Because many computer functions are indicated by sounds that every user recognizes, such as the Windows logon chime, sound files play an important role today. Windows XP depends a great deal on two sound file types in particular, MIDI and WAV. When these sound files won't play back, it's often difficult to tell whether the problem is related to the PC hardware or to drivers. Here are a few troubleshooting steps you can add to your repertoire to help you identify the type of problem and correct it.
MIDI playback problems
If a user is having trouble playing back MIDI files in Windows XP, first verify the problem isn’t just with one particular file. Open a MIDI file that you know works. For example, a standard Microsoft Windows MIDI file such as \WINDOWS\MEDIA\CANYON.MID would be a good candidate since it comes with the OS. This file also makes a good file to check because it takes some time to play back, giving you time to test the file for playback issues. Click on the CANYON.MID file, and Windows Media Player should open and begin playing the file.
MIDI driver update
If the test file fails to play, it might be due to a driver issue. Check the system’s MIDI configuration by opening Control Panel and clicking Sound Speech And Audio Devices followed by Sound And Audio Devices. You’ll then see the Sound And Audio Devices properties sheet. Select the Hardware tab to view a list of all of the audio components that are installed on the system. Select the MIDI playback device and click the Properties button.
Note about MIDI device listing
The listing for the MIDI playback device will vary from computer to computer. However, the word MIDI somewhere in the title should tip you off. On my test system, the MIDI playback device is listed as MPU-401 Compatible MIDI Device.
On the MIDI device’s properties sheet, select the Driver tab and verify that a driver is installed for the device. If the driver provider is Microsoft, and the system has a brand name sound card (ATI, GeForce, etc.), I recommend downloading a new driver from the sound card manufacturer’s Web site to replace the Microsoft driver.
MIDI playback failure can also be caused when no driver is associated with the MIDI hardware at all. If this is the case, download a driver and install it using the Update Driver button on the Driver tab. When you click the Update Driver button, you will be taken to the standard Windows Hardware Update Wizard screen. Follow the wizard's instructions to locate the correct sound card driver.
Check the MIDI hardware device
If you updated the system with the latest driver for your MIDI device, but MIDI playback still doesn’t work, the system may have associated MIDI playback with the wrong hardware device. Return to the Sound And Audio Devices properties sheet. Look at the bottom section of the Audio tab for a section called MIDI Music Playback. This section contains a drop-down list that allows you to select which device should be used for MIDI playback. For example, on my test system, I have a choice between using the MPU-401 device or the Microsoft GS Wavetable SW Synth. Check the list for alternate playback devices and try using each of them. The MIDI Music Playback section also contains a Volume button that you can use to access the master volume control and an About button for viewing information about the hardware driver.
WAV playback problems
If you’re having trouble playing back WAV files, there are a couple of ways to correct the problem. First, verify that the problem isn’t just with one particular file. You can do this by opening and attempting to play a standard Windows XP WAV file, such as \WINDOWS\MEDIA\WINDOWS XP STARTUP.WAV.
WAV driver update
If the test WAV file doesn't play, check the system’s WAV configuration by opening Control Panel and clicking Sound Speech And Audio Devices, followed by Sound And Audio Devices to view the Sound And Audio Devices properties sheet. Select the Hardware tab to view a list of all of the audio components installed on the system. Select the WAV playback device and click the Properties button. Unlike the MIDI device, though, the WAV device tends to be easy to spot; it usually has the same name as the sound card.
After clicking the Properties button, you’ll see the WAV device’s properties sheet. Select the Driver tab and verify that a driver is installed for the device. If the driver provider is Microsoft or if the driver is not installed and the system has a name brand sound card, I recommend downloading a new driver from the sound card manufacturer’s Web site. You can install the new driver by following the same instructions for using the Update Driver button in the MIDI section above.
After updating the driver, return to the Sound And Audio Devices properties sheet and verify that a listing for Audio Codecs exists. If not, there’s no way that you’ll be able to play back WAV files. To solve this problem, open Control Panel and click on Performance And Maintenance, followed by System. When you see the System properties sheet, select the Hardware tab. Using the Device Manager, remove all references to the sound card. After doing so, use the Hardware tab’s Add Hardware Wizard to redetect the sound card. When you do, make sure to supply Windows with the new device driver.
Check the WAV hardware device
Let’s assume that you’ve already updated the system with the latest driver for the WAV device, but WAV playback still doesn’t work. The system could have associated WAV playback with the wrong hardware device. To fix this problem, return to the Sound And Audio Devices properties sheet. Look at the top section of the Audio tab for a section called Sound Playback. This section contains a drop-down list that allows you to select which device should be used as the system’s default WAV device. You’ll usually only have one audio device available to you in this drop-down list, but if multiple audio devices are listed, try using each of them.
Other Audio tab controls
The Sound Playback section of the Audio tab has an Advanced button. If you click on it, you’ll see the Advanced Audio properties sheet, which contains two tabs.
The Speakers tab allows you to tell Windows how many speakers the system has and where those speakers are placed. The Performance tab allows you to control the level of hardware acceleration Windows uses with the sound card. If a user is having trouble with WAV playback, disable hardware acceleration. This technique is effective if you can hear bits of sound but not the full WAV.
Another feature on the Performance tab is the Sample Rate Conversion Quality setting. With this, you can set your system to use a lower sample rate conversion quality to help your computer handle WAV files with high sample rates.