**** today, i just fried two onboard soundcards. - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 18 Old 11-03-2009, 09:42 AM - Thread Starter
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I was using AudioTester to measure t/s parameters of speakers (i posted it earlier in here). It worked beautifully, but today didn't seem to be the case...

I hooked up my cables as usual (line out -> amp -> speaker + calibration resistor -> line in) and hit Start. For some reason the graph looked wrong. I restarted the program, and then it froze. I unplugged the line input and reconnected the amp to the speakers - white noise coming out of the speakers, no audio programs would work. Rebooted and found "Realtek Digital Output Device" set as default. Checked the control panel - all analog jacks were greyed out. Reinstalled driver to no avail. Yup, my onboard soundcard is officially fried.

Tried my laptop, running on battery power as laptops usually have issues with sound input when the power brick is connected, wired everything up, calibrated the levels okay (at this point the amp output was hooked up to the soundcard input with no issues), when i connected the speaker and put everything together, i saw a spark as i plugged the line input cable into the laptop. Luckily i only busted the external mike/line input, playback and internal mic are still good, but still, i needed that input. **** it.

Now my money will have to go towards an X-Fi that i did not need, money that should have bought new speakers. That Realtek HD really was good. And funny thing, there is nothing wrong with my amp. I still have NO IDEA how this happened, and the hardware that worked flawlessly for measuring huge subwoofers blew on this ****ty little midrange that only needed its frequency response graph plotted for crossover design.

What a wonderful day.

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Originally Posted by Ivan Beaver
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post #2 of 18 Old 11-03-2009, 09:45 AM
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Maybe its time to invest in a woofer tester?

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Originally Posted by vasyachkin
Even i, the genius, only vaguely understand what i am saying here.
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post #3 of 18 Old 11-03-2009, 09:53 AM - Thread Starter
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Could be, but i can't find one around here, i'mma have to buy it online. With all the fun i've had with my country's postal services, i'd rather not. Maybe it's just time to invest in a high quality multimeter and just use that for measuring. The only problem, would be that here there's AC voltage in the air.

The main reason why i stopped using the meter is that from time to time it would go crazy, and i would have to wait several hours till the interference settled. Sometimes i feel really weird when sleeping and have these awkward dreams, sure enough, my sleeping place measured at over half a volt. I'm serious. I sleep with my head the other way since, and i've had no more sleeping issues... In some areas of my house there's more voltage floating in the air than if i put the meter next to the TV, and that's not something i can control. It's not any of my equipment causing it.

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post #4 of 18 Old 11-03-2009, 10:18 AM
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It sucks that the equipment blew.
What sucks worse, is you don't know exactly what caused it, so it can happen again.
I believe most amplifier outputs "float," meaning the (-) side is not tied directly to ground, but for all I know some amps might actually tie the (-) side to ground.
If that were the case, you would have to be careful to observe proper polarity when connecting to a mic or line input.
That's probably not it at all, but it was the spark you mentioned that made me think of it.

It can't be healthy for you to live there immersed in unreasonably high levels of electromagnetic energy.
Any idea of the frequency? Is it RF energy from a nearby tower or do you live under some power lines?
Is it enough power to illuminate flourescent lights which are not connected to anything?
Any possibility of moving? This is your health, after all.
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post #5 of 18 Old 11-03-2009, 11:39 AM - Thread Starter
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Only bridged amp outputs float. My amp is unbridged, it ties the negative side to ground. Also, it was always connected the same way (the cables and the calibration resistor were soldered together), so the outputs couldn't possibly have been swapped.

As i said, wired directly to the line input of the laptop (for level calibration) nothing bad happened, so i'm sure it's not the amp nor the cable. There are only two other variables - the resistor and the speaker. How in the world could those generate enough charge to zap my soundcards, i don't know. All i know is that i will be using that multimeter again.

As far as the laptop goes, there could have been DC on that jack, since it is a combined line/mic input, it could have had phantom power. I do have another laptop, i'll use that one when i need to record something, so it's not that big of a loss, but still.

EDIT: No DC, but if i connect the signal cable from my laptop to my amp, both ends of the resistor measure a healthy 20v AC potential from the laptop's input "ground", that's with no signal applied. Boom there goes my input. Note to self: Use multimeter even on signal cables.

I still don't get why the PC soundcard broke completely, no voltage potential between it and the amp. The speakers even click when the driver kicks in at boot time, it just thinks there's nothing plugged in. Maybe i can override this jack detection, hmm...

I have no idea of the frequency of the electromagnetic radiation (i was wondering myself but i don't have a scope, and the freq meter of my multimeter isn't sensitive enough), and there are no power lines above my apartment building, nor any cellphone towers. There is something in the back though, it's a small concrete enclosed building that makes a constant buzzing noise (most of the time it's low, sometimes it gets louder) and has electrical panels on one side. I have no idea what it is, as the main power distribution station for my area is a few blocks away, but i do know that i can't sleep properly when that thing gets loud, and it's not the audible noise bothering me (as it's almost zero when i close the windows).

I've never had trouble sleeping at my grandparents' place (or anywhere else for that matter), but i'm afraid it's going to be a while till i'll be able to move out, as my grandparents live in another town, and i'll be going to college next year, which means i'm staying here in Bucharest, as this is the capital city, and of course, the most opportunities are here.

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post #6 of 18 Old 11-03-2009, 12:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Th3_uN1Qu3 View Post

EDIT: No DC, but if i connect the signal cable from my laptop to my amp, both ends of the resistor measure a healthy 20v AC potential from the laptop's input "ground", that's with no signal applied.

I don't understand why you have a 20 volt AC potential on either side of the resistor with respect to the laptop's input ground with no signal present. Since you run your laptop off its battery for these tests, I think we can rule out a world-record ground-loop. Stupid question, but is your amp grounded?

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I still don't get why the PC soundcard broke completely, no voltage potential between it and the amp. The speakers even click when the driver kicks in at boot time, it just thinks there's nothing plugged in. Maybe i can override this jack detection, hmm...

Whatever input source is selected, at some point the signal from any source will follow the same path. It's really a matter of switching to select which input will be presented to the preamp stage. Assuming you have a hardware problem, which seems likely, you most likely damaged the preamp section. That is why you cannot produce sound from any signal source--whether from an external connection, or from a sound file within your computer. It's also possible that the input selector switch is shorted to ground, though I think that is less likely.

A non-functioning switch may mean no sound is presented to the preamp section whether it is open or shorted. Still, it is an electronic switch and not as sensitive as the preamp. I would think the preamp would go before the switch.

If it is possible to follow the copper trace from the input connector to the first active component on the board, this will most likely be an input selector switch. The output from the switch will go to the preamp. That's the chip to replace, if you can find it. Probably not worth the effort, when you can install a sound card instead. Just remember that you need to not only disable the built-in sound in SETUP, but also remove any and all drivers associated with the built-in sound before installing a sound card, in order to avoid contentions.

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There is something in the back though, it's a small concrete enclosed building that makes a constant buzzing noise (most of the time it's low, sometimes it gets louder) and has electrical panels on one side. I have no idea what it is, as the main power distribution station for my area is a few blocks away, but i do know that i can't sleep properly when that thing gets loud, and it's not the audible noise bothering me (as it's almost zero when i close the windows).

Could be a power transformer.
Power lines use a higher voltage to reduce line losses.
A power transformer is used to step that voltage down before it enters a building for use. The transformer should be shielded and the shield grounded, or so I would think, but I'm no expert. Is it possible for you to discuss the matter with the utility company?

Okay, so you don't sleep with your head at that end of the bed any more.
Do you plan on having kids someday?
Don't wait too long to talk to your utility company.
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post #7 of 18 Old 11-03-2009, 04:20 PM
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Have to ask, do you have a really good surge suppressor? Everything plugged into it.
Are you 2-phase 240? Are the phases balanced? ( leg to ground) Ground loop sounds like the driver here.
I would be afraid of something like a bad ground in the house. Nothing to worry about, as it can only kill you or burn the house down.
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post #8 of 18 Old 11-04-2009, 05:17 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by PassingInterest View Post

Stupid question, but is your amp grounded?

As in having its own ground wire, no. It only has a two-wire prong. But the amp's case and internal ground connection has been tested at zero voltage referenced to mains ground. If there was a ground loop, i would have heard it in the speakers. And as far as i know, grounds don't just disappear out of the blue - but again, this is Romania and ANYTHING is possible.

Also, i know how to install a soundcard... But an X-Fi costs a lot of cash. For that money, i can buy a brand new motherboard with a higher performance chipset, and the same Realtek HD Audio. I can get a P45 chipset board (i had a P35) so i can just drop the rest of my hardware in. I will be going the new mobo route most likely.

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The transformer should be shielded and the shield grounded, or so I would think, but I'm no expert. Is it possible for you to discuss the matter with the utility company?

Okay, so you don't sleep with your head at that end of the bed any more.
Do you plan on having kids someday?
Don't wait too long to talk to your utility company.

This is Romania. If you aren't familiar with it, all i have to say is: If i tell the utility company there's electromagnetic interference in my house, they'll tell me to go see a psychiatrist.

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I would be afraid of something like a bad ground in the house. Nothing to worry about, as it can only kill you or burn the house down.

No surge suppresor unfortunately... But surge supressors are simply regular sockets with a couple Y capacitors slapped inside. My computer power supply already has those capacitors inside. I think i need an UPS, that would be better than a simple surge suppressor. I am looking to buy one soon.

I'm on 240, but it's not 2-phase. The electrical system was rebuilt last year when we renovated the place, new wall sockets and everything, and the washing machine or fridge generate no interference, which means the ground is good. The wiring was done by a qualified professional.

Though, i don't want to see what's inside the walls. Replacing the wiring in the walls would have meant basically rebuilding everything from scratch, something we couldn't afford, as it would have taken way too much time. And i think that before a short has a chance to initiate a fire, it'll pop the breakers. Yes, at least i have proper breakers.

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post #9 of 18 Old 11-04-2009, 03:58 PM
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Surge suppressors are usually an MOV, then some may add fast diodes and spark gaps. Filtering will be LC circuits. Those things that look like ceramic disk caps are MOV's. Really good ones have both.
Power companies the world round only provide power suitable for light bulbs and motors. If you are plugging in anything else, it is up the the manufacture to be sure it can withstand what comes down the line. That said, blowing two cards makes me think there is something seriously wrong with ground. If you blew two, chances are you will blow another. It could be something like a nail in the wall that just nicked a wire, bad appliance that is leaking, loose screw in the panel. Lots of possibilities.
In the US we have Ground Fault Interrupter outlets that monitor for any current on safety ground or any difference between hot and neutral that would imply current going somewhere else (like through you). They can be rather sensitive, but every time I have had one trip, I tracked it down to a real fault. Twice was a pinched wire in an outlet box.
As far as the ambient interference, that too suggests a bad ground. I would start at the entrance panel. I have heard stories about very small grounding problems killing cows. Seems they are hyper-sensitive to currents in the ground. The problem could be in the transformer ( that thing buzzing in our yard).
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post #10 of 18 Old 11-04-2009, 06:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Th3_uN1Qu3 View Post

If i tell the utility company there's electromagnetic interference in my house, they'll tell me to go see a psychiatrist.

Rather than risk getting you committed to an asylum (intended as humor--que the laugh track), perhaps you could discuss the issue with an electrician and maybe arrange for an electrical safety inspection testing, preferrably with someone other than the one you hired to do the upgrades recently (he might have a vested interest in not finding the problem which he either caused or overlooked on his previous visit to your domicile).

This is a serious health and safety issue.

By the way, I must say that I'm impressed with your English.
Your English is at least as good as mine, maybe better--and I only know one language!
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post #11 of 18 Old 11-04-2009, 10:42 PM - Thread Starter
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Yup my bad, forgot about the MOV. My computer PSU has one of those too, so i don't think it would help greatly. I still wanna get a full-blown UPS.

Anyway, finally good news. I've gotten my old computer back in one piece again, it's a machine i built for fun a few years ago to see just what i can do with it, and mind you, i did a lot.

What Core 2 Duo? What 8GB RAM?? Here goes the oldschool.

Asus P55T2P4 mobo
Pentium-MMX 200MHz overclocked to 292MHz, running at 3.5v core and kept below burning temperature by means of a large Athlon cooler
96MB SIMM memory running WAY faster than it was supposed to
2MB ATi video card
13GB Seagate HDD
The almighty Sound Blaster 16 ISA
3Com Etherlink III 10mbit network, yup, ISA as well

Ever seen a ~300MHz Pentium 1? Me neither. Mine could very well be the only one in the world. This thing is 3x faster than the Dell P4s we have at school, i'm serious. Yes my HDD sounds like farting, and yes it's got one of the crappiest keyboards in the world, but it runs well. It's even got USB!

I have installed Windows 2000 Pro and have gotten AudioTester to run. With rather high latency, but the results are good. Now for the ground-breaking news. I knew i wasn't gonna break the SB16, as it's the largest soundcard i've ever seen, no way a bit of AC is gonna hurt it. But i played it safe and tested the cables for voltage before i connected the speaker.

All fine, except one thing. With one probe of the meter on the tip of the RCA that was supposed to go into line in, and the other in my hand, the voltage jumped over 12v AC. I realized that i was sitting with one foot on the carpet and the other one on the floor - i moved both my feet on the floor and it dropped to ~2v. I carefully connected the cables as not to touch them, and was able to measure both that damn midrange and another 12" woofer without any hitches.

So there you have it, the source of the issue was me. I do remember touching the wiring when i blew my PC onboard, as i was pulling at the wires testing for bad solder. Now, why the heck did i have a 12v potential above the amp's output cable, that's a different matter. I think the interference could have something to do with it.

Thanks for appreciating my English - when i was 5 my father went to the UK, and he brought me lots of English books and tapes to learn from, and he'd stay with me and teach me English twice a week. That's how i know it so well.

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post #12 of 18 Old 11-05-2009, 04:16 AM
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It sounds like ESD (ElectroStatic Discharge).
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post #13 of 18 Old 11-05-2009, 12:46 PM
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A little bit of AC? Well the industry standard for over-voltage used to be 35 volts. Now it is more like 30. You can generate 30V of ESD by picking up a card by the edges and setting it down. Of course , you won't know you have damaged the part. it is as we used to call a "pregnant board". It will give birth to a failure some months from now.

300M P1. Naw, modern. I wire-wrapped a 6502 as my first computer. Kaypro Z80 next, a screaming 16Mhz 386sx, P1 and so on. Guess what? I got as much work done on the old Kaypro as I do on my current desktop (2 core AMD).
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post #14 of 18 Old 11-05-2009, 05:22 PM
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Originally Posted by tvrgeek View Post

A little bit of AC? Well the industry standard for over-voltage used to be 35 volts. Now it is more like 30. You can generate 30V of ESD by picking up a card by the edges and setting it down. Of course , you won't know you have damaged the part. it is as we used to call a "pregnant board". It will give birth to a failure some months from now.

That's pretty funny. The phrasing, I mean. Not the troubleshooting, or the necessity for it. I hadn't heard that before.

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300M P1. Naw, modern. I wire-wrapped a 6502 as my first computer. Kaypro Z80 next, a screaming 16Mhz 386sx, P1 and so on. Guess what? I got as much work done on the old Kaypro as I do on my current desktop (2 core AMD).

Did your first use iron core memory, TVR? I've troubleshot my share of Z80 boards.
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post #15 of 18 Old 11-05-2009, 10:36 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PassingInterest View Post

It sounds like ESD (ElectroStatic Discharge).

Yup. I've built myself a grounding wrist strap, now let's hope there will be no more issues with that. I didn't believe in ESD damaging components, that is, until now.

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Of course , you won't know you have damaged the part. it is as we used to call a "pregnant board". It will give birth to a failure some months from now.

Good one.

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300M P1. Naw, modern. I wire-wrapped a 6502 as my first computer. Kaypro Z80 next, a screaming 16Mhz 386sx, P1 and so on. Guess what? I got as much work done on the old Kaypro as I do on my current desktop (2 core AMD).

I wasn't born back then you know.

But i remember that my older cousin had a "HC". It was a Z80-based gaming computer built here in Romania. It would hook up to the TV and use regular cassette tapes to load the games. I was so little when i last saw it, i was thinking those little green people moving on a black/white background were so cool.

Anyway, since i've had my first computer till now, i have formed a solid opinion - while Moore's law says that processing power doubles every two years, i have found that software slows down proportionally. Thus, you don't really do more work with a new computer, it just looks prettier.

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post #16 of 18 Old 11-06-2009, 03:49 AM
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I've built myself a grounding wrist strap, now let's hope there will be no more issues with that.

It's great that you made your own.
But, just in case you don't know this already--an ESD wrist strap should have a megohm resistor inline (a million ohms).
Rather than hard-wiring yourself to ground, thereby providing an excellent path to ground for electrical current--through you, should you accidentally touch the wrong thing while it is "live"--the inline resistor allows a static electric charge which you may have to slowly "bleed" off in a controlled discharge.
It is a personal safety issue.
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post #17 of 18 Old 11-07-2009, 07:09 AM - Thread Starter
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Okay, got it. But doesn't that resistor act as a voltage divider, potentially frying more stuff (me included)? I ask because with the amp hooked straight to the laptop there was no problem, when i went through the calibration resistor, boom.

Besides, it's not like i'm working with mains voltage. If mains voltage would be getting thru, i'd be in trouble, wrist strap or not.

Quote:
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post #18 of 18 Old 11-07-2009, 10:02 AM
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Okay, got it. But doesn't that resistor act as a voltage divider, potentially frying more stuff (me included)? I ask because with the amp hooked straight to the laptop there was no problem, when i went through the calibration resistor, boom.

Besides, it's not like i'm working with mains voltage. If mains voltage would be getting thru, i'd be in trouble, wrist strap or not.

A million ohms (a megohm) in addition to your skin resistance (series resistance) is a much more significant amount of resistance than a pair of mating conductors.
Current takes the path of least resistance.
By increasing your resistance, less current will flow through you.
And depending on the voltages you're working with, the voltage may never overcome your resistance, so no current will flow through you.

On the other hand, even with a million ohms in series with your skin's resistance, a static charge never gets a chance to build up, and any that is there at the time you connect your ground strap bleeds off pretty quickly.
How long does a spark last? Slow down that discharge by 10 or 100, or even 1,000 times and it still is dissipated pretty quickly.

And by the way, you are not the only object which might have a static charge.
Let's say that a static charge exists on the equipment you are about to touch and you are hard-wired to ground. The rapid discharge (spark) is still a problem for the equipment that just got zapped, whereas a more controlled discharge is safer for the equipment.

If an electrical potential exists between two objects (static or otherwise) the laws of physics dictate that a state of equilibrium will be reached (or at least attempted) between the two. The trick is to control the rate at which that occurs.
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