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Headsets are good for gaming, but sometimes it’s nice to just fill your room with sound whilst blasting your way through the levels, or when you’re locked-in for an intense multiplayer session. And if you’re working for long periods at a computer, speakers are definitely the way to go. But where do you start? Do you need speakers with a 3.5mm, RCA or USB connection? Do you want a set of 2.0 or 2.1 speakers? Whether you’re looking for a stylish set, a more humble, low-maintenance pair, or the most flamboyant pair of feature-laden computer speakers in existence, we can help.   
 


How We Choose:

Sound quality is pretty vital in our decision making process and as well as the power of the speakers, this includes the size of their drivers. It’s important to realize that the audio fidelity of computer speakers is never going to be as good as, say, bookshelf or monitor speakers, but this is par for the course, and reflected in computer speakers’ pricing.

With that pricing comes value - another important consideration. Just because something costs a lot doesn’t make it the best. It may cost more because it has an abundance of features and functionalities, or is from a popular brand. Is this cost justifiable for the majority of users? Conversely just because something is cheap and lacks features or a familiar brand name doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad product. There’s a fine balance between cost and capacity, and we’ve got it locked. Other considerations include the design of the speakers – we like innovative and creative, but not obtuse and garish. The desktop footprint of the speakers is also important; if the size is justified by the audio quality or functionality, then sure, but we don’t want huge/tiny speakers just for the sake of it.


Our Computer Speaker Picks:

1. Audioengine A2+ ($249)

Audioengine A2+Power: 60 Watts
Connection: 3.5mm, RCA, USB
Sensitivity: 95dB
What We Like: Amazing audio and build quality, perfect size for desks.
What We Don’t: No Bluetooth.

No question about our number one here. Treading the line between computer and bookshelf speakers, the A2+ from Audioengine delivers on all fronts, easily making them the top pick for most people. The speakers provide extremely full, crisp sound, whether it be from your favorite playlist on Spotify, or your current game of choice. And although they don’t pack the same punch as larger speakers, such as the A5+, we feel the A2+ hit that sweet spot for computer speakers, striking the perfect balance between size, price and audio quality. They are small enough to sit comfortably on even the most modest desks, but still able to fill medium sized rooms with surprisingly big sound - and they’re stylish, too.

Mimicking the company's more iconic monitor speaker mentioned above, the A2+ look as good as they sound, with a variety of color options that mean they’ll fit right in amongst the majority of set-ups. With an assortment of input and output options including 3.5mm, RCA and USB, the connectivity of these speakers is impressive, and although a Bluetooth option like that on the Edifier R1700 would have been nice for the price point, it isn’t essential, as most people’s music is shared across their platforms. The RCA output allows for a subwoofer to be added later down the line, but don’t expect it to come cheap. Either way, there’s no contest for our top pick here - for a combination of value, audio quality, build, design and size, this is the unquestioned leader.
See the Audioengine A2+
 

2. Logitech Z906 5.1 ($270)

Logitech Z906 5.1Power: 500 Watts
Connection: 3.5mm, RCA, Optical
Sensitivity: Unknown
What We Like: Powerful, versatile.
What We Don’t: Cable management could be better.

The Z906’s from Logitech are superb. With their excellent build quality, practical functionality and immersive audio, they are undoubtedly the best 5.1 desktop speaker solution available at this price point. Looks-wise, they’re no SoundSticks III (below), but they do offer the ability to switch between 2.1, 4.1 and 5.1 surround sound. Don’t get us wrong, the 2.1 mode can’t compete with Audioengine's A2+ for fidelity and accuracy, but it’s nice to have options. The stackable (very nice touch) center console allows input selection, stereo mode and individual volume control of each of the 5 satellite speakers. Build quality is top notch, with the speakers and sub carrying a weightiness to them, while the finish – although plastic – looks high-quality.

The speakers sound fantastic in all modes, but really shine in 5.1. The lows are handled (with ease) by the sub, whilst mids and highs come through the satellites crisp and clear. Impressively, as we increased the volume this held true, with no frequency muddling until maxing it out. The only minor issue we found with the Z906’s were that the buttons (not the volume knob) on the control console had slightly more play than we’d expected. Not a huge deal, but could cause issues later down the line. Aside from that the only other issue is having a room big enough to take advantage of the 5.1 surround. There are a lot of cables to attach and a lot of setting up to do, but if you’ve got the time and space it’s definitely worth the patience.
See the Logitech Z906 5.1
 

3. Harman Kardon SoundSticks III ($168)

Harman Kardon Soundsticks IIIPower: 55 Watts
Connection: 3.5mm
Sensitivity: Unknown
What We Like: Design, sound quality.
What We Don’t: Hardwired cabling could cause repair issues.

Definitely the most unique-looking set of computer speakers on our list, the SoundSticks III trio (from the legendary Harman Kardon) makes a notable first impression. The transparent casing is complimented by black rubberized bases and a white light that radiates from the sub when in use. Jazzy! The braided cables also look the part, however - disappointingly - they are hardwired to the unit, so any issues with them and you have to send the entire product back for repairs: a pitfall that both the Logitech Z533 and Cyber Acoustics CA-3602 manage to avoid. Not so jazzy. The Bluetooth connectivity gets things back on track however, offering huge functionality in terms of connectivity over the competition and the adjustable satellite stands provide flexibility in terms of positioning.

But how does it sound? In short: superb. Mids and highs are handled brilliantly by the two satellite speakers, whilst the lows are dealt with by the adjustable subwoofer. We prefer the warmth and color produced by the SoundSticks over both Logitech’s Z533 and Klipsch’s Pro Media 2.1, but that’s entirely subjective.This 2.1 set-up - yes, there’s an included sub - provides near flawless versatility across movies games and music. You can’t really ask for much more.  
See the Harman Kardon SoundSticks III
 

4. Edifier E25 Luna Eclipse HD ($200)

Edifier E25 Luna Eclipse HDPower: 75 Watts
Connection: 3.5mm, Optical, Bluetooth
Sensitivity: 85dB
What We Like: Great value, fantastic build.
What We Don’t: Exposed tweeters.

At first glance, you can see that an insane amount of attention to detail has been put into these speakers. They make the Kef EGG look boring. Although a magnet for fingerprints, the high-gloss finish is nicely contrasted with a matte front panel, while small detailing - like the bevelled lining on the drivers - keep things interesting. Edifier have included cables for all their outputs, which means that, once you’ve got the speakers, you’re good to go - a nice touch, and not a given with many companies. The remote, while limited in functionality, still does everything you’d need it too - we just wish they’d kept its design in line with the speakers themselves, instead of silver, which appears literally nowhere else on the product. A minor gripe, but still.

Sound-wise, these speakers pop. They produce a much lower and louder bass response than you’d expect - no doubt thanks to the passive radiators - but still maintain a clean and clear sound, avoiding that muddying effect that so many of these desktop solutions suffer. The mids flow and the highs retain a level of brightness throughout the volume range without ever sounding harsh. Edifier have really nailed the balance with these. The soundstage is surprisingly refined for a $200 set of speakers, and, while details are easy to pick out, they never feel jarring or in competition with the rest of the track. The only possible issue for some could be the exposed tweeters, which. although guarded partially, could still be accessible to tiny, curious, prodding digits. Parents be warned.
See the Edifier E25 Luna Eclipse HD


5. Logitech Z533 ($85)

Logitech Multimedia Speaker System Z533Power: 60 Watts
Connection: 3.5mm, RCA
Sensitivity: 80dB
What We Like: Big sound, affordable 2.1 setup.
What We Don’t: Lots of wires to deal with.

We were stunned by Logitech’s 2.1 offering at this price point - the Soundsticks III, above, is almost a third more. Creative’s T40 costs more, too, while lacking a sub and a similar richness in audio fidelity. The Z533 is no joke.
Things aren’t all perfect. Although the Z533 sounded clear and natural, it lacked the detail of the Soundsticks III, even though it still sounded amazing.

The sub dealt with the lows well enough, allowing the satellites to handle the mids and highs, which helped avoid any muddying. Movies felt vibrant and lively during loud sequences, but also tight and succinct during the quieter moments. Games were equally as impressive, although again, we felt the SoundSticks gave a fuller, more detailed experience across the medias. Design wise, again, we preferred the SoundSticks III, although we love the Z533’s exposed drivers in all their black and gold gloss glory. And one area the Z533 wins hands down over the SoundSticks is in price: coming in at $70 cheaper, it happily undercuts the Soundsticks. That being said, they’re not a superior option: if you can afford the extra bucks then Harmon Kardon’s your guy. Or girl. Or cyborg. We haven’t checked.
See the Logitech Z533
 

6. Feniks Essence ($1,641)

Feniks EssencePower: 75 Watts
Connection: 3.5mm, RCA, USB, Optical
Sensitivity: 88dB
What We Like: Unrivalled build quality, sublime sound, beautiful design.
What We Don’t: The price tag.

With its small form factor and average looking specs, you’d be forgiven for struggling to comprehend just how these active speakers cost so much. However, the Swiss father and son duo behind Feniks prove there’s a lot more to great sound than numbers. These handmade speakers are built to order and available in a vast array of colors. The die-cast aluminium cabinet is constructed in a unique modular design that seals the unit acoustically, eliminating unwanted resonance and providing an extremely high end finish. Very nice. 

The built-in stands not only raise the unit, they also allow the bottom mounted bass port room to work. The top mounted volume control feels tight and precise, while its Teflon washer keeps it buttery smooth. And these speakers sound good. Damn good. That’s thanks to the custom 2-way drivers: their unique design incorporates an independent mid-woofer and tweeter (as opposed to separate drivers for each) creating an indescribable sounding stereo image. They also have an incredibly small moving mass (4.5g) which allows for next-level transient acoustics when compared to units with similar or greater RMS and sensitivity. Digital and analog work parallel to each other, meaning analog signals (like from your turntables) aren’t digitized automatically. Great news for their versatility. In short these speakers are the best built, best sounding and best looking on our list, it’s just a shame their high price-tag might not make the best sense for your bank balance.
See the Feniks Essence


7. Aperion Allaire ($399)

Aperion AllairePower: 100 Watts
Connection: 3.5mm, RCA, Optical, Bluetooth, USB
Sensitivity: Unknown
What We Like: Gorgeous looks, lots of connectivity, remote control.
What We Don’t: Volume lacking while on Bluetooth connection.

Without a doubt, Aperion have created the best looking Bluetooth speakers in our round-up. These things are absolutely gorgeous in both their matte black or white finish. Their magnetic grills mean you can either be privy to the ¾-inch tweeter and 4.5-inch woofers, or if the kids are about, keep them covered up with relative ease. And from a connectivity stand-point, the Allaire have got it plugged too, with analog connections in the form of RCA and 3.5mm, while the digital side’s covered by optical and Bluetooth. There’s even a USB connection you can use to charge your mobile/tablet while it’s in use. Now that’s synergy! The included remote is also a plus, but we’re not fans of the oversized and weighted design. This is probably because there are zero controls on the speakers themselves. So, don’t lose it.

Yeah, but what do they sound like? Pretty damned good. Provided you set them up right. Due to their flat bottom design, unless the tweeters are ear level, you’re definitely going to lose some detail in the mids and highs. Also, we noticed the lows are slightly compressed, but this is only really noticeable while watching movies. We’d say they sound closest to the Audio Engine A5+ - not quite as full a soundstage, but they offset that with the Bluetooth compatibility. We did notice a slight variance in volume whilst using the Bluetooth functionality over the analogue or digital cable connections. It isn’t a major issue, but definitely noticeable. If Bluetooth functionality is important, go for these. If you want the best sound possible at this price, and don’t mind a few cables, go for the A5+. FYI: We've seen their availability fluctuate on Amazon, but they're still very much around.
See the Aperion Allaire
 

8. Edifier Exclaim e10 ($95)

Edifier ExclaimPower (RMS): 36 Watts
Connection: 3.5mm
Sensitivity: 85dB
What We Like: Amazing value, visually- and audibly-pleasing design.
What We Don’t: Lack individual bass, mid and treble controls.

Let’s be straight: at this price point these 2.0 speakers are pretty much untouchable, although the T40s from Creative come close. Delivering crystal clear mids and highs the e10s from Edifier do little but impress. The lows, although not as prominent, still kick hard, and would suit users looking for more subtle bass solutions. They only begin to struggle when faced with really bass-heavy tracks. If that’s going to be an issue for you we suggest spending an extra $50 and buying Edifier’s R1700BT

We love the design of the E10’s, too. Not only do they look stylish and contemporary, but the angled design aids the sound by directing it upwards towards your ears - something smaller speakers often fail to address. The only real negative we found with the e10’s is the lack of individual bass, mid and treble controls on the unit itself. Sure, there are plenty of software solutions, but as it’s limited by its 3.5mm connectivity, it means you’ll need multiple solutions if you play music off your phone or tablet. Still, although not the cheapest affordable solution in our list, the e10s payoff between audio quality and price makes it a top contender.
See the Edifier Exclaim e10
 

9. Edifier R1700BT ($150)

Edifier R1700BTPower (RMS): 66 Watts
Size: 9.7”x 6” x 8”
Connection: RCA, Bluetooth
Sensitivity: 85dB
What We Like: Warm smooth sound, Bluetooth functionality.
What We Don’t: Wood finish isn’t as good as we’d like, bass sticks out.

Edifier are at it again with another entry high up in our list, this time in the form of the R1700BT speakers. The BT, if you were wondering, stands for Bluetooth (clever, that). The sound quality is awesome, with mids and highs sounding natural and detailed. Our only real gripe is with the prevalence of the bass. Regardless of how we tweaked it, it didn’t seem to gel with the mids and highs. Connectivity is a dream, and although limited to RCA inputs, Edifier have included a nice 3.5mm to RCA splitter for the dinosaurs, whilst the new kids on the block (please, no) are granted Bluetooth functionality, provided you have a phone/tablet/Bluetooth adapter. This is something we’d liked to of seen on Audioengine’s A2+, especially considering they cost $100 more.

As massive fans of Mackie’s CR4 design, we’re not overly keen on the wood finish for a computer set-up; it may suit others tastes, but it’s not really ticking our boxes. We wouldn’t be surprised to find them in a log cabin during some surrealist nightmare scene in a Twin Peaks-esque movie, one where you wake up and time has accelerated you into a weird dystopian future void of everything you remember, and...look, we’re not really sure where we were going with this. The wood didn’t do it for us, but they’re built really solid, and feel robust enough to use as a lethal weapon, should the need arrive.. Let’s just leave it at that.
See the Edifier R1700BT
 

10. Creative Sound BlasterX Kratos S5 ($110)

Creative Sound BlasterX Kratos S5Power: 60 Watts
Connection: 3.5mm, RCA, Micro USB
Sensitivity: Unknown
What We Like: Great price, nice features.
What We Don’t: Harsh highs at louder volume.

Ok, so we know what you’re thinking. RGB lighting on speakers - really? Well, normally we’d agree with you, but we’ve never seen gaming speakers with RGB lighting - usually it’s just headsets. The problem with lighting on headsets is that you can’t see the lights, but with speakers, you can. Besides, these are fully customizable to the point of turning them off. And the build of these speakers is pretty impressive: they feel extremely robust for their price, and the units themselves feel nice and weighty, which is always a good thing - at least for speakers. The volume controller, which also allows mic and headset inputs, feels great. It slides around easier than a half-naked human on a plastic sheet covered in washing up liquid, and even gives a nice click signifying its off position.

Unlike a lot of our gaming speakers, the S5’s can be connected with 3.5mm or USB. We’d highly recommend using the USB connectivity because, not only does it allow access to the SoundBlaster Connect software, it leaves room for you to connect your mic to the S5 controller using the 3.5mm. This helps you avoid any feedback hum. Sound wise, they aren’t terrible, but they aren’t the best either. Highs get harsh pretty quick - especially as you push the volume - while mids struggle to add definition to the mix. The lows are fine, but feel disjointed at times and, unless you have the bass set to max, it struggles to be heard at lower volumes. Not to say they’re bad, just not great for anyone looking for profound music experiences. Definitely decent enough to celebrate headshots in Call of Duty though. But you knew that as soon as you saw the RGB lighting, right? The software is a saving grace, allowing huge customization of the speaker sound, microphone sound, and RGB lighting. The lighting may have more options than the audio, but we kind of expected that from a gamer-centric product. Great for gamers, grating for audiophiles.
See the Creative Sound BlasterX Kratos S5
 

11. Cyber Acoustics CA-3602 FFP ($40)

Cyber Acoustics CA-3602 FFPPower: 30 Watts
Connection: 3.5mm
Sensitivity: Unknown
What We Like: Best budget speakers.
What We Don’t: Gloss finish attracts dust, could be knocked over.

If you’re looking for an upgrade over your built-in speakers but don’t want to break the bank then the CA-3602’s could be for you. Although not the best sounding speakers overall, they are the best sounding speakers for under $50. Volume and bass are easily adjusted through the LED-accented control pod, which also offers headphone out and Aux-in connectivity. Great to see on a budget model and something not even found on the Bose Companion 2’s. 

Design wise, the 3602’s look pretty cool with the gloss black satellites sitting on a matte silver frame. It’s worth mentioning the satellites are quite top-heavy and could be easily toppled if knocked, however they ship with fairly long cables meaning you should be equipped to find a safe position somewhere in your room. The sub does well at reproducing bass, however we noticed some distortion when we tried to push the volume above 60% or so. The satellite speakers are more than adequate for gaming, but movie and music lovers may be put off by their slightly muddy mids. (The Klipsch Promedia 2.1 satellites are slightly crisper - however they cost three times as much). All-in-all the CA-3602’s are amazing value. They might not sound the best, but they don’t sound bad, they look good, plus they deliver features lacking from systems two and three times the price. If you can forgive the top-heavy design and dust-attracting looks, your search might be over.
See the Cyber Acoustics CA-3602 FFP
 

12. Razer Leviathan Gaming Sound Bar ($192)

Razer LeviathanPower: 60 Watts
Connection: 3.5mm, Optical, Bluetooth
Sensitivity: Unknown
What We Like: Bluetooth, surround sound.
What We Don’t: Overly-dominant bass.

For most of us, having a 5.1 setup for our computers is just way too complicated. You need a suitable-sized room, then you need to find suitable places for the speakers, then there’s cable management, oh and now it’s past 10pm and you’re disturbing the neighbors. Nightmare. Step on up, then, the Leviathan gaming sound bar from Razer.

Using multiple drivers and Dolby’s Pro Logic II wizardry, Razer have delivered a one-stop solution for those looking for something above and beyond the standard 2.0 or 2.1 options out there. Looks wise, the soundbar and sub are fairly discreet; aside from the company’s logo and black finish, there’s not much to report. The bar is designed to sit underneath your monitor, while the sub assumes the under desk/foot stool position. And it sounds great: the virtual surround sound is never going to replace the true 5.1 of your Logitech Z906’s, but it definitely gives you something more than the Bose Companion 2 and Klipsch Pro Media. Movies and games become more immersive and music sounds larger than life.The only issue is the overwhelming amount of bass. It’s cinematic and immersive on movies and games, but bring music into the fray and it could definitely cause fatigue over long periods. That said for the majority of gamers this could be a great alternative to a gaming headset. Just not on a Sunday night, yeah?
See the Razer Leviathan Gaming Sound bar
 

13. Audioengine A5+ ($399)

Audioengine A5+Power: 75 Watts
Connection: 3.5mm, RCA, USB
Sensitivity: 95dB
What We Like: Best sound quality.
What We Don’t: Sizeable price, needs a spacious desk.

Without a doubt the A5+ are an amazing sounding set of speakers, which overwhelm Audioengine’s A2+ in every regard except one. No prizes for guessing which one. Price. Everything sounds good through these speakers, and the lows, mids and highs are all delivered precisely in a crisp clear display with zero muddiness throughout the frequencies. That said, if you’re looking for more bass, then perhaps a 2.1 option like the Harman Kardon SoundSticks III would be a better fit. That’s not to say the A5+ lacks bass response - far from it - however, the bass acts as an accompaniment rather than the main attraction.

Moolah isn’t the only thing you’re going to need a lot of if you want to make these babies yours. You’re going to need desk space. Lot of desk space. This is to be expected for those used to dealing with studio monitor speakers, which is kind of who these are aimed at, but for those of you more accustomed to traditional PC speakers, be warned. That being said, these speakers really are a pleasure to use, and although the price will put some users off, and keep them from the upper reaches of the list, if you can afford the A5s, you won’t regret the purchase. We'll have a full review soon.
See the Audioengine A5+


14. Creative Gigaworks T40 Series II ($125)

Creative GigaWorks T40 Series IIPower: 32 Watts
Connection: 3.5mm
Sensitivity: 80dB
What We Like: Good sound, solid looks.
What We Don’t: Slightly overpriced for what you get.

Creative are an iconic company within the PC world thanks to the rise of their legendary Soundblaster sound cards throughout the 90’s and beyond. So it comes as no surprise that for a 2.0 solution, the T40s perform admirably. Mids and highs were crisp and clear, accentuating footsteps in games and providing clarity of the soundstage throughout various genres of music. However, the lack of a subwoofer is felt, especially when considering that the T40 sits in the same price range as Harmon Kardon’s SoundSticks III.

That said, we loved the accessibility of the individual bass and treble controls on the front of the left speaker, as well as the headphone out and auxiliary in connections - something which we feel was missing on the Edifier R1700BT. We also love the understated design of the T-40s, although we prefer its look when the grills are removed and its drivers exposed. We feel these speakers wouldn’t look out of place in the majority of set-ups, and the slightly angled design is a nice touch that allows the sound to be directed up towards the user. If you don’t have the space to accommodate a subwoofer, or they’re just not your thing and you want slightly better sound than the Edifiers at a cheaper price than the A2+, then the Creative Gigaworks T40 series II can’t be overlooked.
See the Creative Gigaworks T40 Series II
 

15. Bose Companion 2 Series III ($99)

Bose Companion 2 Series III Power: Unknown
Connection: 3.5mm
Sensitivity: Unknown
What We Like: Clear, detailed sound, understated design.
What We Don’t: Overpriced.

We like the design choices Bose have made. Understated looks, upward-angled positioning, a front facing headphone out and rear mounted aux-in for tablet and phone connectivity. Although a simple touch, this kind of accessible connectivity is missing on more expensive systems like the Audioengine A2+ and Harmon Kardon SoundSticks III. We were slightly dubious when we felt how light the units were, but it didn’t turn out to be a major problem as the build quality was excellent. And for a 2.0 system, the Companion 2s deliver an unexpectedly-wide and -detailed soundstage. The bass, although lacking any gut punching ferocity, still kicked and it was only at 80%-plus volume that we really noticed the lack of a sub, as the frequencies became muddied and started to distort at the lower end.

If we compare these with the Edifier e10s, they lack the ability to sustain their clarity and detail through the volume range, but do provide a wider soundstage. However the e10s also have the Companions beaten on bass response, delivering a punchier, fuller sounding bass, whilst avoiding the muddiness for the most part. In our opinion, the e10s are the smarter option for the same money, but if you’d prefer a wider sound over a tighter bass response you could argue in the companions favor.
See the Bose Companion 2 Series III
 

16. KEF EGG ($500)

KEF EGGPower: 50 Watts
Connection: 3.5mm, Optical, USB, Bluetooth
Sensitivity: 95dB
What We Like: Iconic design, balanced sound, connectivity.
What We Don’t: Expensive - and can be a little dull.

Although we’ve had some contentious opinions about the EGG in the past, it belongs on this list - if nothing else, for its suitability as a pair of computer speakers. If you can afford it, it’s a one stop solution for all your audio requirements. Just remember, it’s EGG - all caps, singular, not plural. Don’t ask us why.

The curved, minimalist design and matte finish color options exude quality, and allow the unit to integrate into any system seamlessly. The left speaker has four buttons on its base. Power, volume up, volume down and source each feels solid and gives a satisfying click when pressed. Each EGG feels extremely solid and robust, sitting firm on its stands and weighty to the touch. All testament to KEF’s build quality. It has 3.5mm to allow the addition of a subwoofer, a 3.5mm aux connection, an optical input for supporting soundcards and T.Vs and a micro USB connection to accommodate supporting PC/laptops…oh and it’s primary connection is Bluetooth! Phew. The sound has a level of detail and warmth that Audioengine’s A2+ and A5+ miss out on due to their preference towards a flatter response, and there’s an extended sweet spot thanks to some clever design, which sits the tweeter in the middle of the driver. The higher the volume, the more noticeable the missing subwoofer becomes, but that’s a minor gripe. For less money, you could get an equally-good-sounding 5.1 set-up like the Logitech Z906, but you’d be foregoing the style, connectivity and build quality that KEF are able to deliver here. Read our in-depth review.
See the KEF EGG
 

17. JBL Pebbles ($170)

JBL PebblesPower: Unknown
Connection: 3.5mm, USB
Sensitivity: 89dB
What We Like: Small speakers, big sound, portable.
What We Don’t: Very expensive for what you get.

The Pebbles from JBL aren’t just powered by USB, they receive sound from the source through USB. We like that. Minimal cables, minimal fuss, and that seems to be the driving ethos behind these speakers. Smart, clean and simple. Of course there is a 3.5mm input if you need it, but otherwise it’s USB and done. We dig the design of these speakers, and although they look more like headphone cups than pebbles, we can see what JBL were going for here, and we definitely approve. The minimalist style is aided by a clever design decision whereby the USB and 3.5mm jack cables are wrapped around and inserted into the base of each speaker, creating a unique cable management solution and increasing the portability factor at the same time. Touché.

So do they sound smooth as pebbles or like a bag of old rocks? The audio quality is pretty decent, not as good as the SoundSticks (2.1) but definitely on par with the Creative T40’s, although with slightly worse bass response and lower tolerance for volume. At a similar price point we can’t really grumble. If you’re looking for a decent sounding 2.0 speaker set up, hate clutter and plan on taking them places then we highly recommend the Pebbles. If you’re looking for a more permanent feature, then go with Edifier E10’s.
See the JBL Pebbles


18. Mackie CR4 ($150)

Mackie CR4Power: 56 Watts
Connection: RCA, 6.3mm
Sensitivity: 100dB
What We Like: Compromise between studio monitors and PC speakers.
What We Don’t: Design may polarize.

Let’s start with the design. Although it looks fairly minimalist, the green accents on the black base of each speaker are actually fairly restrictive if you don’t have a set-up with a similar colorway, which is a shame, because these speakers are remarkable for the price point. Aside from the front-mount auxiliary input, connections are limited to RCA and 6.3mm jack, but Mackie are kind enough to include a 3.5mm to RCA connector, allowing users unfamiliar with monitor speakers to simply plug and play. Kudos.  

With a flatter, more natural response than the Creative T40s, and definitely the Harman SoundSticks, the CR4’s deliver a rich detailed sound more akin to that of the Edifier R1700s. Unlike the Edifiers, the CR4s deliver a more subtle and pleasing bass tone, with just enough weight in the mix to allow everything from movies to games to be an enjoyable experience. However in our opinion, the Edifiers delivered more natural sounding mids and highs, which when coupled with the more complete connectivity options (Bluetooth) make the R1700’s the smarter choice. If you can live with that design, of course.
See the Mackie CR4


Comparison Table:

Speaker Price Power* Connection Sens.** Size
Audioengine A2+ $249 60 Watts 3.5mm, RCA, USB 95dB 6” x 5.25” x 4”
Logitech Z906 5.1 $270 500 Watts 3.5mm, RCA, Optical Unknown Various (5.1)
Harman Kardon S'Sticks III $168 55 Watts 3.5mm Unknown Various (2.1)
Edifier E25 Luna Eclipse HD $200 75 Watts 3.5mm, Optical, Bluetooth 85dB 8.74" x 8.3" 4.8"
Logitech Z533 $85 60 Watts 3.5mm, RCA 80dB Various (2.1)
Feniks Essence $1,641 75 Watts 3.5mm, RCA, USB, Optical 88dB 7.7" x 6.9 x 4.7"
Aperion Allaire $399 100 Watts 3.5mm, RCA, Opt., B'tooth, USB Unknown 9" x 6.75" x 6"
Edifier Exclaim e10 $95 36 Watts 3.5mm 85dB 12”x 7.1” x 4”
Edifier R1700BT $150 66 Watts RCA, Bluetooth 85dB 9.7”x 6” x 8”
Creative S'B' Kratos S5 $110 60 Watts 3.5mm, RCA, Micro USB Unknown Various (2.1)
Cyber Acoustics CA-3602 $40 30 Watts 3.5mm Unknown Various (2.1)
Razer Leviathan $192 60 Watts 3.5mm, Optical, Bluetooth Unknown Various (Bar/Sub)
Audioengine A5+ $399 75 Watts 3.5mm, RCA, USB 95dB 10.8” x 7” x 9”
Creative G'works T40 S. II $125 32 Watts 3.5mm 80dB 12.6” x 5.9” x 4.6”
Bose Companion 2 S. III $99 Unknown 3.5mm Unknown 7.5”x 5.9” x 3.1”
KEF EGG $500 50 Watts 3.5mm, Opt., B'tooth, USB 95dB 10.8” x 6.8” x 5.4”
JBL Pebbles $170 Unknown 3.5mm, USB 89dB 5.2” x 5.9” x 3.1”
Mackie CR4 $150 56 Watts RCA, 6.3mm 100dB 8.8” x 7.2” x 6.1”

*Power figures are all listed as RMS
**Sens. = Sensitivity

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Computer Speakers | DeclanTM
Computer Speakers | DeclanTM

Buying Advice:

How Much Should I Spend On Computer Speakers?

Like most things audio-related, you usually get what you pay for. If you buy cheap, you’re normally sacrificing sound and build quality, however, if you spend too exuberantly you can end up paying for features, functionalities and connectivity you don’t need and won’t use. What we’d suggest is establish your budget and see what you can afford.

We’ve included entry level, mid-range and high-end speakers in our list and ordered them accordingly. 

The bottom line is: spend within your means, but definitely be smart and read up on the products comparatively and see what suits you best.

Audioengine A5+ | Audioengine
Audioengine A5+ | Audioengine

Computer Speakers vs. Built-In Monitor Speakers​

Awesome question! If you’ve read our roundup of the best gaming monitors of this year, you’ll be aware that some of the very best gaming monitors actually come with built-in speakers. Surely they will suit gaming, then?

Well, not exactly. With the slim profile of all modern monitors, it’s impossible to fit decent sized drivers inside a monitor’s case. And without decent-sized drivers, you’re not going to achieve a great sound. On top of that, the gaming monitor market is extremely competitive with price being a dominant factor in peoples purchase decisions. Therefore companies are always looking at keeping their prices low, which means most monitors don’t come with built-ins at all, and if they do, they will be low-end to keep manufacturing and sales prices low.

Sure, you can use them but it’s not going to be a very nice experience, especially over long periods of time. Fear not though, because we’ve considered those of you out there with this very dilemma, which is why we have included picks like the Logitech Z200, which for less than $20 will produce a massive improvement over any built-in speakers out there. 

So in short, yes you can use your monitor’s built-in speakers, but we recommend you don’t when you can vastly improve your listening experience for less than twenty bucks.
 

Computer Speakers vs. Bookshelf Speakers

Technically, yes. There’s absolutely nothing stopping you. But the reason we’ve got a separate roundup of the best bookshelf speakers of this year is because they are not really suited to direct pairing with a PC or laptop.

This is for one simple reason. Most bookshelf speakers are passive, in that they require external power to actually make noise. That means that they require an amplifier – usually a stereo amplifier. That not only increases the cost (obviously) but also increases the amount of equipment you have to deal with, and the number of wires dangling around your desk.

Every one of the speakers on this list is an active speaker – each one of them contains its own amplifier, meaning you don’t need any external power requirements beyond plugging them into the mains (or, in some cases, your computer’s USB port). That’s a real advantage when all you want to do is boost your laptop sound, for example, and it can really save some space on your desk.

Of course, there’s absolutely nothing to stop you from going the bookshelf-speaker-and-amplifier route. Many amplifiers incorporate a USB connection now, meaning you can plug them straight into your computer, and get yourself some very fine-grained control over the sound. If you’re going to go this route, we also recommend investing a little bit of money in a separate DAC (Digital-to-Analogue Converter). These have dedicated chips but do a much better job of converting digital 1s and 0s to noise you can actually hear – which, after all, is the whole point.

Harmon Kardon Soundsticks | TJStamp
Harmon Kardon Soundsticks | TJStamp

2.0 vs. 2.1 Speakers

Ok, so 2.0 or 2.1? What’s the difference?

2.0 refers to the left and right (stereo) channels, while 2.1 refers to the left and right channels with the addition of a subwoofer. Now, what a subwoofer does – apart from cause public disturbances – is offload the heavy bass frequencies away from the small drivers (speakers) inside your left and right satellites and diverts them to its own dedicated driver in a separate unit.

One thing to bear in mind with a subwoofer, is that it usually goes on the floor under your desk, so if you live with parents or in an apartment block a thundering, floor -ased subwoofer may not always be ideal. The benefits of a sub are that you get a much fuller and deeper bass response, as your satellites only have to focus on delivering the mid and high frequencies, which results in them delivering a much clearer sound while avoid muddiness and distortion.

So do you need one? Well, that depends. A subwoofer can create a much more immersive and cinematic experience, but if all you do is listen to podcasts it’s probably not for you and a 2.0 system will be fine. However, if you want big explosions during games and movies and like to listen to blaring music at high volumes, then it’s almost essential you get a sub. There are 2.0 options which provide great bass response without it becoming as overwhelming as some 2.1 set ups , but you will have to pay for that level of quality – and it doesn’t come cheap.

The best 2.1 solution in our opinion in terms of audio quality, build quality, design and value is the Harman Kardon SoundSticks III, while the best 2.0 solution would be the A2+ from Audioengine.

Harmon Kardon Soundsticks | Chris Coyier
Harmon Kardon Soundsticks | Chris Coyier

Speaker Connections Explained

Connectivity is an important consideration when purchasing computer speakers. The standard input is a 3.5mm jack and is present on every speaker in our list. This is same connector you use to plug headphones into your phones or tablets. You’ill find this port on every computer ever made over the last twenty-plus years as well as phones, tablets, television and hifi systems.

This is great, as it means you can connect your speakers to a variety of sources. However as it’s an analogue connection it is open to feedback and background distortion in the form of white noise if that connection isn’t tight.

Apple may have been trying to phase out the humble 3.5mm jack, with their new iPhones, but trust us - it’s going to be around for some time yet

Another connection input, again found on every computer everywhere, is USB. USB is a true plug and play connection, as your computer digitally recognizes the device and (usually) sets it up automatically on your system - although Windows users may need to download additional drivers, because Microsoft. As a digital connection, USB avoids the potential for distortion through the physical contacts of jacks and ports. 

A more niche connection is the Optical connection. Found on the Razer Leviathan, this digital connection is great, as it allows you to use your speakers on most modern TVs and games consoles, but be wary as you won’t find it as standard on computers. It usually requires a special soundcard or audio interface to get it working on your PC.

RCA connections are again slightly more niche however, every entry in our list with an RCA connection, provides a 3.5mm to RCA connector allowing you to get to it straight out of the box.

A couple of our speakers such as the R1700BT and Razer Leviathan even have Bluetooth connectivity, allowing wireless connections to any device that supports it.

More connectivity is never a bad thing, as it allows you to use your product across multiple platforms which in-turn increases the value of that product. Speakers with limited connections aren’t necessarily worse; just make sure you have the input to match the connection.

Feniks Essence | Feniks Audio
Feniks Essence | Feniks Audio

RMS Wattage Explained

One of the stats that often causes confusion when it comes to speakers is RMS wattage. If you’re not familiar with the audio world, this particular bit of jargon can be puzzling.

Wattage is a measure of power. Although it’s not an exact analogue, you can generally take it to be a measure of loudness as well. The more wattage, the more volume you’re likely to get out of a pair of speakers.

Now, it’s not just enough for manufacturers to list the maximum volume – most speakers can go pretty loud, but they can’t do it for very long without burning out both their own drivers and the ears of anybody listening. Telling us that your speakers can put out a thousand watts of power is excellent, but for everyday use, it’s pointless.

Instead, we need to look at what is known as continuous wattage, or RMS. The acronym, by the way, stands for Root Mean Squared, and all it is is a complicated bit of mathematics that gives you an average rating of something. In this case, it’s a power level when driven over a long period of time, and at a volume unlikely to blow your eardrums apart.

In the case of computer speakers – actually, in the case of almost all speakers – when we talk about the RMS wattage, we are referring to the total wattage produced per channel. To complicate things, manufacturers don’t usually include things like subwoofers in this, making it tricky to gauge the RMS wattage of certain 2.1 setups. That being said, it’s still a useful thing to know, and essential if you’re trying to gauge which speakers to buy. There’s no point, for example, in paying for the 75 watts of the Feniks Essence (because make no mistake, you do pay for extra power) when 25 watts of the Logitech Z313 will do just fine. Look at your space, and make an educated guess about how much power you need. Don’t worry – it doesn’t matter if you’re not exact, and any of the speakers on our list will do just fine.

KEF EGG | The Master Switch
KEF EGG | The Master Switch

Sensitivity Explained

We recently rounded up the best gaming headsets of this year. If you've read that article, not only will you now be the owner of one of the sweetest headsets available, you’ll also know exactly what sensitivity or Sound Pressure Level (SPL) means. If you haven’t and you don’t then read on…

Essentially, sensitivity is a measurement of how loud a set of speakers will produce sound at a particular power level. So the higher the sensitivity rating, the louder the speakers will perform. Generally speaking a higher sensitivity rating is indicative of a higher quality speaker, but not every time. It’s worth taking this stat with a pinch of salt as due to variance in power sources (amps, interfaces etc.) the measurement of sensitivity is not always a true representation of how loud the headset will sound for you. Also as sensitivity is measured in decibels per milliwatt and power from your PC (and every other electrical device on the planet) is delivered in volts, the methods used by companies to arrive at their value of sensitivity can be inconsistent, which doesn’t really help anyone in deciding whether or not a set of speakers is right for them.

At this point we’d like to give you the best piece of advice out there for speakers. Get your hands on them and try them out. Order some online, and if you’re not happy with them, swap them for a different set. That said though, every set of speakers in our round-up bangs if we say it does. Guaranteed. So if you’re not sure, have another read through our list, make your pick and sleep easy tonight.
 

Computer Speakers For Music Production

When producing music it is extremely important to hear the sounds you create as accurately as possible. This is because you want the music you create to sound good on every system, not just yours. For example, if you used the Edifier R1700BT whilst producing a track, you might think you’ve added enough bass in your mix when you listen back to it, but you’d be wrong. The R1700’s are known for being slightly bass heavy, and this is what you’d be hearing. Now this becomes an issue when you mix down your track and other people start to play it on their systems and notice there isn’t enough bass, even though it sounded fine on yours. This can affect all sounds across all frequencies, which in turn can affect the perceived volume of certain elements of your track as well as their positioning in relation to one another.

This is why music producers use active or passive monitor speakers to create music. These speakers come with a flat EQ that is specifically designed to accurately represent sound. Speakers aimed towards gaming, movies or music listening come with a colored sound, whereby the bass, mids and highs are all preset to deliver an experience of sound rather than aiding the creation of it. The only speakers on our list that remotely come close to fitting the bill would be the Audioengine A5+. When asked their thoughts on the application of the A5+’s in terms of music production, Audioengine responded with this:

“The A5s were designed with the users listening experience in mind and are not marketed as studio monitors. However, the Audioengine technology has its roots in the studio monitor world, and the A5s are quite good for this purpose. We have had customers tell us that they use these for near field listening and music editing and enjoy the experience. Let us know if you have any other questions.”

In other words the A5+’s are made for listening to music, not creating it. You probably could, but we wouldn’t. That’s that then.

Logitech Speakers | Saad Baig
Logitech Speakers | Saad Baig

Isolation Pads vs. Speaker Stands

It’s no secret that, as a whole, premium speakers deliver premium sound. While most of this can be accredited to the speaker’s internals (tweeters, woofers etc.), a surprising amount is based on the design.

For example, the Aperion Allaires use nothing but high-end components. However, due to their flat bottomed design, unless you position them correctly - ear level, in this case - you won’t be getting the full effect. On the flipside, some speakers - like the Edifier E25 Luna Eclipse HD - use an angular bottomed design in an attempt to direct sound towards the user’s general ear level, potentially improving performance. This isn’t the best solution though. A sure-fire way to get the very best from your speakers is to purchase a set of speaker stands. Just make sure they’re suitable in terms of height and compatibility.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, when speakers project sound, they vibrate. If speakers are sitting directly on a desk, shelf, or floor, the vibrations can leak into surfaces, often muddying the bass and lower mids. The louder the speakers go, the more noticeable the effect. That’s why, with speakers like the Audioengine A5+s, we’d recommend purchasing a set of isolator pads. Isolator pads - or decouplers - work like a car’s suspension, and consist of a spring, a dampener, and a mass - in this case, the mass is the speaker. The properties of the foam material used in isolation pads acts as both the spring and dampenner, and essentially remove the contact between the low end vibrations and the desk. This allows the speakers to project the sound as intended. Most isolator pads come with angular inserts, and they can all be used with speaker stands.

Back To Our Computer Speaker Picks Back To Our Comparison Table

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