PC Mod: Audigy and Front Audio Ports

This is a bit of everything: rant, rave, babble -- but mainly, I'm writing this so the next unfortunate chap in this situation (who hopefully googles for an answer) will have a solution.

I recently bought a new computer for doing home development work, video editing, and, well, ok -- playing games. I refuse to buy another Dell (rant). They're cheap, they're easy. But I hate the style, and I hate the fact that if you need a new power supply, you need to get it from Dell (along with almost every other component in the system). Why do we have standards, again? At any rate, Dells are a good value for the money, but just lack some of the cool options you can get with other products, and the lack of standard conformance is disturbing to me.

I also was not going to build it myself. Been there, done that. Frankly, it's not much cheaper -- in fact, if you count my time, it's more expensive. So, I decided to give ABS a try. A good mix of customization, name brand components, but without the hassle of building it. I don't want to go too in-depth of my experience with ABS -- but in short, it was great. I'll definitely buy another PC from them again (rave).

There was one minor issue I had. The WaveMaster case that I got (by CoolerMaster) has a cool top function panel for audio and USB/Firewire (see the pict to the left). While the USB and Firewire worked great, I realized the audio ports were not connected.

As I looked in the case, I realized this was because I had gotten an Audigy 2 ZS sound card as opposed to onboard sound -- there's no way (at least that is supported) to hook up a non-Creative Labs products to an Audigy card for this type of purpose. However, Creative Labs makes a "Platinum" edition of the card that comes with a 5 1/4" drive bay that includes front audio jacks. So surely, this is technically possible.

My computer came without the required cable to hook up the top audio jacks (a 4 pin cable). I sent an e-mail to ABS and waited, asking if I could get the cable. I never received a response. This was strike one against ABS -- but they made up for it later. I also e-mailed CoolerMaster to see if I could get the cable. It's not that the cable is expensive, it's just that you can't find it at the corner store. I had a response in less than 5 minutes from a guy at CoolerMaster, and the cable was on its way for free (rave). That was fastest support I've ever received.

I called ABS to complain and to follow up on my e-mail. I came to realize that the entire top panel of the WaveMaster case could be swapped with a fan, using an included fan assembly that comes with the case. This was also missing. (I should probably say "not included" instead of missing -- understandably, most companies don't include a slew of parts that aren't used.) Fortunately, ABS really made up for the unanswered e-mail and the entire top panel assembly was on its way to my door. I also asked for the front drive bezels that were not needed (as those drives are populated by optical drives), but I wanted them for future use and modding. They included those, too. So kudos to ABS (rave).

The real point of this babble is to explain how I hooked up my audio ports. I found, after digging around the net, some pin assignments of the Audigy 2 ZS card (not sure who originally discovered this, but thank you!). There's a group of 10 pins in the upper-left of the card (see picture) that normally goes to the front panel drive included in the platinum edition. These pins are (pin 1 is the upper right of the card, towards the Soundblaster Logo):

1. Analog Ground
2. Analog Left headphone out
3. Audio Backpanel mute
4. Analog Right headphone out
5. Audio Backpanel mute (?)
6. Mic input from front panel
7. Key pin?
8. Voltage reference for Mic
9. Mic in mute
10. Audio cable detect

Woohoo! Using the specs from the WaveMaster case, I was able to figure out the pin assignments, and rig up my own connections. The WaveMaster has 4 leads: Right Channel, Left Channel, Ground, and Mic In. These were clearly labelled with the case documentation. (And, rave again for ABS for the way they package their documentation.) The only hitch was that the pins on the Audigy card are really small; I was unable to find any connector to fit the Audigy card right, so I had to solder the pins in place. With this, the front audio ports work great!

I had e-mailed Creative Labs about a solution before I went this far. They said it wasn't possible. I also asked about buying a the "Live Drive" (the front audio drive that fits in the 5 1/4" bay) separately, but they said it must be purchased with the platinum package. Shame on them (rant). Really awful customer service; I understand they don't want to encourage people soldering connections to their card -- however, given that front audio ports are very common on new computers, they could've made it a bit simpler to accomplish this.

I also soldered a switch (that I rigged up to the case) that jumpers pin 1 and 3, which will mute the back audio. This is useful if you want to kill the main speakers when using headphones. I'm still trying to figure out if I can incorporate pin 10 (Audio Cable Detect) into this mix.

At the very least, I got some great customer service from ABS and CoolerMaster, and practiced my soldering skills a bit.

Hopefully, if someone has an Audigy card and a case with front audio jacks, this info will be useful!

Comments (7) -

MelechRic
MelechRic
5/10/2005 1:35:58 PM #

http://audigy2ZShowto.blogspot.com



Also, I'm having a lot of trouble getting my microphone to work on my headset. If anybody has an idea please post it here in the comments.



Regards,



MelechRic

MelechRic
MelechRic
5/10/2005 6:39:55 PM #

http://audigy2ZShowto.blogspot.com



Also, I'm having a lot of trouble getting my microphone to work on my headset. If anybody has an idea please post it here in the comments.



Regards,



MelechRic

Brian
Brian
5/11/2005 2:29:21 AM #

Hi MelechRic--



Great article on your site!  



I believe this may help.  I noticed that my front panel Mic wasn't working, but if I simply had a plug (it needn't be connected to anything) in the Mic In on the rear of the sound card, the front panel mic would work.



Apparently all mic inputs will mute if there's nothing in the back input -- there's a small cable-inserted tab for detecting if a cable is inserted.  When a cable is present, it actually breaks the connection, otherwise the connection is made.  



What I did is desolder the actual 1/8" jack from the board.  I then opened the black "box" that covers the connectors inside the box, and removed the tab.  Once the box is open, if you insert a 1/8" plug, you'll see exactly what I mean.



The mic still sounded poor, so I ended up soldering some connectors directly to the leads on the back on the card.  It's a bit crazy and overkill, but works great.



Brian

MelechRic
MelechRic
5/11/2005 6:44:35 PM #

Brian,



Thanks for the information. I've got a 1/4" plug in the microphone input but I'm still having lousy microphone response. It's funny that you mentioned soldering the connectors to the back side of the board. My mind was on this track too and I may yet do that.



It's too bad that Creative can't relent and just publish how to do this. Almost every new case comes with a  front panel audio and mic connection. I guess Creative wants to sell you their $180 front panel insert. Well, I'm sure that I'll be looking at other vendors for the next card I buy, especially after all this trouble.



Thanks again. I'll post back if I make any further headway.



MelechRic

GuTi20
GuTi20
5/25/2005 12:25:27 AM #

First: sorry i cant speak english



I have this pins on my panel:

1 ret_l

2 ret_r

3 out_l

4 out_r

5 hp_on

6 vcc

7 gnd

8 mic

9 mic_b



where i plug audigy 8. pin (voltage reference for mic) vcc, mic_b or other?

Vikash Jayant Prakash
Vikash Jayant Prakash
6/5/2005 11:34:35 PM #

I have a BlasterPC case that I am using for my computing.  I love that it came with a remote, fm radio etc.  I had a bad flash with the bios and thus killed the original mobo.  Anyways I am really greatful for all the info that is here so that in the future I can build a great Sounding PC.  What I lack is the connections for a volume control.  If I use the first generation Audigy card there is a 4-pin connection that i could use but can anyone help me find it for this card?

Brian
Brian
6/7/2005 2:08:51 AM #

Hi Vikash,



I haven't seen the first gen Audigy so I'm not quite sure what the setup is ... you sure it isn't the CD analog or digital in?  



GuTi20, I had a lot of problems getting my mic to work properly so I ended up using the leads coming off the 1/8" jack that leads to the rear of the card.  But, in your case, I'd guess it would be VCC (#6) -- though I could be wrong.  That pin layout looks familiar though, I think I may have seen that somewhere...

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