Introduction: Steampunk Laptop Audio Amplifier
This project was really the result of having a laptop that sounded terrible. I use my laptop at home as my primary computer and since I am a music collector, having the ability to listen with good clarity (and at least some bass response) is important. So looking around the house I discovered an old set of portable speakers, the Virgin Boomtube, which I thought I could mount to a base on the laptop cushion I was using. An aluminum baking sheet, some lamp parts and some steampunk inspiration resulted in this very cool solution. Yes it sounds great!
1. Any small 2.1 computer speaker system or 2.0 speakers that have an integrated amplifier and an line input.
2. An 11x16 inch aluminum baking sheet
3. Old lamp with gooseneck cable light mounts
4. Fabric for covering and improving the finish of the project
5. Nuts, bolts and fastening materials.
Step 1: Find a Suitable Speaker System.
I used a system called a "virgin boomtube" that I bought about 15 years ago. The drivers were small and relatively light, there was a bass component that also doubled as a small amp and it had a certain sci fi shape that I thought would work out great. Your able to use just about anything that is light and can be mounted on the gooseneck ends. Any of the smaller 2.1 systems would work fine and would have much better sound than your laptop. One thing to think about though is that if you use a floor sub, your system is tethered. This design allows you to take your laptop (without the external speaker system) by simply unplugging the line out connection of the laptop. Many more modern speaker systems are bluetooth enabled so in that case, no wires!
Step 2: Find a Suitable Base to Mount the Speakers.
Because my laptop sits on a foam cushion, I needed a baking pan that would fit the entire surface of its top, without a lot of overlap. While cobbling together steampunk projects, I almost never buy anything. I love the idea of recycling older materials, which for me is the fun part of making. The baking sheet I used was just waiting to be repurposed and fit the cushion perfectly. The mounting tabs were a bit challenging since they had to be strong. The baking sheet is a relatively thick piece of aluminum and easily handles the weight of the goosenecks and speakers.
Step 3: Fabricate Mounting Tabs
The tabs I ended up making are cut from angle iron, ground smooth and drilled to accept the threaded lamp tube. The correct size for this is 3/8th. I had to bend the tabs at the angle shown as the aluminum base was flared out when used in the upside down position in order to fit on the cushion. These tabs were then drilled and mounted with small bolts, nuts and sealed with epoxy. I decided to keep them unfinished as they matched the gooseneck silver color nicely.
Step 4: Prepare the Gooseneck
Finding a piece of gooseneck long enough didn't take too long, as lamps with this material are common. Find them at Goodwill stores, recycle and antique stores or your basement. I used a lamp that had a long gooseneck tube that I cut in half. The cable was attached to the base and light with standard lamp hardware, but cutting it meant that I only had two flanges that fit with nuts and two that did not. TIP--find a lamp with multiple gooseneck cables and then don't cut them. That way you have flanges on both sides that can be mounted easily without additional fabrication.
Step 5: Mount the Speakers to the Gooseneck
This step was the hardest as I wasn't sure how I was going to mount the cut ends of the gooseneck to the speakers. As you can see, the rca connectors were not on on the center of the 3 inch circular back. So I ended up cutting 3 inch disc's out of some 1 inch thick wood,then drilling a 7/16th inch hole half way thru at the center of the rca plug. The other half was carefully widened with a rotozip bit to accomodate the rca plug. I glued the wood to the backs of the speakers after inserting the rca plugs and threading the wire thru. There was a force fit on the gooseneck, made sturdier with epoxy as well.
Step 6: Paint the Speakers and the Bass/amp Module
After experimenting with hole cutters (which leaves a center hole), I ended up drawing a 3 inch circle and cutting it out with a jig saw. Some sanding and I had just enough material to mount to the gooseneck and give clearance to the rca plug. After gluing the wooden discs to the back of speakers, I carefully taped the edges of the speaker assemblies and bass/amp module so as not to paint over controls and speaker cones. Some copper paint fits the steampunk aesthetic well.
Step 7: Mount the Bass/amp Module to the Pan
This actually took a while as I tried a few other materials before the metal strapping was decided on. It looks right, was easy to cut and trim and I was careful to leave the controls and jacks accessible when bolted to the top of the plate.
Step 8: Upolster the Pan.
I had a piece of cloth (that I actually used for another project as speaker cloth) that I thought looked great. I cut it to size and then used a spray glue to secure it to the pan. The cloth helps keep the laptop from sliding around.
Step 9: Additional Thoughts and Plans
The system really sounds great as I am listening to drivers at fairly close range and the mid/high end is very clear and crisply imaged. I think the bass unit is weak and I may switch to a subwoofer configuration in the future. Cable managment is an issue and minimizing rca cord length important. Having a bluetooth system would remove the line out cord from the left side of the system that tends to obscure the USB and HDMI ports, which I do use frequently. Even with the aluminum, the system is far from light, which is another reason the subwoofer is a good idea. I love the ability to ramp up my sound system, listen at fairly loud levels and enjoy sonic detail that the original speakers simply couldn't produce. I especially like the steampunk aesthetics that I believe are particularly successful with this build.