A Buyer’s Guide to Computer Speakers

When buying or replacing computer speakers, your main choices are likely to be amplified, non-amplified, or larger stereo speakers with RCA (phono) jacks/wires. Each type of speaker offers some benefits and may or may not be best for your purposes.

Non-amplified computer speakers are often fairly small and don’t need to be plugged in. This saves electricity, cuts down on the number of wieres behind your computer, and keeps an electrical outlet free. However, such speakers usually don’t have a built-in volume control, and may or may not provide adequate loudness depending upon your computer type.

When testing a pair of LCS-80 non-amplified speakers on a Dell computer, I found that the volume was more than enough for personal listening when the Windows and RealPlayer volume levels were set at maximum. It might not be loud enough for a group of people to listen to, or to listen to from across a large room, however.

Amplified speakers require electricity to amplify the sound provided by the computer. They usually have a built-in volume control, and may have a tone control as well. A volume control on the speaker is often more convenient than adjusting the volume with software.

They are usually more expensive than non-amplified speakers (but not significantly), and increase the amount of electricity being used. Even most small amplified speakers can prouduce very loud sound if needed.

Large speakers with RCA/phono input wires or jacks are usually non-amplified, so you may have to plug them into the back of a single amplified speaker (which has a jack for a 2nd speaker) or some other source of amplification. You may already have one or more speakers of this type connected to a stereo or record player.

Unless you have one of the few older computers with an RCA jack for audio output, you will need an adapter (Radio Shack part #274-889 or #274-269) to convert a 1/8th-inch jack (on the computer or the single amplified speaker) to two RCA/phono jacks. These speakers are good if you want especially loud and/or high-quality sound.

Other options when purchasing speaker(s) include monitors with built-in speakers and speaker bars which can be mounted on a monitor. The Dell Sound Bar is an example of this, as it mounts on Dell flat panel monitors. You also may decide to just use headphones or earphones. If using headphones, you may need a 1/4th-inch to 1/8th-inch adapter (available at Radio Shack) if the audio plug won’t fit in your computer’s headphone jack.

A more complex audio option is to connect your sound card to your computer’s internal speaker, if the internal speaker is large enough. This may or may not be possible, depending upon the speaker and sound card types. A few computers are sold with their internal speaker set up this way.

When testing speakers with your computer, be aware that some sound cards have two audio output jacks, and you should try both of them. Usually one of the jacks will provide louder sound than the other, which may be necessary for non-amplified speakers.

These tips should help you find and set-up appropriate speakers for your particular computer and listening needs.

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