Sound has been an important part of computing for the last two decades, but the actual details of changing and customizing sound in Windows has remained both static and a little bit obscure. Most users know that you can change sounds, yet that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Finding new custom sounds for Windows, or even recording your own, is simple and quick – once you’ve learned how to do it. Here’s a crash course on changing and recording sound effects for Windows.
The specific arrangement of sounds your computer is set to play for given events is called a “Sound Scheme,” which can be customized and saved. You can gain access to sound scheme options by doing a Windows Search for sound and then selecting the “change system sounds” option. This will take you to the Sounds tab in the Sound menu.
At the top of this tab is the Sound Scheme drop-down box. You can choose from a lot of schemes by default, and each will change all of your sounds to a specific arrangement that goes along with the theme. There’s a bit of synergy between certain schemes and Windows visual themes. The Landscape theme, for example, automatically selects the Landscape sound scheme, but you can change between schemes whenever you’d like without also changing the visual theme.
Sound schemes can be customized as you desire. In the menu below the Sound Scheme drop-down you’ll see a list of program events and sounds that can be associated with them. To assign a sound, click the event and then click “Browse…” to search for the sound clip you desire. Only Wave (.WAV) files can be selected.
Not all program tasks are assigned a sound by default. In fact, the “no sounds” theme has no sounds assigned to any tasks by default, which makes it a great starting point for creating a new scheme. Once you’ve made changes, you can save your scheme by clicking the “Save As…” button near the top of the menu, next to the Sound Scheme drop-down. This will add your new, customized scheme to the drop-down menu.
Where To Find New Sounds
While you can save your new scheme, you can’t distribute it or import a new one by default. This is supported only by third-party tools, the most popular of which is SoundPackager from Windows utility and video game developer Stardock. SoundPackager is free for 30 days, and requires a $9.99 one-time purchase, if you’d like to continue using it. Once you grab this tool, you can download packages from sites like WinCustomize.
This, however, isn’t always the best option. There’s not many custom sound schemes available for download, and a lot of them are of low quality. An alternative is to download sounds individually and bundle them to create the scheme you desire. While more time-consuming, this tactic often produces better results. The quality of the sites distributing custom sounds can vary, but I’ve found Freesound and FindSounds extremely useful and full of high-quality clips.
Freesounds is a place where anyone can share custom sound clips, and it’s a good place to check if you’d like to find wholly original audio or more abstract clips. FindSounds, on the other hand, is a sound search engine, and it’s great if you have an idea of the sound you want to use by don’t know where to find it (the sound of a jet plane taking off, for example).
Both websites include a search filter that can limit results to .WAV format only. If you find a file in another format you’d like to use, however, you can convert it to .WAV. I’ve been satisfied in the past with Freemake, a multipurpose video and audio conversion tool. While it’s not the most versatile or powerful utility around, it’s more than adequate for converting audio and, more importantly, is quick and easy to use.
How To Record New Sounds
Many people want to use specific sounds familiar to them, like lines from a movie, excerpts from music, or a recognizable audio queue (the comm-link signal from Star Trek, for example). Often you can find sounds online, but not always – and if you do find them you may be unhappy with their quality or composition. That means you’ll need to make your own.
This is easy on a Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 or computer. Download and install Audacity, a free audio editing program. Run it, then direct your attention to the menu line just above the editing window and below the editing options (record, play, pause, etc). This line consists of drop-down menus and starts with “MME” selected in the leftmost drop-down by default.
Change “MME” to “Windows WASAPI,” change the next drop-down menu to Speakers (High Definition Audio Device) and change the third drop-down menu to Speakers (High Definition Audio Device) loopback. If you are not using speakers with your computer but instead a headphone line-out or S/PDIF connection you’ll need to select that instead of Speakers. You can also choose between mono and stereo in the fourth drop-down menu, though it doesn’t matter much for this purpose. Once done, Audacity should look like so.
You’re now set up to record audio from your desktop. Just play whatever audio or video file you’d like to record, then hit the record button in Audacity. You can, of course, record as much or as little as you’d like.
Having captured the audio, you can then use Audacity to edit it down to just the audio clip you’d like for your scheme. Click on the waveform in the editing Window and then drag left or right to select a portion of a clip. Once selected, press Delete on your keyboard or the “cut” button in Audacity’s interface. In this way you can trim down what you’ve recorded until you’re left with only what you want. You may want to “zoom in” on the clip using the View menu, as this will make precise editing of audio easier.
Once you’re satisfied, you can export the sound clip to a .WAV file by going to File –> Export. Wave is the default export format, so all you have to do is name your file and hit save, then add your new .WAV clip to your sound scheme using the instructions covered in the first section of this article.
This basic tips open up a ton of possibility. With Audacity you can turn literally any audio clip that will play on your PC into a custom sound for Windows, and you can do so in a manner of minutes. Creating an entire scheme will, of course, take much longer, but it’s the only way to go if you want to pack your Windows theme full of specific, high-quality audio clips from your favorite media.
How have you customized sound schemes on your Windows PC? Let us know in the comments.