It used to be that choosing speakers for your computer was an easy task because there weren’t really any options to choose from. Sound was typically an afterthought and most speakers made for computer use weren’t exactly what you would call “ear candy”.
That has all changed now. Many well-respected audio/video speaker manufacturers have gotten into the computer speaker game. It is not uncommon to see well-known names like Klipsch, Bose, Polk & JBL on either side of computer monitors now.
When it comes to picking out computer speakers, the same rules that you would use to choose speakers for your stereo or home theater system still apply. Obviously, unless you are very lucky, there will be budget constraints. While cheap, no name speakers are never a good deal; there are many inexpensive entry-level models from reputable manufacturers that will do a great job of accurate sound reproduction.
Everyone hears differently and will have a different definition of great sound, which is probably why there are so many different speaker manufacturers. Musical tastes can also have an effect on the perceived sound quality of a pair of speakers. While a good speaker is always a good speaker, rock and roll fans may have different requirements for a pair of speakers than classical fans. A gamer may also have different needs than a music listener.
When choosing speakers, there are three things that you need to listen for in your auditions. The first is tonal balance. The instruments and voices should sound natural, like they would in real life. No single part of the frequency spectrum should be exaggerated or suppressed. While speakers with an exaggerated bass or treble response might stand out at first listen, they will usually become fatiguing after an extended amount of time.
The next thing to listen for is bass response. Because of the size constraints placed on most computer speaker systems it will be necessary to have a separate subwoofer (a speaker made to solely reproduce low frequencies) that can be set off to the side or on the floor. Listen carefully to recordings with male vocalists to make sure that the subwoofer blends seamlessly with the smaller satellite speakers. The subwoofer should not call attention to itself. In fact if it is set up correctly is will seem like all of the bass is coming from the desktop satellite speakers.
Lastly, you will want to listen to how set of speakers image. Imaging is the most magical quality that speakers can possess. It is the ability of a pair of speakers to throw a sound stage. This is not only left to right information, but also depth and height. Having a huge monitor between your speakers can make good imaging harder to achieve, but with a properly set up pair of speakers, playing a good recording, you should be able to close your eyes and see where everything is positioned in the mix. The first time you hear this it will blow your mind!
This is a very basic guide, but if you spend a little time and follow the advice above you should have no problems at all picking out computer speakers that are satisfying for whatever application you need them for.
~ Bruce Neher