Getting good computer speaker performance for cheap can be a tricky business. Lots of cheap computer speakers offer poor performance, poor build quality or both. However, even most of those will beat the sound of built-in speakers in many laptops or desktop monitors. In addition, reviews tell us of a few cheap computer speakers that stand head and shoulders above the competition.
First and foremost is the Logitech Z523 (Est. $75) . These budget-minded computer speakers may not sound as crystal clear or pack as many extras as pricier models, but several critics say these are the best speakers they've heard in the sub $100 price range.
For gaming, music or movies, this 2.1 speaker system doesn't disappoint, as long as expectations are kept reasonable. Its clarity can't match that of better regarded and higher priced speaker systems, and some critics say the satellites are on the bright side at times, offering a tinny response on the highs. That said, the Logitech Z523 has impressive bass performance that delivers ample punch without distortion at louder volumes. You get minor distortion when you max out these speakers, but their power makes listening to anything at that volume unadvisable.
The Logitech Z523's design places speakers on the back of each satellite as well as the front. That allows for better sound dispersal throughout the listening room -- including directly behind the speakers. When that's coupled with its wealth of connection options (for an iPod or other music player, CD player, etc.), the Z523 can be a pretty good party speaker.
Build quality also seems above average for its price category. As with many cheap computer speakers, some users on sites like Amazon.com report that the Logitech Z523 broke within several months or was defective upon arrival. Still, the vast majority of customers report no such issues, and they're generally thrilled with the performance they get with the Logitech Z523, especially for the price.
Other cheap computer speakers to consider include the Genius SW-G2.1 1250 (Est. $60) . Michael Brown at MaximumPC fully expected to get awful audio performance from the SW-G2.1 1250, but he comes away pleasantly surprised. "This is no audiophile system, but we predict we'll kiss a lot more frogs before we find another set of cheap speakers that sound this good," he writes.
Brown does take some shots at these computer speakers' aesthetics. Kat Orphanides at Britain's Expert Reviews takes things a step further: "This compact 2.1 speaker system from Genius looks like something we'd have wanted in our room when we about thirteen, with shiny metallic red cones and gloss black cases." She adds that the system is great for gaming and can produce a well-defined sound stage with plenty of volume.
However, things don't sound so hot when using the Genius SW-G2.1 1250 for playing music. "The speakers are usable for music; just don't expect them to reproduce every subtle detail of your favourite Pink Floyd album," Orphanides says. The pluses and minuses noted by the professional reviewers are echoed in nearly 250 user reviews at Amazon.com, but overall the Genius SW-G2.1 1250 computer speakers score very well there.
Amazon.com users also like the similarly priced Cyber Acoustics 3602 (Est. $50) , granting it the same 4.3- star overall rating, but after more than 2,700 reviews. Like other cheap speakers, sound quality and reliability come in for some knocks. However, far more reviewers say that among like-priced speakers, performance is very good. We could not spot any professional reviews of this 2.1-channel cheap computer speaker system.