Different sound effects are played differently across different speakers. For example, when I use my laptop speakers, sounds are notably softer and low pitch sounds often become inaudible unless I turn my volume up from 20% to 80%. Yet if I try to increase the sound's amplitude, when I plug in my Creative T10 speakers, everything sounds too loud.

My problem is that I cannot increase sound uniformly across the board just to make the soft sounds more audible on a laptop, since as mentioned, everything sounds perfectly balanced on good speakers, it's just bad speakers (laptops) that ruin things.

What options do I have to ensure the volume is consistent across different speaker configurations?

PS: I'm using Flash, so there's no way to check hardware.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You might have better luck on the audio-video production SE avp.stackexchange.com \$\endgroup\$ – Tetrad Aug 9 '11 at 15:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Some people also have a really bad monitor that doesn't show colors as they should be... you'll never be able to completely control the appearance/sound of your game on other computers/devices. \$\endgroup\$ – bummzack Aug 9 '11 at 20:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Exactly bummzack - some issues (like monitor color or brightness) are just never going to be "solvable" by the developer. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Holt Aug 9 '11 at 23:40

The problem here seems to be that certain speakers just aren't very good, I'm not sure if there's a solution, since there's no way to check if the user has a set of $1,000 5.1 surround sound speakers plugged in, or is using headphones, or if they're using the generally crappy built in speakers on a laptop. This is actually a problem for pretty much anyone, since even if you could check their hardware configuration, the user might have their hardware configuration set up wrong, or they might occasionally switch out their 5.1 speaker system for a pair of crappy headphones because it's 1am and they don't want people calling the police for noise complaints (or they don't want to wake their roommates/parents/etc).

So, the best solution would be to make sure your sounds sound good on a decent pair of speakers, and they all have an equal volume between themselves. Basically, no sound is ear drum breakingly loud, or whisper quiet when compared to the other sounds. If your game has speech, then include subtitles so users can play with the sound turned low, or muted entirely. Include volume controls so users can set the volume themselves (including a mute button because that 30 second music loop is starting to get annoying).

In short, you can't control if someone has bad speakers, so don't worry too much about it. If sound is vital to your game, then include a note at the start saying so.

Sidenote: there's probably some fun stuff you can do in audio editing programs to fix some the issues with lower or higher pitched sounds, but all speakers have a maximum and minimum frequency range, and there's very little you can do to check that, even if you were making a native game (except for mobile development, where you know the range in advance)

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    \$\begingroup\$ The subtitles is an excellent suggestion! Even though I'm not dealing with speech, I put up some fade-away visual messages and having no sound is less of an issue now. \$\endgroup\$ – Cardin Aug 10 '11 at 6:48

Short answer

Give the user a volume control and allow them to adjust it to their preferences.

Long answer

There are so many variables out of your control in this problem that you won't be able to solve it. It's not just the speakers, it's how they are setup, what the ambient noise is in the room, and even the user's hearing ability (or lack of).

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've already separated Background Music and Game Effects volume adjustments, but still there's quite some sounds that are misbehaving in multiple categories that the user cannot finetune. =( \$\endgroup\$ – Cardin Aug 10 '11 at 6:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you be more specific as to which types of sounds are misbehaving? \$\endgroup\$ – Max Dohme Aug 10 '11 at 10:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Soft sounds like a button rollover, which are not very deep and rather loud, become inaudible on laptops. And then there are sounds like a notched arrow striking a target, which has a loud flit and thud, which also get muffled away. \$\endgroup\$ – Cardin Aug 11 '11 at 11:41

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