Laptop audio
June 18, 2005 8:13 AM   Subscribe

What is the best option for having decent audio on a laptop?

I recently bought my first laptop, a toshiba M40, which was intended to be a desktop replacement for me. Unfortunately, I found out after the fact that the default audio jacks are headphone jacks and don't run at a line level, so they sound pretty poor when I plug them into my reciever.

So I'm wondering what I should look for to remedy this. I've done a bit of looking and have found both USB sound cards
and PCMCIA sound cards, but I'm really not sure which is better. Honestly all I really need is a decent stereo line out - anything above that wouldn't hurt, but it isn't really necessary.
posted by vernondalhart to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Good Guys, Circuit City, and other big boxes tend to have fairly flexible return policies. Why not buy a couple and try them out?

You also ought to be able to experiment with the headphone out at various volumes and get "decent" audio. Play a cd on a cd player hooked up to the stereo via line level inputs and then the same one through the laptop. You might need to diddle with the amp's volume, but if you end up like me, you'll be mostly using the computer as the main audio source anyway so you won't be changing the volume much once it's set.
posted by mzurer at 8:54 AM on June 18, 2005

For PCMCIA, I highly recommend the Echo Indigo products - I use the DJ for, erm, DJ'ing...

For FireWire/USB2.0, have a look at M-Audio, which do a wide-range of interfaces, all of which are pretty good for the money.
posted by benzo8 at 9:22 AM on June 18, 2005

I've done a bit of looking and have found both USB sound cards
and PCMCIA sound cards, but I'm really not sure which is better.
Either should really be fine. USB might have some theoretical advantages (since it's physically more isolated from the electrical noise of the laptop), but I doubt it's especially noticable.

The Audigy2 series, in particular, seems pretty nice, in either form.

Head-fi has a forum dedicated to using a computer as an audio source. You might want to browse around there.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:22 AM on June 18, 2005

The Griffin iMic is Windows and Mac compatible, £25 here in the UK.
posted by armoured-ant at 9:38 AM on June 18, 2005

USB audio adapters can have noise and latency issues, but will give you decent sound at a good price. They are also limited to stereo sound, so if you need multiple channels or higher quality sound, you'll need to look into PCMCIA or Firewire adapters.
posted by Rothko at 10:00 AM on June 18, 2005

Careful with Creative/Audigy products - Especially if high quality recording is a concern for you - They are infamous for resampling digital input, which of course isn't a good thing for the final product.
posted by rabble at 10:46 AM on June 18, 2005

Second for the iMic - I use it for both my Mac and my Windows laptop.
posted by DandyRandy at 9:55 PM on June 18, 2005

I like my old Stereo Link USB external box enough that I have two of them. One is on a Dell laptop and works very well. It is bigger and requires 120V supply, but sounds noticeably better than other approaches, even thought the technology is 4 years old. It costs $159, though.


I have sent back two different USB dongles including an M-audio because they just don't sound as good. This is even noticeable on streaming audio such as Rhapsody. The Stereo-Link also has a headphone output that sounds awesome with good headphones.

Their explanation:

"Why can't I just run an audio cable from my sound card to my Home Stereo?

You can, but you probably won't like the results. Many sound cards do not perform at audio-quality levels - producing lots of distortion and noise. They can be great for games, but not for real music. (Independent laboratory tests have shown that even the best Professional Audio Sound Cards, selling from $200 to $500+ and rated at the new 24-Bit industry standard, actually measure less than 16-Bit performance, and measurements on typical Sound Cards are much worse.)

Further, the inside of a computer is electrically a very noisy place, and the power supplies are full of digital noise from the processor, disk drives, and other computer components. Sound cards can transfer that noise into their audio output. Many people also experience "hum" from ground loop problems when connecting their sound card to their stereo.

The stereo-link SL1200 lives outside of your computer, connected with a clean, digital USB interface. It has its own quiet power supply and special isolation circuitry. It has excellent 20-bit DACs and operates at the "true" sampling rate of the recording, with no resampling.
posted by Instrumental at 12:16 AM on June 19, 2005

In my experience USB audio sucks system resources something fierce.
posted by HyperBlue at 3:17 AM on June 19, 2005

« Older Investor Newsletters   |   I bit my tongue! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.