How to Blast Music Without Bugging the Neighbors

Here are a few cheap tips to help you improve the quality of your computer's sound without turning up the volume. (If cost is no object, check out "The Ultimate Home Theater.")

Set up your speakers: You'll need external sp

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eakers, either a 5.1 system or a 7.1 system. Prices will vary, but you can find a brand-name 5.1 speaker setup for about $80 (such as the Logitech X 540).

Place the front center speaker directly underneath your computer screen, in front of you. Put the front left and right speakers on either side of your desk, as close to listening level (the level of your ears) as possible.

Finally, position the back left and right speakers in the back left and right corners of the room, at listening level or above. You can put the subwoofer anywhere in the room, except a corner (directly underneath your desk is ideal).

With a 7.1 system, you will have two additional speakers. Place these in the middle of the room, on opposite sides, facing each other and as close to ear level as possible. You won't notice a difference between 5.1 and 7.1 unless your room is larger than 25 by 25 feet.

Configure your machine: To set up the sound, right-click volume control in your taskbar and select Sounds (or go to Sound in the Control Panel). Click the Playback tab and find your speakers/headphones. Right-click your sound device and click Configure Speakers. Configure your speakers for 5.1 Surround or 7.1 Surround accordingly.

If you have just two speakers, you're not completely out of luck. Configure your speakers for Dual Stereo or Quadrophonic sound instead of Stereo sound, and you'll get a little more depth.

If you have a solid audio card, you can also get the illusion of surround sound with the card's preset effects—Creative offers a number of "EAX Effects" that do a good job of creating the impression that you're listening to music in an amphitheater, stone hall, orchestra pit, or recital hall.

Splurge on some speakers: If your computer lacks an optical input or stereo inputs, or a decent audio card, your surround-sound choices may be limited. You can purchase an adapter so that your 5.1 system will plug into your computer's headphone jack, or you can splurge on surround-sound computer speakers. Bose offers a $399 2.1 speaker system that plugs into your computer via USB and uses digital processing to create the illusion of a 5.1 surround-sound system.

Soundproof your space: You have a few ways to "soundproof" your space without installing extra drywall/Sheetrock. Cover your windows with long, heavy drapes. You can also cover walls with drapes.

If you have the budget for it, replacing your single-pane windows with double-pane windows will dramatically improve your sound insulation. Also, make sure your space is carpeted (at least 25 percent should be covered) and furnished.

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