One of the things usually missing when you buy a computer — whether it’s a laptop or desktop — is good sound. Yeah, laptops are equipped with small speakers that output acceptable audio, but it’s not exactly full, rich stereo sound, not to mention that it only plays so loud and tends to be seriously lacking in the bass department.
If you’re looking to bypass your laptop speaker and take that sound to the next level, it’s time to look for a small or portable speaker to pick up the slack. The market is completely saturated with computer speakers that take your audio experience to the next level with quality sound. Even a budget computer speaker can boost sound quality to such an extent that every time you hear the tinny noise of your desktop speaker, you’ll be shocked by how bad it is.
There are a multitude of PC speakers to choose from, and you can certainly pair your PC with a Bluetooth speaker to augment the sound. But here’s a look at a range of PC speakers at various prices, all of which are powered speakers — they have their own built-in amplifiers — that you have to plug in.
Some have simple analog connectivity options while the majority now offer some form of digital connection, whether it’s via USB or USB-C or an optical digital output that you could also connect to a TV. Others have wireless Bluetooth connectivity, which allows you to easily pair the speakers with all your Bluetooth devices, including smartphones and tablets. You can even position a Bluetooth speaker set to mimic surround sound. As you might expect, better connectivity options tend to add some cost to the speakers, but a few moderately priced speakers have excellent connectivity options.
Note that we haven’t fully reviewed many of these picks, but we’ve listened to all the selected models. We’ll update this list periodically. Keep reading, the right speaker for your computer is sure to be here.
Creative’s Pebble speakers have been around for awhile and now come in a V2 version with a USB-C plug (a USB-A adapter is included) that powers the speaker, no extra power adapter required. They’re $30, while the earlier V1 version (with USB-A) can be had for $20. Note that this V2 model does play a little louder and sounds better than the V1.
They don’t deliver huge sound and they’re light on the bass, but they’re surprisingly decent for their low price.
A version with a subwoofer that delivers more bass is available for only $5 more ($35).
Edifier makes a ton of PC speakers, and they’re generally very good. We like the R1280DB because it has all the features you want, including an optical input and Bluetooth capabilities in a fairly compact package that delivers very good sound for a decent price ($130).
In terms of sound for the money, it’s hard to beat Creative’s Pebble Plus 2.1, which includes a sub for less than $40. The 4-inch sub isn’t exactly great looking, but it’s a black box that you can hide in a corner of your desk or underneath it.
This model is also powered by USB (there’s no power adapter), but you do have to connect it to your device with a standard 3.5mm aux-in cable (included). Don’t expect huge volume (it is powered by USB after all), but it delivers better sound than you might think for the money.
If you can’t afford Audioengine’s $500 A5 Plus Wireless (see below) — or don’t like its somewhat large footprint — the A2 Plus is a good alternative, albeit one that produces less bass and just isn’t as loud or full sounding. Still, it sounds really good for a mini bookshelf-size speaker and has a glossy piano finish that gives it a premium look.
I reviewed an earlier version of the A2 Plus way back in 2013. It now has Bluetooth connectivity with support for AptX streaming (for AptX-compatible devices), but it still uses a standard 3.5mm-to-3.5mm audio cable that you plug into your device’s headphone jack or auxiliary output.
At its $269 price point, it delivers excellent sound in a compact, attractively minimalist design, which is why it appears to be so popular at the moment. Some sites have it back-ordered or not available in certain color options (I personally like the white).
Razer bills its Nommo Chroma speakers as “gaming” speakers, which isn’t surprising since it’s known for its gaming-oriented accessories. What I like about these speakers is they deliver a decent amount of bass without having a separate subwoofer, and you can adjust the bass with a knob on the left speaker. That ability to produce some bass that has some kick to it should indeed appeal to gamers who like having some visceral impact from in-game explosions to add to the immersiveness of a game. They’re also pretty decent for movie watching and sound fine with music.
The added gaming touch is that the bases light up on the bottom with Razer’s Chroma lighting tech. You can program the colors or sync the lighting up with your gameplay to create an ambient effect.
As for connectivity, there’s USB-A cable that delivers digital audio to the speakers from your PC or Mac. You can connect to the analog auxiliary port on the back of the left speaker (there’s also a headphone jack on back), but the digital connection sounds significantly better.
Harman Kardon’s SoundSticks have been around for 20 years and have always been a favorite of Mac users because, well, they — and their transparent aesthetics — were marketed from the get-go to owners of the early iMacs. Revealed back in January, the latest models haven’t quite shipped yet, but they’re available for preorder (I got an early sample).
There have been some design changes, particularly to the subwoofer, which has a cleaner, sleeker look without the plastic funnel inside. The SoundsSticks 4 are rated for 140 watts of power — the previous version was rated for 40 watts. Also, Bluetooth connectivity now comes standard (with the SoundSticks 3, there was a step-up model you had to buy to get Bluetooth). The speaker comes in two color options — one with white trim and one with black.
The system is a little more compact than you’d think seeing some of the pictures, and it does deliver strong sound with bass that will rattle a table at higher volumes if you leave the sub on your desk (the sub is actually slightly smaller at 5.25 inches compared to 6 inches for the SoundSticks 3). From what I remember of the SoundSticks 3, this new model does sound fuller.
The only fault I found with it was the lack of a wired digital connection. Like the previous version, there’s an analog cable that you plug it into the headphone jack or auxiliary output on your computer or another device. As a result, I tended to just use the Bluetooth, which gives you more flexibility with the placement of the sub (the power cord is a little short). That said, you do have to connect the elegant mini tower satellite speakers to the sub with cables that are color-labeled for easy hookup, so the sub has to stay pretty close to the satellites.
It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to be a Mac user to buy these speakers. They’re compatible with any audio device that has Bluetooth or a 3.5mm audio-out port. If you can’t wait for the SoundSticks 4 or just don’t want to spend $300 on PC speakers, you can pick up the SoundSticks 3 for $200 or less.
Audioengine’s powered A5 speakers have been around for several years and have received some technology upgrades over time. The wired-only version is $400, but if you want to add a Bluetooth option, the price goes up to $500. You can connect to your PC either with a cable or via Bluetooth, but having Bluetooth is nice if you want these speakers to double as standard bookshelf speakers.
As you might expect, they have significantly more bass than Audioengine’s smaller A2 Plus, and they resemble traditional monitor speakers. With a built-in 150W amp, they deliver clean, dynamic sound with lots of volume, and will rock a medium-size room without a problem.