If you love listening to music, watching movies, playing games, or using your computer for any other audio-related application, you’d be amazed how much a quality computer speaker system can enhance your experience. Sure, your computer comes with at least one built-in speaker, but it’s not enough to deliver powerful audio. The good news is, it’s easy and affordable to purchase an independent system and plug it into your machine’s audio-out jack. When shopping for computer speakers, the main things you should consider are what type of system you want, sound quality, whether it’s compatible with your computer and, of course, price.
There are several types of speakers to choose from. Most speakers are either 2.0 or 2.1 system, meaning they either have two channels and no subwoofer, or two channels and one subwoofer, respectively. A 2.0 system is usually smaller and delivers decent audio quality, but doesn’t have the bass performance of a 2.1 system. A 2.1 system, meanwhile, may have smaller “satellite” speakers, but the subwoofer part of the system is relatively larger – and offers more powerful bass. If space isn’t any issue and powerful bass extension is important to you, you should definitely purchase a 2.1 system.
The other two common types of speaker systems are 1.0 and 5.1, meaning they have a single unit with built-in speakers or a subwoofer with five satellite speakers. We included a couple of 1.0 computer speakers in our review because they’re affordable, easy to set up, and ideal for consumers that aren’t major sound buffs.
Sound quality is a very personal consideration. Some consumers just want to hear the news, watch video clips, or play background music using their PC. Others want a powerful system that can be heard far and wide without sacrificing quality. Unfortunately, sound quality can be difficult to measure because there is no standard testing mechanism for speakers. The best thing you can do is read reviews like ours and purchase from brands you know you can trust. Also, look for a system that has balanced treble, midrange, and bass frequencies because they’re more likely to deliver deep, resounding audio.
Other things to consider are how many inputs the computer speaker system has and what type (RCA, 3.5 mm, digital coaxial, etc.). It’s important to make sure the system in question is compatible with your computer, which could vary depending on whether you have a desktop computer
, or notebook
. Also, you should consider how easy it is to control (is a remote included? can you control it through your computer?), whether you like its design and style, and whether it has any other features, such as Bluetooth.
Now, let’s take a look at how much you should expect to pay for a quality system.
The pricing of computer speakers varies dramatically depending on the consideration factors discussed above. The first and most influential factor is sound quality. Obviously, you can expect to pay more for a system as the quality of its audio output increases. To give you a wide range of options, we reviewed computer speakers ranging from about $26.99 to $149.99 (prices at the time we did our research).
You can purchase a cheap computer speaker that will probably last for a few years and deliver okay sound quality for under $30. However, if you’re looking for a system that you can really rock out to, you should plan on spending more. Computer speakers are one of those items where you get what you pay for. The more you spend, the more powerful of a system you can buy.
Depending on how much you’re willing to spend, computer speakers can vary from inexpensive, basic devices with minimal features to high-end models with more bells and whistles than you can probably imagine. Due to technological advances, new and improved speakers are coming out all the time. There are, however, some key features you should look for in all computer speakers, regardless of their price.
Keep an eye out for these features when shopping for computer speakers:
- System type/channels (1.0, 2.0, 2.1, 5.1, etc.)
- Attractive build (i.e. a design that appeals to you)
- Compact or large enough for your designated space
- Wired or wireless/Bluetooth
- Input that is compatible with your computer (RCA, 3.5mm, Bluetooth, etc.)
- Power measured in watts; look for at least 5W or more per speaker
- Good sound quality
Computer speakers come in an endless array of shapes and sizes. Let’s discuss which type is right for you.
Construction and Design
As we discussed above, the design of a computer speaker largely depends on how many channels/speakers it has. A 1.0 system is just a basic speaker with no separate subwoofer or speaker. A 2.0 system or 2.1 system, meanwhile, has two satellite speakers, the latter of which also has a separate subwoofer. You can even purchase 5.1 systems. If you’ve been following along, you should already know what that means. Yup, one subwoofer and five speakers. Talk about surround sound! If you want amazing sound quality (which you do if you enjoy music, movies or gaming, trust us!), then you need to get a system with a separate subwoofer. Just remember, systems with more channels require more space.
Now that you’ve decided what type of system you want, the next design aspect to consider is input. In other words, how will the speaker hook up with your Mac or PC? A lot of computer speakers only have one output, meaning that you can only have it hooked up to one device at a time. If you want to be able to seamlessly transition between your computer and phone, for example, you should look for a model that has more than one audio connection. There are different types of input jacks, but the most common are 3.5mm mini-jacks, RCA, and Bluetooth/wireless.
Performance and Ease of Use
When we talk about computer speaker performance, we’re talking about sound quality and power. That’s why you’re purchasing the speaker anyway, right? Unfortunately, as we already mentioned, sound quality can be difficult to measure because there isn’t any industry-wide standard for these measurements. Manufacturers have also been known to exaggerate specifications, only adding to the confusion.
The most important measurement to look for is probably wattage. How many watts of sound does the speaker produce? A 200-W speaker is going to be more powerful than a 5-W speaker, but it will also cost more. Also, manufacturers tend to rate each speaker’s wattage independently. This means that a 5.1 system could have five 5-watt speakers for a total capacity of 25W. You may see sound quality measured in decibels and Hertz. For Hz, look for a minimum of 22,050 Hz (or 22kHz) as this is the standard for radio quality and works well for music and voice. For dB, look for speakers under 85 dB as this is considered harmful to the human ear.
Finally, ease-of-use depends on the setup process and how you control the system. Most systems plug into your computer and the only thing you have to do is arrange the speakers to your liking and maybe install software. Bluetooth/wireless models are a bit more complicated to setup because you have to pair them with your device. Computer speakers that come with a remote control or can be controlled through your phone or computer are the easiest to use, but some units have to be controlled directly from the machine itself.
The type of speaker and its sound quality are the two most important factors for most people when purchasing computer speakers. There is no right answer when it comes to purchasing computer speakers. The best computer speakers will be the ones that you can afford, fit in your allotted space, and have enough power to meet your needs, which will vary depending on how you plan to use them. We picked a variety of computer speaker systems to help you find the perfect fit.
Hopefully, this review has helped you discover the best computer speakers for your computer. Any of the five products featured above would be a valuable addition to your PC or Mac. And remember, if the product we chose to feature isn’t the right match for you, take a look at the other quality computer speakers that these reputable brands have to offer.