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Looking for a solution to normalize audio in windows 7

you know how sometimes your on a call, or watching a movie
one moment there is dialog and you have to turn the volume up,
just to have a loud noise or action scene (figuratively) blow up your speakers.

I want to be able to control the upper and lower thresholds of volume on my machines.
I.E. set the volume to a specific db level and then be able to say
"if the sound (lets call it X) gets louder than Y db, then playback at Y db"

It would be nice to be able to normalize all audio to range between set lower and upper thresholds, but an upper limit would be much better than now.

I realize that db may not be the appropriate unit here, I'm not a sound guy so I'm just putting up something to represent a quantifiable measurement of audio volume.

any points in the right direction would be appreciated. if there is a software product on the market that can do this in real-time I would love to know...

Thank you
 
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Darrington Bevins
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Darrington Bevins
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4 Solutions
 
Darrington BevinsAuthor Commented:
In addendum,
I realize that Windows 7 has advanced enhancements for "loudness equalization"
this feature seems to be similar to what i need but it seems awkward to use and not very easy to understand the "timing"

so to be clear, we are looking for a 3rd party solution.

thanks again
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MereteCommented:
Hi, not real clear  but here's some ideas
A keyboard or mouse script may help
 this script provides you a quick and easy way to control the sound volume on your system - simply by rolling the wheel of your wheel mouse.
How to control master volume in Windows 7?
http://superuser.com/questions/82229/how-to-control-master-volume-in-windows-7
Volumouse
http://www.nirsoft.net/utils/volumouse.html
AutoMixer v1.1
http://www.fgroupsoft.com/Automixer/
volume tray
http://www.softpedia.com/get/Multimedia/Audio/Audio-Mixers-Synthesizers/VolumeTray.shtml
Or you could just r/click the volume and open volume mixer this will sit open all the time
There is tons of 3rd  party tools
hope thats in the area what you want
Merete
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DavidCommented:
Are you sure this is even practical?  The human ear is subjective and some things sound louder then others based on the frequency range. The decibel level and "loudness" as determined by the human ear/brain combination varies.    Also the dynamic range of what was recorded differs.  Some commercials seem louder than others because they do things like "compress" the sound.

To implement what you want would require capturing (i.e, recording) the sound, processing, then playing it back. In other words, an Audio DVR.  It would also have to work at the source, i.e, married to the sound card because it would have to work with the pre-amplified raw data, then modify it, and push it back onto the amplifier.

That means then the software has to be married to your sound card (or at least support it), and for all practical purposes, it likely needs to work in the firmware unless you have a DVR system set up.    I am pessimistic that such a product would even exist, as you need real-time audio processing to make it work.   This is expensive in terms of CPU overhead, so it has to be done on the sound card itself or it would kill your CPU and cause audio delays that would make the "lips not line up with what they are saying".

I could be wrong, but from engineering perspective, I don't see this as being a viable product for somebody to develop.  You would kill a CPU if the DSP wasn't being done in the sound card itself, and then have to maintain support for numerous sound cards to keep a customer base.  
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garycaseCommented:
There are quite a few audio processing utilities that will do this for RECORDED material (i.e. .WAV files, MP3 files, .APE files, etc.) ... but I'm only aware of one that will do it real time => and it's a rather expensive package.     Diamond Cut Forensics [http://diamondcutforensics.com/ ] supports "normalized gain scaling", which is what you're looking for.    But it's a $1499 package (although they easily discount it to $995)

... I've got some of their previous packages (DCArt) and it works very well -- but I doubt this price range is what you had in mind.     I'm not certain, but I don't believe any of their consumer-oriented packages support live gain scaling -- you may want to call/e-mail and ask them.
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garycaseCommented:
... an alternative -- but not less expensive -- method of achieving what you want is to feed the line out from your soundcard to an audio compressor/limiter and then feed that output to am amplifier (or you could use an amp with a built-in limiter.    These are routinely sold at audio retailers ... and even an "inexpensive" one is ~ $250 ... not counting an amplifier.

... an INEXPENSIVE solution is to use one of these basic volume limiters ==> it will obviously only work with external speakers, so it's not useful for a laptop's internal sound;  but for desktop systems with external stereo speakers it should work fine.   http://www.amazon.com/Macks%C2%AE-Earsaver-Automatic-Limiter-White/dp/B002ZJ1Y18
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Darrington BevinsAuthor Commented:
Great responses

Merete, I like the idea persay, but having to adjust manually no matter how easy it is still seems to reactive a solution. I'll investigate the links and see if there is a way to automate these actions.

dlethe, Thats why im asking, not being a sound guy im not sure if its even possible. if i take into account that there may be an amplified speaker or headset connected i can understand that you cant expect a specific db to be set at software level without pretty good calibration per installment.
but as long as its got a slider or knob to allow me to adjust to my taste then it should be okay. remember at most i just want a "no matter what the media says, don't go louder than X"

 It would seem to me that audio processing has to be completed at the software level anyway to translate the coded audio into information the sound card can interpret anyway. and the sound card would have to process this data in accordance with the sound profile of my system, so why would it be so process intensive to add-in an additional conditional statement?

It does make sense that one shouldn't expect 100% coverage (due to sound compression and such) but honestly the sound card has to control volume by sending power to the speakers at some level so i would expect the effect could resolve 99% of situations. (I'm perfectly happy being wrong here)

garycase, yeah i found alot of pre-processing for normalizing mp3s and such. doesn't really help me for conference calls or streaming content. I also understand that A/V and home audio equipment does this on a hardware level but im hoping to find something that doesn't require additional hardware.

Thank you again for the great responses, Im going to play with the solutions provided tonight and respond back in case there is anyone else out there crazy enough to be wanting the same solution.

as an anecdote (and maybe by way of analogy) I remember having one of those bionic ears back in the 90's it was basically a headset with a handset with a dished mic. it has a safety feature that allowed you to set maximum db in case someone unexpectedly blew an air horn while you were pointed at them. the idea was to cut the volume down to <80db to avoid hearing damage.

It seems to me that this feature required basic hardware functions already available in any audio system including my laptop / desktop etc. It was this that gave me the initial idea for setting comfort thresholds in digital media. but it only really works if its automated, modular, and can operate in real time to any given audio being played. anyway. hope that helps .

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DavidCommented:
A very inexpensive but quite practical solution uses an external processor and can be adjusted to absolutely nail the desired volume. It is what I like to call a "remote control".  $25
http://www.amazon.com/Streamzap-USBIR2-PC-Remote-Control/dp/B00008XETO

Plugs into your USB port, use a remote control or program a universal remote.
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Darrington BevinsAuthor Commented:
negative dlethe,
 the whole point is that the solution does not need human interaction to control the sound levels.

look, i understand the reason for your little joke, but if i wanted trolling i would have gone to yahoo.

this is a serous question that hopefully has a serious answer, if you don't have comment that would add value to the conversation i would appreciate you just not leave one.

I'm sure the experts exchange community would agree that we do not need that kind of attitude here.
thanks again for your help.
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garycaseCommented:
A remote control, however, requires what the author doesn't want here -- manual intervention :-)
... and there are plenty of ways to do that from the keyboard.

Here's another simple external option:  http://www.smarthome.com/7848T/Terk-VR-1-TV-Volume-Regulator/p.aspx

... it only has RCA inputs, so you'll need a miniplug-RCA cable set to connect the PC sound output to it;  then you just connect the output to your speakers or amp (a pair of PC speakers would likely require another adapter cable).

One thing that MAY fix most of your issue without any software or hardware intervention:   Go to PlayBack Devices [right-click the speaker icon];  highlight the device you're using (e.g. Speakers) and click Properties;  click on Enhancement; and UNCHECK "Loudness Equilization".     (you may simply want to "Disable all enhancements")

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MereteCommented:
Ok I can only add one more simple idea to lower volume overall system wide for everything, not the dB though.
open the playback on the master volume taskbar r/click>playback devices
windows 7
highlight the Digital Audio outpur mine is Realtek
then go to properties>levels  reduce it
do the same as with speakers reduce the levels for CD and speakers
in the  advanced untick both
Exclusive Modes
 Allow applications to take exclusive control of this device
and the other give it.
In enhancements tick disbale all sound effects  untick immediate mode
and in the panel unticfk Headphone Virtualization loudness equalizer just untick all of them
setting None

there is no way to really control the volume of a bad mastered volume from youtube video or some movie but you can reduce the overall volume
The audio incoming into your PC via Stereo mix or PC speakers/ off the web or DVD
this is the only way to control the actual volume.
Windows 7 also has a setting in playback> communications>windows can automatically adjust the volume of different sounds when you use your PC to place or receive telephone calls. When windows detects a comminication
4 choices
Mute all other sounds
Reduce 80%
reduce by 50%
do nothing.
Merete
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Darrington BevinsAuthor Commented:
thanks again for the replys,

based on your responses i did further research.

Firstly, AutoMixer v1.1 claims it does exactly what i want. problem is that there are hardware requirements that you don't find out about until you install it. fortunately i don't have a compatible sound card..

secondly, hardware limiters and processors are a pretty good work around. i must admit i hate the idea of peripherals but it beats the "no answer" alternative.

lastly this isn't about actively controlling or manually turning down the audio. but both Merete and garycase touched on  the Windows 7 Loudness Equalizer. Here's what MSDN has to say about that:
http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/hardware/ff537506%28v=vs.85%29.aspx

The loudness equalization DSP ensures that the volume level across different sources of audio signal stays constant. A TV program, for example, might be at just the right volume level whereas the commercial breaks within the program can vary widely in volume. This requires users to adjust the volume setting accordingly. Some of today's expensive HD-capable TVs can equalize volume so that the sound stays at a somewhat constant level. That works well if you rely on your TV for sound playback, but most home theater and home audio enthusiasts connect the TV audio directly to their stereo sound systems. In addition, today's loudness equalization solutions are often not effective for different audio content and sources.

can maintain a more uniform perceived loudness across different digital audio files or sources than earlier Windows technologies. This means that loudness always stays within a specified range, even for different digital signals.
sound familiar?
its no where near perfect, as there is very little control over thresholds, and the one setting available (Release time) has no measurements on the slider so were suppose to guess what its at i suppose.

still it does answer my question (even if its not completely satisfying),  There seems to be no software only solution that allows "comfort thresholds" to be set in computer audio. which is sad because i think that the sales for hardware volume limiters shows that there is a market but that these peripherals do not translate well into the computer world.

If anyone finds a software solution that accomplishes this but with greater control over thresholds please let me know. Thank you in advance.

for anyone interested have a look at the link below for instructions on how to enable loudness equalization in windows 7:
http://www.trishtech.com/win7/enable_loudness_equalization_in_windows_7.php  
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Darrington BevinsAuthor Commented:
Thank you again for your help, sometimes answers are dissatisfying but your expertise never is. I very much appreciate the time and energy you spent here.
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MereteCommented:
Thank you OniZero I'm sure someone will program a tool that will do this eventually.
I'm running windows 7 prof and could have given snapshots if you wanted. :)
 Check it out others giving Microsoft a serve on Automatic volume leveling during audio playback
http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_7-sound/automatic-volume-leveling-during-audio-playback/f9656c4a-b5e7-4cff-b029-7577f0efa549
Best Wishes
Merete




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