It’s time to ditch that wimpy headset.
Last Updated: June 2018
You have a screaming fast custom-built PC, a beautiful adaptive-sync monitor, and a macro’d-out keyboard and mouse. But when you start up your favorite game, the thin and tinny sound from the monitor’s speakers is just…blah. You could use a headset of course, but sometimes you want to really feel the bass of your weapons, and have big, heavy drivers pumping out the sound instead of the tiny ones in your headset. If this is you, then it’s time to add some speakers to your gaming setup. Speakers that can fill the room with the boom of your shotgun and the cries of your vanquished enemies.
…it’s time to add some speakers to your gaming setup.
Before we get to the recommendations though, we should discuss why desktop speakers are better than those in your monitor or headset. For starters, speakers that are built into monitors, laptops, and headsets are small. They have to be to fit into the chassis and be unobtrusive. Those small speaker drivers – called tweeters – are only able to accurately reproduce higher sound frequencies, which is why the sound they produce sounds like it’s missing something. As drivers get larger they gain the ability to better play lower frequencies while losing the ability to better play higher frequencies. Putting a larger driver – a woofer – together with a tweeter in one speaker is called a two-way design, and it’s the most common configuration in desktop speakers these days. That’s what we’re looking at here.
The two-way speaker design does a good job of covering the frequency range of human hearing, generally acknowledged as 20Hz-20kHz, but doesn’t get quite down to the very low end. With music you don’t need to worry too much about hitting the 20Hz lower threshold, but if you’re watching movies or playing games with a lot of bass you might want to consider speakers that include a subwoofer, although it will take up extra space under your desk.
You’ll also want your speakers to be powered, meaning they have an amplifier built in (usually to one speaker of the pair) and will need to be plugged in. The audio signal coming from your computer needs to be amplified before it is sent out through the speaker drivers to your ears. It is possible to buy an external amplifier and hook up a pair of passive speakers (these are speakers that do not have an amplifier built in), but that ends up taking up more space. Some desktop speakers have a switch that allows you to change the channel output of the powered speaker to either left or right. Being able to assign this can help clean up cable flow on your desk and lets you place the powered speaker closest to the outlet.
There are a few more options to keep an eye out for that can make life a bit easier. Having a headphone jack on the front of the speaker can be very convenient when you want to quickly plug in your headphones and not deal with output reassignment in your OS. A front-mounted aux-in is an easy way to attach a music source like your phone. Bluetooth functionality is another way some speakers will allow you to attach additional sources.
Whew! With that crash-course out of the way, these are our picks for the best desktop PC speakers at every price:
The Best $100 Pick – Mackie CR3 Multimedia Monitors
The CR3 monitors have pretty good sound especially in the vocal midrange and the high end is nice and open. But as the sound creeps down towards the lower frequency limit of 80Hz it can get a bit bloated. There are two inputs on the back side – both a balanced quarter-inch and an unbalanced RCA – and an aux-in on the front. A switch on the back allows the powered speaker to be placed on either the right or left. There isn’t the option to add a subwoofer for lower bass extension though.
In addition to the aux-in on the front of the powered speaker there’s a headphone jack and the volume knob also acts as an on/off switch. To turn the speakers off just turn the knob counter-clockwise until it clicks. The speaker has green accents around the drivers and volume knob, so it could match your Nvidia setup. If you’re not a fan of the neon green there is a white/silver option available as well.
The Audiophile’s Choice – Audioengine A2+
Keeping your desktop uncluttered is a constant challenge, at least for me, and having large speakers taking up a good deal of that space isn’t always conducive to a clear workspace. On that note, the Audioengine A2+ are nice and compact while delivering some great, sparkling sound. The build quality is solid and they have multiple inputs, including a RCA pair, an eighth-inch plug, and a USB connection with built-in DAC. The sound is excellent, especially for the size of the drivers, but if you’re craving a bit more bass there is an output to connect to a separate sub.
The Best Speakers with Bluetooth – PreSonus Ceres 4.5BT
PreSonus has been a name in the studio world for a couple decades, mainly with audio interfaces and software, but they have a great selection of speaker monitors as well. The Ceres 4.5BT has a quarter-inch balanced input and an unbalanced RCA input along with the ability to connect a device through Bluetooth. On the front of the speaker is a button to pair a device with the speaker, as well as a headphone jack, an aux-in, a volume knob, and a power switch for easy accessibility. PreSonus’ studio roots show through with two acoustic tuning knobs on the back that can fine tune high and low frequencies by ±6 decibels. And if you need some extra low end, there’s also a balanced quarter-inch sub output.
The Best Budget Speakers – Logitech Z313 Speaker System
If you’re looking for a cheap solution that sounds great, the Logitech Z313 is the way to go. The setup and control is extremely easy. Just plug the eighth-inch cable into the audio-out on your computer and use the hardwired remote to turn it on and control the volume. There’s a headphone jack on the remote as well. There aren’t any additional features on the Z313, but it does include a subwoofer, and that sub provides a substantial amount of bass. The midrange is a bit lacking and if the volume is turned up the highs can sound a bit harsh. But the set’s low cost make it an incredible value.
For the Fledgling Sound Editor – JBL LSR305 Studio Monitors
When working on a music or a sound mix it’s important to have speakers that will accurately represent your source material. Studio monitors for that purpose can reach into the thousands of dollars, but if you’re starting out or don’t want to break the bank the JBL LSR305’s should be at the top of your list. Each speaker has its own pair of amps built-in for both the tweeter and the woofer. Since they have five-inch woofers, they’re hefty compared to everything else listed here (11.75 inches high, 7.28 inches wide, and 9.88 inches deep).
They have a balanced quarter-inch and XLR input. The trim on both the high and low frequencies can be adjusted independently by ±2 decibels, and there’s an input sensitivity switch depending on the output of your source, and each speaker has its own volume knob adjustment. You won’t find a headphone jack, an aux-in or Bluetooth connectivity, but if you’re looking for amazing sound for under $300, these deliver. Be careful when purchasing though, as they are sometimes sold as single speakers. If the price looks too good to be true, it might be because it’s for only one speaker.
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