Windows Media Player 12 is designed to replicate many of the features you'd see on a physical home stereo or theater system, complete with a mixer, EQ and other audio tweaking devices. The software equivalent of the myriad knobs and sliders you'd see on high end stereo equipment are called playback enhancements on Windows Media Player 12 and they are even easier to use than their physical counterparts. Using the built-in playback enhancements for Windows Media Player 12, you can adjust and optimize audio and video on the fly to best suit your situation, speaker system and tastes. In this tutorial, we'll cover how to use all of the playback enhancements in Windows Media Player 12 as well as explain a bit about how they work.
To access playback enhancements, you must be in 'Now Playing Mode'. Click the icon in the bottom-right of the Player Library to switch to 'Now Playing Mode'.
Next, right-click anywhere in the Now Playing window and choose Enhancements to see the list of available playback enhancements.
Open the Enhancements window by clicking any of the options on the drop-down menu to the right.
Volume Enhancements & How to Use Them
Windows Media Player 12 has built-in features that help reduce the disparities between loud and soft sounds both between songs and within songs themselves (i.e. normalization). This helps circumvent the annoyance of having a very quiet song followed by a jarringly loud song which is a common occurrence when listening to playlists composed of tracks pulled from various albums and encoded with different parameters. For example, try playing a song off of Neil Young's Harvest from 1972 back-to-back with any song off of Queens of the Stone Age's Songs of the Deaf from 2002 and you'll hear exactly what we're talking about. For an explanation of why recordings are getting louder and louder, check out this article from NPR: The Loudness War.
Your mileage will definitely vary with these playback enhancements depending on your hardware and other factors, but it's a decent step towards getting all of your tunes on a (relatively) level playing field, volume-wise. There are two panes that contain these features: 'Crossfading and auto volume leveling' and Quiet mode. Below, we'll go over all the different volume tweaking enhancements for Windows Media Player 12.
Crossfading - in the Crossfading and auto volume leveling window, click 'Turn on Crossfading' to have Windows Media Player 12 gradually fade out the song at the end and then have the next song on the playlist gradually fade in. Move the slider to the left to shorten the overlap between songs. Move the slider to the right to lengthen the overlap. (On a personal note: I don't particularly like this feature since it will fade songs out before their natural end, meaning you might miss something. So, if you want to hear the songs as the producers intended, skip this feature.)
Auto volume leveling - in the 'Crossfading and auto volume leveling' window, click 'Turn on Auto volume leveling' to have Windows Media Player 12 automatically adjust the volume level between songs to make them more similar. Windows Media Player 12 does so by analyzing the song during playback and then adding the auto volume leveling information after the song has played all the way through (so you won't hear the effects until the next time you play the song).
As a quick sidebar, note that Auto volume leveling only works for Windows Media Audio (WMA) or MP3 files that contain a volume-leveling value. This value is added during encoding, but you can also add it while adding songs to your Player Library. To do so, navigate to the Player Library and click Tools and choose Options. From the Library tab, check 'Add volume leveling information values for new files' under 'Media Library Settings' and click Apply and choose OK. All subsequent WMA and MP3 files added to your Library will now automatically have a volume leveling value added to them, if they don't already have one.
Quiet Mode - a similar feature to 'Auto volume-leveling' is Quiet mode, which has its own window. Quiet mode mellows out the sharp volume changes within a track (rather than between two tracks). This might be handy if you're not quite accustomed to the loud/soft/loud dynamic pioneered by The Pixies and Nirvana (But seriously, man, get with the program. This is the 90s!).
The functionality of quiet mode is pretty straightforward. You can turn it on or turn it off by clicking the text in the upper-left and change between 'medium difference' and 'little difference' with the radio buttons below. Pretty self-explanatory.
There is one caveat, however: your songs must be encoded using the Windows Media Audio 9 or Windows Media Audio 10 Lossless or Professional codec in order for Quiet mode to work. Lossless Windows Media Audio files will appear as '.WMA' files in Windows Explorer.
Bass Boost, Equalizer and Other Sound Shaping Enhancements
Windows Media Player 12 also has a fleet of features that simulate the knob twiddling of a producer in a studio or the various sliders and effects on a stereo system. These can drastically change the dynamics of the songs you are playing in order to optimize the playback according to genre, speaker size and other variables. In this section, we'll cover each of these features one-by-bone.
Graphic Equalizer - by now, we're all familiar with what a graphic equalizer (EQ) does. Windows Media Player 12's graphic equalizer works as you'd expect, allowing you to tweak various sound frequencies as well as choose some presets.
If you don't know what you're doing, your best bet is to choose a preset according to the type of music you're listening to. Click the text in the top-right with the arrow next to it (will likely read Default at first) to see your list of presets. These presets will do their best to optimize the frequencies according to the genre (for example, Rock boosts the highs and lows to accommodate the vocal, drum, bass and guitar-driven music while Speech focuses on the mid-range while easing off the high end, where those hissy s-sounds live). As you'll see, the sliders automatically shift into place when you choose a preset.
Alternately, you can use the custom setting and move the sliders yourself. The preset will automatically kick over to Custom once you start fiddling with the sliders.
There are three ways to move the slider:
Move sliders independently - only one slider will move when you click and drag it up or down.
Move together in a loose group - moving one slider will cause the sliders on either side to also move up or down to create a wave shape. The loose group setting makes a more arcing curve.
Move together in a tight group - moving one slider will cause the sliders on either side to also move up or down to create a more gradual wave. The tight group setting creates a less dramatic arc. In the screenshot, we're using tight mode. Notice the wave created around the slider being moved.
You can move the sliders around in real time to figure out what sounds good. If you've really made a mess of things, click Reset to put everything back to normal.
Note: though there is a voluminous amount of reading out there about EQ settings (most of which is geared towards recording and production), there is no 'best' EQ setting, especially when you factor in differences in hardware and taste. For those who really want to understand the difference between the bands, check out the discriminative frequency training test and this condensed overview of equalization.
SRS Wow Effects - they allow you to enhance the low-frequency (bass) and stereo sound performance (i.e. panning between left and right channels). The options here are pretty straightforward as well.
Move the TruBass slider to the left to reduce the low-frequency effect and move it to the right to boost the low-frequency sounds.
Move the WOW Effect slider to the left to decrease the stereo sound performance and move it to the right to increase it. This enhancement creates more of a "surround sound" effect.
Lastly, you can have SRS Wow optimize for your speaker type by clicking the text in the top-left with the arrow next to it. Choose from Normal speakers, Headphones or Large speakers.
You can enhance low-frequency and stereo sound performance by turning on SRS WOW effects.
The only issue with SRS WOW effects is that they cannot be applied to DVD playback.
Dolby Digital Settings - these settings are similar to the speaker type setting in the SRS Wow effects. However, these settings only affect Dolby Digital content (for example, many DVDs have Dolby Digital sound, such as the Star Wars prequels). In this menu, you can choose from three different presets:
Normal - reduces entire range of Dolby Digital for quieter playback.
Night - boosts dialogue while toning down other sounds. Good for laptops.
Theater - increases dynamic range of all sounds for more dramatic differences between soft and loud sounds and a fuller listening experience. Good for home theater systems.
Choose your option to activate it. Click Reset to return the settings to normal.
Other Playback Enhancements for Audio & Video
Additionally, Windows Media Player 12 lets you change the playback speed of audio and video files as well as tweak the colors and zoom level of videos. In this section, we'll show you how to use these two features.
Play Speed Settings - adjusting the Play speed lets you find a certain part within a song or video or simply slow down a file for greater analysis or speed it up for comic effect (why else would you do this?). There are a few different ways to do this.
You can fast-forward a file by clicking and holding the Next button until the song begins fast-forwarding. Release the button resume normal playback.
Rewind a file by clicking and holding the Previous button until the song begins rewinding. Release to resume normal playback. (Note: Rewinding only applies to video files).
You can change the Play speed from the Enhancements menu as well. The slider begins at 1.0, which is normal playback. Moving the slider to 0.5 plays at half speed. Moving to a negative number plays the file in reverse. Moving the slider to a number greater than 1.0 speeds up playback. Check the Snap slider to common speeds button to quickly select such speeds as half speed, double speed, etc. You can also choose common speeds by clicking Slow, Normal or Fast in the top-left.
Also, you can advance or reverse one frame at a time by clicking the arrows at the bottom. This only applies to supported video files.
Video Settings - lastly, Windows Media Player 12 also allows you to tweak the hue, brightness, contrast and saturation and zoom settings during video playback. Drag the sliders to the left and right to adjust the settings. For these features, a picture is worth a thousand words - so check out Microsoft's demonstration of these video settings over at Microsoft.com.
There are also some self-explanatory video zoom settings which can be accessed by clicking the text in the upper-left. You can also quickly zoom to 50% by pressing ALT-1, 100% by pressing ALT-2 and 200% by pressing ALT-3.
Alternately, you can right-click the Now Playing window during playback and select Video to choose the zoom settings.
As you can see, Windows Media Player 12 is not only a versatile player for all types of audio and video files, it is also a full featured playback enhancer. We encourage you to fiddle around with the various settings and discover what sounds best to your ear with your setup. Remember: You can always click Reset to return to normal, so there's nothing to lose.