How to choose the best PC speakers. (Compute's Getting Started with PC Sound) (Buyers Guide)
by David English
You bought a new sound card, or--even better--you went for the full multimedia upgrade kit. Guess what? Unless you plan on using your headphones or plugging into your stereo system, you probably need a set of PC speakers. It's the forgotten multimedia peripheral, but manufacturers are coming to the rescue.
Most sound cards have a low-power amplifier built in. The Sound Blaster Pro is typical; its 4-watt amplifier can drive most small speakers at low levels. But if you want to pump up the volume and get a full-bodied sound, you'll need to look for a pair of amplified speakers. These are speakers that have a self-contained amplifier.
Ramp Up the Amps
Amplified speakers come in all shapes and sizes, as well as different prices. Some are magnetically sheilded so they won't ruin your computer disks or distort the images on your monitor's screen. Some are large and heavy, and use their bulk to provide a full sound with a driving bass. Others are small and portable, but have a more modest sound.
The least expensive powered speakers I could find were the $39.95-a-pair Koss Hard Drivers (Koss, 4129 North Port Washington Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53212; 414-964-5000). Each speaker runs on two "C" batteries or an optional AC adapter. They sound pretty good for the price, and their extremely small size makes it easy to carry them with you.
Tandy takes a component approach, combining two small Minimus 7 speakers with a separate SA-150 stereo amplifier (Tandy, 1800 One Tandy Center, Fort Worth, Texas 76102; $49.95 for each speaker and $59.95 for the amplifier). The separate amplifier offers some attractive extras, including three sets of input jacks, a set of tape output jacks, and a headphone jack.
If you like the idea of multiple inputs but don't like the component approach, take a look at Roland's MA12C Micro Monitors (Roland, 7200 Dominion Circle, Los Angeles, California 90040; 213-685-5141; $145 each). They have a strong and clear sound, are magnetically shielded, and include treble and bass boost controls, in addition to the usual volume control. Roland also offers the CS-10 Stereo Monitor Amplifier ($150), which combines a pair of stereo speakers and an integrated amplifier into a box that can fit neatly between your computer and monitor.
For proof that larger-than-life sounds can come from smaller-than-expected boxes, try Bose's Room-Mate Computer Monitors (Bose, The Mountain, Framingham, Massachusetts 01701; 508-879-7330; $339 a pair). They have that full room-filling sound that Bose is famous for, and they're magnetically shielded. You can even buy special brackets and mounting arms and attach them to your table, wall, or ceiling.
The most unusual looking computer speakers would have to be the new Altec Lansing Multimedia ACS-300 computer speaker system (Altec Lansing Consumer Products, Milford, Pennsylvania 18337-0277; 800-258-3280; $400). Two magnetically-shielded clamshell-shaped speakers can be mounted on the wall, placed beside your PC, or even mounted on each side of your monitor. A third, and much larger, speaker houses a woofer that you can place under your desk. The company claims the system is optimized for the close listening range needed by PC users. Whatever the reasoning, they sound terrific.
Finally, for true studio-quality sound in a small wedge-shaped package, check out AR's Power Partner 570 (Acoustic Research, 330 Turnpike Street, Canton, Massachusetts 02021; 800-969-2748; $475 a pair or $250 for a single speaker). Not only are they magnetically shielded, they automatically switch to low-power consumption when not in use--you never have to turn them off. Even though they're on the heavy side (8 pounds each), the Power Partners sound so good you'll want to take them with you wherever you go.