Lets say you have two computers. One computer may be a Mac, and the other one a Windows box. Or, you have a Windows box and a Linux server. Regardless of the exact configuration, unless you have a ton of desk space, you most likely have a KVM switch which allows you to share the same keyboard, monitor, and mouse with both computers. However, one important device is missing – your speakers.
Without an expensive KVM switch, one of those computers is going to have to do without sound. To me that’s just not acceptable. You could get a second set of speakers, but that takes up valuable desk space and just looks messy. So what do you do? You share the speakers with both computers.
Now there are a couple of methods to do this. Both methods will work for just about any situation, however each method has its disadvantages. The good news is whatever method you choose, it’s not going to cost you much at all. The parts needed to share the speakers can all be found at your local Radioshack. So are you ready to get sharing those speakers? I know I am.
The Y-adapter Method
The y-adapter method is the easiest method of the two and will provide the best sound. What the y-adapter method entails is of course a y-adapter, but not just any y-adapter. You need a reverse y-adapter. Tradition speaker y-adapters split the output of a device to two different headphones. This is perfect if you’re sharing your iPod with a friend, but not what you want to accomplish in this situation. You want to get a combiner y-adapter, which will take the output of two different devices and play them through your speakers. Radioshack has just the thing, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find one at most audio stores. If you’re going to be purchasing your y-adapter at a store other than Radioshack, look for a female 1/8″ jack splitting out to two males 1/8″ jacks.
Once you have the y-adapter, installation is easy. Just plug your speaker cable into the female connector on the y-adapter. The two male ends go into the line out ports of each of the two computers. Once that’s connected, enjoy the shared speakers.
Now you’re probably saying, what could be wrong with this method? It seems perfect. Well, in reality it’s not. Just look at the picture of a y-adapter above. Doesn’t look too long, does it? That’s because it’s not. The majority of y-adapters which meet your needs are under one foot in length. This is because the original purpose of such a connector was to share speakers with a modem and a sound card. No one has a stereo output on their modem anymore, but back in the early days of Windows this was standard. Since a modem was typically integrated into a computer or a small box sitting on top of the computer, a short cable worked just fine. So, if your computers are sitting right next to each other, the y-adapter may serve you well, but most likely you’re going to need something longer.
The other downfall of the y-adapter is there is no standard sound volume. One computer could be blasting while the other computer is very soft. This may not be a problem if you have a volume control on your speakers, but assuming you don’t, you’re probably going to want a standard volume.
The Computer to Computer Method
If the y-adapter method does not meet your needs, the computer to computer method will. The way the computer to computer method works is the output of the first computer will feed into the second computer. The second computer will then rebroadcast the first computer’s sound into the speakers. This will eliminate all of the y-adapter’s problems. The cable needed for this setup is typically very long, so your computers won’t have to be right next to each other. In addition, since the output will be coming from one computer, your sound levels will be constant between both computers.
For this type of setup you’ll need a male 1/8″ jack to a male 1/8″ jack cable. Once again RadioShack has just what you’ll need, but you can find the cable at most audio stores.
Once you have the cable, plug the one end into the Line Out of the computer without the speakers. The other end of the cable will then go into the Line In of the computer with the speakers. Now it’s important to note, I would recommend the computer that will have the speakers be a Windows computer. Mac OS X does not support Line In passthrough without a separate program, and on the Linux side of things the configuration will take more time than it’s worth.
Once you have the cable connected, it’s time for the true configuration. On the computer that does not have the speakers, set your sound output volume to somewhere around 80%. You want the sound coming out of that computer to be as loud as possible, but you don’t want to cause distortion, so 80% is the perfect level for this.
Now on the computer with the speakers, open up your volume control. Now look for the Line In volume. Uncheck Mute, if it’s checked. This is important because if you forget to do this step, the audio from the other computer will never output to your speakers.
The final step can be a little tedious. What you’re going to have to do is adjust the Line In volume so it matches the volume of the computer with the speakers. To do this step, I like to listen to some music. What I do is I play the first ten seconds or so of a song that I’m familiar with on the computer with the speakers. I pay close attention to the sound level that it’s outputting at. Once I think I have a good feel for the sound level, I’ll switch to the other computer and play that same part of the song. Once it starts playing, I’ll quickly switch back to the computer with the speakers and adjust the Line In volume to a level that is close to what I heard from that computer. Most likely you won’t get the volume perfect the first time; you’ll probably have to repeat the steps a couple of times. Just remember, there is no perfect volume; it’s what feels right to you.
After you have the Line In volume level set, you can sit back and enjoy your shared speakers. As long as when you want to increase or decrease the volume, you adjust the master volume on the computer with the speakers or with the volume control on your speakers, your sound levels will stay relatively close.