Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Computer Speakers: They Last Forever

Back in the late 1980s, a friend of mine and I bought a couple of Bentley AT computers (and we received a slight discount for buying what I recall was about $4500 of blazingly fast desktop hardware). 

What was a Bentley AT?  It was one of many off-brand IBM AT clones available at the time--but with the extra virtue of being a 10 MHz processor with 1 MB of RAM!  (Yes, that's MB, not GB.)  At work, we had genuine IBM ATs, and they would only run at 6 MHz, so for a couple of months, when I was just started coding on a project, I worked at home--I had better hardware there.  (I can't seem to find any pictures of this computer.  I guess that they were here and gone very quickly.)

This was my first computer with a real genuine sound card in it (back when those were still slightly unusual), and it included a couple of Labtec CS-150 speakers.  (Yes, like these!)  Powered only by the output of the sound card, they produced adequate sound, but you could either put a couple of C cells in each speaker, or plug in a 6VDC power supply if you wanted.  My fellow Bentley buyer was a bit smarter than me (he's now a hectamilionaire), and rather than have the speakers eat batteries, he went out and bought a 6VDC power supply.

Well, I still have those speakers, and they still work.  I needed something a bit louder for a Bible study, so I dug around until I found some C cells, and put them in.  They aren't exactly spectacular on sound quality, but they are adequate, and I've had them more than 20 years and they still work. 

But they still eat batteries unless I remember to turn off the switch on the back.  (Yes, the switch on the left in this image.)  I went to Radio Shack to find a 6VDC power supply, figuring, "How expensive can they be?"  The answer is: about as expensive as buying a 6VDC power supply with a couple of nice new speakers--some Gigaware 2.0 Multimedia Speakers.  They were about $21--and the power supplies were about $23.  They look better, they sound way better, and they are louder, too!  I suppose that if I had spent the time hunting online, I could have found something equivalent for less money, but there comes a point where it just isn't worth the effort to save $5.


  1. Clayton, I've got a similar (maybe identical) set of Labtecs from that era. (If memory serves, you had to be pretty serious about sound to buy a sound card, because they were $150-200. And you had to fiddle with interrupt sequences, etc., etc., to may it play with the other hardware. It was NOT for the weak-of-heart; they'd get a newly-introduced Macintosh, instead.)

    One correction. Those external speakers do NOT run off the power of the sound card. It essentially produced(s) a "line out" signal. The speakers have a tiny built-in amplifier, and it's that amplifier that's been eating the C batteries.

    I bought a set of AR Powered Partner speakers that run off AC or (12v) DC, and I've been using them almost daily for at least 20 years. They still sound fantastic.

  2. Radioshack is a pathetic shell of it's former self. Walmart and Target have what you're looking for for about $12. But as you point out, you can get much better speakers for around the same money.

  3. Wow.

    I remember Bentley machines; I saw them advertised in Computer Shopper and considered buying one.

    I ended up building my own, with a lot of help from a very good friend.

  4. Surely you could have dug out the wall wart from an old 1200 baud modem from a box somewhere.

  5. I have a laundry basket full of old power supplies. I recently went crazy with my P-touch machine and labeled them all with the output voltage and AC / DC .

  6. I still have an HP Laserjet 4P that we bought in 1993. It is still working fine, outlasting dozens of computers. I doubt later HP gear is built to same standards.