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I have two computers with audio output, and I'd like to monitor both, simultaneously, with one set of speakers. What do I need?

I know I could feed the line-out of one computer into the line-in of the other, and turn on software mixing, but I want this to work regardless of whether one or the other computer is on or off.

So, I'm looking for a hardware solution. Could I use some kind of microphone Y-cable, or should I be using a mixer device – and if so, why, and what is the simplest/cheapest kind of mixer I could get away with?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 8 down vote accepted

What you need is a simple mixer. It will function independently of your computers, and (unlike a y-cable) you'll have a master volume control.

If you only have two stereo sources, something small like this Behringer Xenyx 502 or a similar one from any other company will do nicely. Pick the brand based on what's most important to you (tone, features, price, whatever) and look for companies whose reputation matches that. For example, Behringer is known for being inexpensive, but someone like, say Mackie, will be more expensive but be more durable, perhaps have less noise, that sort of thing.

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You can often make your own passive "mixer" similar to a Y-cable. You just need to put isolation resistors in series with each output before tying them together, or the two outputs will see each other as short circuits and destroy each other. The resistor method is not as good as a real mixer, but it can work in some circumstances.

Why Not Wye?

Stereo mixer

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1  
I think you meant to use Figure 4. Computers have stereo outputs. –  Ron Jan 13 '11 at 17:42
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Not as good as a real mixer??? Put the circuit above in a fancy rack mount with some kind of hip-sounding name and you can sell it for $2500! cf sweetwater.com/store/detail/2BUS –  Bill Gribble Jan 14 '11 at 18:01
    
Yeah, I've seen that before. I'd love to see what's inside it. –  endolith Jan 14 '11 at 18:46
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You need a mixer. You need a mixer that can take two stereo channels. You could probably find something for 40 bucks or so.

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The one I linked retails for $45 at my local store last I checked (although this will change over time) –  Warrior Bob Dec 25 '10 at 22:03
    
Right, that's the one I was thinking at, although I didn't want to recommend a product I never used. :) –  Lennart Regebro Dec 25 '10 at 22:06
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There's a device that does this available at http://www.stoweblank.com/tinymix. It's basically a simple mixer.

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The problem with a Y adapter is that the audio signal is fed into both devices -and- the speakers, which attenuates the signal, and could potentially cause damage -- if both sources are active, they add together.

To see the attenuation effect, plug in the Y cable, turn on a (quiet) source of audio, then unplug one device. Louder, eh? That difference is the signal being fed from one source to the other.

So yes, there's a chance of harm, even though it's remote, if anything on that Y-cable is particularly expensive, I'd think twice about it. With more than 2 devices, I wouldn't risk it.

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You could try a Y adapter. 2 ins 1 out. Should sound acceptable if plugged in correctly. Won't be the most clean of solutions however.

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What makes this solution not "clean"? I'm curious. Is there any chance of harm to my equipment? –  Chris W. Rea Jan 14 '11 at 12:40
    
Not to your equiopment perhaps, but to your audio quality. You have to start worrying about balannced and unbalanced connections, and also being careful with the adapter not to bend it or anything. –  Sam Jan 14 '11 at 13:25
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