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A good set of speakers can help turn your PC into the ultimate home entertainment rig. Here's what to look for when shopping, along with the best computer-friendly speakers we've tested.
Stereo speakers consist of only a left and a right speaker, "2.1" refers to a pair of speakers augmented by a subwoofer, and surround sound involves between five and seven speakers plus a subwoofer. The role of the subwoofer is to cover deep bass frequencies, generally below 100Hz. A solid sub at a reasonable volume can add rumble to film explosions and depth to kick drums, bass guitars, analog synths, orchestras, and more. Some stereo speaker pairs, however, sound great even without a subwoofer, primarily because their woofers (the drivers dedicated to low-mid and low frequencies below 1KHz) are perfectly capable of handling the bass response.
The vast majority of desktop speakers are stereo pairs. Some have accompanying subwoofers, but you won't likely have more than two or three satellites to deal with. Some serious gamers and cinephiles might want to look for a 5.1-channel (or higher) surround sound system,
All speakers require power to run. Without electricity flowing into the drivers, a speaker is just a box with some weird paper and metal bits in it. The vast majority of computer speakers, along with all Bluetooth-enabled speakers and wireless speakers, are powered, or "active." That means an amplifier is built into the speaker itself to take the signal it receives and feed enough power into the drivers to reproduce it. This is very handy, because it means you don't need to get a separate amp to drive your speakers; you just plug them into your computer and they work.
High-quality sound and robust extra features are not necessarily mutually exclusive; it depends on the set. If your PC has a limited number of USB ports, you'll probably want to go with the more common 3.5mm audio output connector, though USB-powered speakers sometimes come with extra features, or even software that enables special functions. And, if your PC has Bluetooth, you can stream music wirelessly to any speaker that accepts it (which is the vast majority of portable speakers, and a large number of desktop speakers).