Introduction: How to Connect a Sound System

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Nowadays, having a good sound system at home is an enjoyment for music listeners. If you want to pursue a better sound quality, you must hear of something like an amplifier or an equalizer. However, building a sound system often causes problems. If not properly connected or started, the components might be damaged. This tutorial will guide you how to properly build a sound system. First, we will introduce some basic concepts of a sound system. If you want to get the main ideas, you can simply focus on bold text.

Step 1: Preparation: Source Components

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A basic sound system usually includes an input, an amplifier, and an output. An input, or a source component is something like a MP3 player, a computer, or your iPhone. For convenience, many source components are digital sources. They use electronic signals instead of analogue signals. The main purpose of using digital signals is to store the music and easily make copies of the original one. With the improvement of recording technology, we can hardly distinguish if the source is digital or analogue by only hearing the music.

A good source component can be very expensive. If the convenience is the first factor you consider, your iPhone with the loss-less format of music works well. If you have a good budget, audio recorders such as TASCAM are good choices of source components. Those recorders are good at recapturing the details of a song. They are usually about hundreds of dollars.

Step 2: Preparation: Amplifiers

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An amplifier, like its name, enlarges the signal from the source components to make the sound louder. Depending on what kind of output devices we use, we have basically two kinds of amplifiers: one for headphones and another one for speakers. Usually good headphones need an amplifier to get the best quality and details of sound.

On the amplifier, there is one set or more input ports using RCA cables. Basically it transfers the signal from the source to the amplifier. The white connector is for the left channel and the red connector is for the right. For a device like iPhone, we need a combiner to mix the left and the right channel, since there is only one 3.5mm jack from iPhone.

Step 3: Preparation: Headphones or Speakers

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An output usually means a headphone or a set of speakers. Different headphones usually have different sensitivity to various sound frequency. Depending on what kind of music you listen to, there are different choices for headphones. A headphone for classic music might not be suitable for rock music.

A good headphone usually use a 6.35mm jack. It helps better transfer the signal to the headphone. There are two main factors for choosing a headphone. One is sensitivity, and the other is impedance. The more sensible the headphone is, the louder it is. Impedance means the part of energy that it loses when driving the headphone. The higher the impedance, the more current we need to have the same sound volume. Different headphones have different sensitivity and impedance.

Step 4: Preparation: Cautions

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Once you decide what headphone you want to use, then you can choose the proper amplifier for it. Make sure that your amplifier can handle your output devices. This is the first thing you want to consider. Then comes the personal preference for timbre. Each amplifier has a unique timbre for the source. The best way to choose your amplifier is to hear the timbre by trying many amplifiers.

Last but not least, we need some cables to do the connection. From the source component to the amplifier, we need RCA cables. From the headphone to the amplifier, we simply use the cable that the headphone comes with.
Now, we will use a sound system with an AKG headphone, an iPhone 6 and an headphone amplifier, to show you how to connect them.

Step 5: Get a Source Component Such As IPhone With Music Files in It.

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As mentioned before, there are many kinds of devices that can be used.

Step 6: Find the Input Jack on the Amplifier and Connect the Source Component to It.

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As mentioned before, we might need a combiner to connect the input to an iPhone.

Step 7: Find the Headphone Jack and Connect the Headphone to It.

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On the amplifier, usually it is a 6.35mm jack instead of a 3.5mm jack. Normally, a headphone with 3.5mm jack might not need to use an amplifier. But if you do want to do this, you can use an adaptor.

Step 8: Plug in the Amplifier and Turn It On.

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Once all the cables are connected and checked, we can turn on the amplifier. Do not let the source play anything before turning on the amplifier. Otherwise, the signal might damage the amplifier. The volume would better be at the lowest.

Step 9: Adjust the Volume and Enjoy the Sound Quality.

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Now, you can adjust the volume by turning the controller on the amplifier, or you can adjust it on your source component.

This example can be referred when you connect most of the sound system. Even though the kind of source components or amplifiers or headphones might be different, the basic thought is the same. We connect the source component to the amplifier at the input jack. Then we connect the headphone to it at the output jack. Next, we plug in the amplifier and turn it on. Remembering the ordering of connection helps much.

In some more complicated sound system, there is another device called pre-amplifier. A pre-amplifier is usually connected before the amplifier. It can adjust the signals in order to have a different sound for different frequency. A mixer or an equalizer can be called a pre-amplifier. For those people who have specific demands for sound, pre-amplifiers are necessary.

Now, let’s enjoy the sound system you just successfully connected!


DIY Hacks and How Tos (author)2016-01-11

Great tutorial. Very well written.