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Desktop speaker guide

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by koss02, Dec 12, 2014.
  1. Koss02
    Hi guys, recently I've been through a personal journey of discovery, and want to share some of my insight when choosing desktop speakers.
    First and foremost, speakers are all about personal preference.  You need to pick a set, that suits your listening preferences, desktop area, and room.  This is definitely something you should focus on.  For most, this comes down to a decision between a 2.0 or 2.1 speaker set-up.  Some may opt for an entire surround sound system, but this is rare.  
    So here are some of the most common issues I ran into when testing and reviewing multiple speaker set-ups.
    Natural vs. "Un-Natural" Sound :  
    This can essentially be described as even vs. un-even sound reproduction.  Do the highs overpower mids?  Does the bass drown out vocals?  Will the speakers sound tinny?  (like there's sound coming from inside a tin can).  Some listeners prefer heavy bass, while others focus more on all around even production.  The most pertinent example I can find of this is the pair of Creative T40 II that I tested.  They had amazing highs, muddy mid's, and the bass sounded un-natural (the plastic enclosure did this).  I personally prefer speakers that offer a more natural sound  reproduction.   
    Noise Floor :
    Just about ever speaker, powered or passive will have a low sounding "hiss" that emits from the tweeters.  This is called the noise floor.  The noise floor occurs due to physics, plain and simple.  If you're using speakers with a high sensitivity, this will amplify the noise floor.  Two examples:  The Bose Companion II speakers I tested had a very low noise floor.  These are powered speakers and produced decent sound, however the noise floor was loud enough for me to hear sitting 3 feet away.  I also tested/own a pair of Klipsch WB-14 speakers that I had hooked up to my desktop.  These speakers are passive, and have very high sensitivity (92db).  When I hooked them up to a mini desktop amp and a separate DAC, the noise floor on these speakers was still too much to bear.  I noticed the noise significantly decreased when I hooked them up to a full-sized pioneer amp (physics again:  the full sized amp offers cleaner amplification), but I can't have that sitting next to my PC for space reasons.   
    Interference :
    This is commonly confused with a noise floor.  Interference occurs from other electrical equipment you have in the area.  Common sources of interference are ground loops, touching/exposed cables, bad connections.  You can often identify the source of interference through trial and error.  DO NOT forget, you will always experience some level of "hiss" due to the noise floor on your speakers so don't go crazy looking for a source of interference.  
    Sound Stage :
    How far will you be sitting from your computer?  What position will you and your speakers be in while listening?  These are major factor that many people over look when purchasing desktop speakers.  Once again, personal example here:  The pair of Klipsch WB-14's I had hooked up to my PC.  These speakers sound amazing from a distance, but sitting 2 feet away, these speakers sounded too bright (highs were too HIGH) I suffered from listening fatigue (my ears literally hurt) and didn't resonate properly from such a short distance away.
    2.0 vs. 2.1 : 
    This honestly comes down to available space and preference.  Some people don't mind having a sub lying around, while others like myself just want a clean and simple 2.0 set-up.  
    So what to buy?  
    I personally opted for a 2.0 system because I didn't want a sub woofer lying at my feet.  2.0 system are a pain in the ass.  Why?  All about that bass.  Most 2.0 systems can't handle or accurately reproduce lower frequencies.  Some of the most popular 2.0 systems FAIL at bass reproduction (yes, I'm looking at you Audioengine).  
    The set of speakers I decided to stick with were the Definitive Technology Incline speakers (http://www.amazon.com/Definitive-Technology-Incline-Audiophile-Desktop/dp/B00G5CKH6O).  This system definitely has its quirks (some weird cabling, and lack of controls) but from a pure audio standpoint, it's second to none.  
    These speakers handle highs, mids, and lows truthfully.  The bass is definitely there, however it's not overpowering or muddy.  After going through nearly 5 different sets of speakers I was pleasantly surprised to plug these in and FINALLY hear sound that resonated perfectly both throughout my room and 3 feet away from my desktop.  I seriously can't recommend these enough.  
    Other 2.0 speakers I WOULD recommend:
    None.  If you're looking to spend $200 + on computer speakers the Def. Tech Inclines are your best option.   
    2.1 speakers I WOULD recommend: 
    Klipsch Pro Media 2.1
    Logitech Z623
    HK Sound Sticks 
    All of these speakers are in the sub $200 range.  
    Additional information:  
    Now that you're familiar with the terms above, lets delve into the two common types of audio sources.  
    Digital :  almost everyone purchasing speakers is going to use them to listen to digital music.  This music must be converted to analog in order for speakers to reproduce sound.  This conversion can have a great effect on the sound quality.  
    Analog :  this is the type of sound delivered out of an auxiliary jack, or L/R RCA cable.  This is not digital, it has already been converted from digital (mp3, CD, DVD) OR directly off Vinyl (analog).  
    If you've followed this far, well keep reading ...  
    DAC :  Digital to Analog converter.  Everyone on these forums obsesses over them for good reason, however they provide a disproportionate  benefit to lower priced systems.  The less you spend on a sound system, the less a DAC will benefit you.  The most expensive systems benefit the most.  What does a DAC do?  It converts digital audio to analog output.  Anything that can play an MP3 file has a DAC built into it\, you phone, computer etc. . . 
    Headphone Amp : not to be confused with speaker amps.  This is for driving headphones.
    Amp :  If you're using passive speakers, chances are you'll need to pick up a separate amp.  I purchased the SMSL SA-50 and it drove my 200W Klipsch speakers just find.  
  2. insertwordshere
    Nice guide! I learned a lot from it.

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