Investing in a speaker setup for your PC was absolutely necessary 20 years ago. But a lot has changed over the years as laptops have become the go-to computer of choice, more monitors come with their own built-in speakers, and headsets have become the de facto audio solution for gamers or those who want more than what a pair of laptop speakers can offer.
But, as far as headsets and headphones have come, and as much as they offer, they still have some limitations compared to a proper speaker setup. So, when it comes to getting the best audio experience out of your computer, there’s definitely a case that can be made for computer speakers. That’s especially true if you do more than just check emails and browse social media.
Get better audio
If you do just use your computer mostly for basic tasks and only watch the odd video on YouTube or Facebook, then computer speakers are not going to add much to your experience. And, if you mostly use your computer while sitting on the couch watching TV, then opt for some headphones when you do need to listen to something.
But, if you ever pull up Netflix, HBOMax, or the streaming flavor of the month, you’ll want to get the full experience. There’s little low end with laptop speakers so you won’t feel any rumble when there’s an explosion on screen. And, most laptops don’t have a lot of volume either. So, if you want to feel more immersed or watch something with a friend, then better speakers are a must.
It should go without saying that the same is true for playing music. You won’t be able to hear all the elements as clearly, you’ll miss that low end and, most importantly, you just can’t turn it up.
Headphones versus speakers
If you want better audio (or audio at all), you have to choose between headphones, headsets (which are headphones with built-in mics), or speakers. And, each type has its advantages.
Headphones and headsets take up much less space. And, when you’re done you can put them away or place them on a headphone stand or holder. They’re much more private, too. With the exception of certain, typically more expensive, headphones, you can listen to whatever you want without waking housemates or having someone eavesdrop on whatever counts as your current guilty pleasure.
Headphones and headsets are also a more intimate listening experience just by design. They sit mere inches away from your eardrums with earcups that often encircle your entire ear, feeding audio directly into the ear while blocking out ambient noise.
But, they’re not always ideal. Often, speakers are the way to go. To start, if you want to watch or listen to something with anyone else, you need something that can project. Not only can speakers do that but if you get powerful enough ones, they can turn that iMac into a temporary home theater.
Speaking of, there’s no better way to really feel that low-end rumble, whether from an explosion in a movie or an 808 kick, than with a subwoofer. Even larger bookshelf speakers can give some surprising low-end response.
Lastly, speakers are less fatiguing to use. Instead of wearing something that’s 300 - 400 grams on your head for however long you want to listen and that’s sealed off your ears and is pumping music directly into your head, you can lean back in your chair without anything constraining your ears and listen freely.
Finding the right speakers
Computer speakers come in a number of shapes and sizes. There are smaller ones that can hide among the detritus of your desk and not call attention to themselves. There are large bookshelf speakers, some of which come with or can be expanded to include a subwoofer. And, then there are a few surround sound systems.
When it comes to a stereo system, we recommend splurging a little and getting something like the Fluance Ai41. Of course, they do take up a decent amount of desk space. But, they offer fantastic audio quality and a few different ways to connect to your computer. And, since they’re active speakers, you don’t need to invest in a whole stereo system like you would with the typical bookshelf speakers you would find in the audio department of a big box store.
If you want a simplified form factor, soundbars require the smallest amount of setup and require a little less desk space than stereo speakers since it’s a single unit that can often be tucked in or placed just in front of your monitor (laptop users will probably want to skip this form factor). The Razer Leviathan V2 is a great example. It not only comes with great sound but has the kind of connectivity you need and is relatively compact, especially considering the amount of volume on tap.
And, while there are only a few surround sound computer speaker systems out there, they offer a real surround sound experience that will make you roll your eyes at all the Spatial Audio features that gaming headsets advertise. The SteelSeries Arena 9 5.1 speaker system gives you just that experience. Even the 2.1 mode, where the rear speakers are silenced, sounds superb. Just make sure to have a place for those rear speakers as you’ll need more than just desk space to get them set up.
Fantastic sound and immersive three-dimensional audio make the SteelSeries Arena 9 an almost perfect addition to any gaming rig. There’s plenty of connectivity, a good amount of customization, and enough volume to wake the neighbors.
- Full, fun, engaging audio
- Immersive surround sound
- Plenty of connectivity
- RGB lighting not extensive
- Needs a little extra space
The Fluance Ai41 does what a pair speakers are supposed to do – sound good. With a rich and slightly bright sound signature, not to mention a surprisingly deep bass response, they’re a pleasure to listen to up close.
- Full, high-mid forward sound
- Multiple connectivity
- Good value
- No USB or USB-C
- Not enough volume for large spaces
The Razer Leviathan V2 soundbar-subwoofer combo will rattle your walls and impress your neighbors with some of the best computer audio we've heard outside of a studio setting, but it will cost you more than its predecessor.
- Incredible sound
- Bluetooth and USB
- RGB Chroma lighting
- More expensive
- No 3.5mm or optical input
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James Holland loves audio gear! So much so that he covers all the ins and outs, good and bad for Tech Radar and T3. Where does that so-called expertise come from? Not only is he a lifelong music-lover but he also works in the music industry and is a musician. When not testing headphones or listening to music, he loves to travel, rage at the latest PC games, and eat off-the-beaten-path but not too off-the-beaten-path food.