A 5.1-channel computer speaker setup requires a bit more effort to set up properly because it includes four satellite speakers, a center speaker and a subwoofer. Ideally, the speakers should be mounted on the wall or at ear level -- two satellite speakers in front to the right and left, two satellites behind you and to the right and left sides -- and the center channel on the wall directly in front or mounted on top of your computer screen. The subwoofer can go on the floor, usually under your desk. You'll have to contend with wires snaking around the room to each speaker. Some people run the wires up and along the ceiling, and others run them along the baseboards.
But do you really need surround-sound speakers for your computer? Some experts say maybe not. "To be perfectly honest, you don't need surround sound if you don't know what you're going to do with it," says Mark Casey at About.com. "5.1 computer speaker systems are perfect for people who watch a lot of movies on their PC, or play video games frequently. That's when being fully surrounded by intricately layered sound and becoming immersed in your environment the way surround sound audio allows is truly worth the price and hassle."
Otherwise, experts say all those speakers and wires can be more hassle than they're worth. "Is it just us, or are 5.1- and 7.1-channel speaker systems impractical for PCs?" says TomsHardware.com, which recommends 2.1 speaker sets (two satellite speakers plus a subwoofer) instead. CNET agrees: "We've shifted away from impractical 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 surround setups to more straightforward 2.0 (stereo) or 2.1 (stereo with subwoofer) models." The Wall Street Journal's Kevin Sintumuang says, "It's time to put an end to crappy computer speakers. And not with one of those plastic 5.1 surround-sound systems -- they reek of mom's basement and empty pizza boxes."
MaximumPC magazine still reviews surround-sound speaker systems, though. Tester Michael Brown likes the Logitech Z906 (*Est. $350) . It "delivered rock 'em, sock 'em performance with first-person shooters and other games, and it did a good job of filling our home theater with Blu-ray movie soundtracks," Brown says. The bass especially impresses TrustedReviews.com's Danny Phillips: "The sub keeps low frequencies sounding tight and accurate, putting real punch and drive behind effects, plus it can muster a deep, sustained rumble without drowning out the other speakers."
When testers try playing music on the Z906, however, it gets mixed reviews. Brown says it lends a "slightly harsh edge" to vocals, and piano sounds "overly bright and brittle," but Phillips says it's fine: "Vocals enjoy surprising richness and high-frequencies aren't thin."
The Logitech Z906 is THX-certified, meaning it conforms to the digital sound standard established by "Star Wars" creator George Lucas and has the ability to replicate the sonic experience of watching a movie in a THX-certified theater. It has 500 watts of total power and has processing circuitry that can create realistic surround sound from two-channel (stereo) sources. There's a handy wireless remote, and the Z-906 also includes coaxial and optical digital inputs; that's useful for connecting to a video game console or to home theater components, such as a DVD or CD player. Unfortunately, there's no HDMI input, "and it can't decode the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks that make Blu-ray movies sound as glorious as they look," Brown says. It does, however, have multichannel analog inputs, which means it can play back those lossless audio formats if coupled with a Blu-ray player that has the appropriate decoders and outputs (only some, mostly more expensive players do, however). The Z906 still gets solid reviews from owners at Amazon.com, but several of them wish it had these features.