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Connect Speakers to Any mini PCs with a $1 USB Sound Card

Last year, I made a poll to find out what kind of audio output people used with mini PCs, and one person commented “USB audio to av receiver”, but at the time I did not investigate. Recently somebody asked me for mini PCs with audio output for stereo speakers, and I recommended something like MINIX NEO X6 with a dedicated 3.5mm audio jack, but I’ve just discovered USB sound cards with stereo output and microphone input are incredibly cheap, even less than $1 shipped on Aliexpress, and just above $1 on Ebay.

USB_Sound_CardThe features for the model above are listed as follows:

  • Real USB Plug & Play
  • Drive 2-channelsspeakers directly
  • Support 3D positional sound and virtual 5.1 channels sound track
  • Powered via USB port
  • Digital Class-B power Amplifier inside
  • Speaker Shifter –  5.1x earphone,  2 speaker virtual theater
  • Software Value-added for Music:  27x Environmont Effects,  3x Environment sizes, 10-Band/Pre-set Equalizer
  • Software Value-added for Game:  EAX 2.0 or A3D 1.0, Microsoft Dlrectsound 3D, Earphone Plus, Speaker Shifter

I’m not sure everything listed above makes sense, but the take away is that you can connect this via USB without external power supply, and connect your microphone and speakers, or headset and get done with it. There are also more advanced models with supports for more speakers and S/PDIF out / in.

USB_Sound_Card_4_Speakers_SPDIFThe real question is: does it work with all operating systems? Since there’s a USB audio device class, I’m assuming this should work as well as USB mass storage devices. However some sellers mentions the sound card is “Compliant with USB Audio Device Class: v1.0 , v2.0”, and add the same time provided limitations with regards to OS supports: “Compatible with Win98SE, ME, 2000, XP, Vista (32 bit version only) , Mac OS9.1 (Mac version has 2 channel playback only)”. Having said that I’ve also read user’s reviews mentioning support for Linux and Android 4.1, so it looks good for Linux / Android mini PCs without audio and AV jack too.

I’m assuming at least of few of you must have tried this type of device with Linux or Android, and it would be great to get some feedback here too.

  1. onebir
    February 1st, 2015 at 21:32 | #1

    Various models here for $1.20 – $3 (some with volume & start stop buttons & USB cables):
    http://www.buyincoins.com/item/211.html (same as one in article I think)
    http://www.buyincoins.com/item/87.html
    http://www.buyincoins.com/item/57645.html
    http://www.buyincoins.com/item/33456.html
    http://www.buyincoins.com/item/41004.html

    Maybe they use different chipsets & some would work better than others with Linux etc?

  2. Tired_
    February 1st, 2015 at 23:51 | #2

    I got one of these cheap sound cards for an Android stick I have connected to a DVI monitor. Unfortunately for me, the sound card draws so much power that it crashes my stick within a minute. Sometimes, you get what you pay for.

  3. sam
    February 2nd, 2015 at 00:18 | #3

    yeap , I’ve tried it. been using it on my NAS arm box. Runs perfectly with mpd on debian.

  4. RK
    February 2nd, 2015 at 03:33 | #4

    @Tired_
    Use a powered usb hub.

  5. Marius
    February 2nd, 2015 at 03:42 | #5

    I highly advise against getting one of these. They don’t last long and the sound quality is just horrible, you hear something but it’s like the 90’s or something.
    You get decent sound quality from a $12 USB sound card based on a TI chip.
    I got one of these :

    http://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/MUSE-X5-HiFi-PCM2704-USB-to-Headphone-Converter-DAC-Sound-Card-USB-Cable-Mini-Size-64mm/404799_1183493292.html

    It still a bit under the sound quality of a modern motherboard Realtek DAC but sound quality is decent, it looks nice and the build quality seems very good.
    There might be cheaper PCM2704 solutions.

  6. Richard Ames
    February 2nd, 2015 at 04:06 | #6

    For people interested in converting from S/PDIF to multi-channel line level outputs, there is a very interesting (but older) write up here

    http://www.dr-lex.be/hardware/hdar_review.html

    It discusses some of the shortcomings of these decoders. I came across it when researching whether one could assemble a 5.1 amplifier from simpler, smaller components.

  7. Gabe
  8. February 2nd, 2015 at 04:56 | #8

    Actually I have one of these right here. If you have headphones with Mic in them, then this device with those headphones would be useless.

  9. Sam Butler
    February 2nd, 2015 at 07:25 | #9

    Got one of these last week for Raspberry Pi. Not great, but ok. But is a temporary solution (although I paid a few dollars more, because I bought it from a localAustralian supplier through Ebay as I needed it quickly). For the price its great, for Audiophiles (which I’m not), I doubt it would be satisfactory.

  10. February 2nd, 2015 at 09:23 | #10

    A few comments on Google Plus too: https://plus.google.com/u/0/110719562692786994119/posts/eDw29qTRN6N?cfem=1

    Including that one:
    “The product description on ebay’s careforyou123 web site says this uses 6911 chipset (for normal sound quality only) and recommends that for high quality sound you should instead buy a product based on CM119 / CM108 / CM106 Chipset. Remarkably candid IMHO.”

  11. slowstream
    February 2nd, 2015 at 12:33 | #12

    Was about to contact hardkernel and ask them how is the audio quality with the dac/amplifier they recomand for the c1:http://www.hardkernel.com/main/products/prdt_info.php?g_code=G141629380416

  12. February 2nd, 2015 at 14:00 | #13

    @slowstream
    That one is based on C-media CM108AH, so based on the comments above, it should be fairly good.

  13. tony
    February 2nd, 2015 at 15:32 | #14

    I have the one on the first photo connecting to a MK802 stick running Debian. It works without a glitch and is almost too good to be true for $1+free shipping I paid for it. Never got any problem with it. I ordered another 2 pieces and stacked them up just in case I need them in another DIY project.

  14. March 5th, 2015 at 18:56 | #15

    I have one of the “box” versions with SPDIF, the sound quality was surprisingly good, much better than on the cheap $1-3 ones.

  15. Hans
    August 14th, 2015 at 12:37 | #16

    Hi,
    My internal sound card on my PC (Acer mini Tower) is gone.
    Can I use external usb sound card to listen to and also record sound to my hard drive?

    Thank you,

    Hans

  16. sky770
    November 30th, 2015 at 11:07 | #17

    Most mini PCs have an HDMI out port..how about connecting a male to female HDMI connector with a built-in audio out?
    Granted they might be a tad more expensive but sound quality should be a lot better and not to mention saving of a USB port usage.

  1. February 13th, 2015 at 15:30 | #1