphones ) while driving.

Moreover this sounds even worse from a car. The whole darned car buzzing with that bass-heavy stuff.

LOL, don't get me started. I don't know all the reasons for this, it seems to be a popular culture thing, at least here
in the US. My guess is that a lot of it has to do with budget, ignorance, and ... well, just generations ( more about that in a minute )

I'm an old guy. I have kids in their 40's. Grand-kids who are teenagers. But I remember being a teenager once.
My parents said my music was too loud, and they couldn't understand the words, and it was too fast, and....
You get the idea. Now that I'm an old guy. I feel the same way about the next generation of music. :)

Putting a thousand watt amp in a small Toyota or Honda ( or any can really ) is just as bad playing your home speakers too loud.
It forces all the cars within a hundred feet of you to listen to whatever your listening to. The main difference is, usually these are paired with cheap factory speakers that can't handle that much power. So it sounds like.. ( well I won't type that word here )
but hey, at least it's loud. Speaker enclosures have a lot too do with sound. The right size, shape, porting, etc...
In a small car, your car is effectively your spear enclosure. Putting those trash can lid speakers in your trunk may be cool
and loud, but they will sound like trash. Not to mention what it's doing to your ears.

That's not to say there's aren't professionals who can't do this right. But then we are back to budget constraints.
It's pretty easy to spend over $10,000.00 (US) on a car audio system. Most younger people don't have that kind of
money ( even many of us old folks don't ) so people do they best they can with what they've got.

So now that I've offended all the young people on here, hey it's not that bad. I was young once too. I was listening
to loud music once too. One day you'll look back at all those rude youngsters with their music playing too darn loud. :)
 
I've drifted a ways away from Linux here I think, but cell phones, well Android is "kind of" Linux
right? OK, I might be stretching it. I have a fairly high end cell phone. If you read the specs on
it, it has a fast processor, plenty of RAM, a great camera, supports 5G, so what's the problem?

Well much like PCs, cell phones tend to skimp a little when it comes to sound.


Stereo speakers
  • Surround sound with Dolby Atmos technology (Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus included.)

Ultra high quality audio playback
  • UHQ 32-bit & DSD64/128 support
  • PCM: Up to 32 bits, DSD: DSD64/128

Audio playback format
  • MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, MIDI, XMF, MXMF, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA, APE, DSF, DFF

The 32 bit encoding part is good. But the 128kHz sampling? Really? For a $1200.00 phone ( new )
There are ways around this as well.


You would think the Apple iPhone would be better, but it isn't.
 
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