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Saturday, November 26, 2022

Affordable sound for the win

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Say goodbye to maxing out the volume button on your computer during your next Zoom call.

Best for blending in

Edifier Exclaim e10

These skinny speakers have a unique look that can fit in with just about any office setup without looking out of place, to go along with simple-to-understand features.

Now that are working from home full-time, a lot of us are spending a ton of time in front of our home computers. And if there’s one thing that’s true about most computers, it’s that they have pretty terrible built-in speakers. Chances are, you’ll max out the volume button on your laptop and still find the sound too soft to hear your boss on a Zoom or Google Meet conference clearly enough. And if it’s that bad for a conference call, can you imagine streaming a movie or listening to music?

Whether you’re binge watching YouTube videos, working on a student project, or getting some actual work done, good computer audio is a key part of a home desktop arrangement. There’s just one problem: You’ve gotta get some external speakers.

That’s because the default speakers that are built into most computer monitors or laptops are pretty crummy. They don’t do any of your favorite songs justice and don’t even think about watching a loud action movie with them. Unfortunately, standalone computer speakers cost money. In some cases, a whole lot of it. The good news is that you don’t have to break the bank to enhance your computer audio.

What should you look for in computer speakers?

The obvious first answer to that question is sound quality. Fortunately, just about any standalone speakers you buy will be better than what’s in a laptop. Some of the options on this list might not be audiophile-friendly considering our budgetary restraints, but that’s fine. Unless you recognize all the different nuances in audio quality, it shouldn’t be a problem with anything on this list.

SEE ALSO: These are the best computer speakers

On a more practical level, size and connectivity might be the most important factors when picking up budget computer speakers. You want something that doesn’t take up the entire desk and doesn’t require some arcane cable you’ve never seen before just to function. Everything on this list should accommodate both of those needs.

How are budget computer speakers different from expensive ones?

Computer speakers that cost hundreds of dollars tend to come with things like subwoofers for extra bass or five speakers that work in tandem to produce a surround sound effect. There are some budget speakers with subwoofers, but full surround sound isn’t going to happen here. In general, sound quality is going to get better the more money you spend. Being frugal doesn’t mean you’ll get something terrible, but it does mean you probably won’t get something fit for a home theater.

Aside from that, another practical drawback of budget speakers is that you may be limited in terms of connectivity options. There are Bluetooth-compatible budget computer speakers, but they’re a little tougher to find than if you were to up the price range a bit. This may not be a huge problem for most people, but if you’re sick of cable clutter, it’s worth considering.

Won’t attract attention • Easy to use

Limited feature set • Wired only

If you don’t want bulky black rectangles taking up half your desktop, Edifier’s Exclaim e10 is a straightforward set of wired speakers that can blend into an office setting.

Edifier Exclaim e10

These skinny speakers have a unique look that can fit in with just about any office setup without looking out of place, to go along with simple-to-understand features.

  • Supported Connectivity:
    3.5mm AUX
  • Size:
    7.09 x 4.13 x 12.2 inches
  • Weight:
    5.29 lbs
  • Color:

The Edifier Exclaim e10 computer speakers don’t offer a ton of bonus features, as this model only offers wired connectivity using a 3.5mm AUX cable. Aside from that, all you get are power and volume buttons. These are really just skinny, sleek-looking speakers that don’t aspire to be anything more than that.
That said, their modern design and relatively low price means you’ll get something that won’t be a huge distraction, visually speaking. If you want to plug some speakers into your computer, push them to the back of the desk, and never think about them again, this might be the set to get.

Plug into the headphone jack of a computer • Durable construction • Compact, tiny footprint • Simple to use • Can be used with more than just computers • Low price

Don’t connect by USB port • No Bluetooth connectivity • Wires are a little fragile

These speakers are a great choice for students or anyone on a tight budget.

Logitech S120 2.0 Stereo Speakers

These compact, durable speakers deliver the sound you want at the lowest price.

  • Supported Connectivity:
    Wired, 3.5 mm jack
  • Size:
    11.46 x 20 x 7.4 inches
  • Weight:
    2 lbs
  • Color:
Obviously, for this price, these speakers aren’t for audiophiles, but for their price point and size, they still deliver surprisingly good audio quality. One reviewer writes “They are loud enough and deliver excellent treble and bass. I’m amazed that the sound quality is so much better than I expected at this price.”
The speakers are easy to set up, plugging into any computer (or other device) with a headphone jack. They have a built-in knob for volume, and thanks to their compact size, they won’t take up much space on your desk. 
Many reviewers also love these speakers because of how durable and resilient they are. They’re hefty enough to resist easily falling over if you accidentally bump them, and even if you do knock them down, they can take most falls. In fact, one reviewer writes “I dropped them 100 times, they still work. I tend to be a klutz, and have knocked these guys over at least twice a week since I bought them Aug 2016. The cover flies off one and across the room, but I set them back up and they still work.”

Minimalist, modern look • Available in black or white • Includes USB-C connectivity • Features powerful 2” full-range drivers and passive radiators for richer, louder audio • Space-saving size for desks • 45-degree title for optimal desk listening • Can be bought with a subwoofer

No protective screen over the speakers themselves, making them fragile for traveling • Not the most durable • Wired

With a minimalist, modern look, these powerful, space-saving speakers are a solid choice for their price.

Creative Pebble Plus

These speakers are small, lightweight, modern and deliver powerful sound with minimal distortion.

  • Supported Connectivity:
    Wired, USB-C or 3.5 mm AUX
  • Size:
    9.57 x 4.96 x 4.96 inches
  • Weight:
    7 grams
  • Color:
    Black or White
Let’s face it: not all of us have a ton of desk space for big speakers. That’s why small, compact speakers like these are a great choice — especially at this price. Not only that, but they actually look good at your desk, whether you get them in white or black to match your office decor. 
Of course, the advantages of these speakers aren’t just their size and looks: it’s their audio quality. As Amazon reviewer Hawkmoon 269 writes “there is no distortion at loud settings and the bass is actually quite good. The overall quality of sound highlights both high and low midpoints very well.” 
The speakers also have a 45-degree angle tilt, which is ideal for a listener sitting at a desk because it projects the audio up towards them. Not only that, but if you don’t mind spending a little more, you can get the speakers with a powerful down-firing subwoofer to make the sound even better (though you’ll obviously need a little more office space).
While the speakers are definitely small and light enough to be portable, they are a little on the fragile side so may not be the best for taking with you on a work trip. 

Wide design for immersive soundstage • Minimalist, sleek design • Can be plugged into external headphones and mic • Easy controls • Highly compatible with computers, as well as phones, tablets or MP3 player • Portable • Bluetooth connectivity

Makes a loud beep when connecting/disconnecting Bluetooth • Not as loud as other speakers on this list

This speaker is highly versatile, portable and is a great choice for PC gamers.

TaoTronics Bluetooth 5.0 Computer Speaker

This speaker is highly versatile, portable and is a great choice for gamers or those with small desk areas.

  • Supported Connectivity:
    Bluetooth and Wired, AUX and RCA cable connection
  • Size:
    16.14 x 2.17 x 2.64 inches
  • Weight:
    2.2 lbs
  • Color:
    Black or Red
If you’re looking for a versatile, portable, Bluetooth compatible speaker, look no further: this speaker is sleek and compact, which is ideal for a computer speaker. It’s portable, easy to store if you don’t want to leave it out on your desk and, because it features Bluetooth compatibility, you can use it not only for your computer, but pretty much any Bluetooth enabled device.
But what matters most is the sound, right? And on that front, this speaker delivers, especially considering its price point. Amazon reviewer MVF writes “I can tell you that you will be amazed at the quality of sound that this little gem puts out. It’s loud for a 3W driver system; the bass has bass, and the mids and highs are great as well.” 

Included 5.25-inch subwoofer for maximum bass • Control pod for ease of use

Possibly too bulky for some desks

CyberAcoustics CA-3602FFP brings the boom with a standalone subwoofer at a very low price.

CyberAcoustics CA-3602FFP

With an included subwoofer for bass and a control pod for easy volume adjustment, these CyberAcoustics speakers rival some more expensive speakers in terms of features.

  • Supported Connectivity:
    3.5mm AUX
  • Size:
    12 x 11.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Weight:
    9 lbs
  • Color:

Budget computer speakers that come with subwoofers for added bass aren’t impossible to find, but they’re certainly not the norm. This CyberAcoustics speaker set distinguishes itself from the competition with a genuine 2.1 setup at just $40. You’ll feel like you spent a lot more than that, especially considering some of the other goodies you get for the price.
Each of the two speakers comes equipped with dual 2-inch drivers that will only be bolstered by the deep bass produced by the subwoofer. The bad news here is that you can only connect to devices via a 3.5mm cable, but for $40, you have to accept some compromises. Another nice standout inclusion is the control pod, a little circular gadget with controls for volume, bass, and power, as well as a headphone jack for private listening. You’ll never have to touch the speakers themselves after positioning them.

Built-in blue LEDs look cool when streaming in the dark • Feature elliptical design for great sound • Great price • Connect easily via USB • Small footprint on desk • Portable

The bass is not the most impressive

These small, light and USB-powered speakers are a great choice for your laptop computer or your desktop.

Sanyun SW102 Computer Speakers

These small, light, and USB-powered speakers are a great choice if you use a laptop instead of a desktop computer.

  • Supported Connectivity:
    Wired, USB
  • Size:
    3.94 x 2.76 x 2.76 inches
  • Weight:
    1.15 lbs
  • Color:
    Black or White with blue toned LEDs
Take a quick gander at Amazon reviews for these speakers and you’ll find multiple reviewers surprised by just how good these speakers are for being USB-powered and so small. For example, one Amazon customer writes “These little guys are tiny but the sound is huge” and another reviewer writes “the sound is good enough that I can play the music on my laptop in one room and hear it on another floor.” 
The speakers also just look cool on your desk, thanks to their compact, modern design and blue LED lights. The lights are an especially nice touch if you’re watching a movie or listening to music in low light. They also don’t need much space — always a plus if you don’t have a large desk. 

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