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Connecting your computer to your stereo

Learn your options for getting sound from your computer

Heads up!

Welcome to this article from the Crutchfield archives. Have fun reading it, but be aware that the information may be outdated and links may be broken.

Steve Silberman from AudioQuest visited Crutchfield to share some techniques for hooking our computers up to our stereos and getting better sound.

Connecting your computer to your stereo | Video Transcript

Analog connection
There's a number of great ways you can connect your computer to your stereo. The simplest way to do it is just using an analog cable. Pretty much every computer out there today has a headphone jack so you can take advantage of that. You can simply just plug a mini 3.5mm cable into your computer, and if you have one that has stereo RCAs on the other end you're connected and you're up and running and you've got computer audio.

Optical digital connection
If you want to do something that's a little bit more sophisticated , let's say that you have a surround sound receiver that has available digital inputs on it or you just purchased a new DAC (digital to audio converter). With an Apple computer, they typically have a Toslink out. So you can get one of these optical cables. It plugs into the same port as the headphone, overrides the headphone and now you've got digital out so you can send all the data that's stored either in your computer or on the external hard drive. You can send that digitally across to the receiver, or to the DAC, and have it decoded there and that will give you significantly higher resolution than just using the analog output.

HDMI connection
A lot of computers also come now with an HDMI connection. HDMI is pretty much the standard for audio/video connections in the home theater world. If you have an HDMI connection on your computer you could simply take advantage of that. You could use an HDMI cable to go from the computer to the stereo. I would say this would give you equal performance to the Toslink , not better, not worse, but pretty much equal.

USB connection
The trend though is moving towards USB cables. There's a number of products coming out that have digital USB inputs on them. And with the USB, you simply connect to one of the USB ports and you bring that to a DAC and now you've got a transmission line between the computer and the DAC. These tend to offer the highest performance of all your different options.

So beyond the different connections that are available, there's different quality cables. This is a pretty generic cable. It uses insulation or a dielectric that will have some interference. It also uses stranded wire which has some interesting distortions and interactions.

What we like to do at AudioQuest is we'll use wire that is solid core metal so there's less distortion there, and we use a dielectric or an insulation that has very little interference. The other thing we'll do is we'll pay attention to the actual pins. How we plate the pins, whether they're plated with gold or they're plated with silver will have a direct consequence on how good the cable sounds.

  • mike hudson from barnstaple

    Posted on 1/15/2021

    what about the television

  • Kobe from Tokyo

    Posted on 11/28/2020

    Is there no response to the 5 or 6 questions on connection? What a bunch of...

  • James Silver from MIAMI

    Posted on 6/27/2020

    HDMI cable to go from the computer to the stereo. I would say this would give you equal performance to the Toslink , not better, not worse, but pretty much equal. * This tells me nothing since you don't mention where in the stereo reciever do you connect the laptop to there are many HDMI outputs on the back of the recievers. Typically what output do you use. DVD, AUX, CD, etc. Thank you,

  • jeff zehel from savannah

    Posted on 4/20/2020

    Good information on given on various output connections from the computer to a DAC. However the high price for "specialized" cable is pretty much pure malarky. The human ear cannot hear the difference even if there was much of one. The only credence I would give to such non sense is some of the higher price cables may be constructed a little sturdier hence they may last longer. However the grossly overpriced cables is not justified in anyone's wildness dreams. I believe in Paul Wilbur Klipsch and his thoughts on

  • Wesley Jansen from La Conner

    Posted on 4/20/2020

    I don't have a separate DAC. Can I connect my laptop to my AV receiver (which has a built-in DAC) with a USB cable? Or would an HDMI connection be better? What about DLNA and no cables at all? I listen to Tidal MQA and want the best sound possible without going to a separate DAC.

  • Gus from Worcester

    Posted on 2/11/2019

    Everytime I connect via phone jack (PC) to analog input ( receiver) it sounds much more natural than through USB. I don't know why. If anyone has a reason, please let me know.

  • Aldo Celeste from Little Egg Harbor

    Posted on 4/12/2018

    I have a LAN home setup. Can I use ethernet connections from computer to A/V receiver (ONKYO TX-NR656 purchased from Crutchfield), with or without a router?

  • Bob H from New York

    Posted on 4/9/2017

    How would I be able to stream pc (windows10) system audio to a stereo with wifi capability? The pc and the stereo are too far apart to make a physical connection practical.

  • Douglas Gapinski from Hillsdale

    Posted on 1/12/2017

    It's nice to see honesty, coupled with integrity. Keep doing what you're doing!! Thank you.

  • Nick from Las Vegas

    Posted on 8/22/2016

    This sounds good - but the question is where to you plug the cables in - I've tried it all the steps and nothing works. The receiver will not accept the computer connection - there is only a black screen as soon as the computer comes on. And, no sound.

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