The idea: PAM8403

A project log for Fixing Thinkpad W530's horrible speaker problem

It is well known, the Lenovo Thinkpad W530 as the most silent laptop speakers. I aim to fix that.

Timo BirnscheinTimo Birnschein 03/10/2021 at 06:170 Comments

The overall power and quality of this laptop makes it impossible to ignore that the speakers are terrible. I want to be able to use YouTube or any other audio producing software without using headphones all the time. Or video conferencing, now that we are in the midst of a global pandemic. This stuff just has to work these days. Clicking on the first test video was therefore a huge disappointment. The speakers are high pitch and annoying and on top of that extremely silent. I almost feel lied to because the size of the speaker grills speak a completely different language. They are even taller than the keyboard and over an inch wide.

A quick google search revealed: Every W530 user first wonders if their laptop is broken and then resigns in despair that it's not. How can this be? This is certainly not the first Thinkpad. Speakers were always a weak point but usually not THIS bad. It's almost a statement by itself: "We know it's shit, we don't also want everyone around you to notice!!"

Well, shit or not, my idea is to install a PAM8403 5V stereo 3 Watts amplifier inside of the laptop to drive the existing speakers with more power. At least at first. Maybe, I'll test custom speakers at a later point but there is really not that much vertical space available to install something like modern MacBook speakers or similar. Louder is fine for now. Quality can come later.

The PAM8403 is a tiny 5V amp that has been tested by many and declared good enough for most small projects! It costs next to nothing and comes on breadable breakout boards ready to run.

During my first tests I noticed that it does NOT run on the 5V power provided by a USB port. It constantly dies and clips and is generally unusable. It needs a real 5V power source and that will be the primary concern for the whole project. The board is small enough to fit nearly anywhere but power needs to be had in order for it to function properly.

I did some primitive tests with two different, salvaged laptop speakers and so far, I'm pretty happy with the output. I'd guess about 10 times louder and still reasonably clear. Full blast is a compromise but I rather have some minimal clipping than not being able to hear a speaker because some wall heater turned on.

Tasks for the next couple weeks: Identify a 5V source inside the laptop from which I can draw about 1.5A under full load (2 x 3Watts). That might be more challenging than usual since I don't have any schematics or diagrams from this laptop and don't want to take the entire machine apart to find it. We'll see. It's a big laptop and I'd be surprised if I can't find one Amp somewhere.