Sound!

I have a vision (an aural one) of the sound for my layout. There’s background city and sea noises with spot sounds for factories, weirs, diners etc. It all adds up to about 20 different speaker locations and about 15 or more different channels.
I’ve tried CDs (a bank of 4 of them) with computer speakers. One has an annoying buzz and the others are great. I have 8 speakers playing 4 lots of sounds. Excellent but you have to press 4 play buttons and they take a lot of room.

I started to look for a more forward looking technological solution. I looked at and discarded individual mini mp3 players but they have the same issue – lots of play buttons and space.
I looked at software/hardware solutions for my laptop and eventually hit a winner. I had been looking at surround sound which has 6 or 8 channels although one is sub-audio. There are only 4 outputs for the 8 channel one but they are in stereo so that equals two speakers so you can spread the sound out along spaces (or have two weirs in different locations).

Here’s what I came up with:

Take one excellent article: http://www.sailorsgravehaunt.com/Creating%20Multichannel%20Sound.pdf

Buy 3 7.1 USB sound cards which have 8 channels each (although one channel may be low frequency although I think that may only be if you have a subwoofer and broadcast that channel as low… experimentation to come). Bargain price of £9.99!

Download loads of software:
Windows Media Encoder 9 (WME)
Windows Mono to Multichannel Wave Combiner (WavAviMux)
Audacity
Drivers for Windows 7 for sound card
Combiwave lite

and you’re off…

I followed the article to the letter but did a 6 channel test file to check it all worked. It Did! The 8 channel file didn’t though, ho hum. Eventually I found the windows instructions: (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/howto/articles/creating71audio.aspx#usingwindowsmediamonotomultichannelwavecombiner9se) and got it to work.

I created an 8 track wma file based on some fantasonics tracks that I had. Windows Media Player plays this but only one instance so I had to download Media Player Classic (which is free) to play two instances. I have found a software package (Combiwave) which will play 3 wma files and you can adjust the volume. It looks like you can change the sound card output individually but I haven’t got it to work yet.

I’ve redone the files several times as my speaker left and rights were reversed and there has been a lot to testing and to-ing and fro-ing as only half of my speakers are wired in. So far so good but it hasn’t been quick with all the encoding and combining etc.

The only downside is that I bought 3 sound cards but the driver will only run one… thankfully the internal sound card is also 7.1 so I can run two sound cards and 16 tracks. I did have problems with the subwoofer too but that seems to be an audio driver thing and when I got to the layout, the channel plays fine.

I have ended up with the following sound tracks (the sub woofer channels are still spare):

Sound Card Left Source Right Source
1.1 1 (front) Railroad Avenue City Fantasonics CD Railroad Avenue City Fantasonics CD
1.2 4 (rear) River Freesounds
1.3 2 Roundhouse Roundhouse Fantasonics CD Roundhouse Roundhouse Fantasonics CD
1.4 3 Port Port Fantasonics CD Port Port Fantasonics CD
2.1 F-OUT Kids playing Freesounds Streeters 30s Music
2.2 C/B-OUT Weir Freesounds
2.3 BS-OUT Girls laughing Freesounds Diner 50s Music
2.4 SS-OUT Factory Factories Fantasonics CD Factory Factories Fantasonics CD
I’m also thinking of running several rivers/weirs etc off one output by daisy chaining the speakers. We’ll see if that works!

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