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Your computer is experiencing “audio interference” or “audio noise” if you hear a humming, hissing, buzzing sound, or any other unwanted sound over your computer’s speakers.
Of course, these sounds are annoying and are a hindrance to experiencing an immersive audio experience. Unfortunately, it’s tough to identify the cause as there are several reasons (or combination of reasons) why you are experiencing it.
Finding the source of the problem is challenging. Many times, the solution involves added costs, and you may need technical know-how of how to set this problem right.
We’ll discuss several reasons why your docking station is causing audio interference, and later, we’ll explore some solutions to prevent such disturbances.
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Before we understand why, we need to understand what audio noise is.
Generally, any unwanted sound you hear over your computer’s speakers that is not part of the soundtrack you are listening to is noise. Naturally, it is undesirable and annoying and disturbs your listening experience.
Often, the source of this noise is traced to adjacent electronic devices that cause interference with the transmission signals. However, several other factors can drive this interference, and it’s crucial to understand each to help identify the problem and eliminate the issue from its source.
All electronic devices emit an electromagnetic field when you switch them on. Thus, in an environment like your workstation, where many devices work side-by-side, you will experience some audio interference. Devices like your monitor, laptop, cell phone, CPU, GPU, and whatnot emit an electromagnetic field.
In fact, even your external speakers have an electromagnetic field, which may be causing the audio interference you are experiencing. But it’s unlikely, as most speaker manufacturers use good-quality components that prevent its electromagnetic field from causing EMI.
Nevertheless, in most cases, audio interference is caused by EMI.
Ground loops cause audio interference when your device finds multiple grounding (or earthing) paths, generating different electrical potentials. You’ll experience noise caused by ground loops if you are using many electronic devices connected to different power sources.
Further, since most wall outlets use alternating currents, using different outlets causes a small amount of disparity in the electrical transmission of each socket, which also results in ground loops. While connecting all your devices to one outlet is the logical solution, it may not always be practical (or possible) to do so.
Issues like unstable voltage, sudden spikes, and fluctuations cause audio noise. One has to be careful, and using a UPS or power manager provides a stable and clean power source ideal for delicate audio equipment.
Our dependence on wireless (radio) technologies is growing, bringing unmatched conveniences to our everyday lives. We are surrounded by devices that use radio waves and allow you to do everything from making a phone over a cell phone network to heating your food in a microwave.
Unfortunately, the dense radio environment caused by devices such as your cell phone, Wi-Fi router, IoT devices, and whatnot also contributes to the audio noise you hear over your computer’s speakers.
Image Credit: FusionConnect.com
Radio waves cause significant interference to audio and data signals, even when audio signals are transmitted over a wired medium. This is also why airlines ask you to put your cell phones on airplane mode when the aircraft is about to take off.
Audio signals are prone to interference and noise. The market is packed with audio cables that suit any budget, making it convenient for users to choose one that fits their budget. However, cheaper cables often compromise quality, leaving your audio signals cable susceptible to interference from adjacent devices and leading to crosstalk.
Crosstalk is when audio signals on adjacent cables interfere with one another, causing a disturbance to your listening experience.
Once you know the source of the audio noise, fixing the problem becomes more straightforward. Thankfully, not all solutions require expenditure on expensive equipment.
Let’s begin with solutions that are free or require minimal expenditure and prevent audio noise without you shelling out cash.
You can significantly control audio noise by organizing cables and repositioning peripheral devices connected to your docking station.
EMI is a common noise source when you work with several electronic devices kept near one another. The electromagnetic fields of devices such as your monitors, CPU, GPU, and other peripherals overlap, causing a disturbance over your computer’s speakers.
So, the most logical solution is to move these devices as far away from one another as possible. If you are constrained for space, a more convenient solution will be to locate your speaker’s signal cable and move it away from any electronic devices, cables, or sockets.
Moreover, separating adjacent audio cables and positioning them apart prevents crosstalk (discussed earlier).
Wall sockets and device plugs may have faulty earthing (or grounding), which is necessary to carry stray electrical charges into the ground. Consider switching sockets and checking plugs to ensure proper earthing. Apart from preventing audio noise, improper earthing is an electrical hazard one needs to avoid at all costs for safety’s sake.
Further, electric impulses can disrupt disturbance-free audio signals, especially when multiple earthing paths exist. By ensuring a unified power supply, you can channel stray electrical charges into the ground and conveniently prevent this source of audio interference from causing disturbance to your docking station’s audio port.
These measures are ideal for everyday users. However, professional sound recordists and audio engineers will require a more active and reliable solution that ensures Hi-Fi audio. These solutions invariably have an element of cost but are more reliable than simply changing wall sockets or repositioning peripheral devices (which remains crucial).
Using a ground loop isolator, you can continue using the same power source for audio devices without experiencing audio noise.
Ground Loop Isolators are small and seemingly inexpensive devices that you can plug into the workstation’s audio port and use the other end to plug your speakers.
Shielded cables are high-quality cables that prevent electromagnetic impulses from disturbing data (read audio) signal transmission.
Although costlier, shielded cables prevent internal signals from interference with signals on adjacent wires, as they use a protecting casing to ensure the signal’s integrity.
Naturally, it also helps keep unwanted electromagnetic impulses from disrupting signals transmitted over these wires. Thus working both ways to ensure an uninterrupted audio experience.
With the advancement in technology, you can now use specialized tools in good audio editing software to isolate, reduce, and remove audio noise from the soundtrack during the editing and post-production phases.
AI-based noise cancellation tools do an unbelievably good job of removing audio interference and background noise. However, such software is expensive because it involves licensing fees.
More importantly, their use is greatly limited to editing and production roles, leaving you to rely on other methods if you are experiencing audio noise while streaming or playing back content.
If all else fails or you can’t identify and resolve the issue, you can consider employing the services of a professional to analyze and rectify the problem.
However, such services come at a cost, and it would be wise to try your hand at resolving the issue before shelling out a hefty bundle of cash.
The audio interference you hear over your computer’s speakers can be due to one or (a combination of) several reasons, as we have mentioned earlier. The same is true for solutions, too.
It is vital to zero in on the cause to find a solution. The solution may be as simple as re-arranging your workstation devices so that their electromagnetic field doesn’t disrupt the signals on audio cables.
Alternatively, professional-grade solutions involve specialized devices such as ground loop isolators, advanced software, and whatnot. These solutions, though effective, are costly and may not be suitable for everyone.