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3 Piece Computer Speaker Sets that Don’t Suck

Updated on October 25, 2009

I’ve had it with recommending computer speakers to people. There is a great desire to help those seeking a solution under $200, and yet it burns me inside to point them to the latest plastic-abundant audio toy. Part of it is my conscious, but mostly it is due to my passion for good sound. To my ears, the vast majority of 2.1 and 5.1 setups out there are less than adequate. Remove the fancy Japanese robot inspired housing and you are left with a sound replication device that owes a lot to the tin can telephone.

Those opting for a 3 piece set have a leg up on the surround sound crowd. For the most part, the more speakers you get the less powerful each satellite is. Beyond that, the speakers are downgraded versions of the speakers that come with stereo packages. With a decent 2.1 package you are getting quality over quantity. For music fans, those front speakers and sub will get the most use anyway.

Now that I got that little rant out of my system, let’s take a look at the good stuff.

Boston Acoustics Horizon MM226 Multimedia 2.1 Speaker System

Speakers with hi-tech looks sell like hot cakes. Manufacturers are well aware that many consumers buy with their eyes and not ears. It’s understandable, since auditioning a small setup is frowned upon by customer service reps at major retail stores. Other times it isn’t even possible.

Boston Acoustic’s Horizon system won’t be winning any industrial design awards. The subwoofer resembles a tub turned on its back. The tall thin front speakers don’t look particularly robust. But it’s the sound that matters, right? Considering the company’s reputation for making home theatre speakers with superior sound quality, it comes as no surprise that the Horizon speakers perform well.

The accuracy and fidelity of this set makes it ideal for critical listening. The lows are tight, clear and not overpowering. Highs are crisp with a nice sparkle accentuating the cymbal work of the drums. Despite the impressive spec of 200 watts of total system power, you will not be blasting your friends into the next room with this rig. That isn’t the point. It’s a classy system, ideal for fans of jazz, classical, folk and world music.

Bose Companion 3 Series II Multimedia Speaker System

Taking the number two spot is the Companion 3 Series II. Bose’s offering is elegant, with a healthy balance of handsome looks, good sound and a small foot print. The satellite speakers are brilliantly designed in that they are elevated and angled to bring the sound to ear level. Optimum placement is as simple as firing the fronts on either side of your desk.

The satellites are surprisingly clear for speakers so small. Out of the box, the highs were a touch tinny. The internal EQ setting quickly resolved this with some quick tweaking.

The power of this unit will not please volume-freaks that love to crank it to eleven. When pushed to the limits the bottom end can get murky with processing applied. The highs fared much better. The bass module isn’t defined as it could be for genres of music that have extremely aggressive bass, such as electronic and hip hop.

The main factor preventing these speakers from reaching the number one spot is the price. With Bose products you are paying for the superb form factor and acoustic processing. Still, the small size and sexy presentation makes this a great choice for people that don’t have much space to spare yet still crave clear music.

Logitech Z-2300 THX-Certified 200-Watt 2.1 Speaker System

The Z-2300 is a top-seller since it delivers what most people want in spades. It has plenty of power with enough bass to send the neighbors into a tantrum. The Logitech is the loud and slightly annoying party guy that everyone secretly admires for his outgoing nature.

Logitech being the master of input devices has included well-designed control features. The package includes a curvy desktop remote for master and subwoofer volume, headphone jack and power functions. This crafty bunch even managed to get THX certification, so let’s discuss the sound.

This system was created with eclectic, casual listeners in mind. The volume dial should be used with discretion as once you reach 75% volume and above the music will begin to distort. Not a huge deal since below this level you can still get the Z-2300 blasting. Clarity is decent at reasonable listening levels with pleasing high frequencies. Bass is powerful and well-defined; it’s the mid-range that sometimes can get buried. The squeals of loud rock guitars aren’t quite as prominent.

If you are looking for the ultimate, booming party box and aren’t anal about clarity, look no further. Rap, hip hop and heavy metal are at home with the Logitech. These speakers rattle the window panes

Harman Kardon SoundSticks II 2.1 Plug and Play Multimedia Speaker System

These funky, translucent speakers made me weary at first. HK’s design has been wooing Mac addicts since the first version. I’m not so easily won over. To my eyes, the whole rig looks more like a chemistry set than an audio system. Are those four speaker cones in a beaker? Biases were set aside for this one and surprisingly the SoundSticks managed to hit my top four.

The high frequencies output by the Soundsticks are very clear and robust, the low on the other hand, can sound disjointed for some types of music. The speakers are very directional, making each satellite sensitive to how they are placed. You'll want to put the subwoofer as close to the center of the soundstage as possible. Ideally right underneath your computer or behind the monitor. The system relies on the subwoofer to pull higher sounds than the standard so you need to be sure it is front and center to get a balanced audio experience.

The Soundsticks are perfect for someone who looks at style as a key feature when purchasing equipment. At this price I can forgive the form over function approach.

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