A good audio system is essential when it comes to fully experiencing music, movies, and games on a PC. The speakers that come bundled with off-the-shelf systems rarely cut it, that's why we’ve done the dirty work of researching a wide range of PC speaker offerings to bring you the best options.
There are several factors that come into play for finding the right set, such as footprint, controls, features, budget, and of course, sound quality. We've broken things down into three major categories that should cover most: best studio speakers, best 2.1 speakers and best budget.
Note that each category includes really great alternatives for different tastes and budgets -- or if you want fancy-looking speakers that also sound great, see the honorable mentions at the bottom of the article.
Best Studio Speakers
British speaker manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins knows a thing or two about audio. They’ve been making hi-fi speakers for music enthusiasts since the 1960s and are a supplier of reference monitors to prestigious recording and mastering studios. They are renowned in professional and audiophile circles but they’re no strangers to consumer-level audio.
Their MM-1 desktop speakers have been around for a few years and they’re as well regarded today as they were back in 2010 when first released. You may not think much of them at first glance given their modest size at 10cm square by 17cm high, but the MM-1 are packed with advanced drivers and electronics that put the vast majority of desktop speakers to shame.
Reviews from all over praise the balanced, low-end response produced by the MM-1 along with its excellent clarity in mid and high frequencies. WhatHiFi notes the MM-1 do a great job of separating the individual instruments in dense recordings, “Put on a WAV of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car if you want proof – vocal nuances and hand-squeaks on guitar necks sing through. Make no mistake, these are hi-fi speakers – they’re just small.”
A 75mm mid-bass driver handles the lower end of the audio range, eliminating the need for a separate woofer, while a 25mm tweeter carries the high notes. They are ideal for a wide variety of music and are designed for "near-field" listening — which means the point at which you should place yourself to hear them at their best is close to them.
The MM-1 takes audio straight from USB to handle digital to analogue conversion itself rather than relying on your PC's audio outputs, though it also offers a single analogue input on a mini-jack connector. There is some built-in digital signal processing, which audiophiles may thumb their noses at, but PCMag says the processing is fairly subtle and allows the MM-1 to get quite loud and still sound good.
In terms of design the MM-1 should look great on any desktop, combining a spun aluminium top plate with a black cloth grille and a thin aluminum band that wraps around three-fourths of the speaker itself. The right hand unit features a mini-USB input, the cable from the left speaker and the power input, with a power button and source selector on the left side, and volume controls to the right.
Overall, if you’re looking for a compact desktop speaker with stellar audio performance for some music while working, the MM-1 truly deliver the goods.
An Extraordinary Runner Up
For about the same price the Audioengine A5+ offer exceptional sound and a host of connectivity options for some added versatility of you want to amplify more than your PC’s sound — there are 1/8" and RCA inputs, a 3.5mm aux, a subwoofer output, and an integrated USB port for charging source devices. They are more like bookshelf speakers masquerading as PC or multimedia speakers, except they are powered so there's no need for a separate receiver or amplifier. Design-wise there's an industrial look to them and they're a bit bulky compared to standard PC speakers.
The Audioengine A5+ deliver the mid and high frequency ranges with precision, with balanced lows — it won’t rattle the frames on your walls like a powerful 2.1 system but it’s fully capable of handling deep bass frequencies without distorting at high volumes.
Best 2.1 Speakers
PC speaker designs are rarely considered works of art but the Harman Kardon Soundsticks III are actually part of the New York Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection. Originally developed in collaboration with Apple’s Jony Ive to be released alongside the translucent iMac G3 over a decade ago, the Soundsticks III still standout today as far as speaker designs are concerned. No wonder Harman Kardon has kept their shape and look mostly untouched, only improving the technology inside.
The SoundSticks III are a 3-piece, 2.1 speaker system comprising a pair of satellites and a subwoofer. The dual 10-watt satellite speakers feature a transparent plastic enclosure that showcases four mid-range drivers in each unit. They can be positioned at an angle for the best possible sound and feature capacitive buttons for volume control.
The transparency extends to the large, downward firing 20-watt subwoofer that’s complemented by an internal pale light that glows when the system is in use — many reviewers compare it to a sort of robot jellyfish or spacecraft. Here you’ll also find the bass level controls and the dial also doubles as a power button.
Beyond looks the Harman Kardon Soundsticks III deliver outstanding audio performance in their $150 price range. The bass is balanced, pleasant and deep, and is extremely resistant to distortion even while cranking up the volume.
CNET says it found zero added hissing on sibilant consonants and very little audible static between tracks, and noted they performed well playing 192K-encoded MP3 music tracks, during PC gameplay, and playing movies. Audio Review isn’t so hot about the Soundsticks III’s mid-range but commented on the detailed highs, and recommends keeping the subwoofer on the same level as the satellites — as opposed to the floor — for a more coherent sound and stage. While more discerning listeners will want to expand their budget for something like the MM-1, if you are looking for a sweet spot between quality and affordability, the SoundSticks III remain one of the best-sounding, and best-looking, PC speaker systems under $200.
A More Conventional Look
A pair of transparent, illuminated speakers might not be everyone’s look nor it’s a design that will necessarily blend well with every workspace. If you would rather go for a more traditional 2.1 speaker set, Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 is an excellent alternative in the same price range as the SoundSticks III, with mid-to-high frequencies sounding crisp and clear and a powerful subwoofer handling the lows.
They’re a bit on the large side if you have a small desk. Each of the two black plastic stereo speaker measures 8.5 by 4.2 by 5.67-inches and sits on a one-inch stands that angles it slightly upward. Volume and subwoofer-level knobs, a headphone jack, and an auxiliary-source input are found at the bottom edge of the right satellite.
The Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 system has been around since 2002 and has remained virtually unchanged. It still retails for nearly the same price, which is a testament of their staying power. They perform well for music, movies, and games.
Best Budget Speakers
Different people will have different ideas of what a ‘budget’ set of speakers should cost, but for something that will still produce great quality audio in a no-frills package, our vote goes to the $100 Bose Companion 2 Series III. It's the most affordable computer speaker system from Bose and will most certainly be an upgrade to anything built in or bundled with your PC. At the office we've been rocking the predecessor Series II for many years now with zero complaints.
The Companion 2 Series III speakers are small enough for any desk, with no external subwoofer to take up extra space or add more unsightly wires. They feature a fully black enclosure with the Bose logo on the bottom and fabric grills. The right speaker has a circular twist on/off volume knob on the front with a headphone socket below and two 3.5-mm analog inputs on the back: one marked for a PC connection and the other one that's designated as an auxiliary port for connecting a portable media player or smartphone — and you can use both simultaneously.
With no external subwoofer, the small speaker drivers inside these Bose computer speakers have to handle low-, mid- and high-frequency responses. Despite its limitations, sound quality from the 22-watt speakers is good. You’ll get great rich sound and adequate bass with no immediately perceptible distortion at higher volume thanks to Bose’s TrueSpace stereo digital processing circuitry. If you want a decent, well designed set of speakers for your computer and your budget is not that great you can’t go wrong with the Bose Companion 2 Series III.
Ultra Budget Alternative
If you can’t spend more than $40 take a look at the Cyber Acoustics CA-3602. It’s a competent 30-watt, 2.1 channel system with two satellite speakers and a powerful subwoofer for the price. A separate control pod turns the speakers on and off, adjusts master and bass volumes, and houses a headphone jack as well as an aux-in jack. In terms of raw sound quality and volume, this system is going to give you the best performance possible at this price range.
Our main picks above try to reflect a good balance of price, sound quality and style in each category, but there are many other quality desktop speakers that are worthy of consideration depending on the features you are after and how well they'll blend in with the rest of your gear.
A design-oriented must-see, the Joey Roth Ceramic Speakers ($550) offer a rare mix of audiophile performance with a minimalist, drool-worthy design made primarily out of porcelain, birch plywood, and cork. They look and sound spectacular.
Retro with Style
The Polk Audio Hampden ($299) combine a vintage design with its rustic-looking cabinets and a modern touch and feature set. It supports Bluetooth streaming and direct USB connectivity, which allows you to bypass your computer's digital-to-analog converter. They are best suited for near field listening and offer a natural, warm, and pleasing sound.
5.1 on your PC
There aren't as many 5.1 PC speaker systems as there used to, with the on-going trend going toward studio monitor-style loudspeakers instead. However, if you still want those loud 5.1 bad boys, the Logitech Z906 ($310) are by far the most popular with rave reviews accumulated over the past 5 years, plus they are considerably less expensive than they used to.
The Edifier Spinnaker E30 ($255, shown on red above) has one of the most exotic designs we've seen on desktop speakers, resembling a pair of rhino horns, available in striking red or black. But it's not all about the looks. The E30 sound pretty good, too, and include some useful features, such as a Toslink optical digital audio input, a wireless remote, and Bluetooth support.