Speaker Buyer's Guide

by Jim Warren on September 11, 2000 12:00 PM EST

Speaker Formats: From simple to surround sound

The expansion of speaker technology for home theater has trickled down to the computer industry, bringing a variety of new choices for gamers and audiophiles alike.  The advent of surround sound has opened new options for experiencing sound.  Even the concept of adding remote subwoofers has had computer desks shaking for some time, and new virtual positioning technologies have even empowered the older concept of stereo speakers.  When considering what speaker format to buy, it is important to consider how you use your computer.  Each format has its own benefits that must be weighed against their costs; the more fancy the technology, the larger the price tag.

When determining which format to purchase, it is important to examines what your needs in a speakers system are.  By generalizing your needs into one of four categories, it can be easier to classify what speakers are right for you.  Four convenient categories are: basic computer sound, music playback, gaming, and computer based home theatre.  Basic computer sound includes only the alert noises or simple sounds that the computer uses to interact with you, as well as vocal reproduction from webcasts.  A simple sound system is sufficient.  Music playback is the next level of speakers.  At a minimum, stereo should be required.  Adding a subwoofer will extend the frequency response and improve the tonal quality of the sound.  Higher quality speakers will also more accurately reproduce the sound.

Gaming systems and computer based home theatre move into the surround sound environments.  Gaming manufacturers have begun to integrate positional audio into their systems, and when combined with a surround sound system, create an immersive gaming experience.  Computer based home theatre, especially as new DVD drives allow for movie playback at the computing station, offers the opportunity to have a cinema like experience from your computer.  These systems will be able to decode the surround signals embedded in the audio tracks of movies and reproduce these at the desktop.

·         Stereo:  A basic standard, stereo speakers do an excellent job of reproducing music and basic audio at a very affordable price.  Setup is easy— just two speakers to plug in, and sit between them.  The stereo image lends a sense of direction to the sound and allows for basic effects.  For music playback or basic computing, stereo speaker are efficient and well priced.  They are sufficient for many games, though will not provide the most immersive listening experience. It is competent for basic gaming but not well suited to those seeking an in depth experience.

·         2.1 Speaker system: A cute way to say stereo plus a subwoofer, this is a format that expands on the concept of stereo speakers.  It adds a third speaker, usually a remote powered sub woofer that reproduces only the lowest frequencies.  The sub widens the frequency response of the system by providing the lows that small computer speakers can’t provide.  Well suited to music playback, the added frequency response ensures more accurate reproductions of everything from rock to techno to classical.  Also, a 2.1 system provides an entry-level game system that will still shake the table top some with added bass. 

Impedance, S/N Ratio & Output Power Surround Sound
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