Computer Speakers

Buying Guide - Computer Speakers

Making a Choice

As computers become increasingly central to work and play, the market for speakers has developed rapidly, meaning buying computer speakers, what was once an after-thought, can now be confusing. In an ideal world, you want the process to be as straight-forward, quick and cost-effective as possible. With that in mind, we have gathered information on computer speakers and collated here to hopefully help you decide what is best for you.

As digital music and video progresses at a rapid pace, together with computer games technology, much of our everyday entertainment is centred on our desktop or laptop. As the use of our personal computers has changed, the market in computer speakers has changed with it, with manufacturers providing top rated computer speakers for those with style, sound performance or portability in mind. Working out the best computer speakers for you is already a complicated process before you consider that computer speakers range from around £20 all the way to £750!

It is really important to know why you are buying your computer speakers. If you are planning on watching movies and listening to music with your computer, go for the top rated speakers for sound performance. If you want something to take with your laptop, size and weight will be important. If neither of these apply to you, then going for the most economical option might be the best. Once you know what you are after, you will be able to narrow down your options which will make your purchase much easier.

Speaker Setup

You can choose to go for speakers in a number of different setups. 2.1 and, especially, 5.1 systems are intended to give you a deep sound experience  but while opting for a 5.1 system might be the best bet if you are after surround sound, it is not necessarily the case that you will have better sound from more speakers. The amount of technology around, and the fact that people are looking for so many different things from their computer speakers, means it is worth investigating the best speakers across all setups.

What is fairly safe to say is that the best computer speakers for practicality and the best computer speakers for price will be 1-speaker or 2-speaker options. If you are looking for something to give you sound but also minimise clutter or blend into the background, it makes sense to go for fewer speakers. If the best computer speakers for you are ones that will not take up too much room or weight when you are on the move, the same applies.

Looks-wise, there are enticing choices across all setups. One way around the problem of having multiple speakers on show is to go for something that looks great. Harman Kardon, Bose and Bower and Wilkins are often the top rated computer speakers in terms of how they look.

Output Power

Just as you cannot guarantee that the best computer speakers for sound quality are those that come in a 2.1 or 5.1 setup, basing your decision on the wattage your speakers can handle isn't necessarily the right solution either.  Amplifiers' output is measured in watts (W), and while this is technically a measure of the power the amps can produce, it really just corresponds to loudness, or decibels (dB).

If you want the best computer speakers for sound then look out for sensitivity. Sensitive speakers deliver more dB per W. Manufacturers will express sensitivity as SPL/W/M or, to confuse matters, just dB. Standard speakers have a sensitivity of something between 85dB and 91dB. If you are buying speakers for entertainment purposes you will need to go for something higher to make sure you get the best from your music and movies.

As a measuring stick, a decent pair of speakers produce about 93dB for 2W of power, which is over three times the loudness of a normal conversation. They say 120dB is the highest you should go up to, which is over 1000W on normal speakers but the best computer speakers might be of a sensitivity that knocks the power requirement right down.

If sound quality is further down your list of priorities, it is not necessary to spend more on sensitive speakers when standard, or even below-standard speakers might be a better choice for your needs. The key is to examine the top rated computer speakers across all wattages.

Extras

Wireless and Bluetooth: You don't need to be using a 5.1 setup to risk being overrun by wires. Even if you go for one computer speaker, it can contribute to creating a mess around your desktop or laptop. On top of that, if you have invested in a wireless modem that allows you to roam wherever you want with your laptop, you may not want to be constricted by having speakers in set positions, connected by wires. Wireless and Bluetooth is the ideal solution to this problem, and the technology has been in a variety of computer speakers. If the idea of leaving iTunes running on your desktop and taking your speaker or speakers to a different room or even outside appeals, then the best computer speakers for you might be a wireless or Bluetooth option.

Docking: The best computer speakers for someone looking for entertainment and versatility would be ones which accommodate an MP3 player as well as play direct from a computer. Going for such an option doubles the entertainment choices. Some speaker systems not only allow you to dock your personal music player, but connect the player to your computer.

Sound Cards

An important consideration when assessing the best computer speakers for you is the sound card that you will be connecting your computer speakers to. These cards are usually inside your desktop or laptop – you can buy external ones – and can limit or enhance your computer's sound performance.

If you want a surround sound experience when watching movies or listening to music on your computer you need to make sure your sound card is up to it. It can be really disappointing to find out that despite having the top rated speakers available, the sound card itself does not support surround sound. If you do not have one, it is worth considering one with an HDMI connection for audio and video. These sound cards are very common nowadays, and if you do need to pick one up then they are not too pricey. But it pays to be aware of the limitations of the hardware you are connecting your computer speakers to. It is usually quick and easy to get details of your sound card and check them online. Once you have done that you will know whether your existing computer will limit what you can hope to get out of even the top rated computer speakers.