How to Connect 5.1 Speakers to Your PC
By Gabriel Torres on December 28, 2005


Introduction

So you want to enjoy all audio experience your PC can provide? Installing a 6-channel surround speakers system is the way to go: playing games and watching videos will never be the same again. In this tutorial we will show you a step-by-step guide on how to connect analog 5.1 speakers to your PC.

What is a 5.1 system anyway? The number “5.1” means that you have six speakers: two on the front, two on the read, one on the front center (also known as “voice” channel) and one subwoofer (a.k.a. “bass”). So you have five similar speakers and one exclusively for bass sounds – the subwoofer –, hence the name “5.1”.

There is also another very hi-end system available, called “7.1”, which has two more speakers, central right and central left.

Nowadays almost all PCs have on-board 6-channel audio, i.e., already integrated on the motherboard, but you will have to check on your motherboard manual if your PC supports it or not. Of course if you have an add-in sound card you should check on its manual if it has 6-channel audio.

There are two kinds of 6-channel surround speakers: analog and digital. Analog speakers can be installed on any PC and are cheaper, while digital speakers are often more expensive and require that you have a SPDIF output on your PC.

In this tutorial we will cover hot to connect analog 6-channel systems. If your PC has SPDIF output and you want to go use a digital system – which provides less noise – read our tutorial on that. The steps described there are just the same, but instead of connecting your PC to a home theater receiver you will be connecting it to a digital 6-channel speakers system.

Besides a lower noise level, digital connection has as main advantage using just one cable to connect the PC to the speaker system. Analog connection uses three sets of wires.

In Figure 1, you can see our 6-channel surround speakers we will be connecting to our PC in this tutorial. As we said, it uses analog connection.

6-channel Speaker System
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Figure 1: Our 6-channel speaker system.

Understanding Your Speaker System

After unpacking your speaker system you should take a good look at it in order to understand it better. As you could see in Figure 1, on our system the subwoofer and volume control were on different units, which is great, because this way we can put the subwoofer under our table and the volume control unit on the table, making it easier to control the system.

First, let’s take a look at the regular speakers from the system (see Figure 2). As you can see there is no mystery here. It has a two-wire cable connected to a RCA male connector.

Speaker
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Figure 2: One of the speakers from our system.

Now let’s take a look at the subwoofer, Figure 3. In some systems the cables from the speakers are connected to the subwoofer. On our system, however, all cables should be connected to the volume control unit, as you can see in Figure 4.

On our system, from the subwoofer come three sets of wires: a power cord to connect the system to the AC outlet, a power connector to feed the volume control unit and the subwoofer wires.

Subwoofer
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Figure 3: The subwoofer.

As we mentioned, on our system all cables should be connected to the volume control unit, as we show in Figure 4.

Volume Control Unit
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Figure 4: Volume control unit.

Connecting The Cables

Together with your system should come at least three set of cables for connecting your speaker system to your PC. These cables can be seen in Figure 5 and they are colored to help on the installation: green, blue (or black) and orange (or yellow or pink).

Six-channel Speaker System Cables
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Figure 5: Cables that came with our system.

With our system came also three female stereo mini jack to stereo RCA converters, which you can see in Figure 6. These adapters must be used if you want to connect your speaker system to your standard DVD player, since DVD players use RCA connectors, not mini jacks. Since we are connecting our speaker to our PC and not to our DVD player, let’s keep them away.

5.1 cables
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Figure 6: Adaptors if you want to connect the speaker system to your home DVD player.

You should connect the cables matching the colors on the jacks located on the volume control unit. This is a no-brainer. Anyway, if you feel safer by knowing which cable is which, we give the meaning of each color below.

Connecting The Six-Channel Speaker System Cables
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Figure 7: Connecting the cables to the volume control unit.

After connecting these cables, you should also connect all other cables, like power, subwoofer and speakers. This is very easy to do. Just pay attention to the subwoofer connection, because you should follow the polarity that is written on the connectors. At the end of this process all connectors on the volume control unit should have a cable connected.

Understanding Your Computer

All computers have at least three audio connectors:

On PCs with six-channel audio, two more connectors are required: rear out (black or blue) and center/subwoofer out (orange or yellow). However, not all computers have these outputs!

So the first thing is to look at the back of your PC and see if your computer has these outputs. The PC in Figure 8 has all of them and also digital outputs (as we mentioned, if you want to use digital outputs, read our tutorial on that).

PC Audio Outputs
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Figure 8: Audio outputs on a PC.

If your computer doesn’t have these two extra outputs (rear out and center/subwoofer out), you will need to use the line in and mic in plugs. Of course there is a really big disadvantage in using this configuration: you cannot use your microphone or line in inputs and your 5.1 speaker system at the same time. More: if you need to use these inputs – maybe you want to connect a mike to use Skype or MSN Messenger, for example – you will need to unplug your speakers and connect your device, use it, and then plug the speakers back after using your mike or capturing audio. Yes, it is really a hassle. That’s why if you really want to use a 5.1 speaker system you should look for a motherboard that provides separated rear and center/subwoofer outputs, like the one shown in Figure 8.

PCs with eight-channel audio (7.1 format) another plug is required for the middle speakers (this plug is usually grey). In Figure 9, you can see the detail of a motherboard with on-board eight-channel audio.

PC Audio Outputs
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Figure 9: Motherboard with 8-channel (7.1) audio.

Installing Your Speaker System On Your PC

The installation will depend if your PC has separated outputs for rear and center/subwoofer speakers or not. Let’s talk about both scenarios.

PCs With Separated Rear and Center/Subwoofer Outputs

In this case you should make the connection like this:

We show this in Figure 10.

Installing 6-channel Speaker System
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Figure 10: How to connect the speaker system on a PC with separated rear and center/subwoofer outputs.

You will now need to configure your PC, like we will explain in the next page.

PCs Without Separated Rear and Center/Subwoofer Outputs

In this case you should make the connection like this:

We show this in Figure 11 (please forget that our PC had separated surround outputs).

Installing 6-channel Speaker System
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Figure 11: How to connect the speaker system on a PC without separated rear and center/subwoofer outputs.

You will now need to configure your PC, like we will explain in the next page.

Configuration

After making all physical connection, you should configure your PC to use 6-channel audio. This is done by going to your audio driver properties. Usually when you install your audio driver a new icon is created on Control Panel and a small icon is shown next to the Windows clock.

In our PC, which used Realtek drivers, the icon on Control Panel is called Sound Effect Management. Double clicking it and then clicking on Speaker Configuration tab will show the window shown in Figure 12.

There you should select “6 channel mode for 5.1 speaker output” and check “Only SURROUND-KIT” if your PC has the separated rear and center/subwoofer outputs (which was our case).

6-channel configuration
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Figure 12: Configuring the PC to use 6-channel audio.

That’s it. Now your PC is configured to use your 5.1 speaker system. Enjoy!

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/How-to-Connect-51-Speakers-to-Your-PC/268


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