It doesn’t matter whether you’re a loyalist or a devotee: You can still beef up your device’s sound system with a new set of PC speakers. While you probably can’t get that stereo-rich sound from either machine, alone, if you enjoy gaming, listening to music or watching movies, you’re going to need the best PC speakers for your needs and budget, or you won’t get the full sound experience you deserve.
If you’re looking to bypass your laptop speaker and take audio experience to the next level, you should consider investing in external speakers. I’m not talking about a major stereo system: A small or portable desktop speaker can pick up the slack. Even budget or small speakers can boost sound quality enough that you’ll be shocked by your laptop speaker’s poor quality (presumably).
You can also pair your PC with a Bluetooth speaker to augment the sound, but this list highlights the best in powered external speakers. That means they’ll need to be plugged in to power their built-in amplifiers.
Some of the desktop speakers on this list have analog connectivity, but most offer some kind of digital connection so you can plug them right into a computer with a USB cable. Others have Bluetooth, which lets you easily pair them with all your devices, including and . As you might expect, better connectivity options add some cost to the speakers, but a few moderately priced speakers have excellent connectivity options too, in addition to more-than-decent sound quality with a surprisingly deep bass. Some of these computer speakers can even be positioned for surround sound.
Note that CNET hasn’t fully reviewed many of the items on this list, but I’ve listened to all the selected models. If you’re on the hunt for great sound from quality speakers, keep reading — the right speaker for your computer is sure to be here. Also, we’ll update this list of the best computer speakers periodically as new laptop and desktop computer speaker options hit the market.
Creative’s Pebble speakers have been around for a while and now come in a V2 version with a USB-C plug (a USB-A adapter is included) that powers the speaker, no extra power adapter required. They’re $25, while the earlier V1 version (with USB-A) can be had for $20. Note that this V2 model does play a little louder and sounds better than the V1.
They don’t deliver huge sound and they’re light on the bass, but they’re surprisingly decent for their low price.
A version with a subwoofer that delivers more bass is available for only $48 (see below).
Edifier makes a ton of PC speakers, and they’re generally very good. We like the R1280DB Bluetooth Bookshelf speaker because it has all the features you want, including an optical input and Bluetooth capabilities in a fairly compact package that delivers very good sound for a decent price. It’s generally $160, but it’s currently available via Amazon for $140.
In terms of sound for the money, it’s hard to beat Creative’s Pebble Plus 2.1, which includes a sub for around $50 and sometimes $40. The 4-inch sub isn’t exactly great looking, but it’s a black box that you can hide in a corner of your desk or underneath it.
This model is also powered by USB (there’s no power adapter), but you do have to connect it to your device with a standard 3.5mm aux-in cable (included). Don’t expect huge volume (it is powered by USB after all), but it delivers better sound than you might think for the money.
The Logitech Z407 is a compact system with a small subwoofer that doesn’t exactly have a premium feel (it’s an all-plastic affair and the satellite speakers are quite light), but it’s attractive and has some nice features. For starters, it’s simple to set up. You can use it wired mode with an auxiliary 3.5mm cable or connect it to your computer via USB. But the majority of people will connect their devices to it via Bluetooth.
It comes with a hockey puck-sized controller (it’s powered by two AAA batteries) that doubles as a Bluetooth transceiver between any Bluetooth-enabled audio device and the speaker system. You can skip tracks forward and back by tapping on the top of the puck and turning the dial to control volume. It’s also worth noting that the speakers can be stood up vertically or horizontally. It’s a nifty design.
The sound is good at close range but the bass isn’t exactly tight (you can only expect so much for the price). This would work fine as an audio system in a small room, but just doesn’t have the juice to sound good in a larger room (it’s touted as having 80W of power but power ratings don’t mean all that much).
The most recent addition to the Audioengine family, the A1 speakers sound good for their compact size, particularly in terms of their clarity. Like the more expensive A2 Plus (see below), they’re a little bass shy, but if you’re using these at close range (as one tends to do if you’re looking at a computer screen), the bass will seem ample. You can connect a subwoofer to them, but that would substantially raise the price for the package. In a small room, they could work as your main speaker system, but they just don’t have enough power for a larger room.
The nice thing about them is that they’re nice looking. They’re also simple to set up and wireless, so you can connect your computer — or another device — via Bluetooth. You just have to hit the pair button on the back to engage pairing mode. A set of speaker wires connects the two speakers (the left speaker has the amplifier and all the connectivity options). You can also use the auxiliary-in port to connect your computer with an included cable.
If you can’t afford Audioengine’s $500 A5 Plus Wireless (see below) — or don’t like its somewhat large footprint — the A2 Plus is a good alternative, albeit one that produces less bass and just isn’t as loud or full sounding. Still, it sounds really good for a mini bookshelf-size speaker and has a glossy piano finish that gives it a premium look.
I reviewed an earlier version of the A2 Plus back in 2013. It now has Bluetooth connectivity with support for AptX streaming (for AptX-compatible devices), but it still uses a standard 3.5mm-to-3.5mm audio cable that you plug into your device’s headphone jack or auxiliary output.
For $269, it delivers excellent sound in a compact, attractively minimalist design, which is why it appears to be so popular at the moment. Some sites have it back-ordered or not available in certain color options (I personally like the white).
Canadian speaker company Fluance is known for delivering speakers with a lot of bang for your buck and its attractively designed Ai41 powered bookshelf speakers do just that for $300. While they don’t weigh as much or have quite the build quality of Audioengine speakers, they do offer strong sound and good connectivity options, including an optical digital input and Bluetooth options. I tried the white and bamboo version but the speakers are also available in black.
They’re about the same size as Audioengine’s A5 Plus speakers (see below) but cost half the price. I can’t say they sound quite as good as the A5 Plus speakers, but they do sound clear and well-balanced and have just enough bass to make you think they aren’t bass shy (there is a subwoofer connection if you want to add a sub). You can get a little more bass by placing them near a wall.
A remote is included for not only raising and lowering volume but tweaking the treble and bass settings. These will fill a small room with sound. Note that if you want a wired connection to your computer via the headphone port, you’ll need an RCA to 3.5mm cable (less than $10 on Amazon) — it’s not included.
The Ai41 have 5-inch drivers while the step-up Ai61 have 6.5-inch drivers. The Ai61 does offer more little bass and power for $50 more. However, the Ai41 is already fairly larger for a set of computer speakers. They could also be connected to your TV via the optical connection.
Audioengine’s powered A5 speakers have been around for several years and have received some technology upgrades over time. The wired-only version is $469, but if you want to add a Bluetooth option, the price goes up to $569. You can connect to your PC either with a cable or via Bluetooth, but having Bluetooth is nice if you want these speakers to double as standard bookshelf speakers.
As you might expect, they have significantly more bass than Audioengine’s smaller A2 Plus, and they resemble traditional monitor speakers. With a built-in 150W amp, they deliver clean, dynamic sound with lots of volume, and will rock a medium-size room without a problem.
Harman Kardon’s SoundSticks have been around for 20 years and have always been a favorite of Mac users because, well, they — and their transparent aesthetics — were marketed from the get-go to owners of the early iMacs.
The SoundSticks 4 offers some design changes over earlier iterations, particularly to the subwoofer, which has a cleaner, sleeker look without the plastic funnel inside. The SoundSticks 4 are rated for 140 watts of power — the SoundSticks 3 was rated for 40 watts. Also, Bluetooth connectivity now comes standard (with the SoundSticks 3, there was a step-up model you had to buy to get Bluetooth). The speaker comes in two color options — one with white trim and one with black.
The system is a little more compact than you’d think seeing some of the pictures, and it does deliver strong sound with bass that will rattle a table at higher volumes if you leave the sub on your desk (the sub is actually slightly smaller at 5.25 inches compared to 6 inches for the SoundSticks 3). From what I remember of the SoundSticks 3, this new model does sound fuller.
The only fault I found with it was the lack of a wired digital connection. Like the previous version, there’s an analog cable that you plug into the headphone jack or auxiliary output on your computer or another device. As a result, I tended to just use the Bluetooth, which gives you more flexibility with the placement of the sub (the power cord is a little short). That said, you do have to connect the elegant mini tower satellite speakers to the sub with cables that are color-labeled for easy hookup, so the sub has to stay pretty close to the satellites.
It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to be a Mac user to buy these speakers. They’re compatible with any audio device that has Bluetooth or a 3.5mm audio-out port.
Razer bills its Nommo Chroma speakers as “gaming” speakers, which isn’t surprising since it’s known for its gaming-oriented accessories. What I like about these speakers is they deliver a decent amount of bass without having a separate subwoofer, and you can adjust the bass with a knob on the left speaker. That ability to produce some bass that has some kick to it should indeed appeal to gamers who like having some visceral impact from in-game explosions to add to the game’s immersion. They’re also pretty decent for movie watching and sound fine with music.
The added gaming touch is that the bases light up on the bottom with Razer’s Chroma lighting tech. You can program the colors or sync the lighting up with your gameplay to create an ambient effect.
As for connectivity, there’s USB-A cable that delivers digital audio to the speakers from your PC or Mac. You can connect to the analog auxiliary port on the back of the left speaker (there’s also a headphone jack on back), but the digital connection sounds significantly better.
Read our Razer Nommo Chroma preview.