Why is it that you are able to plug in a set of speakers or earphones into your computer and you’re able to hear sound? How is it that the computer knows that a device has been plugged in, and how does it know what to do with that device. In its most basic form a computer operating system is simply that – an operating system that contains the basic and essential operating functions of computing device – nothing more, nothing less. In order for all of our devices to work our computers (often automatically nowadays) download software and packages of code to facilitate the functioning of our devices.

These are called drivers. Specifically, to make sound come from a speaker or other device a computer needs an audio driver. If you need to know how to find drivers, just click on the link. Before we dive into what that specific driver does it is worth briefly mentioning what it is that a driver in general does for an operating system. So, what is a driver? Fundamentally a driver can be understood as a software component that facilitates an operating system and a device to communicate with each other. The topic of drivers is quite a lengthy one – various levels of complexity, drivers for software not even involved with device functionality, the various companies that create drivers, industry standards, etc. But for our purposes all we really need to understand is that a driver allows a device to function.

The necessity of a driver for audio devices is perhaps the best example of the importance of drivers in general. When you watch a video online the computer is receiving the “audio” in the form of code – electronic impulse. Yet that is not something we can hear. The digital information needs to be translated into an analog form – sound waves we can hear. That is the primary directive of a sound driver. We can think about this in terms of our own human physiology and how we make sound. It all starts with signals from the brain travelling down through the central nervous system. From here the signals reach the muscles (i.e. the vocal chords and the diaphragm). At this point the “digital” signals of the nervous system get translated into an audio form by the muscle allowing us to produce an audible sound. We can view the brain as the operating system, the rest of the central nervous system as the various drivers, and the muscles as the devices that are plugged into the computer.

Enabling a computer to create audible sound is a complicated process that we don’t often stop to think about. From the days where computers were only able to make various pitches of beeping to today where hit songs are produced all with just a computer – drivers have played an essential role in translating the nature of signals into something that we can understand. Nowadays your computer will just automatically download these drivers and you’ll never even know that a piece of carefully developed and researched code is what allows you to immediately just plug in your speakers or your earphones and hear sound.