Stereo Audio – Making the Connection

Stereo Audio Reproduction

In 1998 we posted an article, Home Sound Studio, in which we promoted the benefits of going the extra mile to hook your audio card up to a first-rate home sound system. We discussed the connectivity and switching, but didn’t really get into the nuts and bolts of it. It seems apparent that makers of PC speakers, including legendary names like Altec and Klipsch, have confused consumers about what kinds of speakers can really be used with a Mac or PC. With all the talk of “digital sound”, it would be easy to conclude that the audio output of a PC is an entirely different kind of signal than used by our home stereo and AV receivers and entertainment centers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So, today we received an inquiry that seemed to be asking how PC audio could be converted so it would play through a regular stereo system. Here’s the question, and my answer follows.

Q: Is there a free charge or a free program on the Internet that would
allow me to run my computer speakers through my stereo system? If so, how
would I easily download it?

A: Computer audio signals (to computer speakers or headsets) are already the same kind of audio signals your stereo uses. This is a no-software solution.

First, look on the back of your stereo to determine what audio input jacks you have available. These are jacks that accept input from external players such as CD, Tape, Video or “Aux”. You will see that the names of these jacks will pretty much match up with the names on the input selector switch on the front of the stereo.

Find a right/left back pair that you are not using now. Do NOT use a PHONO input, though, or your signal will overload the stereo. You are looking for a suitable stereo input to accept output from your computer. Unused CD, Tape, Video or “Aux” jacks are perfect.

If at this point you feel unsure about what stereo input jacks might be suitable for this project, locate your stereo owner’s manual, or make a drawing of the locations and names of the connectors on the back of the stereo. Any jack that expects a standard 1-volt reference level signal input (the same as comes from CD and Tape, for example) will do fine. You will be making a trip to Radio Shack anyway.

Almost always, these stereo jacks are standard “RCA pin jack” pairs, and they are usually color coded red for right channel and black or white for left channel.

Now, on the computer side, all you have to do is verify where your computer speakers are getting the audio signal.

Almost always, this is a small “mini phone jack”, a single small hole on the back of your computer.

If you have a fairly recent PC, or a sound card, your audio output is already stereo.

At Radio Shack, ask for a “Y” adapter to connect between your computer output and the stereo’s RCA pin jack input. They should know exactly what you are interested in. If you have an older PC with mono sound output, the Y connector will split the signal for left and right channels, so at least you will get sound out of both speakers.

You will need extra stereo patch cords to reach the distance between your computer and your stereo. Bring along your stereo manual or drawing if this will help you discuss what’s needed with the salesperson.

You might also ask to see Radio Shack’s inexpensive little Stereo Audio Source Selector switch. I bought catalog number 42-2112. This will allow you to switch back and forth between stereo and computer speakers without changing wires. This is handy when all you want is standard PC sound without having to turn on the whole stereo, or if you’re working late at night and don’t want to disturb others.

All of the above is the same whether you’re running a Mac or PC. Good luck to you.

Alex Forbes 5-4-2002

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