Nothing augments and delivers a more natural and robust audio experience than a surround sound system. However, can you wire a surround sound system to a laptop? More specifically, can you connect 5.1 speakers to a laptop? Yes, you can., read on to find out more.
You can either connect 5.1 speakers to a laptop using AUX (for stereo output), HDMI to an AVR (and then to the speakers), using optical SPDIF, or Bluetooth if your speakers are Bluetooth enabled.
You can also check out this article on how to get 5.1 surround sound from your PC.
Here is a quick overview of the best methods:
- USB soundcard: Get a good external USB soundcard that can easily connect regular analog speakers or digital speakers.
- HDMI and AVR: Connect your laptop’s HDMI to a 5.1 surround sound AV receiver. Then, connect the speakers to the receiver.
- Use Bluetooth or WiFI: Get a 5.1 home theater system that uses Bluetooth or a regular WiFi connection.
- Use AUX: Some 5.1 systems allow you to use your headphone jack, but the audio output won’t be great.
Please note that if you wish to connect a subwoofer directly to a PC desktop computer, we have a separate article on how to connect a subwoofer to a computer.
Let’s get into more details.
What Is A 5.1 Sound System?
Let’s begin by understanding 5.1 surround sound systems. A 5.1 speaker system is an audio system that has six speakers are arranged in a pattern such that two of them are positioned to the front, the other two are placed at the back, and the remaining one is placed at the front center.
A subwoofer is then provided so that the system can deliver enough. You, therefore, have five loudspeakers and a subwoofer. This makes it a 6-channel system also called a 5.1 speaker system. Read our article on surround sound systems to find out more information.
A 5.1 speaker can either be analog or digital. These two types of systems require different forms of connections for a laptop and the general sound output will differ.
People like surround sound systems like the 5.1 system because they can enjoy their audio with full flexibility such as being able to play music through their speaker while using headphones.
Analog Vs Digital 5.1 Sound Systems
Analog speakers are mostly older speakers that are often connected via AUX. They are normally much cheaper than digital speakers and are compatible with many computers.
On the other hand, digital speakers require that your laptop is enabled with SPDIF output to be able to connect. With these speakers, the audio output from the laptop remains digital and the decoding and conversion are done by the electronics inside the speakers.
By the way, please note that the term “digital” does not refer to the actual speaker drivers. The speakers are analog and the digital signal has to be converted to analog before the speakers can use the signal. Analog speakers don’t have 5.1 decoding and digital-to-analog conversion electronics. They depend on the sound card on the laptop to do that work.
If your computer is SPDIF enabled, then you will be able to do a digital 5.1 sound system connection for an improved musical experience. The steps we are about to describe can be applied to both analog and digital sound systems though.
What Speaker System Do You Have?
Understanding your speaker system before attempting any form of connection is important. This will help you determine whether additional tools are needed and whether the cables available are compatible with your laptop or not.
Usually, all four speaker units are connected to the subwoofer before they are wired into the laptop.
Besides, if you are trying an analog connection, the system should have a minimum of three different types of cables.
You can also choose a good set of computer speakers (especially the ones with subwoofers) that will be more compatible with the motherboard of your laptop. However, computer speakers are a bit expensive and you will have to be ready to foot the bill.
If you are connecting using analog, your laptop must have a headphone jack fitted on it, or still, a USB port (some can go digital to analog). These input channels will work best with a large number of laptop speakers with 3.5mm audio connectors.
If you have USB speakers though, you will not need to plug them into the power source as they will be powered by your laptop.
1. Connect Using AUX
Some powered 5.1 home theater surround systems allow connection using AUX or 3.5 mm cables. This will be a connection from your computer’s headphone jack. However, keep in mind that 3.5 mm cables only carry stereo sound for the left and right channels.
As such, if you are driving a powered 5.1 system using AUX, you won’t get the surround sound effect because you will either only get output from the left and right channels alone or you will get stereo sound through all speakers.
You can actually use a 5.1 surround sound switch or splitter box, but you will probably have to make it yourself.
In either case, you won’t be using the 5.1 system for what it was designed for- surround sound!
2. Use a Multi Headphone Splitter and Y Adapters
Let’s say for some reason you want to use 6 individual self-powered speakers. In this case, you will need a multi-headphone slitter like the Antrader Cables Multi Headphone Splitter 3.5mm 1 to 5and 3 Y adapters like the Kingtop 3.5mm Combo Audio Adapter Cable.
In this case, you can connect the multi-headphone splitter directly to the laptop and then connect your Y adapters to the splitter and then to your speakers. For better performance, use a subwoofer y cable instead.
Remember, each Y adapter splits the tip/ring/sleeve (TRS) jack socket into 2 tip/sleeve (ts) sockets, for a total of 6 sockets, one for each speaker. By doing this, the result would be 3 speakers playing the right channel and 3 playing the left.
Please keep in mind that these adapters will result in a signal loss when you connect your speakers as they are really meant for headphones.
3. Use a USB Soundcard
The function of your laptop’s sound card is to convert the digital signal to analog (DAC). Some laptops have to have 3 analog output jacks to feed the signal to the speakers.
However, some are very limited and in this case, you can use an external USB soundcard.
With an external USB sound card, you can connect a regular analog or digital speakers to it.
There are several cards out there to choose from. Be careful with the cheaper ones because you can have serious issues with them. Here is a medium-priced example: Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 USB card.
Good places to find sound cards in the USA are Amazon.com and Newegg.
4. Use HDMI To A Receiver
Most modern laptops will have an HDMI port which should be able to output 5.1 audio to a surround receiver.
Please note that you cannot connect your speakers directly to the HDMI port because the signal from the port must be decoded and converted so that the speakers can use it.
What You Need
If you have a laptop with an in-built HD audio sound card and HDMI port, you will need the following items to make the connection a reality.
- Subwoofer Power cables
- HDMI cable
- Media player
- AV receiver
- AC3 Filter
Step 1: Wiring The Speakers
Connect all the cables to the matching terminals found at the back of the speakers and subwoofer system. Follow the user manual to get all the polarities right.
Fix every speaker to the right position – front right speaker, rear left and rear right speakers, and the center speaker appropriately. Ensure there is a proper match of colors provided for all the speaker wires.
Once you have fixed all the speaker wires, connect the power cable to the wall socket. Ensure all your cables are properly fixed and there is no loose cable at the end.
Step 2: Connecting HDMI From Laptop To AV Receiver
Begin the connection by having the HDMI cable wired from your laptop to the receiver as follows:
- Connect the laptop to AVR using the HDMI cable
- Change your laptop playback device to digital audio by right-clicking the volume icon on the taskbar
- Select the playback devices
- On the open dialog box, select the other device appearing either as Digital Output, or Digital Output (HDMI) and set it as the default
- While the digital output is selected, click on properties and go to the supported properties page.
- Select DD and DTS from the list and 480.0Khz as the sample rate
- Click apply and close the dialogue box
Once the connection is successful, your receiver will now be able to receive 2 channel stereo from the HDMI port.
Step 3: Sending DTS And DD Pass-Through Via SPDIF To AVR
- Select a DVD with DTS, Dolby Digital tracks or both
- Once the track starts, your AVR should be displaying PLIIx or 2 channel audio. This shows that you are getting only 2 channel playbacks through the HDMI cable
- Proceed to set up SPDIF pass-through on the AC3 filter
- Right-click on the media and select Filters. From the pop-up section, select the AC3 filter. You will see the AC3 filter properties page. Here, you will notice a checkbox called use SPDIF (disabled). That is the standard HDMI/SPDIF stereo output setting
- If at this time the media is still playing, you should see green bars dancing on the input and output levels. The sound card will be processing the audio and sending it to the amp as 5.1 pseudos as it is set out in the AC3 filter
Now, the receiver should be showing Dolby Digital or DTS. It is a sign that you are ready to have full range 5.1 surround sound.
The laptop passes the signal through and the decoder has changed. It’s now upon your amp to decode the sound and revamp your experience with a 5.1 surround sound.
Because your laptop will now be passing the sound untouched to the AVR, control the music volume from the AVR or amp. The sound should not be too high. Note that the laptop volume control stops working when the SPDIF option is checked.
To learn more, read our article on connecting AV receivers to powered speakers.
5. Bluetooth or WiFi
Now, of course, it is very simple and easy to connect your 5.1 surround-sound system to your laptop if the system is Bluetooth or Wi-Fi-enabled.
In this case, all you need to do is to enable Bluetooth on your speaker system and the laptop, then simply pair both.
Better yet, if you have an AV receiver, the better option is to connect your laptop to the receiver and then connect the receiver to your speakers wirelessly.
Does My Laptop Have a 5.1 Sound Card?
To find out whether your laptop has a 5.1 sound card, use the speaker test in Windows sound to test it. Here are the steps to follow:
- Open your playback device by right-clicking on the sound icon.
- Click on your receiver and go to setup.
- If all of the test tones play through properly, then you only need to ensure the audio source is 5.1
- You’re all done!
Why Won’t My External Speakers Work on My Laptop?
If you’re using external speakers and they are not working, check if they are powered. If they are, then consider rebooting your laptop.
You can also try to verify via the speaker icon in the taskbar that the audio is not muted and is turned up.
Also, try to check whether your laptop might be muted via hardware such as a dedicated mute button.
If you check and confirm all the above but still find issues, then contact a professional technician to come and diagnose the problem.
How Do I Get My Computer to Recognize External Speakers?
To get your speakers to recognize external speakers, here are the steps to follow:
- From the desktop, right-click your taskbar’s Speaker icon and choose Playback Devices.
- The Sound window will appear. Click (don’t double-click) your speaker’s icon and then click the Configure button.
- Click the speaker’s icon with the green checkmark, because that’s the device your computer uses for playing sound.
The Bottom Line
Connecting a 5.1 speaker to your laptop is not very difficult if your laptop supports an HDMI connection and you have an AV receiver. Of course, you can use AUX as well but you won’t get the best output from that. The easiest method is to connect wirelessly if your speakers support it.
Norvan Martin is the founder of BoomSpeaker.com. He is a professional Electronics Engineer and is passionate about home theater systems and AV electronics. BoomSpeaker was created as an online hub to share his knowledge and experiences as it relates to home theaters and home audio electronics.