Beginner's Guide to MIDI - page 3

MIDI topics

Improving MIDI playback: fitting a new soundcard

An internal soundcard looks like this:
An internal Soundcard

These need not be expensive: as little as £30 or less. If you or someone you know are happy to open up your computer case, then this is probably the ideal way to improve MIDI playback. I would recommend a soundcard capable of using soundfonts  such as the Creative Soundblaster Live(tm) or Audigy. Soundfonts (which use the file extension .sf2) are samples of actual instrument sounds used for playback by some hardware and software MIDI synthesizers.

Disabling the on-board audio

If you have on-board audio it is highly recommended that you disable the on-board audio before installing the new sound card. Usually, this is done within BIOS, which is the first thing you see at boot-up before Windows (or another operating system) starts. You enter the BIOS by pressing the DEL or F2 key (or some other combination) as soon as you turn on your computer. Once you are inside the BIOS menu you may need to go into every sub-menu using your computer keyboard's arrow keys until you find an option for your on-board sound, and then disable it. Exit the BIOS (saving changes), let the computer reboot, and then shut off the power before continuing.

If your computer BIOS does not have this option the motherboard (the computer's main circuit board) probably has a switch or "jumper" which can be set to disable the on-board audio. Refer to the motherboard manual for more information.

Fit the new soundcard

anti-static wrist strapWhen opening up the tower block and handling internal components there is a risk of causing damage by static electricity. To minimise the risk use an anti-static wrist strap which has a wire going from the strap to something that's earthed. A simple way is to attach the clip on the end of the wire to the computer tower block casing (see picture). The computer should be plugged in but switched off at the mains. Handle the soundcard by the edges only, and NEVER use a screwdriver with a magnetic head.

Inside the tower block there are special sockets on the computer motherboard called "expansion slots" where additional hardware components can be plugged in. To attach your new soundcard simply remove one of the covers at the back of the tower block and slot the card in place. Secure your card to the computer chassis with the screw provided. Most modern PCs running Windows 2000 or higher will automatically detect any recently installed hardware. On an older system you may have to install drivers supplied on a CD - follow the manufacturer's instructions. There will be, in all likelihood, additional software bundled with the card, including, in the case of Creative's Soundblaster Live or Audigy soundcards, a soundfont manager which will allow you to change MIDI instrument sounds.  Many soundfonts can be downloaded from the internet for free. As with all freebies, the quality varies, so be prepared to experiment.

You can also buy external soundcards which are simply plugged into a USB port. These are often used with laptop computers. 

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