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Speakers are an oft-forgotten part when building a computer. With all the attention on the horsepower of the PC such as RAM, CPU speed, graphic cards etc, it is often cast aside and left till the last minute. In fact, even cooling systems seem to be a bigger focus than computer systems these days. Maybe you're missing a set of speakers, maybe your current set decided its lifetime of servitude was up, or maybe you just decided that your current speakers are sorely lacking; the point is, if you're reading this you're looking to get new speakers. Before you start looking online or in stores for computer speakers though, there are some things to consider: 1. What do you want? Firstly, you need to decide what you want out of these speakers. That is, what is your primary purpose when using these speakers? Gaming? (Legal) MP3 listening? (Legal) movie watching? Or just to hear the cute little sound your start bar makes when you click on it? If you narrow it down from here, we can determine if you want a 2 speaker setup, a 2.1, a 5.1 or a 7.1 (likely too expensive). The ".1" here refers to the addition of a subwoofer, but just because something's extra doesn't necessarily make it better, as I'll elaborate later. The number of speakers here is for, as you might imagine, a surround sound effect. While the idea of being engulfed in speakers bombarding from all sides seems like the ideal visceral experience especially when gaming, many dual speaker setups (with or without the subwoofer) these days offer a commendable emulation of these effects. It is important to note at this point that you may require a dedicated sound card or correct software that will allow for the 3D sound effect, regardless of how many speakers you have. For that matter, and do not forget this: multiple speakers setups often require sound cards that support them. How else are you going to plug all those speakers? Nothing is more annoying than buying a fancy 5.1 and realizing you don't have the hardware to use them. Of course, you also have to consider what kind of quality you expect out of these activities. If you're okay with a tinny, lackluster sound when listening to your favourite music (shame on you), then congratulations, you can just head out and buy the cheapest random set of speakers you can find. I guarantee you won't be disappointed, simply because your expectations are so low. However, that's not why you're here. You want a decent set of cheap computer speakers with some power. Any lousy 2.1 can provide a bassy effect, but chances are they'd be muffled and drown out any other frequencies. You need to find the right one, and there ARE good 2 speaker systems they are much better than these. However, to each his own, and some people don't mind,
or prefer immensely low-ended audio to a more equalized experience, hence this section on what kind of quality you want from them. Either way, when you've determined what you need them for and what you expect, you can head to the next step. 2. Where are these speakers going to go? Okay, in a way this might be more important than you realise, depending on your circumstances. The important questions are how much space is available, and will you have neighbors/housemates/siblings in the adjacent room that will threaten to destroy your life if too much sound leaks through? The first part of course, will determine if your premises are physically capable of housing a subwoofer, or a set up with more than 2 speakers (ie 5.1 or 7.1). Also, are these speakers meant solely for personal use, or will you need to project them through a larger room for a group of people? Generally, the latter means you'll need larger, higher wattage speakers. As an example, I've lived alone in a tiny apartment with barely enough space in the room to swing my arms, so I was limited to 2 speakers. Another thing worth considering is whether you will need to move these speakers around. Of course, a 2 speaker setup that isn't too big will be far easier to transport (whether around the room or to another location entirely) than having to lug a pair of monsters and/or a subwoofer, which generally weighs a metric ton. If you don't require much power and just need something to carry with your laptop, try USB-powered speakers. In addition, I did have annoying noise-sensitive neighbors. Now here's the tricky part, and very important. Bass waves leak further. This is especially important because it determines if you can have a subwoofer or not. You may have heard that bass waves take a fair distance before they form fully. If you're in a smallish room without solid concrete walls, guess where they form? That's right, next door. That means your late night sessions of gaming or music will be interrupted by a grumpy old lady threatening to call the police. It also means that if your room isn't too big, you won't get to hear the sub-bass frequencies clearly. Wasted money and space, if you ask me. Personally, a good set of non-subwoofer speakers is much better than a lousy 2.1/5.1. 3. How much are you willing to spend? This plays a large factor in determining the price category of your speakers. Personally, I have a general budget on all my individual computer parts at about $100 but that's just me. As with any electronic product the general trend is that you get what you pay for, and in the case of speakers it is often the case that bigger is better. However, there is always a cross region where an affordable price and good sound come together, and that's where the actual product comparison comes along when you get down to searching for them. Determining your price range will unlock new options such as 7.1 systems or studio-quality speakers at the higher end, or can set helpful limiting guidelines if you're on a tight budget to better narrow down your search. Hopefully by now you'll have a clearer idea of what you're looking for. Next entry will detail what to look out for when searching for the right speakers with the criteria determined.
James Gordan runs a blog at Cheap Computer Speakers [http://cheapcomputerspeakers.net] Feel free to visit the site if you're looking for good speakers on a budget.
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