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The Best Computer Speakers At Any Budget

I'm no audiophile but I do appreciate high quality sound. I can't count how many different amps, speakers, and headphones I've purchased over the past 20 years. It seems like I'm always searching for something just a little bit better. Finally though, after years of searching, I feel like I've found the best audio setup for the money. 

When searching for speakers for your office you might be tempted to simply search for "computer speakers." This will bring up thousands of small, self-powered speakers. Some of them may even come with a subwoofer. Perhaps the most impressive "computer speakers" I've heard are the Bose Companion 5 Multimedia Speakers. For their size, the sound they produce at medium volume is pretty incredible. The problem is that they are $400 and they tend to change the sound in certain cases to keep from distorting at higher volumes. 99% of users would never have an issue with these speakers but for $400, we could build something much nicer. 

I personally own many different brands of speakers but I continue to find that my favorite (affordable) audio brand is Polk. I've found that for the money, nothing beats them, at least nothing that I have tried so far. Because of that I've built 3 audio setups that revolve around Polk speakers. Each setup will allow you to upgrade components later as your budget expands or you become more interested in audio. 

Less Than $100

Polk Audio T15 Bookshelf Speakers 

ONEU Mini amplifier 

Speaker Wire 

Headphone to RCA Cable 

This is a great place to start with a lot of room to upgrade. You're starting with decent quality bookshelf speakers and an extremely cheap amplifier to push them. You could easily add a subwoofer to this system or upgrade your amp when you get more cash without any guilt.

 

Around $200 

Polk Audio TSi100 Bookshelf Speakers 

Sony STRDH130 2 Channel Stereo Receiver 

Speaker Wire 

Headphone to RCA Cable 

If you can't afford a subwoofer right now, this is setup I would suggest. You're buying high quality Polk speakers that you will probably keep for the rest of your life and you have a solid Sony amp that is powerful enough to push much larger speakers if you upgrade one day. If you ever decide to buy a subwoofer, this setup won't require any other upgrades. 

Around $350

Polk Audio TSi100 Bookshelf Speakers 

Sony STRDH130 2 Channel Stereo Receiver 

Polk Audio PSW10 10-Inch Powered Subwoofer 

Speaker Wire 

Headphone to RCA Cable 

This is the exact setup that we have purchased for five of our work stations. I have not heard any system that can compete with this one anywhere around this price point. The speakers are small enough to fit on any desk but they aren't so small that they lack the mid-tones that so many other "computer speakers" fail to produce. The 10inch sub is shockingly powerful when it needs to be but at low volumes doesn't rattle any walls, it just adds depth to the sound. The Sony amp has plenty of inputs and power and has the ability to push audio to both "A" and "B" speakers. The only downside is that the Sony receiver is quite big and does require a large desk to place it on or to hide underneath. If the amp is too big for your needs check out the FX Audio D802 2x80W  or the Topping TP22 TK2050 

There is no doubt that you could spend more money and get higher quality sound but I believe that after this price point speakers, amps, and subs get exponentially more expensive without getting exponentially better. This $350 system seems to be the ultimate "bang for your buck." 

Of course I am not claiming to have tried every amp and speaker ever made. I am simply sharing the knowledge that I have gained from years of searching for high quality, yet affordable audio gear. Hopefully this will at the very least steer you away from those "all in one" sound systems. If you buy each piece separately and you'll have much more control, higher quality sound, and hopefully, if you can control yourself, you'll save money as well. 

 

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51 Comments

Bill Schreiner's picture

You completely missed the greatest deal in audio components: Orb Audio speakers and amplifiers. They sound incredible, made completely in America, and will beat the systems you had discussed in this article. Amazon now carries them, but I recommend going to the actual site for better package deals. I have 3 sets of them, include a set up attached to my computer. Paired with an Echo Dot.... awesomeness.

Lee Morris's picture

I'm beginning to realize after having this video and post up only for a few minutes that I am going to start an audio war. I've never heard of Orb audio but the premise seems very similar to Bose; take the mids out of the main speakers and add them to the sub to save space. I like Bose. I own many of their products. But I can't imagine that these little speakers can out perform a full sized speaker.

Bose is incredible for the size but not the best option when size isn't a factor.

Bill Schreiner's picture

You did a great job on the video - I think you have guided any viewer towards a fantastic system in the $400 range and your encouragement to stay away from "computer speakers" is spot on. I love Polk speakers also, and use them in my home theatre set up. However your premise was "Best Computer Speakers...." Many folks would never be able to or want to use such large components at their desks. My suggestion - the better Orb amp, two of their orb speakers, and either their small or large sub. You are right that the conceptual set up is similar to Bose but you will notice a significant difference if you A/B them. I actually don't like the sound of Bose speakers - oddly they sound muted and drab to me. But Orb speakers have a much fuller sound. Somehow they are executing the concept better. From a physical space perspective, the Orb speakers sit nicely on the desk or as a companion to a TV. The Orb amp is similar to the ones you are showing, but better input/output options and the sub is on the floor, under the desk and out of the way. Much better in a situation where you cannot integrate the very large components you include in your system. In a editing studio, yes, your system would make a lot of sense. I think my suggestion is better where space is an issue. Similar cost.

Lee Morris's picture

I am certainly excited to give them a listen

Anonymous's picture

Audio people are more opinionated than camera people... watch out! Good video for me though. I use Adam F5s at home and they're pretty snazzy. I started out with Fostex PM0.4 which were also pretty snazzy for the price point and quality-to-size.

carew Martin's picture

So in a piece about the best computer speakers, you recommend avoiding computer speakers? Lee, what you reviewed are not computer speakers, they're "desktop" or "bookshelf" speakers.

Deleted Account's picture

No Polk coupon code after the plug? Just kidding.

First, when talking about the Polk RTI A3, I think that you was trying to say they have a wider soundstage. Basically, it's speakers ability to reproduce the recording's width (left and right) and depth (front to back).

Additionally, I'd like to throw the Elac Debut B6 in the the mix. This would make for a $450 setup with the other components laid out there, but there speakers have been reviewed by multiple sources as the best for the money at $230/pair.

Finally, if someone is looking for a more convenient option for their computer, I'd say it's worth looking at the KRK Rokit 5 active speakers for $300/pair. Yes, they are powered, but they're a reference monitor so they create a relatively flat response curve for a more realistic sound reproduction. They're also more than loud enough for the average sized office or bedroom. I've had a pair of these for about 6 years and they are still going strong.

Seth Lowe's picture

I was thinking the exact same thing - lets see some reference monitors on here. The KRK stuff is great!

Michael Kormos's picture

Polk has an annual Black Friday sale with a ridiculous 50% off deal. It's the only way I could afford their LSiM 707s. If you can, wait till next year. Be sure to sign up for their newsletter to get first dibs, as the inventory doesn't last very long once the word is out.

marknie's picture

Bose companion II speakers are great! $99.00 on Amazon

Lee Morris's picture

These speakers are pretty incredible for the price and their size. If you don't care about volume they are a great choice.

Robert Slowley's picture

Thank you for the video Lee. I wish I had a sufficiently big desk to accommodate such speakers :) (I'm in the UK where maybe space is at more of a premium)

I'm interested why you guys have gone down the route of using speakers for sound rather than headphones? Is everyone's desk in it's own separate office?

Lee Morris's picture

Well this is actually something we were joking about yesterday. 3 of the computers are in offices and 3 are in one big room. We have this setup even in the large room for each computers but 90% of the time headphones are used.

I personally prefer speakers to headphones but I have my own office so it isn't an issue. When I use the other computers I'll use the speakers only when the office is empty.

Phil Wright's picture

I purchased the Logitech Z-5500 system about 10 years ago and I'm yet to find a system (for my computer) that can compete at the price range. I love good music and have some Monitor Audio Silver 8's in my lounge, but the little Logitech system is perfect for my small office :)

Great review though! I might have to have a listen to your suggestions, see how they compare. Thanks.

A vdS's picture

THE BEST CAMERA EVER (at any budget).

I am no photographer but I do appreciate a nice image. Now I will tell you what you have to have in your camera bag. After years of searching I have a gut feeling that I found the perfect camera for the money, although I am not a photographer and I actually don't know much about photography. I own a lot of camera but keep finding my favorite is the Pork TSi100 (i mean, in comparison with my other cheap camera), nothing beats it, at least nothing that I have tried so far.
There is no doubt that you could spend more money and get higher quality images but I believe that after this price point camera, lenses, memory cards get exponentially more expensive without getting exponentially better. This $350 system seems to be the ultimate "bang for your buck." Hopefully this will at the very least steer you away from those "all in one" camera. Of course I am not claiming to have tried every camera and lenses ever made. I am simply sharing the knowledge that I have gained from years of searching for high quality, yet affordable gear.

Am I the only one to see the Irony ?

Lee Morris's picture

I would argue that there are also cameras that are the very best value for the money and at a certain price point diminishing returns start creeping in.

Jon Wolding's picture

Can of worms...

I'm friends with several sound engineers/recordists/ops... I never tell them that I'm still rocking my Altec Lansing setup from 2004. ;)

Patrick Hall's picture

Hahah this is exactly what we were saying was the worst way to go...

LA M's picture

Thx for the info...I personally think the Sonos and Logitech lines of speakers are far better and in some cases, less expensive.

Michael Kormos's picture

-1 for Logitech.

Michael Kormos's picture

Happy to see another Polk fan! Wife just for me a pair of LSiM 707s as an early holiday gift. God, do they sound epic! Not exactly suited for computer use though.

For computer use, my LSiM 703s are just stellar. Need a good amp for both though. Amp is everything.

Patrick Hall's picture

Man you are tempting me Michael. I have the Tsi500s as my mains but those 707s look awesome! If I ever move into a nicer house with a dedicated AV closet I might have to upgrade and get a dedicated theater amp to run everything.

Lee went Klipsch for his home theater while I've stayed Polk for most of my home/office. I don't think we ever did an A/B comparison but I'm sure they both sound great. My dad is a huge Klipsch fan and still prefers his towers from the 70s. Now that would be a fun comparison...2013 tech vs 1978 tech haha

Michael Kormos's picture

The 707s have dual woofers (each) that render the need for a separate subwoofer unnecessary. And their ring radiator tweeters just replicate the higher tones in a way traditional tweeters can't. If you can find them used, or wait for Polk's annual Black Friday sale, they'll make you a happy listener for life.

They weigh 130lbs each, and the enclosures are so deep I can no longer lower my projector screen.

The things we do for sound :-)

Wish I could comment on the Klipsch. But it's like shooting with a Nikon. Never had a reason to try any other brand after my first pair of Polks in 1994.

Lee Morris's picture

130lb each!???

Michael Kormos's picture

They were delivered just two weeks ago. Unpacking them was like unwrapping pallets of cinder blocks.

Lee Christiansen's picture

As a previous recording studio owner, I only allow Genelec to treat my ears in the house / office. Now they're a decent computer audio speaker...!

Christian Hartmann's picture

Never heared of Polk. Do they sell their speakers in Europe as well? Love the ESI Unik 05 for editing.

Marek Alliksoo's picture

Oh great, I've been able to put the "get new speakers" idea on the backburner for quite a while now because while the existing set is quite close to getting completely fried they still work (crackling and distortion from the sub at higher volumes though) and now there's an article out with clear purchasing lists saving one from all that research. This is would definitely ruin the Xmas budget, also at least for the prices I saw one would have to double the prices listed in the article and add the € symbol. (For Polk and also the TSi series is replaced by TSx, didn't see TSi locally at least.)

Michael Steinbach's picture

Fun post! The best sound for me is through my 40 year old Marantz and 35 year old pair of JBL L110. Like cameras, to each their own!

Ralph Hightower's picture

That's a classic system.

Ted Morris's picture

Nice

Kelvin Smith's picture

Great article about improving the quality of the music one listens to.Well done.

Ryan Kane's picture

Just out of curisoty, have ever tried pairing an audio interface with studio monitors? I've had good results with this setup, plus it comes with phantom powered microphone imputs. I'm curious how the setups compare.

Lee Morris's picture

I have not tried powered monitors although that could be a great option. After making this video I'm starting to get some pretty good suggestions so I may make another comparison video.

Ralph Hightower's picture

Going component is the best way for mix-match and replace, rather than buying a packaged system. Pick and choose what you want.

Jon McGuffin's picture

Excellent post, thank you Lee. I'd like to ask anybody here, what are your thoughts on the way he's connecting the amp to the computer? Is that cheesy radio shack style adapter plugged into the headphone out jack really the "best" way to connect? What about some kind of digital out?

Does the headphone out jack have some kind of amp signal on it that will get in the way or diminish the sound? Will that jack on the motherboard produce the cleanest possible output?

Ted Morris's picture

I'm ordering the $350 option today I have been making due with sub pair sound for way too long. I'm not putting up with the repression any longer! Great article for a person who loves great sound but has put off putting the pieces together, way to go Morris

Bill Peppas's picture

I'd rather add an av-receiver and a pair of decent speakers.
Klipsch offers great value.
Bose... please don't mention this crap. Really.

Polk Audio... not bad, but not great.

Want some "bookshelf" speakers that sound like floorstanding decent ones ?
Well... spend a little ( ok, a lot! ) and get a pair of Focal Sopra No 1 :D

wesjones's picture

I have been using the Logitech Z-2300 for many years. They are no longer made but I love them.
You can get used ones on Amazon for $300 and up but I only paid $99 when they were new. Crazy.

Alex T.'s picture

JBL LSR 305/8 (300$/400$ pair), but make sure you have a right sound source (do not use builtin audio cards or any headphone out).
305 Frequency response:

http://noaudiophile.com/JBL_LSR305/JBL_LSR_305_Random.jpg

With 308 subwoofer is useless, I do not use it any longer even with 305.

Lee Morris's picture

These have been recommended a few times now and I think they might be a great option. They are super ugly and a bit big for most desks though. I'll certainly do an update if I decide to give these a try.

Alex T.'s picture

Yeap, they are kind of ugly, but... As per my taste and researches/hearings I did, these are the best in their class (near field monitors) for $. Just keep in mind that 308 are too bass-y (my opinion) and be ready to hear all the garbage MP3 does.
BTW, if you are looking for somewhat nice to pair with MAC (?), then "Audioengine A2+/A5+" (+ means that they have DAC built-in, no + = DAC-less) 250$/400$ (these are good, but not as good as JBL. A good thing for these speakers is that they will mask plenty of MP3 garbage :) ).
Also I'll recomment to pair 305/308 with "Audioengine D1" DAC - best USB DAC for $ (IMO).

antoine amanieux's picture

love this idea of finding the sweet spot of price/quality for any hardware. your $350 system including a sub is a clever choice. i notice Fluance SX6 at $109 a pair seems to be A very common choice in the audio forums, here is a good selection for desktop speakers also called "near field" audio systems under $500 : http://noaudiophile.com/System_Search/ (there is a "INCLUDE SUBWOOFER" option) - i guess you already did the same video for entry level camera can you please remind us the link to your video (i guess it was a aps-c with a vintage prime lens, a 5 in 1 reflector, a cheap tripod and a post processing software :)

Keith Bradshaw's picture

I hope my recording studio buddies don't see this.....

Lee Morris's picture

Keith, I know that no audiophile is going to be satisfied with this BUT I still don't know of any other better sounding option for less than $400

Jim MacKenzie's picture

One other thing to consider. Most "computer" speakers from big name brand audio companies are ***NOT*** the same quality components from the same factories. They sell their name to Chinese and Korean manufacturers who put out cheap crap bearing the name of Klipsch, Altec Lansing etc...

Jim MacKenzie's picture

I've been a Polk fan for decades. My primary home theatre speakers are VINTAGE Monitor 7Cs. One thing I love about Polk is that they think of classic Polk owners when they introduce new products. I wanted to add a centre channel and rear channel speakers to my primaries, and I found out they actually test new components with their vintage stuff. Tthey recommend certain new models as a tonal match. I followed their recommendations and the resulting system is mind blowing...

Olivier Hericord's picture

the best desktop speaker EVER is the eclipse TDM1 ... PERIOD

taffy johnson's picture

Interesting article , I have been using a similar set up for the past few years. Another option is to look for good used speakers [craigslist or what nots]. Found two Polk 35B shelf speaker and Polk PSW12 sub-woofer for $100 on craigslist and I used an old receiver [Denon AVR E300-open box from bestbuy for $169] and it has been a revelation of better sound. If you have a HDMI out on your PC then you don' t need a RCA to headphone cable for connection. Use the HDMI out to receiver's preferred HDMI input and one connection from your receiver's HDMI out to your monitor. This is how I switch between PC and Xbox.

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