Audio card and unpowered speakers

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I have old "JBL Pro" unpowered speakers that came with a now dead
Compaq Presario system.

I replaced that system with a new one wich have VIA AC'97 on board
audio.  When the speakers are plugged to the 2speaker out" of this
board, I can barely hear the sound.

I heard that "onboard" audio doesn't have an amplifier and that I had
to either find a compatible audio card or buy amplified speakers.

What specs do the audio card has to meet to correctly use these
speakers ?  Any suggestion ?

What is the best move : buy another audio card or amplified speakers ?  
Given I'm on a low budget, I can't afford both !

Thanks !

Re: Audio card and unpowered speakers

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Amplified speakers.  Very few sound modern sound cards (onboard or
not) have built-in amplifiers.  

You can easily get a pair of amplified speakers for $10-$15 (that's
Canadian$) that sound far better than those unpowered JBL Pro
speakers.  Here's an example of what I'm talking about:

That was the model I used to have before I upgraded.  There are
similar models from other companies (I think they might even be made
by the same factory).  Sound quality is on par with a "ghetto blaster"
type portable stereo and you can usually get it pretty loud before you
hit distortion.  There are better, but sound quality is pretty good if
you're on a budget.  The major drawback to them is that compared to
the newer (more expensive) designs that use a subwoofer, the
enclosures are fairly bulky, and take up a fair bit of desktop space.

There are also other 2-speaker sets that have a smaller footprint, but
with a similar sound quality and power range.  Those usually run about

As I said, you can spend more and get a better set of speakers, but if
you're on a budget, the sound quality is acceptable -- certainly
better than what you've got now.  


Re: Audio card and unpowered speakers

On Sat, 19 Nov 2005 09:25:52 -0500, "JG"

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Yes that's correct, OR buy an amplifier to plug in between
the sound card and speakers.  I doubt that those particular
speakers are worth the investment of an amplifier so the
former two options might be better.

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It will have an onboard amplifier chip, but unfortunately
too few mention this detail clearly.  The indirect
assocation is often that there are a pair of jumpers onboard
the card to choose between speakers and line-out.

In recent years few if any cards had such an amplifier, and
whether an older card is acceptible for your uses may depend
on your needs.  Basic 2 channel sound as expected from 2
speakers would work fine but more than 3 channels would not.
Further, the sound card would have to have a driver that
supports your operating system.

Here is the newest card I know of that has the onboard amp
chip (thick rectangular chip towards the bottom left in the
picture), and it does happen to have more than 2 channels
which I had forgotten,
On their homepage search for "Creative Labs Sound Blaster
4-Channel PCI Soundcard"

You'd have to download drivers from Creative's website.
It's a better sounding card than today's $8.50 cards, but I
doubt it supports some advanced features like positional 3D
audio in games.  With only 2 speakers it wouldn't matter.

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Depends on how low the budget.
For $8, you won't get speakers that are very good but I'm
not sure "exactly" how bad the current speakers are.  For
under $20 delivered, the above sound card is probably the
best option, unless you go looking around for deals on
speakers... which is not a bad idea, given enough searching
you should be able to find some for $20.  Try to avoid the
very small or thin ones, especially off-brands if you get
2.0 channel speakers.  I don't know which inexpensive
speakers are best but here's an example,

Re: Audio card and unpowered speakers

MCheu, kony,

Thanks to both of you for your "sound advice"   :-)

Re: Audio card and unpowered speakers

JG wrote:
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You're welcome.  

Apparently, no good deed goes un "PUN" ished.

Re: Audio card and unpowered speakers

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I suggest checking

They have the best quality/price ratio. Of course if you choose
for pros gear you'll have to spend much more, but I understood
you don't have much money for this issue.

Check the site and see prices and models, I'm sure you'll find
something interesting.

Manuel Marino
Marino Sounds (Italy)

Re: Audio card and unpowered speakers

You CANNOT use those speakers without having an audio amplifier of some sort
between the sound card and the speakers.  In other words you need to use
powered speakers, not those.  No sound card will drive your speakers


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Re: Audio card and unpowered speakers

Then why did they worked "as-is" when plugged into the old Compaq
Presario system ?

DaveW a pensé très fort :
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Re: Audio card and unpowered speakers

On Sun, 20 Nov 2005 19:21:41 -0500, "JG"

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Compaq/HP has used a few different schemes for external
speakers.  Among them:

-  Remotely-mounted daughterboard with a dongle going to it,
and a special cutout in the rear of the case to mount it
with a 3.5mm phone jack

-  Sound card with amp chip on it

-  Motherboard with integrated audio and amp chip (usually
older, like socket 7 era).

-  Speakers in (or on) monitor with monitor-integral amp

Here's an example of a Creative card with the integral amp
chip, a philips TDA1517, 2 x 6W  (350K d/l),

An external amp need not be very expensive though, nor
large.  One good alternative might be a Sonic Impact T-Amp,
though it has spring-clamp speaker terminals, not a stereo
phone jack, and for continuous use would need a power
adapter that is not supplied with it- IIRC it needs a
5.5mm/2.1mm plugged DC (13.2V max) power source, like a
wall-wart power brick but most warts are unregulated simply
linear types that may be spec'd at 12V but actually produce
over 16V under very light load, which is too high.  There
are relatively simple ways to "make" them work but it
involves some soldering, or just another power source.

A PC's 12V rail "might" work, it's fairly noisey power but
they have fair noise rejection so it could be another
possibility, but again it needs some finesse with getting
the power adapted to the plug interface, to it's female
5.5/2.1mm socket.

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