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How to stop MP3 files skipping or jumping

What to do when a playlist won't play nicely on your PC

A reader had a problem with part of an MP3 playlist skipping or jumping in Windows Media Player. Our Helproom expert shows you how to prevent this.

QUESTION: I'm running a squeaky-clean PC running Microsoft Windows 7 with up-to-date drivers. I have a set of seven Creative speakers and a SoundBlaster Xtreme Audio sound card. MP3 files that are part of a playlist have started to skip or jump about 20 seconds from their end in Windows Media Player. The tracks play fine when selected individually, on my portable MP3 player, or if I disable the SoundBlaster Enhancements in Control Panel – but then through only two speakers. Colin Bulman

HELPROOM ANSWER: This tricky problem is probably caused by the interaction of many hardware and software components. It appears to be intimately linked to the  Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio card.

The skipping is probably caused by the SoundBlaster Enhancements requiring a small amount of processing power to set up before each track plays. When you're playing a single audio file, this takes place before you hear any music and the track plays as normal; when you're running a playlist, there's not enough time between the tracks for the sound card to prepare itself. In the latter case, the sound card begins to prepare itself around 20 seconds before the previous track ends. The problems you're experiencing suggest that your PC is struggling to complete both tasks at once.

If you're playing stereo audio tracks, it's normal for your music to be heard only from your front two speakers and the subwoofer. For output from all your speakers, the music needs to be 'up-mixed' from stereo to 7.1 surround sound. This task is dealt with by the SoundBlaster Enhancements, so disabling them in Control Panel will cause the sound to revert to normal stereo, and the effect will be exactly as you describe. Note that even with the SoundBlaster Enhancements disabled, however, sound should be heard from all your speakers when you play a film with 7.1 surround sound.

The problem can be caused by the PC simply not being fast enough to cope. Since it is only a recent problem, however, it's likely to be a driver issue. Try rolling back your system to a time before the problem began using System Restore.

If this fails, uninstall the sound card and remove its drivers. Next, download and install the latest drivers directly from the manufacturer's website. This should fix the problem.

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