If you've ever listened to music, watched a movie or played a PC game on a laptop, then you know: Built-in computer speakers are just weak. "Tinny" is how experts at ConsumerReports.org and CNET describe them. It doesn't take much to outdo them, as we found out in when we updated our report on external computer speakers -- with some great choices starting out for as little as $50. But what if you crave true "audiophile" sound quality? Can the right external speakers wring that out of your computer? The answer, experts say, is yes -- although maybe we shouldn't use the "A-word" (audiophile).
Computer speakers that make music lovers smile
"Contrary to widespread belief, 'audiophiles' are not people who love music," says Eliot Van Buskirk at Wired. "The term refers to those human oddities who don't mind spending something like 50 percent of their income -- but surely at least $10K a year -- on crazy expensive audio equipment."
CNET's Steve Guttenberg certainly qualifies: A former record producer and high-end audio salesman, none of the top 10 speakers he recommends on his blog, The Audiophiliac, costs less than $6,000. Still, he finds several computer speakers he likes just fine, starting with the $200 Audioengine 2 -- "Even audiophiles used to the good stuff will dig these speakers, they're that good," Guttenberg says in a blog post -- and he thinks the $325 Audioengine 5 sounds even better.
Still, those with bigger budgets might like our Best Reviewed pick, the Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 (*Est. $500) even more. "Listening to Peter Gabriel's new album Scratch My Back on Bowers & Wilkins' MM-1 computer speakers sent chills down our spines, a sensation rapidly followed by slack-jawed awe," writes Michael Brown at MaximumPC magazine. He gives the MM-1 a perfect score of 10 and the magazine's Kick Ass! award, for "audio quality that's so exquisite, so pristine, that it makes the mighty Audioengine A5 -- our previous favorite 2.0-channel speakers -- sound almost muddy in comparison."
The MM-1 gets a perfect 10 at TrustedReviews.com, too. "The overall impact is to allow you to simply sink into your music as into a warm bath, simply letting album after album wash over you like so many soapy suds," tester Hugo Jobling says.
For audiophiles, choosing among these luxury computer speakers is like choosing between a fine Cabernet and Pinot Noir -- it's all a matter of taste. For example, Steve Guttenberg acknowledges that the clearer-sounding Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 is a "significant step up from Audioengine 2s," but "the MM-1 won't be knocking the Audioengine 2s off my desktop anytime soon ... for me the Audioengine 2's softer, more laid-back sound works like a charm on iffy quality streaming radio and low-bit MP3s."
And if you're not an audiophile, but still want speakers that can deliver better sound than is available from just about any built-in solution, our computer speakers report identifies lots of more budget-friendly choices as well.