Step One - Identifying the five tiers Tier One:
that you may be considering may be the obvious: Windows Media Player, the ubiquitous: Cyberlink PowerDVD or Media Player Classic, or the less versatile but annoyingly in-your-face: Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight & BBC IPlayer in the Internet browsers.
All of these have, to a varying degree, their own indigenous settings (or not). And for the sake of commonality, they are actually the LAST place you want to tweak sound quality if you are likely to want to switch between output devices frequently. So resist for now the equalizers, wow-settings, or bass-boosts built into some of these. Indeed - start by disabling them all. Better - use a "reference application" without such enhancements for all your setting up, and later use these individual application settings as "condiments" (salt-and-pepper to taste). Tier Two:
Note that you may have installed some "extra" CODEC-based or plug-in enhancements
that either operate at DirectX level (for some but not all apps), or are introduced for specific media types (AVI, MP3, FLAC etc), or for specific applications. Try and neutralize these too, if you can. They may not be helping. For example, you can actually download and install a graphic equalizer that operates like a CODEC. If you did, then disable it for now. Also, choose a set of reference items from your media collections (one or two each from MP3, Video, FLAC, whatever) that you will consistently use for your setting up, which hopefully will help ensure CODEC consistency, or at least identify any inconsistency, during your experiments. However, if you are using Windows "out-of-the-box" and haven't installed any special CODECs, then don't worry too much about this tier. Tier Three:
The Windows 7 Mixer can usually be accessed by double-clicking the speaker icon in the notification area of the task bar. This is the main port of call when you are setting up your system under this tutorial. Familiarize yourself with how it looks when you click it whilst you are running different apps and when you have plugged in different output devices. Note that you may have to close and reopen it after physically changing (connecting or disconnecting) the output devices.
To get there, locate the speaker icon:
When clicked this will give you the Volume Control:
And from that you can open the Mixer: Tier Four:
You now have easy access to this tier, by clicking the SYSTEM SOUNDS
icon in the MIXER
applet that you have just opened. This should beget you a dialog something like the one shown below. We use this to get to the options that fundamentally set the SPEAKER arrangements at system level for each output device you connect to your PC. Note that you should try and physically connect your outputs to the same
USB ports every time, since Windows treats each USB-port and Device Driver
combination as a distinct output entity, and remembers settings for each of these.
We are specifically interested in the PLAYBACK TAB
We are still in "Tier Four" when we click one of these icons listed in this tab. We get to Tier Five by a different route (be patient). Tier Four however allows us to get at some special settings that Windows provides via its "default" driver mechanism. It allows us to specify whether our speakers have a woofer or multiple satellites (2.1, 5.1, etc). Also it defines whether or not full-range speakers are in use. If you change this here, then the "enhancements" provided by Tier Five will subtly change
and this can dramatically affect the sound quality achievable - very important if you like your bass to be either bassy or burpy.
For instance, choosing "full range" stereo speakers for a headset will later give you different options than specifying a non-existent woofer. For good headphones capable of bass, it may actually be better
to lie and say there is a (non-existent) woofer. In my system, this allows the headphones to reproduce the "air-woof" thud of a bass drum, rather than have Windows "assume" bass should not be "separately controlled". As an aid-de-memoir, think of "Full Range" being the same as "Don't Allow Me to Control Bass Separately in Tier Five". Or if your speaker farts - think of it as "Please take control of bass away from me, for I am a danger to my speaker coils!".
Click CONFIGURE to get to these speaker settings after selecting the icon representing your output device (in my case, the Headphones). Tier Five:
If you bring back the PLAYBACK TAB page you had in Tier Four, you can select the output icon and click PROPERTIES instead of CONFIGURE. This will allow you to set up the Device Driver
of your output device. This is Tier Five. For your built-in laptop speakers, this is most probably going to get you the settings dialog of your sound card. For most USB connected output devices, it will most likely be the Windows default driver dialog with the settings specifically for that particular USB-port/Output Hardware combo. In either case, there will usually be an "Enhancements" tab (or equivalent). On the default Windows driver, this allows you to set some very important quality controls: "Bass Management", "Virtual Surround", "Room Correction" and "Loudness Equalization". Note that these settings will be in effect over and above what you do in an application. So if you have maxed the bass in an app, doing it here as well is a recipe for dull farting sounds. Do it here first, after having reigned in (better still, disabled) your more enthusiastic application settings.
You will notice that for the above screen caps I have plugged in my Logitech Z305 bar, which uses the default Windows Driver. As a result, the properties page "Enhancements" tab is actually very standard. Note the aforementioned "Bass Management" option, which will provide different properties depending on whether you configured "Full Range Speakers" in Tier Four. You get at those specifics by selecting "Bass Management" and clicking settings.
Incidentally, you can also get directly to Tier Five from the Mixer - just click the icon of the output device instead of System Sounds.