Connecting a 5.1 surround sound system to a computer is a great way to experience movies, games, and other audio content with an enhanced audio experience. The 5.1 system requires six separate channels of sound – left front, right front, center, rear left, rear right and the low frequency effects channel (LFE). Most computers already have the necessary sound outputs built in and connecting the speakers just requires the correct cables. Here’s how you can go about connecting a 5.1 surround sound system to your machine.
Choosing Between Analog and Digital Connections
Before you can set up your 5.1 speakers, you need to decide what kind of connection you want to use. Most modern computers will have both analog (via 3.5mm or 6.3mm sockets) and digital (usually, via a Toslink or S/PDIF port) outputs.
Analog sound is the worst of the two options since it’s open to interference and crosstalk. That’s why it’s rarely used any more. Setting up an analog connection requires a different cable for each speaker – three lengths of standard stereo cables, two lengths of stereo cables with RCA plugs and one length each of stereo cable with three RCA plugs.
Digital connections are much more reliable than their analog counterparts and most likely far clearer. It’s worth noting, however, that a digital 5.1 system can only be set up using a Toslink or S/PDIF cable or a combination of the two. You’ll need two lengths of the appropriate cable.
Using a Digital-to-Analog Converter
If your computer doesn’t have an analog or digital 5.1 connection, it’s possible to use a digital-to-analog converter instead. This can be used to transfer digital audio information from your machine to an analog audio system. To get up and running, use a Toslink or S/PDIF cable to connect the digital output of your computer to the input of the converter. You can then use normal cables to connect the converter to your speakers.
Configuring the Speakers
Once the connections have been made, you need to set up and configure your speakers. If you’re using an analog setup, there might be a small volume control associated with each speaker so that you can balance the sound. Digital systems don’t require any adjustment since the sound is already perfectly balanced.
Setting the Output in Windows
To test the 5.1 system out, you just need to go into Windows sound settings and set it so that audio is output through the 5.1 system. To do this, go to the playback tab of the sound menu, select your system, right-click and hit ‘configure speakers.’ After that, it’s as easy as selecting the 5.1 system type and clicking ‘Next.’ Once your computer is set up, you can test the 5.1 setup by playing a movie with surround sound or a game and checking the sound out.
Connecting a 5.1 surround sound system to a computer isn’t too difficult, regardless of whether you’re using digital or analog connections. A little care needs to be taken to ensure you have the right cables, and you need to set everything up in Windows sound settings. After that, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the enhanced audio experience.
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Last update 2021-09-03. Price and product availability may change.