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Best software audio volume level in Windows XP?
post Dec 15 2012, 18:37
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Hello there folks, as someone who likes music I would like to know, what is the best volume level to use on the system volume sliders in 64-bit Windows XP. My father who has some experience with sound equipment and music always taught me to set the volume on all the sliders to around 70 percent but not above that as it may cause clipping/distortion, is that true? I've read the opposite on the internet, that lowering the volume sliders in Windows XP "reduces the bit resolution" of the signal and therefore all volume sliders should always be set to 100 percent, so what is true? I have however also read that on certain onboard audio cards setting the slider to max indeed causes clipping and distortion. I have the onboard Realtek HD audio.

Thanks in advance for any good tips.
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post Dec 16 2012, 18:34
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The first thing to have in mind to answer that question is that the master volume slider works in the digital domain, and usually by the driver itself (I think the master volume on ISA-Bus soundblasters was in the card itself, but don't quote me on that).

As such, while it stays in floating point (i.e. if the audio application sends it in floating point, which isn't usual in Windows XP), no clipping occurs, but the transmission to the soundcard (and sometimes already to the driver) happens in integer, which is where digital clipping can appear.

In general, in windows, 100% volume represents "don't change the audio". (It's the rule, but there can always be a driver that doesn't follow this).
As such, you are interested in sending the signal as is, and, if anything, control the volume on the application that produces it. The master volume itself doesn't have a problem, so use it if needed. I wouldn't put the focus there when trying to avoid clipping.
(Also, what you say about "reducing the bit resolution" is a consequence of reducing the volume, but having the same SNR, because of outputting in 16bits or 24bits. It is only a problem if then you need to increase the volume on the amplifier/speakers. That increase would cause an increase of the noise floor).

Also... It is important to know where do you send the soundcard output to. If you are using an external amplifier (or some active element that has a volume control), it is generally a good idea to use that control (setting it to the desired listening volume), and sporadically use the one in windows to reduce the volume.

Addenum: I am not saying that your father is wrong. He is just applying the logic of leaving some margin to the amplifier, but on the wrong place.

This post has been edited by [JAZ]: Dec 16 2012, 18:39
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