What Can Be Done About Laptop Audio Volume Levels?
June 5, 2007 3:12 PM   Subscribe

My laptop audio is so bad (low volume) that when I try to watch a movie, I literally cannot hear what is being said unless I am right on top of the laptop. I have tried all the software tricks to increase the volume, but it's still very low. It's AC97 onboard audio and tinny speakers so I don't expect great full heavy-bass audio - but I'd like to at least hear it! The only solution now is to carry along a couple of powered speakers, but that greatly increases the bulk when traveling. Would adding a PCMIA audio card help at all with the volume issue? Any ideas would be appreciated!
posted by Gerard Sorme to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by YoBananaBoy at 3:14 PM on June 5, 2007

Any soundcard you add will need some kind of external speakers or headphones; you can't, to my best knowledge, connect the outs from any soundcard to your internal laptop speakers.

If you don't mind headphones or earbuds, you could try those in your headphone port. If it's still too quiet, you could try adding a Turtle Beach Audio Advantage SRM (rebranded version of the Audio Advantage Roadie, same hardware), which is a pretty decent little USB soundcard. It's a little smaller than a pack of cards.
posted by Malor at 3:16 PM on June 5, 2007

No, headphones do nothing to increase the volume. Using headphones, I just have low audio - in the headphones.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 3:17 PM on June 5, 2007

A PCMCIA or USB or whatever sound card will at least be loud enough with headphones.
posted by aubilenon at 3:21 PM on June 5, 2007

Malor and aubilenon, Thanks for the responses. That's one thing I was wondering, if a PCMCIA or USB soundcard would help with volume using headphones. I don't mind using earbuds or headphones if it would give me the volume.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 3:24 PM on June 5, 2007

Sorry, I meant to add, any suggestions for a particular brand/model/whatever?
posted by Gerard Sorme at 3:25 PM on June 5, 2007

My laptop had really low volume while watching DVDs, and I found that the trick was to go into the equalizer on the system tray, click to turn on the equalizer, and raise all the various levels to maximum. This boosted the volume to an acceptable level.
posted by dcjd at 3:31 PM on June 5, 2007

You could get a headphone amplifier, then connect it between the laptop headphone jack and the headphones.
posted by box at 3:45 PM on June 5, 2007

Is it possible that the dvd is defaulting to 5.1 audio? I've noticed that when I play 5.1 dvd's in vlc, I can't really hear anything until I switch it to stereo.
posted by starscream at 4:04 PM on June 5, 2007

You mention that you've tried all the software tricks, but here are a few just in case you've missed them. Volume on a PC is controlled in a million places and sometimes you need to adjust them all.

-Control Panel, Volume Control
-Control Panel, Volume Control, Advance (make sure master, wave, cd, etc. are up)
-Volume control in system tray, if available
-Laptop function-key volume (mine is Fn+F10-12, my wife's is Fn+PgUP / PgDn)
-Control Panel, "Multimedia / speaker" profile setup thing
-Volume control in media players -- open up all of the media player programs on your computer and turn their volumes up -- sometimes their volumes "stick"
-And obviously, look for any physical buttons/knobs/dials on the outside of the machine.

Again, sorry to be redundant if you've tried all of these things.

Otherwise, a PCMCIA card would be a good idea. There are some excellent USB sound cards but they're annoying if you're portable--just another thing to carry around and plug in, they dangle when you move the PC, the wires snag on things, etc.. It's no fun to have to go into your laptop case and plug in an accessory just to listen to some music.

I have an Echo Indigo (PCMCIA) which is excellent. It only sticks out about 1/2" from my laptop so I can leave it in permanently (it doesn't block any inputs, snag in my laptop case, or add noticeably to my computer's footprint or weight). It has a volume dial built in so I don't have to fumble with a mouse or function keys.

You will need headphones or portable speakers though. I have a $30 pair of Sony earbuds that I keep permanently plugged in and tied up neatly with a Sumajin thingy. When I put my computer away I just wrap them up and leave them attached, they're compact enough that they don't get in the way of anything.

I think SoundBlaster has an inexpensive PCMCIA card too, but I don't know much about it.

Good luck.
posted by Alabaster at 4:11 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

if you're looking for a new sound card to resolve this, try griffin's superb and cheap USB iMic
posted by ascullion at 4:12 PM on June 5, 2007

This is what worked for me on a laptop with crappy audio:

Use Media Player Classic to play the videos. Run it. Goto View > Options. Under Filter click on Audio Decoder. Raise the Boost bar to a comfortable level. (or perhaps enable normalize)

Failing that, they make USB headphones with a little inline soundcard in them. Very little extra bulk.

Seconding making sure you're set to stereo.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:15 PM on June 5, 2007

It might not be directly related, but I had a problem with some mp3 ringtones on my motorola razr, where it was almost impossible to make out what was coming out of the speaker. I ran the ringtones through the high-pass filter in audacity, and now I (and everyone else) can hear my annoying music. My guess is that a strong bass end of the signal, combined with the no doubt horrendous low-frequency response was overwhelming the speaker.

So I guess my recommendation is to lower the bass end on your eq and raise the treble. or if your viewer allows, run through a high- or band-pass filter and tweak until acceptable.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 4:21 PM on June 5, 2007

I think the most important question, is does this happen all across the system, or just when you are trying to listen to media. When you start up, do you hear the windows login wav? What about when you empty the recycling bin? Do you hear that? When did this start happening? Ever since you have had it, or recently? What model computer do you have? There may be other people with the same issue, so if we had the model, we could look.

Lots of people have good advice for you that will probably even work, but with more information we may be able to fix this without $pending money.

I am really leaning towards a system settings or a manufacturer's issue, so I would definitely try Alabaster's suggestions.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 5:22 PM on June 5, 2007

Starscream has it. I had this problem with a TON movies within VLC. Switching to stereo usually does the trick, but I think VLC has a "gain" hidden away somewhere that you can use to amplify it.

I'm assuming that everything else plays fine for music files and such - Is that the case?
posted by MysticMCJ at 7:23 AM on June 6, 2007

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