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From Sound Card to Stereo: Connecting Your PC to Your Stereo

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If you've got music, multimedia, games, or DVDs on your PC that you'd like to play through your sound system at home, you might be able to hook your PC to your receiver or pre-amp to bring these two worlds together. Learn how to analyze the equipment you've got and make sure outputs and inputs are compatible.
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As an alternative to hooking up speakers to PC sound cards and putting separate audio systems in place, many PC audio enthusiasts pipe sounds from their PCs into their audio systems. These might be gamers, DVD movie aficionados, digital music fiends, or hardy souls just looking to use existing audio capabilities that they already bought and paid for.

Of course, this means that you must bring your PC and your entertainment system together, but that's a problem for another story. Here, I assume that you can bridge the gap between your PC and sound system with a cable or two.

This leaves open an exploration of the kinds of connections that are feasible between a PC sound card and a free-standing sound system.

Evaluate Your Equipment

As is so often the case when trying to interconnect different bits of technology, your satisfaction with the potential results will vary according to the type of sound card and sound system you have, and the kinds of connections (especially the more newfangled types) that they support.

The good news is that if you're willing to settle for old-fashioned stereo sounds (right and left channel only), you'll probably be able to get things connected and working with a minimal expenditure of time, money, and effort. Connections to support more advanced sound technologies—including various forms of Dolby Digital, THX, and 4.1, 5.1, and 7.1 speaker configurations—will meet with varying success, depending on the compatibility of the outputs from your sound card and the inputs on your sound system.

For those seeking 3D or ActiveX sound support, I'll go on record right now and say that a state-of-the-art sound card (such as a Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum or Platinum Pro, with its plethora of inputs and output), plus a relatively new sound system (with S-Video, optical, or six-channel analog inputs) will greatly increase your odds of a successful match-up. Using the Audigy 2 ZS as a case in point, taking fullest advantage of its capabilities means that your audio receiver or pre-amp must offer support for THX, DTS-ES, or Dolby Digital EX movie sound: That's why needs for compatibility between sound card and audio equipment can sometimes be problematic.

My advice is to take an inventory of your sound card and sound system interfaces and audio standards. First and foremost, decide whether what you've got delivers the kind of capabilities you want before you try to mate things up. If you can get over the compatibility hurdle, you can probably take advantage of multidimensional sound schemes that will help bring games to life, give DVDs theater depth and punch, and make listening to regular digital music files (MP3, wma, aac, or whatever else you listen to) pretty tame by comparison.

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