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I have a computer with an integrated sound card, and speakers. I have an audio system with a tuner (amplifier) and A and B speakers in a different part of the house. How can I wire things up so that I can hear computer sound output on the external-amplifier-speakers?

It seems obvious that I have to connect a wire from the sound card to the amplifier (I guess auxiliary?) inputs on the back. But how?

Some particular issues that I'm having trouble with (there may be others I haven't thought of yet):

  1. How can I do this and still leave my present computer speakers connected (there's probably only one output from the sound card?)? Would I need an additional sound card?

  2. Will the cable have to be split: bare wires on the amplifier end and a mini-RCA connector on the sound card end? How do I do this?

  3. Which inputs on the tuner do I connect to (I've got MONITOR, PHONO and AUX), and which output socket on the sound card do I connect from?

I think understand the principles involved, but I'm not great on visualizing the particulars. A link to a website with how-to instructions would be great, but I can't find one with Google.

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You mentioned that your PC and your audio system are in different parts of the house. How far away are the two devices? –  J. Polfer Oct 5 '09 at 18:01
    
"Tuner" usually means a radio reciever, not an amplifier! –  pjc50 Apr 23 '12 at 10:52

5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

To answer question #1: a basic 3.5 mm stereo splitter will work fine. The only thing that might be annoying, depending on your OS and your amp, is the fact that you'll have to constantly fiddle with 2 different volume controls. For instance, you might have to crank up the volume out to your computer speakers to make them audible, but the same volume going to your amp could rumble the house--so you then have to either turn down the computer volume, or turn down the amp. There are a few possible workarounds for this problem, though:

  • Some amps save a separate volume for each input.
  • Windows Vista (and probably Windows 7) has independent volume controls for each app. If you have Vista or Win7, you can just use a different music player when you want to play music through your stereo system.
    • You can also get 3.5mm stereo splitters with independent volume controls on the outputs, such as the Griffin SmartShare.

If you get a lot of hiss using a stereo splitter, you might want to turn down the volume on your computer and let your large amp do the work. The integrated amps on sound cards are sometimes very noisy.

Last, this may be obvious, but does your computer have a digital audio output? A lot of computers now have either a coax digital out (looks like a back or orange RCA connector), or an optical digital out. My desktop has both, and even my 6-year-old laptop came with an adapter cable that gives me coax digital audio output (as well as composite video and S-video). If you can hook the digital audio output up to your stereo equipment, you won't have to buy a splitter, and the audio quality won't be affected by the integrated sound card's amp.

As for question 2, you'll just need a cable with a 3.5mm headphone plug on one end and whatever your amp takes on the other end--either bare wires, banana plugs, or RCA plugs. If you need one with bare wires, I'd just go to Radio Shack or a similar store and buy the 3.5mm headphone connector, then solder it to some speaker wire.

To answer question 3: on the amp side, you probably want to plug into the AUX input. On the PC side, you would plug the 3.5mm splitter into your sound card's speaker port (usually color-coded green), then plug the speakers and amp into the splitter. Of course, if you have digital audio out on your computer and digital audio in on your stereo system, you would just connect those instead of using a 3.5mm splitter.

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I used to have the speaker-out from the sound card running into a basic hi-fi amp, you just need a 3.5mm to twin-phono lead.

However, that wouldn't allow you to keep the computer speakers wired up also. You can buy 3.5mm splitters (the sort of thing used to share one MP3 players with two sets of earbuds), but I cannot verify how well that would work quality-wise.

Aux input on the Amp is as good as any other, I guess.

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I recommend not using the PHONO amp input as it may be expecting a different (much lower) input level. The AUX input is typically a suitable choice as long as you're careful about adjusting the computer output volume to an appropriate level.

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Brian, I agree, I don't think using the PHONO input would be such a good idea since the AMP usually pre-amplifies the signal much higher than the other channels before going to the mixer and outputs. It would result in an extremely loud blast of sound if you're not careful.

I recommend connecting any output from a computer to the AUX-IN of an AMP (or LD-VCR jack.. whichever is available).

As for not losing your current setup to do this, does your sound card software allow switching signals at the jack? (like choose which jack does what) If so, you can set one to AUX-OUT1 and use it for your current computer speaker setup then set another to AUX-OUT2 and send that one to your AMP.

Some software/hardware doesn't allow this though because of aperage draw, signals, hardware limitations, etc...

It all comes down to what your sound card hardware/software will let you do.

Windows 7 has this feature built into their audio setup so you can choose which applications put out sound on which jack and which jack should do what.

Definitely something to look into.

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Considering that your two devices are far away from each other, the critical thing here is, how do you carry the signal from the PC to the sound system.

If your'e cool with putting holes in your walls and running cables, you could do that.

However, with digital audio cables there is only so far that you can go until you have signal loss, and it's the same way with analog audio, which is susceptible to interference over long runs. Also, depending upon how long your run is, you may have to buy Monster cable to do it, and that comes at a high price (1). Seems like a lot of mess, a lot of money, and a lot of work for possible quality issues. And then, what if you rearrange your room and move the PC or the stereo? You'll have to run wire again! I think you can do better...

I would try sending the same audio over WiFi or some other wireless connection from your PC to your stereo. This can be done using devices like the Roku Soundbridge and other wireless sound systems. You setup your PC to serve up files, connect the Soundbridge to your Wifi router and via optical/digital cable to your receiver, and have it play the audio on your PC. The audio data is transferred digitally, and unless your wifi setup at home doesn't work very well, will get around the interference problems described above. It also has line-out to hook to an Aux in. I set one of these up in my apartment and found I much preferred it over running long wires. It's also very mature, and works well.

I kinda suspect both solutions would cost about the same to do by yourself.


(1) - I usually don't recommend Monster cable (like most A/V geeks), as they are usually overkill and not worth the $$$ for the typical short distances that most people have, but for long runs they are sometimes required. What you're paying for is the engineering cost. Monster does extensive testing to ensure that their cables will work at the distances they advertise. On top of that, they look nice, too, but most people won't be looking at a wire in your wall...

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