How often do you find yourself humming or whistling an annoying jingle from some silly TV ad? Probably more than you'd wish. Even when the product or message holds no appeal, the ad has worked because the tune is running around your head, and it won't go away.

It is hard to imagine the latest film or major advertising campaign producing a visual extravaganza only to forget the soundtrack, but that is exactly what is happening with many business presentations in today's boardrooms.

Sound is a powerful force when used correctly and can be yours for well under pounds 150. In a presentation, it can keep your audience alert and help them to remember certain messages. If you close your sales pitch with a catchy tune, then you are a long way towards imparting your message - especially when a tune, sound effect, or phrase is remembered weeks after the event. The creators of the most successful presentations and ads know this well.

With the Internet, it is now easier than ever to find a suitable sound or piece of music; just type MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) into any search engine and you will be presented with thousands of pieces to choose from. And the best thing is that the majority of them are free to download. However, if you want to use the latest Number One single from the pop charts or you are unsure about potential copyright infringement, just contact the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (0181-769 4400) to make sure.

Whether it is a simple MIDI soundtrack or a combination of speech, music and sound effects, a good soundcard can bring your presentation to life. It is commonly thought that wavetable sound cards are used only by professional musicians - in fact musicians rarely use wavetable cards except for experimentation. Most sound cards actually come as standard with the vast majority of consumer or business computers.

One other point to bear in mind is the type of speakers that you use. Traditionally, the quality of speakers included with PCs has been appalling, but in an effort to differentiate their systems several PC manufacturers have improved the quality significantly. As the output from PC speakers is analogue, there is no reason why you can't run the line output of your soundcard through an amplifier to your hi-fi speakers. Many traditional hi-fi speaker companies like Bose, JBL and Aiwa are now actively targeting the PC market and have joined companies like Altec Lansing to produce high-quality PC speakers. Think of how many people on average you will be making your presentation to, and buy the best speakers you can afford. They will make all the difference.

Choosing the right soundcard and wading through the jargon is not easy. To make the decision easier, the September edition of PC Magazine has reviewed seven entry-level to mid-range soundcards. After rigorous testing, the Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold soundcard from Creative Labs was awarded PC Magazine's Editor's Choice award, performing consistently well throughout all the tests. This card was also Plug and Play compatible, which means that it is relatively simple to install.

Of the cards in PC Magazine's comparative tests those from Aztech, TerraTec, Guillemot, Gravis, Typhoon and Creative Labs were all Plug and Play compatible - only the Primax Soundstorm Wavetable Card wasn't and the installation process is not for the fainthearted.

The good news is that enhancing your presentation needn't cost you a fortune, the seven cards reviewed by PC Magazine ranged from pounds 29 to pounds 161.69 (ex VAT), with the Creative Labs Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold coming in at pounds 127 (ex VAT).

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