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Chapter 25. Audio Systems

Of the five senses, most people only experience personal computers with four: touch, smell, sound, and sight. Not that computers are tasteless—although a growing body of software doesn't even aspire that high—but most people don't normally drag their tongues across the cases of their computers.

Touch is inherent in typing and pushing around a mouse or digitizer cursor.

Smell is more limited still—what you appreciate in opening the box holding your new computer or what warns you when the fan in the power supply stops, internal temperatures rise, and roasting resistors and near "inflammatory" components begin to melt.

Most interactions with computers involve sight: What you see on the monitor screen and, if you're not a touch-typist, a peek down at the keyboard. High-resolution graphics make sight perhaps the most important part of interacting with any computer—or at least the most expensive.

To really experience your computer, however, you need to get aural with it. You need an added sensual dimension—sound. In fact, top-quality sound distinguishes today's computers from previous generations (at least those modern computers meant for home use rather than as office workstations).

Today, a computer can generate sounds on its own, acting like a music synthesizer or noise generator, and it can control external devices that do the same thing through a MIDI interface. It can record or sample sounds on any standard computer medium (the hard disk being today's preferred choice) with sonic accuracy every bit as good (even better) than commercial stereo CDs. It can file all of your music and dole it out to your MP3 player. Moreover, all the sounds it makes and stores can be edited and manipulated: Tones can be stretched; voices shifted; noises combined; music mixed. It can play back all the sounds it makes and records with the same fidelity, pushing the limits of even the best stereo systems.

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