Best computer speakers for video calls and streaming

·12-min read
 (Unsplash)
(Unsplash)

Your computer probably comes with a speaker, maybe two. You’ve probably tried them once or twice, and either swore to never sully the air with their tinny crackle again, or only ever to use them in an emergency, like attracting help when lost in a forest or scaring off a bear.

The reason for this is that computer speakers, particularly those in laptops but also in phones, tablets and modern TVs, are built to be small, and speakers need room to deliver decent sound. Time, therefore, to look for an external pair.

The best computer speakers offer much more than a blast of sound from your PC, they promise an improvement. This may just mean clean, clear stereo sound - nothing special, but considerably better than what you’re used to. It may bring a subwoofer into the mix, thickening out the bass and making watching movies or TV on your computer come alive. Or you may get a full-size surround system to really take advantage of modern games’ soundtracks.

Your computer will have some sort of audio connection on it. If you’ve got a full-size tower PC, you might find an optical audio connector for digital audio. You might be limited to a headphone socket, or Bluetooth may be the best it can manage. These latter two are not the impediment they may appear to getting decent audio out of a PC as computer speakers have been connecting to 3.5mm headphone jacks for decades, while the quality of Bluetooth speakers continues to improve. Watch out for support for the aptX codec if going Bluetooth, as it will improve the sound when connected wirelessly.

Other things to look out for include multiple inputs, so you can use them for your phone or smart speaker as well as your computer, remote controls - not as common as you’d think, and having to lumber across the room to alter the volume rapidly becomes a bore - and solid wooden or hard plastic constructions to prevent them from rattling when you turn on the beans.

These, then, are some of the best computer speakers out there.

Creative T100

Creative has a long history in computer audio - all the way back to the Sound Blaster cards it sold in the 90s to bring music and sound effects to otherwise silent PCs. Now that every computer can make some sort of sound, the company still makes high-end audio processors, but also a lot of speakers.

These are probably Creative’s best for most people. You get Bluetooth, 3.5mm, USB and optical inputs in a simple 2.0 design with a remote control. The 80W peak output should be enough for a decent-sized room, and for a system without a subwoofer the bass really isn’t bad. The USB input doesn’t connect to a computer, but instead allows you to plug in a flash drive full of MP3s or other music files, which can then be played directly through the speakers. It’s a nice feature to have, though having the drive sticking out the back of the right-hand speaker can be a little inconvenient (a USB extension lead could help).

The controls, however, are conveniently located on the top of the right speaker, and on the remote, so they’re almost invisible in everyday use. The mains power and audio inputs are behind the right speaker, and a single cable runs to the left-hand unit, meaning you can place one either side of a monitor or bookshelf for proper stereo separation. These minimalist black looks, along with the audio clarity, are why these computer speakers are an easy recommendation to make.

Buy now £99.99, Amazon

Logitech Z207

If you can’t quite stretch to buying the Creative speakers, check out this budget set from prolific PC accessory manufacturer Logitech. You get Bluetooth connectivity (capable of connecting to two devices), along with a single 3.5mm cable connection.

That’s enough for a phone, tablet and PC, and while the peak output of 10W isn’t huge, it’s good enough as long as you’re not sitting too far away or in an enormous room. Keep in the area around your desk, and you’ll hear everything just fine.

There’s no remote control, so having the single volume knob within easy reach is another reason not to sit too far away. A useful front-mounted socket allows you to plug in your headphones directly to the speakers without needing to fumble around the back of your PC, and is especially handy if your phone doesn’t have a headphone socket and you’ve not upgraded to a pair of the best Bluetooth headphones yet.

Slim but tall, these mains-powered speakers with their visible driver cones look good sitting either side of a monitor, and produce a decent noise even if they’re not the most fully featured pair out there.

Buy now £59.99, Amazon

Edifier R1280DBs Active Bluetooth Bookshelf Speakers

The beautiful wooden cabinets on these Edifier speakers really make them stand out in a world dominated by charcoal plastic enclosures. They’re available in black as well, but we really like this grainy finish.

You can plug in via two lots of RCA connectors, optical, or digital co-axial, and there’s Bluetooth 5.0 too. It’s a 2.0 set with 42W of peak power, though there’s also an output to add an optional subwoofer if you feel that your bass is a little lacking. The remote control makes it easy to switch between inputs and adjust volume and sound balance, and there’s a full set of controls tucked away in the right-hand speaker for manual adjustments.

Compared to some speakers on the market, these are actually pretty reasonably priced - though adding the T5 subwoofer with its eight-inch cone and 70W output can almost double the cost - and provide impressive sound from a reasonably small package.

Buy now £139.99, Amazon

Audioengine A2+ Wireless

A newish company founded by former employees of Harman, Apple and Gibson, Audioengine knows its way around a speaker cabinet and these premium speakers have gathered a lot of praise.

They boast a built-in 24bit DAC to offload audio processing duties from your computer to the speakers themselves, using a direct USB connection to pipe the data over. There are Bluetooth, RCA, and 3.5mm inputs too, so you can hook up a record player, tablet and smart speaker, all at the same time.

Output peaks at 60W, meaning they’ll easily fill a room, and you will certainly notice them if you get them in the rather striking red finish that’s available alongside black and white. There’s a connection for a separate subwoofer, and while the bass is generally fine without it, you won’t get to the real depths, if that’s your thing. The pair are joined together with a wire, which can be annoying if you were looking for truly wireless speakers, but is common enough. Putting them at either end of a bookshelf with the wire hidden behind Bleak House and The Colour of Magic is no hardship for anyone other than the most dedicated minimalist.

These speakers are all about providing an accurate representation of the audio they’re being supplied with, and having the DAC built-in means sound quality is high as long as you can supply it with the right sort of signal.

Buy now £259.00, Amazon

Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System

A full surround system, with five satellites and a subwoofer, this system offers positional audio for gaming as well as for watching movies. You get 1000W of peak power, easily enough to drive your neighbours crazy, and enough inputs to plug everything in.

There’s an amp built into the subwoofer, from which all the wired satellites spread out, as well as a separate control box and a remote. Routing the cables for satellite speakers around a room can be an unforgiving experience, but once it’s done there’s nothing like the sound of actual rear speakers firing from a surround-sound mix in a movie or game. Soundbars that offer ‘virtual’ surround can’t compete.

There’s no Bluetooth here, but with both stereo RCA and 3.5mm inputs it’s perfectly possible to attach an external Bluetooth receiver to one (and Logitech just happens to make a nice one). Digital inputs are well catered for, with a pair of opticals and a digital co-axial, meaning a desktop PC and a TV can be plugged in at the same time. The system is THX certified, and while the satellites can be a bit weedy, this matters less as the centre channel and the subwoofer are strong, providing a thick, rich sound that seems to come from everywhere.

Buy now £249.99, Amazon

Razer Nommo Pro 2.1 Gaming Speaker System

Looking rather like a set of aero engines separated from their plane’s fuselage, these speakers from gaming brand Razer make up a THX-certified 2.1 system that produces a really impressive noise.

Once you’ve got them on your desk, there are a lot of connections to get to grips with. Around the back of the subwoofer you’ll find 3.5mm, USB, and optical connections, while Bluetooth is present too. Having all of these makes it much easier to flip between devices using the remote control (which is, oddly, kept on the end of a short cable rather than being wireless like almost every other one).

The speakers have had a lot of technology lavished on them, with kevlar-reinforced drivers, silk domes in the tweeters, and that downward-firing subwoofer providing the fat low notes. It all lights up, as you’d expect from Razer, and if connected to your PC via USB ties into the Synapse software that will make all the compatible RGB lighting in your rig throb and flash in unison. Even the remote control pod lights up.

The cylindrical design of the speakers means they have a degree of directionality, and you’re able to keep them quite loud without disturbing the rest of the house - though the nature of bass notes is to be omnidirectional, so these will still leak out. Dolby Virtual Surround does its best, and when supplied with a surround sound gaming soundtrack to chew on the Razer speakers can sound great and look great, but the fact remains they’re dreadfully expensive.

Buy now £479.99, Amazon

Panasonic SC-HTB01 SoundSlayer Gaming Speaker with Built-in Subwoofer

Another gaming design, this one takes the form of a soundbar with built-in subwoofer, a popular coupling that takes centre stage in living rooms all over the country, fleshing out the weedy sound generated by modern ultra-thin TVs.

Putting a soundbar on a desk, however, is less convenient than a pair of speakers. Its footprint is much larger, and it doesn’t split into two halves to sit nicely on either side of a monitor. The Soundslayer is also quite deep for a soundbar, but once positioned you can at least leave it alone, as all the controls are on the remote control.

With Bluetooth, HDMI (4K ARC passthrough), and optical connections, you may feel like you’re missing out on the analogue plugs, but as almost all small devices support Bluetooth these days, it’s only older tech that you’re not going to be able to hook up. For computer use, the optical will probably be the most useful, as it’s found on the back of many desktop PCs, while you can reserve the HDMI ARC for your TV, as this is the only way to activate the bar’s Dolby Atmos compatibility.

Consisting of forward- and upward-firing speakers, the soundbar can muster 80W at peak, and delivers well on its promise of immersive sound from an unassuming soundbar.

Buy now £249.99, Amazon

LG UltraGear GP9

What looks like a Bluetooth speaker designed to keep itself cool is actually a highly versatile device, containing a battery that can power it for up to five hours and a built-in noise-cancelling mic for voice chat purposes.

The ‘gaming’ aesthetic can grate with some, and the RGB lighting mixed with an aggressive grille on the GP9 does nothing to help. It is, however, quite compact and really rather well built. It’s astonishing to learn that, back when it launched, the RRP for this speaker was £499. That price has come down considerably, and there’s no way it was worth picking up for the original price, but £200 is much more tempting.

If you’ve already got a setup with some in-your-face RGB elements, this will fit right in. Amusingly, for a device that wants to be seen so much, many of the actual audio inputs are hidden away under a flap. You get USB audio via a Type-C socket, and there’s an optical input too, plus Bluetooth, but you don’t get RCA or 3.5mm. Outputs come in the form of a 3.5mm Aux socket, plus a headset socket that’s much easier to access. This selection makes sense if you’re using the GP9 as a desktop computer speaker, as you can connect the optical up and still use the Bluetooth for your phone, but having no 3.5mm Aux input means you’ll be using Bluetooth for all tablets and laptops too.

Still, the sound quality is pretty good, and having the mic means you can use it for hands-free voice calls as well as during gaming voice chat. It’s a slightly strange speaker that might fit well with a few people, but probably lacks the mass appeal to be really popular.

Buy now £199.00, Amazon

Verdict

As the speakers that came with your laptop or desktop computer are probably dreadful, picking up a new set makes a lot of sense if you’re intending to use it for watching streaming services or playing games. A big fat pair of headphones makes an excellent companion for this kind of thing, but there’s nothing like sound that really fills the room around you.

To this end, we’ve picked out some real room-fillers in the form of the Creative T-100 speakers. They may not come with a subwoofer or satellites, but they allow you to connect everything you need, have a remote control so you don’t have to keep getting up, and the rest of the time blend into the background. They sound great too.

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