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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | CD-ROM Drives | CD-ROM Drive Construction and Operation ]

Audio Output and Controls

Most CD-ROM drives come with convenient features to allow you to use the drive to play and listen to audio CDs. Drives seem to vary drastically in terms of what they provide on their front panels, but you will usually see some combination of the following:

  • Stereo Headphone Output: A mini headphone jack that allows you to plug headphones directly into the drive to listen to the CD audio being played back. This is found on virtually every CD-ROM drive.
  • Volume Control Dial: Most drives include a dial control to allow you to select the volume of the CD audio output.
  • Start and Stop Buttons: Many drives include control buttons to start and stop the play of the CD. On some drives these are the only controls found on the front panel.
  • Next Track and Previous Track Buttons: The addition of these buttons makes listening to CD audio on the CD-ROM drive much more practical. Unfortunately many drives save 79 cents or whatever by leaving these off.

It's important to note that software audio CD programs are readily available (and for the mostpart, totally free--there's one included in Windows 95) and they will let you do basically anything you want (change tracks, see time remaining on the disk, even set up catalogs with the names of the CDs and tracks) with an audio CD from the comfort of your desktop. This software will work regardless of what controls you have on the front of the CD-ROM drive itself. For this reason, the presence of these buttons is a convenience only, and not a necessity (which may be why some drives omit them, I suppose.)

The amplifier included in most CD-ROMs to allow the use of headphones for direct playing is pretty wimpy. The sound quality produced directly from the CD-ROM is adequate; it is digital CD audio quality. Still, though, you will get much better quality (particularly deep bass and high treble response) from feeding CD audio through a soundcard to a home stereo system with a real amplifier.

Next: External Packaging and Mounting


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