There are a ton of new motherboards sold that have a Realtek HD sound card built in, and chances are pretty good if you have a recent motherboard, you have a Realtek HD audio card in it. Generally speaking it’s a pretty good card as far as in-built sound goes – assuming you’re running the latest driver set.

Some quick notes about upgrading Realtek driver software

Where to get Realtek audio drivers: http://www.realtek.com/downloads/

The link you want to click is "High Definition Audio Codecs" if you have a Realtek HD audio card.

The download for Vista and 7 is almost 90MB; the download for 2000/2003/XP is almost 32MB. I have no idea why the Vista/7 version is so huge, but that’s the way it is.

The latest release of the drivers at the time of this writing is June 17, 2011 – which is very recent.

Should you decide to install the latest drivers, in the Windows Vista and 7 environment it requires two reboots. How it works is like this:

  1. Run installer. Installer copies new files but doesn’t install them (that’s a good thing). Installer uninstalls old version and prompts for a reboot to clean old out registry values (again, a good thing).
  2. On next boot, the first thing you see after logging in is the installer again. Now it’s ready to install the new drivers. It will do its thing and then prompt another reboot.
  3. On next boot the drivers will be installed.

Tip: If you ‘lose’ your sound, that’s probably because you have a USB headset plugged in and Windows defaulted to that device as the primary sound output. To avoid this, have your USB headset unplugged before installing the new drivers.

You can reset the default output to the speakers by right-clicking the white speaker icon in the taskbar, choosing ‘Playback Devices’ and setting ‘Speakers’ as default:

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Using Realtek HD’s Loudness Equalization

Before telling you where this is and how to use it, I’ll explain what it does.

Loudness equalization is in simple terms a compressor and a hard limiter. The compressor boosts low volumes and the limiter establishes a ‘ceiling’ so things don’t get too loud. The end result is that just about everything pushed through the speakers has an even, consistent volume somewhat similar to how modern FM radio sounds.

Using Loudness Equalization

Launch the Realtek HD Audio Manager. This can be done by either double-clicking the orange speaker icon in the tray:

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…or by searching for ‘realtek’ in the Control Panel if the icon isn’t present:

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Enabling Loudness Equalization is only one checkbox. In the Realtek HD Audio Manager, click the Speakers tab, then the smaller submenu tab Sound Effects, and look for the checkbox Loudness Equalization:

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When checked, it’s enabled. When not checked, it’s disabled. Either happens instantly the moment you click with no reboots or software restarts required.

Where is Loudness Equalization useful?

Loudness Equalization is most useful when playing video, be it from video file, internet or DVD. Some clips/movies have audio mixed terribly where you can barely hear what’s going on in one scene, and then everything is way too loud in the next. With movies in particular, some are mixed loud and some soft where you constantly have to adjust the volume from film to film. With Loudness Equalization, just about all audio will have a consistent volume no matter what levels the original audio tracks used.

Does loudness equalization make audio sound better?

No. All it does is auto-adjust volume levels for consistency; it will not magically make crappy audio sound any better.

If you use your computer often to watch videos and movies with, you should get familiar with the loudness equalization feature if you have a Realtek HD audio card. It’s probably true you won’t need it all the time, but in a pinch it’s a nice thing to know so nothing audio doesn’t go from w-h-i-s-p-e-r quiet to BLARING LOUD and back again.