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Best Computer Speakers
About PC Speaker Systems
Computer speakers come in all shapes and sizes, from the most basic ones integrated in monitors and laptops, to powerful 2.1 and 5.1 systems. This quick article will explain what audio terms like "2.0" or "subwoofer" mean, and help you find out what speakers are the best for your computer by listing some of the best audio systems available for PCs.
Do you need hi-fi 5.1 surround sound, or is a simple 2.0 system enough for your needs? Which computer speakers should you buy if you want powerful bass that will shake your windows? This guide will point you in the right direction.
2.0 Computer Speakers
A basic two speaker setup
A 2.0 system consists of two stereo speakers. It is simple, easy to install and usually has an affordable price tag. 2.0 is a great choice for computer users who want to listen to some music or watch a movie without blowing their budget on expensive audio equipment. Since these systems do not have a separate subwoofer, the bass is usually limited.
When it comes to choosing the best 2.0 computer speakers, Creative GigaWorks T40 (shown in the photo to the right) is a good and affordable choice. If you want the very best, however, Audioengine A5+ usually get top marks from the reviewers, although it also comes with quite a hefty price tag as well.
If you simply want the cheapest pair of speakers, grab the Logitech S120 2.0 (displayed above) for under $10. These should still be quite an upgrade from integrated monitor speakers.
2.1 Computer Speakers
Added subwoofer for a deeper bass
A 2.1 system has two stereo speakers just like a 2.0 one does, but it also includes a subwoofer for stronger bass. It is a definite choice for gamers and movie fans who will no doubt enjoy powerful and accurately reproduced explosions and gun fights. Music lovers will also appreciate the deeper low-pitched audio. A 2.1 computer speaker system is just as easy to setup as the 2.0 is. Just note that the subwoofer usually takes up a lot of space (most people will place it under the desk since direction doesn't matter that much for the low frequencies).
Looking for the best 2.1 speakers? Logitech Z623 (see image on the right) is a popular, THX-certified 2.1 system offering remarkable sound quality and deep, distortion-free bass. Harman Kardon SoundSticks are a good alternative; not only they sound great, they also have an award-winning transparent design.
If you prefer something cheaper, a lot of users claim that nothing beats the sound of Logitech Z213 in the under $30 range. It is a highly affordable and compact 2.1 speaker system that will still be enough for the average user.
5.1 Computer Speakers
Surround sound for the ultimate audio experience
A 5.1 computer speaker system is able to create surround sound and immerse you in a movie or a game, making you feel like you're inside it. The three-dimensional audio is reproduced through two front, two rear, and one center speaker (aka the satellites), as well as the subwoofer. It is a perfect choice for gamers or movie fans, even though it's a bit more costly and harder to setup. It also requires more space due to two rear speakers which have to be placed behind the listener for best results.
If you're looking for the best 5.1 computer speakers, see Logitech Z906 (shown in the photo). They offer amazing THX-certified sound quality and 500-watt power for a reasonable price. This 5.1 surround system is also the successor to Logitech's superb Z-5500. As an alternative, the Energy Take Classic 5.1 home theater system is also very highly rated by many reviewers.
If you are looking for something cheaper, try the Creative Inspire T6300 (see above) which boasts one of the lowest prices around for a 5.1 system while still delivering adequate surround sound.
Popular Audio Terms Glossary
Most common terms used when reviewing speakers explained
Bass: low frequency sounds (20 Hz to 200 Hz).
Treble, in contrast to bass, stands for the high frequency range (4,000 Hz to 20,000 Hz).
Dynamic range, or frequency response is the range of frequencies that the speakers can reproduce. You can usually find these numbers in their hardware specifications.
Full-range speakers: this term describes loudspeakers which are able to reproduce the entire frequency range (low, mid-range and high) rather than just parts of it.
PMPO stands for Peak Music Power Output and is a dubious term used by some manufacturers to make their audio hardware look more powerful. It is considered misleading because most electronic devices can withstand such power for a few milliseconds only. A 100W PMPO system, for example, is likely to be rated 5W RMS or even lower.
RMS stands for Root Mean Square and is a standard method of specifying how powerful the audio speakers are.
Satellites are small speakers which usually have limited bass response and are meant to be used together with a subwoofer.
Subwoofer is a loudspeaker designed specifically to reproduce low-pitched audio frequencies (bass).
Surround is a technique used to reproduce 3D sound using additional speakers positioned around the listener.
Don't Ignore the Sound Card!
A modern integrated sound card should be enough for most users. However if you are ready to invest in some high-end speakers you shouldn't ignore the sound card either. The reason is simple: even the very best computer speakers won't sound all that great if connected to a simple integrated audio chip. A dedicated sound card will not only improve the sound quality, but also deliver impressive effects using technologies like EAX.
Game and movie fans alike will no doubt love the Sound Blaster Z sound card from Creative. It will give gamers an edge due to the accurate positional audio and blow DVD watchers away with truly cinematic movie sounds. The integrated amplifier will also make your high-end headphones shine.
You are welcome to share your own favorite audio systems for the home PC in the comments below.