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Author Topic: I don't understand relative volume on a PC at all.  (Read 3988 times)

superboyac

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I don't understand relative volume on a PC at all.
« on: October 24, 2011, 09:26:43 PM »
I've been confused by this my whole life.  I have a computer, very nice parts all around including the sound card.  Now, I play music (mp3s) in my mp3 player (foobar, winamp, etc.).  I can crank the volume all the way to max, and it's not terribly loud.  It's loud and all, but let me finish.  I go on the internet and watch a youtube video...all my computer settings are the same, mind you...and the youtube volume is at about 10% or less.  And it's as loud as the loudest song on my computer.  Furthermore, I have the Windows 7 application-specific volume control for Firefox limiting web volume to about 30% or less.  So that loud youtube sound is actually 10% of an already limited by 30%.  And anything on the web is orders of magnitude louder than whatever the equivalent sound would be on stuff playing on my computer.

I don't get this.  I'm not saying the mp3's should be louder or the web stuff should be quieter.  I just don't understand where all of this stuff is being controlled.  I would often like for my music to be louder than it is.  If I see the volume setting in my tray for Windows set almost to max (80%) that makes me want the music to be VERY loud.  I don't want max volume settings on my computer to listen to things at a comfortable volume.  Ideally, I'd like the normal volume on the master mixer to be betweeen 20-50%.  This is so that if I want it really loud, I can do that without having to crank the physical knobs on my speakers and stuff.

My question is, the web stuff is so loud relatively speaking, and it sounds fine.  That is, it doesn't seem like the computer's hardware is struggling to play that stuff.  So why can't I somehow adjust the overall volume of the mp3's and other applications to be a little more than whatever this default is?  I almost want a preamp or something.

I didn't even mention, this is all being enhanced by an SRS sound enhancing thing.  Without that, the volume would be probably half of what it is.

It seems like the web can easily play things very loud, no problem, even on 5%.  But with my other applications, to get things loud, I have to crank everything almost to max.  And what's even more confusing: I record music and things, and when I mix it, I have to usually crank things a TON just to kind of hear it.  Then, when I export it to the final format like mp3, it ends up being super loud, so I have to go back and adjust it.  I'm telling you, I have no idea where and how volume is controlled.  Playback of a recording is very quiet...and as soon as it's exported to an mp3, it's crazy loud.  How does that make sense?

Renegade

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Re: I don't understand relative volume on a PC at all.
« Reply #1 on: October 24, 2011, 11:43:52 PM »
I hear ya! It's idiotic how everything on the web is orders of magnitude louder.

Check this:

Screenshot - 2011-10-25 , 3_34_10 PM.pngI don't understand relative volume on a PC at all.

You can adjust volume there, but it won't be visible UNTIL you hit a page that plays audio... Like WTF?

Now if I open the same page:

http://www.youtube.c...aF4&feature=fvst

In Chrome...

Screenshot - 2011-10-25 , 3_37_43 PM.pngI don't understand relative volume on a PC at all.

It's there.

Do use that song for testing though as it starts soft and builds, so it won't blow your eardrums out as you have time to adjust the sound settings.

I've not looked into WHY the web absolutely must be idiotically loud, so if anyone knows, I'd love to hear. Quietly if possible. :P

For recording, check the settings of the program you're using and how you've got things mic'd. I use Samplitude, and have never had those problems. Are you normalizing the audio? Is it recording at too high or low a level? I usually aim for 95% normal (-3 dB) as that gives me some head room to play with.

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superboyac

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Re: I don't understand relative volume on a PC at all.
« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2011, 11:01:16 AM »
For recording, check the settings of the program you're using and how you've got things mic'd. I use Samplitude, and have never had those problems. Are you normalizing the audio? Is it recording at too high or low a level? I usually aim for 95% normal (-3 dB) as that gives me some head room to play with.
It's weird.  I know how to get whatever volume I'm after for a specific application.  I just have zero idea why this application needs things cranked way up, and this application needs it cranked way down.  It's all very extreme and confusing to me.  I go into my recording applications, and I get everything the way I need it to be by adjusting my physical preamps, my mic settings, the soundcard settings, the windows volume settings.  So I spend all this time balancing everything just right.  Then, I'm browsing the web, and I just have to turn everything waaaay down.  I hate having to keep going back and forth and twiddling all the knobs and settings.  I just want to find that middle ground where everything is basically in the same volume range, and if I need something a little louder or softer, I'll just use the volume control for that application.  But I can't do that because the maximum for the application is not loud enough, so I have to go start twiddling with all the other stuff again.  Then, when I go back to the other application, I have to twiddle everything back.

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Deozaan

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Re: I don't understand relative volume on a PC at all.
« Reply #3 on: October 25, 2011, 12:16:22 PM »
I've got a weird volume issue, too.

When I set my volume to 0% I can still hear it through my headphones. :huh: Consequently, I tend to keep the volume less than 10%, or else it gets too loud in these headphones.

I guess it's a known-issue with my headphones (Microsoft LifeChat LX-3000).


JavaJones

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Re: I don't understand relative volume on a PC at all.
« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2011, 04:55:39 PM »
Deo, your headset is USB, it's not terribly surprising (to me) that the volume controls don't work the same or quite right. It probably even has its own separate volume control as a separate audio device. That being said, doesn't it have in-line (on cord) controls?

Audio volume settings can indeed be quite confusing as there are many things that affect them. With Windows 7's new per-app volume control, you now have more flexibility but also potentially more confusion with volume. I'll try to break down how all this works, maybe it will help you understand, if not solve, these issues.

First, a quick run down of the major factors that could come into play:

  • Original recorded audio volume
  • Effects applied during playback (e.g. compression, normalization)
  • Individual *in-app* audio levels
  • Codec-specific audio levels and effects (e.g. AC3 decoder)
  • Sound driver levels and effects
  • Individual *Windows* audio levels (Win 7 only)
  • Main Windows volume
  • Volume of the output device (speakers, headphones)

I think the first step is to determine if there actually is a real difference *when playing the same audio file*. So maybe take an MP3, play it locally in your audio player of choice, then upload it to e.g. Amazon Music, Google Music, etc. and play it back through the browser. Is the volume different? If so, then you check all the various volume settings described above to make sure they're the same, and only then can you really be sure that somehow the browser is treating audio differently. My guess is that one of the above factors is involved.

If you care to dig deeper, read on....

Recorded sound is complicated in general. Here's a good reference from Audacity's documentation. And More info from Wikipedia. Now the reason I'm starting at such a basic level is that it's important to realize sound is not an absolute, especially recorded sound. A recording is encoding differing pressures detected by a measurement device (microphone usually) that itself has limitations on the amount of pressure it can actually detect before it breaks or faults. So basically a recorded sound ends up being from 0 (silence) to the maximum sound pressure level the recording device can handle, and that can be encoded in digital recording as say a floating point value from 0 to 1, with 1 being the maximum volume. It's not nearly as simple as that in actuality because frequency is also encoded, but we're considering volume alone here for the moment.

With that out of the way let's consider the computer-specific elements. Start with the base audio file/stream itself. The recorded range in the audio file mentioned above (0-1) is translated into actual sound by the output device - speakers, headphones - which essentially moderates the ultimate sound volume, but the absolute volume of the source still has a big effect and can have a huge impact on the relative "loudness". This is why for example TV commercials tend to be louder than TV shows, even though you're not changing the volume of your TV speakers.

So if you were to take a look at the wave form of an audio file, a normal audio segment might look something like this:



There are two wave forms because this is a stereo track (left/right). Note the scale on the left (ignore the lines across) and how there is both positive and negative measurement from a baseline of 0. Now, you can see that the audio here seldom - if ever - reaches the maximum on the scale, and likewise it's seldom at 0 either. Now imagine what happens if you amplify the recorded values in this audio file. You might get something more like:



Notice there are still some dynamics - variable highs and lows - but the overall wave form is "taller", getting closer to the max/min more of the time.

Now, here's where it hopefully starts getting interesting. A lot of audio and video players have "normalize" options which are set to on by default in some cases. Likewise a lot of audio content *sources* are normalized before they get to you. Normalizing essentially takes an audio file and adjusts the amplitude (volume) such that the maximum and minimum are within a certain range. Note that normalizing shouldn't change the *dynamics* of the audio, just its relative volume. This can make a quieter recording into one with more normal volume.

Another process that is sometimes applied dynamically in audio/video players, and even more often applied in audio processing for music and other things, is Dynamic Range Compression, and this is really where you'll hear some big changes. The intention of audio compression is to bring all the sound levels to a similar amplitude, giving you much more even volume through the recording, and removing a lot of the "dynamics". Unlike the previous wave forms with clear highs and lows, a compressed file might look something more like this:



Now compression usually removes both significant highs and significant lows, but depending on the setting it's not going to result in *louder* maximum audio levels, just more even volume. If you compress and normalize to max volume, *then* you end up with something that is uniformly loud, and about as loud as can be encoded in an audio file. Something more like this:



As I said, these are effects that are often applied to audio, both music and TV, as well as elsewhere. Now are these factors in a browser-vs-desktop-player volume difference? Obviously not if you are playing the same audio. However it's important to be aware that certain audio sources *do* have normalization and/or compression applied as a general rule. As I mentioned your audio player may also have one of these effects enabled (KMPlayer for example tends to have Normalize enabled by default for some audio types).

When you take those complexities into account, along with the original list of possible factors, you can see how complicated it can be to really figure out what the output level will be for even a specific audio file, let alone "audio in general". Since you've probably checked all the basic stuff like system volume vs. app-specific volume, I'd dig deeper into stuff like audio codec effects and whatnot. But first, as I said at the beginning, you'd want to verify that there is indeed a difference using the same exact files. If you're talking about something more like playing back a movie (encoded with e.g. AC3 or DTS audio) on your computer is quieter than playing, say, a Youtube video, well that's not at all surprising. AC3 and DTS decoders will tend to produce much quieter output and are generally intended to be fed into a multi-channel amplifier. When that output just goes through stereo speakers, it loses a lot in the translation, so to speak.

In short, it's important to know the specifics of what you're comparing and to make sure you're comparing apples to apples.

- Oshyan

Deozaan

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Re: I don't understand relative volume on a PC at all.
« Reply #5 on: October 30, 2011, 02:31:17 AM »
It probably even has its own separate volume control as a separate audio device. That being said, doesn't it have in-line (on cord) controls?

The volume buttons on the cord simply adjust Windows system volume in 3% increments. Once it gets down to 0% it doesn't go any quieter and I can still hear stuff.


JavaJones

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Re: I don't understand relative volume on a PC at all.
« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2011, 11:41:33 PM »
Ah, that would make sense it being a USB model. Does it have any separate volume controls in software, in the audio device settings or anything?

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Deozaan

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Re: I don't understand relative volume on a PC at all.
« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2011, 02:41:31 PM »
Ah, that would make sense it being a USB model. Does it have any separate volume controls in software, in the audio device settings or anything?

I tried installing the software/drivers that came with it but that just made things worse in an unrelated way. The volume problem was still there, and it made another button which usually does nothing start popping up a window telling me that button won't do anything until I install their stupid Microsoft Live Chat program. That do-nothing button is fairly large and easy to accidentally push, so I uninstalled the headphone software and now it does nothing again.

It's okay though. My keyboard has volume controls that I've gotten used to using, with an easy to access mute key for when I want the volume to truly be at 0%. :Thmbsup:


app103

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Re: I don't understand relative volume on a PC at all.
« Reply #8 on: November 03, 2011, 02:26:42 AM »
There are 3 volume controls I have to mess with to get everything just right for most uses.

On here, I set the first 2 to half volume, then mess with the controls on the actual speakers to get it right.

Screenshot - 11_3_2011 , 3_23_20 AM.png

Now, if it needs to be made louder/softer, I can mess with just the knob on my keyboard, which messes with the first control shown in the screenshot above.