How do you connect a computer or laptop to a sound system in a church? The connection depends on why you want to connect your computer. You may want to connect the laptop to play audio files through the PA system, or you may want to connect a computer to record sound. With both options, you need the right cables and possibly computer software.
Connecting the Laptop to the PA to Play Audio
Unless you are connecting a desktop PC with a soundcard, you are likely connecting a laptop. Laptops typically have a single 1/8-inch mini stereo jack. Unfortunately, most mixers do not have the right input for this connection.
There are three types of cables that you may use, depending on the available inputs on the soundboard. The first option is the stereo breakout cable. This cable has a mini stereo jack on one end and two 1/4-inch mono jacks on the other end.
The mini stereo jack plugs into the audio output on your laptop. The mono jacks connect to the available 1/4-inch inputs on the mixer. If the mixer does not have a stereo channel, each mono jack receives its own channel.
When the dual jacks require their own channel, pan one of the channels to the left and one to the right to recreate the stereo sound.
If the mixer does not have 1/4-inch jacks, it may have RCA inputs. An RCA cable includes the mini-stereo jack on one end and dual RCA jacks on the other. You should not need to control the left and right channels independently.
If neither connection is available, you may need a direct injection (DI) box. The DI box includes an input for the mini stereo jack coming from your laptop. It then splits the signal into two XLR outputs.
XLR outputs are the same connectors used by most microphones. You then plug the XLR connectors into your mixer.
When using any of these three options, turn the volume on your laptop all the way up and adjust your sound through the mixer.
Connecting the Laptop to the PA to Record Audio
Connecting your laptop to the PA to record audio requires the same cables as connecting the laptop to play audio. The difference is the direction of the connection.
If you want to record audio, you need to send the sound from an output on the mixer to your laptop. Unfortunately, most laptops do not have a line input port. This means that there is no connection on your laptop to accept incoming sound.
Most modern laptops simply have an audio output for connecting headphones or speakers. To receive sound, you may need to purchase an extra device.
A USB audio interface is an affordable piece of equipment that typically includes RCA inputs and a stereo output that connects to the computer via a USB connection.
For this connection, you may need dual-RCA cables for connecting the mixer to the USB audio interface. The RCA cables connect to the RCA output on the mixer.
After connecting the mixer to your laptop, the mixer should appear as a sound device on your computer. However, your computer may need to install audio drivers to establish the connection. Your computer should automatically search for and download the required drivers.
The final step in setting up your laptop to record audio from your sound system is to choose the recording software. Some computers may have basic audio recording software pre-installed. If you want advanced features or settings, separate audio software may be needed, such as digital audio workstation (DAW).
These same steps should also work for most smartphones and tablets. Like laptops, they often have a mini stereo jack. Connecting this mini stereo jack to the correct input or output on the mixer allows you to play from the portable device or record to it.
Connecting a Mixer to a Desktop Computer Sound Card
If you plan to connect your mixer to a desktop computer, you may have a few different options, compared to connecting a laptop or portable device. While you may still need the cables described for the connection, you can use quality sound cards.
Laptops and portable devices have onboard sound that is designed for personal entertainment, not recording or playing music through a sound system. With a desktop computer, you can install a high-end sound card to ensure that you capture quality audio or deliver superior sound to your mixer.
Like the rest of your equipment, PC sound cards have different connections. With a PCI/PCIe sound card, you can install the card internally in your computer. There are also Firewire sound cards that are typically installed externally.
In recent years, USB audio interfaces have improved and now provide a suitable alternative to internal sound cards.
Soundcards also come with varying amounts of inputs and outputs. Instead of a single line level input or output, you can send multiple channels through your computer audio interface.
The most basic sound cards include a pair of stereo inputs and outputs, eliminating the need to split a single stereo input or output into two mono channels. The result is superior sound, whether you want to record onto your computer or play audio from the computer on the sound system.
If you want to connect your laptop to your soundboard, you need to determine which connections you have on both devices. If you are outputting sound from the laptop to the mixer, you can connect the stereo output to the mixer with a mini stereo jack to dual 1/4-inch jack cable or a mini stereo jack to dual RCA cable. When connecting in the reverse direction, you will likely need a USB audio interface.
If you decide to record audio on your laptop, you may also need a digital audio workstation. However, you will only be working with two channels – the left and right stereo channels. When connecting a desktop computer, you should have a sound card with multiple inputs and outputs. These still use a mini-jack connection and can connect with any of the cables discussed.