A good pair of headphones can help you ignore your coworkers while at work, but why bother with headphones if you’re at home? Plenty of people just let their computer speakers do all the work, but a good pair of computer speakers can drastically improve your audio experience at home. Whether you want some background music, plan on gaming, or just want better quality sound for all those cat videos on YouTube, any of these will get the job done. These are the best computer speakers you can get right now.
This post was updated on April 2, 2020 to add more information about the mechanics of how speakers work.
Who are computer speakers for?
- Anyone that spends most of their time at a desk. We get that you don’t really have too much control over the speakers you use at work, but if you come home and still spend a good amount of time at your desk then any of these will get the job done. We tried splitting up the choices into categories depending on the type of user, so if we missed one let us know in the comments below!
- People who work from home. If you do happen to have a choice as to what speakers you use at your work desk, then why rob yourself of a good experience?
- Basically, everyone to be honest. Whether you’re a gamer, someone looking to do some at-home audio production, or really don’t care about quality and just want your audio to be louder than the built-in computer speakers for when you’re showing friends and family those videos from your last vacation, then these are for you. Trust us, you won’t realize you want them until you need them for something.
Related: Best Bluetooth speakers
The best computer speakers are the Audioengine HD3
When it comes to what the best option is, it’s hard to argue against the Audioengine HD3. The speakers are small enough to fit on even the smallest desk and won’t look out of place in a home office or a student dorm. The design isn’t going to blow you away as they’re just small boxes that sit on your desk, but they do look pretty sleek with or without the grill that snaps on magnetically to the front of the speaker.
Audioengine HD3Full Review
The Audioengine HD3 speakers emphasize lower notes, but the mids sound fantastic. If you want to sing along to your favorite songs while cleaning the house, these are for you. The speakers sound good, but they fall short when compared to some other high-end studio monitors. So, why is it our top pick? Well, besides being able to hardwire these directly into your computer, these come with Bluetooth connectivity with aptX for higher quality streaming (or AAC if you’re on an iOS device). Switching between your computer and a friends smartphone is seamless and makes using them for fun that much easier. The downside to these speakers is pretty obvious, and it comes in the form of the price tag. But if you have money to invest, these won’t let you down.
If you’re looking for a step up from here, the Audioengine A5 offers a similar experience, just cranked up to 11. larger drivers, more features, and even a bamboo casing option all make for a more credible—and more expensive—step up to our pick.
If you’re a student, you should probably get the Creative Pebble 2.0
When students are looking for something like a new set of speakers, price is usually the main consideration, but it’ s not the only consideration. It’s important to get something that’s compact, easy to throw in a backpack or fit in a dorm room—that’s why the Creative Pebble 2.0 speakers are worth a look.
Creative Pebble 2.0
These small speakers measure just 4.4 inches wide, and connect with a single USB cord—no additional power cord required. These aren’t the greatest sounding speakers, but for the price and convenience, they sound pretty good. They don’t offer many features outside a volume dial, but hey, in a package this small, what did you expect?
If you do want the best sound, then step it up a notch with Mackie CR3
Where most speakers are either cheap or absurdly expensive, the Mackie CR3 speakers toe the line right in the middle perfectly. At around $99 for the base 3″ model, you get a decent pair of minimal bookshelf speakers that will look good on almost any desk setup. Our own executive editor Chris Thomas uses these for most of the testing he does.
The sound quality is better than you’d expect at this price point, but the setup isn’t as simple as plugging in a USB cable (though there is a Bluetooth compatible option if you pay a little more). You’ll need a TRS to 3.5mm cable if you want to plug directly into your computer, but an audio interface will also get the job done. Some users on Amazon have reported some longevity issues with these speakers, but not with any other model in Mackie’s CR line. Since you get a substantial amount of performance for upgrading to a CR4 or CR5BT, we strongly recommend upgrading if you have the cash—you won’t be disappointed, and you won’t be out too much money by sticking with Mackie, either.
The best speakers for gamers are the Logitech G560
Gaming is a huge industry and one company that is known for making gear specifically for gamers is Logitech. The company makes everything from headsets to keyboards and controllers, but it also has some really good speaker options. The Logitech G560 LIGHTSYNC brings a lot of different features aimed at gaming needs, offering a platform for even more speakers.
Logitech G560 LIGHTSYNC PC Gaming Speakers
The speakers sound good, with two satellite speakers and one subwoofer. When connected to a PC, they also support surround sound using DST:X, and offer RGB lighting that reacts to what’s happening in game. The Logitech G560 work with just about everything, supporting 3.5mm, USB, and Bluetooth connections, though surround sound wont work on MacOS. They may be a little pricy, but these speakers offer a truly comprehensive suite of features for gamers.
If you’re really trying to save some cash, go with the Cyber Acoustics 2.1 Subwoofer Speaker System
The Cyber Acoustics 2.1 speaker system is nothing fancy, just a simple setup with two satellite speakers and a decent subwoofer. Still, it gets the job done for around $30. There’s not a lot too them, but if you’re looking for something in this price range, you probably don’t want much.
Cyber Acoustics 2.1 Subwoofer Speaker System
This speaker setup comes equipped with a handy control pod that allows for volume control, and lets you plug an input in via the 3.5mm jack. The control pod also features a headphone jack. These are pretty large speakers, and they look basically like big black boxes, but for the price they sound decent and they’re easy to use.
What you should know about the best computer speakers
Obviously, this list isn’t exhaustive, nor is it going to satisfy anyone looking to shovel out some cash on the last speakers they’ll ever buy. However, we felt it was more important to meet the needs of most people rather than merely list the absolute best of the best. Truth is, these options will get you most of the way there, and there are plenty of alternatives to satisfy those looking for something a little more expensive.
Do you need an amp?
You’ll be happy to know that if you buy one of these speakers, you probably won’t need to spend any more on a dedicated amp. You can learn way more about amps by reading our explainer piece. In short, amps are used when the source device (in this case your computer) can’t provide enough power to the headphones or speakers that you’re listening with. After all, these are electronics and require a sufficient amount of power to drive them in order to work properly.
Luckily, all of these speakers need to be plugged in anyway, meaning they have their own amplifiers inside—so you don’t have to rely on anything but the sound from your source device. Though it’s worth mentioning that the Audioengine HD3 speakers we mentioned do have a built-in 24-bit DAC and a pretty decent amp. So if you do have a high-end pair of headphones that need a little more juice to power them, you can just plug them into the speakers.
Do you need to buy new cables?
You do not need to buy replacement or “better” cables for your speakers unless you don’t like the way they look. Really, the only reason you’d ever need to buy cables beyond the ones included in the box would be if they broke or weren’t included. Beyond that, you could even use a coathanger if you wanted.
In general, as long as the analog cables can satisfy the power requirements, and the USB cables aren’t broken, you’ll enjoy the best sound you could possibly get out of that system. You don’t have to overthink it.
What’s the deal with Bluetooth codecs?
A few of these speakers support Bluetooth so that you can connect to other devices like a smartphone or tablet. Now, it’s worth mentioning that Bluetooth has a bad reputation. And there are plenty of pros and cons to it, but it’s still an option that plenty of people would find useful. The problem is that sound quality over Bluetooth isn’t the greatest. One way to find out if your audio is going to sound good over a wireless connection is to check the Bluetooth codec.
This can get a little complicated so for a full explanation make sure to read our full codec breakdown, but if you’re pressed for time here’s the gist of it. A codec encodes and then decodes digital audio. This means that both the source device and the audio device need to have compatible codecs.
Think of it as a language. If the speakers can’t understand what the source device is sending it, they aren’t going to decode it properly. All Bluetooth speakers or headphones have a standard codec that they can understand called SBC. You can think of it like hand gestures. If you’re visiting another country and don’t know the language, you can probably still find a way to ask a store owner where the bathroom is just by using hand gestures. It isn’t the most nuanced form of communication, but you’ll get the point across.
It’s the same with SBC. It isn’t the greatest quality, but all devices understand it and you’ll still hear your music. If you know the language, you could probably ask where the bathroom is and order your favorite coffee and a snack while you’re at it. That’s basically what the better codecs do. They allow two devices to send more information to each other, resulting in better sound quality.
What about streaming services?
Unless you’re going to be plugging in your record player and have a damn near perfect collection or playing high-quality files that you have stored on your computer, chances are you’re going to be listening to music via streaming services. There is a good amount to choose from, but they’re not all created equal. Some are better than others and depending on what you’re looking for, it might be worth looking into what some of the perks of each are. We have that breakdown for you here, but hopefully, this chart will help you out if all you care about is pricing (and who could blame you?)
|Streaming Service||Free Model Available||Basic Plan||Premium Plan||Hi-Res Plan||Family Plan||Student Plan||Military Plan|
|Amazon Music HD||No||-||$12.99 with Prime|
|Amazon Music Unlimited||No||-||$7.99 with Prime|
|Apple Music||Yes||Radio is free||$9.99||-||$14.99||$4.99||-|
|Deezer||Yes||Free with ads||$9.99||$14.99||$14.99||$4.99||-|
|SoundCloud Go/Go+||Yes||$4.99||$9.99||-||-||$4.99 for premium||-|
|Spotify||Yes||Free with ads||$9.99||-||$14.99||$4.99||-|
|YouTube Music||Yes||Free with ads||$9.99||-||$14.99||$4.99||-|
What you should know about Bluetooth
When it comes to Bluetooth streaming, it’s not all good news. While it’s come a long way since it was first introduced in audio products, it’s still not as good as wired is when it comes to sound quality. We did some of our own tests and found that quite a few Bluetooth codecs just don’t live up to the standard of high-res (including LDAC). That said, if you have an iOS device you will find that AAC does a pretty good job with streaming music wirelessly, but that’s only if you have iOS. When streaming on Android devices data that would otherwise increase quality in the high end gets lost. Of course, if you do prefer to connect wirelessly and want the convenience of being able to pick up your speaker and bring it with you wherever you go, make sure to check out our list for some of the best Bluetooth speakers around.
- Gogroove Basspulse Wireless: If you don’t want to spend too much but still want something eye-catching and unique, check out the Gogroove Basspulse Wireless because who doesn’t like LEDs.
- Grovemade Wood Speakers: We loved these speakers when we got a chance to check them out. They sound good and the build quality is amazing. The reason they didn’t make this list is mainly because of the high price tag, but if you can afford it you won’t be disappointed by this work of art by Grovemade.
Why you should trust us
In addition to the fact that this site is all of our day jobs, both Adam and Chris have several years of reviewing consumer audio products under their belts individually. Having kept a finger on the pulse of Bluetooth speakers for several years allows us to be able to figure out what’s good, and what’s best avoided. Considering Chris’ burning hatred for all things Bluetooth, if he approves of something, it’s damned special. In a similar vein, Adam has reviewed tons of these speakers over the course of almost three years, so he’s heard the best (and worst) of what the category has to offer.
We should also state that we regularly update these lists as items become available. However, we only add them if there’s a really solid reason for doing so. Usually, we have to use it first—unless there’s some mind-meltingly awesome feature or price-change that would deem a test or re-test unnecessary. As you can imagine, that doesn’t happen often.
These best lists may not always reflect your experiences, but they are our earnest attempt to get the right product onto your wish list. We do this because we genuinely want you to be happy with your purchases—none of our writers see a dime from partnership deals or referral purchases—and nobody here is allowed to benefit from steering you towards one product or another. While this site does make money from referrals, the individual writers are paid based on their work regardless of whether or not people clicked that “buy” icon. They’ll never even know if anyone did, though I suppose the site going under might be a good hint.