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   Guide : SBLive! External Volume Control »  


SBLive! External Volume Control
 Date  : Dec 11th, 2000
 Category  : Audio
 Manufacturer   : N/A
 Author  : Jin-Wei Tioh

Click To Enlarge
Creative Lab's Sound Blaster Live!. The company doesn't really need any introduction, especially since it had caused quite a stir at least twice, when it bought up Ensoniq and earlier this year when it settled its lawsuit with A3D by buying them up.

The product-line? Everyone should be familiar with the SBLive! family by now. Driven by the powerful EMU10K1 DSP, the SBLive! family was originally introduced as the SBLive! and SBLive! Value in 1999. The family has now diversified to include the SBLive! Platinum, SBLive! X-Gamer, etc.

The core SBLive! design is a rather versatile one. Remove a couple of knick-knacks such as the Live!Drive connector, and you get a scaled downed product targeted to the lower price margin. Add a couple of ding-dongs, such as the Live!Drive and S/PDIF output, and you get a package targeted at the high price margin. However, even the Value version includes plenty of connectors if you take a quick look at the PCB. Eg. TAD, AUX_IN, CD_SPDIF, VOL_CTRL.

Click To Enlarge

Hmm...VOL_CTRL, doesn't sound like an abbreviation of volume control? If this is what it appears to be, then it would jolly well be possible to create an "external master volume control".

Being a tweaker at heart (aren't we all?), I decided to test this theory. If you look carefully at the VOL_CTRL, you'll notice that there are three jumper headers. The newer revisions of the SBLive! Value are missing these headers, but I'll show you how to solve that pesky hindrance later on. According to logic, one of them should be a ground, one should be the "volume increase" signal, and the other should be the "volume decrease" signal. Problem is, which is which? Well, I had my work cut out for me, but it will save you a lot of trouble and the risk of potentially blowing up your sound card (at best) or your whole system (at worst).

This is what I found.
 Pin  Signal
 4  Ground
 3  Volume Increase
 2  N/A
 1  Volume Decrease

Booted up into Win98SE and fired up volume control. Then I shorted the headers according to the above table. The dang thing actually worked! The volume slider moved up and down accordingly when the appropriate headers were shorted. And here's the sweet part. When triggering both "volume increase" and "volume decrease" simultaneously, the sound will be muted / unmuted! How do we make this more elegant and convenient? One way would be to connect 2 micro-switches and mount them somewhere on your case.

What would this feature be good for? Numero uno, bragging factor. Anything that adds a little coolness to your box is, Purely as a means of controlling volume, this is not nearly that useful, as virtually all amplified speakers have a volume control on them. However, for those of you who are using two seperate pairs of speakers with your SBLive! for front and rear sound, this feature is a godsend. Two seperate pairs of speakers means two seperate amplifiers. For optimal sound, the front and rear speakers should have a balanced volume level. It would be a real pain to recalibrate them every other time, so why not calibrate them once for all, and just use the VOL_CTRL feature to adjust the volume? Personally, I have a pair of ACS-48s (undeniably classics) driving the front, and a pair of Taiwan cheapies driving the rear, and I have used this feature extensively.

Finally, as you probably have noticed in the pictures, there are no pins where the VOL_CTRL jumper headers are supposed to be. While this isn't an issue on the "higher-end" products in the SBLive! family, it appears to be a big blow to the SBLive! Value. Fortunately, the points are still big enough to solder by hand. So, simply solder 3 short strips of wires directly to the points on the board and mount some sort of joint or socket at the other. Then use 3 longer strips of wire to interconnect the joint / socket with your switches. Have fun!

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