One of these will tickle your fancy
While everyone seems to be obsessed with the latest wireless headphones or gaming headsets, there’s still a long list of reasons why you want a good set of dedicated PC speakers on your desk. Speaker technology has improved a lot over the years, and you don’t need to spend more than $100 to get speakers that offer great sound and room-filling volume. You might even get one or two bonus features in this budget range.
What to Look for in Computer Speakers
Every user has different needs when it comes to desktop speakers. For some, sound quality matters the most. Especially if you want to consume video games, music, or movies, if you wish to have decent volume and watch casual content such as YouTube videos, your priority might be space or design.
One important decision to make is whether you want a 2.0 or 2.1 setup. A 2.0 setup consists of two speakers that reproduce the entire audio range. These speakers often have two or three drivers, covering different frequency ranges. However, smaller or cheaper models may have one driver do all the work. A 2.1 speaker set includes a dedicated low-frequency subwoofer that provides punch and depth to the audio. However, this means you’ll need more space and more wiring.
Surround-sound PC speakers used to be more common, and they are still around today. However, few people have the space or need for them, and you certainly aren’t getting a good surround set for under $100. So we’ll focus solely on 2.0 and 2.1 products.
Customers looking for computer speakers aren’t always adding speakers to a system that doesn’t have them. All laptops and many computer monitors have integrated speakers. However, these sounds are generally muddy, low-volume, and unappealing. Even cheap computer speakers are likely to be better than almost any integrated model, except for specific high-end devices.
RMS (root mean square) and PMPO (Peak Music Power Output) ratings are often both quoted on the box. It’s RMS ratings that matter, rather than peak power. That’s the true sustained power of your speakers, and marketers like to inflate their numbers by using the essentially meaningless PMPO rating.
1. Best PC Speakers Overall Under $100: Creative Labs Gigaworks T20 Series II
- Great sound
Creative Labs are PC speaker royalty and have been around since the early days of computer multimedia. Even after integrated sound cards took over the market, the company has managed to survive on premium audio equipment for computer users.
The GigaWorks T20 Series II speaker set shows that Creative can also put some of its best ideas into affordable products.
The design of the T20 is just fantastic, in our opinion. They are eye-catching and manage to look modern while also mixing in a little 90s PC nostalgia somehow. Creative has used glass fiber material for the speaker cones, and their proprietary BasXPort technology just means that the speaker cabinet is ported to enhance low-frequency sound.
Of course, porting is common practice for all brands of speakers, but Creative’s angle here is that they’ve done the math and created acoustic porting that helps the T20 punch above its weight in the bass department and reduces the need for a woofer.
Whether they succeeded is a matter of personal opinion, but based on the reviews, the bass and midbass of these speakers are about as good as the laws of physics will allow, given the budget and size limit.
With 28W RMS (root mean square) of output power, they’re undoubtedly loud enough for most people, and we really like that Creative have put the auxiliary input and headphone jack on the front of the right speaker.
This makes it easy to hook up a smartphone or other device that needs quick access to good speakers. These offer a similar value proposition to the widely-lauded Bose Companion 2 Series III multimedia speakers, but at a fraction of the price.
2. Best Portable Laptop Speakers: Creative Pebble V2
- Compact and attractive
- USB Powered
With a few exceptions, laptop speakers are almost all terrible. You’d be better off using Bluetooth headphones, and that’s what most people end up doing. However, if you need to play sound out loud, such as in a small presentation or while watching a movie with someone else, you’re going to need speakers. If you’re away from your office or home desk, then those speakers have to be portable.
We think that the Creative Labs Pebble speakers fit the bill perfectly for laptop travel speakers. They are perhaps a little on the large side to go in your messenger bag but small enough to fit in your hand luggage. Best of all, you don’t need a separate power adapter. The Pebble speakers get their power directly from USB-C. That might be a problem for users who don’t have a USB-C port on their computers, but Creative already thought of that. A USB-A adapter is included in the package, along with an extended USB cable should you need one.
Sadly, the Pebble V2 only draws power from the USB port and doesn’t have a USB audio interface, so you’ll still have to use the 3.5mm aux input.
You can’t expect too much from speakers that only have a single tweeter-sized driver in them in terms of audio quality. Producing full-range sound from one driver is a challenge, but Creative Labs have tried to make the best of it.
To that end, the Pebble VR has passive radiators to help boost the low range and a 45-degree tilt to help widen the sound stage and make the audio a little richer. Just be sure to connect them to a USB port with at least 10W of power so that you get the total 8W RMS of sound on offer.
Users report that the Pebble V2 speakers have decent volume, no distortion issues, and offer great clear audio. If you’re looking for compact speakers that don’t need to travel with you, consider the Creative Pebble Plus 2.1, which adds a dedicated woofer to the setup and still comes in under $50.
3. Best Total Power: Cyber Acoustics CA-3908
- Powerful sound
- Great sound separation
Most of us don’t need compelling speakers to get a good experience from our computers, but if you need room-filling sound from your computer that sounds good at high volumes, the CA-3908 looks like it should be at or near the top of your shortlist.
Cyber Acoustics has chosen to outfit each satellite speaker with two 2” drivers so that they can split the work of producing high- and midrange sound. This is the right choice to get clear audio with no distortion since each speaker isn’t trying to square the circle of producing full-range audio using a single speaker cone.
The satellite speakers are also outfitted with passive radiators to produce a rich tone that should come across as quite premium to non-audiophile ears. Whether they meet the high technical quality of much more expensive speakers is, after all, less important than the subjective audio experience. Reading through user reviews, it seems that most people consider the output from the CA-3908 to be quality sound with a rich bass response and clear, powerful sound.
A dedicated 6.5” downward-firing subwoofer handles bass duties, and the whole speaker setup is rated for 48W RMS, which is a lot for a desktop speaker system. The last noteworthy feature of the CA-3908 speakers is the nifty volume control pod with a large volume knob. The pod can be put in easy reach and lets you control the volume level, attach your headphones and connect auxiliary audio sources.
This is a tremendous overall speaker system, but there are a few caveats. First, some owners report crackling problems developing with their speakers. Luckily, it’s easy to return them on platforms like Amazon, so there’s not much risk in taking a chance on quality control problems.
4. Best Looking Speakers: Edifier Exclaim
- Amazing design
- A 2.0 system with actual subwoofers
It’s not the most admirable thing to focus on looks, and the Exclaim speakers are actually good, but just look at them. There’s something to be said for a design that delights the eye and serves as a conversation starter. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but it’s hard to imagine anyone disagreeing that the Exclaim is at least fresh and exciting.
The unique design of the Exclaim has a practical purpose. The upper part of each speaker unit contains two 1.5” drivers to handle high- and midrange frequencies. There’s also a three-inch passive radiator in each upper portion to enhance the richness of the sound.
Within the base of each speaker unit resides a three-inch woofer, neatly solving the lack of woofers in 2.0 speaker systems. Of course, two three-inch woofers are not as good as one six-inch woofer. Since they physically can’t achieve the same frequency response. However, it’s miles ahead of what 2.0 systems with only small full-range drivers can achieve.
5. Best for Music Lovers: Edifier R1280T Powered Bookshelf Speakers
- Classic woodgrain design
- Specific music tuning perfect for music lovers
Bookshelf speakers are a class of speakers that aren’t specifically designed for PC use but are suitable for certain types of users. They are generally larger than computer speakers, but they are intended to be put on a bookshelf, mantle, or desk.
Make no mistake, these are hefty speakers, and they aren’t explicitly designed for computers. However, apart from the dual RCA inputs you’d expect on speakers like these (for vinyl record players and other HiFi equipment), there are also two aux inputs. That means you can quickly hook up a computer and use these as your stereo speakers.
These are not for gamers or those who need sound tuned for movies. Instead, they are tuned to provide precise, balanced music reproduction. This is the audio tuning that audiophiles look for, and it’s impressive to get such music-focused speakers under our $100 budget. However, they are bumping up against it.
Suppose you are willing to go another $70 over budget. In that case you may want to opt for the R1700BTs, which offer Bluetooth connectivity—a useful feature for bookshelf speakers that you may want to set up at greater distances from you.
6. Best for Space-Saving: Logitech Z130 Compact Laptop Speakers
- Significantly better sound than integrated speakers
For many users who want better sound than they can get from the tiny built-in speakers in their laptops, space is at a premium. If you don’t have a whole desk or need space to do other types of work, such as drawing, you need small speakers that won’t take up much space when your laptop is tucked away.
Logitech has an excellent reputation in the PC speaker market, or at least at one point they were the go-to company for quality speakers at reasonable prices. We don’t think that’s changed. It’s just that speakers aren’t the mainstream peripheral they were in the past. Nonetheless, Logitech has poured premium speaker-making knowledge into these tiny laptop-focused speakers to offer a 5W RMS of solid sound without eating up the available room.
The main reason these didn’t get our nod for the best laptop speakers is that they aren’t USB-powered and aren’t portable. You need a power outlet to make them work, which means they are best left as part of your docking station set up for when you’re home with your laptop.
7. Best Budget 2.0 Speakers: Creative Inspire T10 2.0 Multimedia Speaker System with BasXPort Technology
- Separate tweeter
- BasXPort technology
- Great sound for the price
The T10 speakers are the cheapest in the T-series, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t any good! These are fantastic primary 2.0 speakers perfect for adding good audio to a laptop or shared family computer.
The T10s look great in almost any setting. Creative hasn’t gone overboard here, sticking with clean lines, black and silver trim, and a timeless look that’s neither futuristic nor retro.
At this price, you’re not going to get a two-driver speaker system, but Creative has added a dedicated tweeter to each speaker so that you’ll get a clear separation between the mid and treble sound frequencies.
Of course, like a 2.0 speaker system, you don’t get a dedicated subwoofer, but Creative has used their acoustic math (in the form of BasXPort) to create a ported speaker cabinet that boosts lower frequencies from the main driver.
While Creative (and every other speaker maker) claims that this means you don’t need a subwoofer for deep bass, there’s still no substitute for a dedicated bass unit. If you’re on a very tight budget or just don’t have the space for a subwoofer, then the T10 are great general-purpose multimedia speakers.
8. Best RGB Light Show: Redragon GS520 Anvil RGB Desktop Speakers, 2.0
- Great aesthetics
- Perfect companion for gaming headset users
Gamers. We love them, we ARE them, but some video game enthusiasts sure have an unhealthy enthusiasm for RGB lighting in their computers and peripherals. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does mean diverting part of your gaming PC budget to paying for pretty lights that don’t make your computer go any faster.
That’s where the Redragon GS520 Anvil comes into the picture. This extremely affordable speaker pair comes with RTB LED lights arranged in a brutal slash across the “urban” speaker design.
You can be forgiven if you have never heard of Redragon. The company appeared out of nowhere with a wide range of cheap gaming peripherals, such as mechanical keyboards and gaming mice.
We were skeptical at first, but it turns out that Redragon makes some decent stuff for the money. If you’re a gamer on a budget and want attractive speakers with clear sound, this is a great choice. Since most gamers use headsets while playing, the GS520s are perfect for listening to Discord chats or watching walkthroughs on YouTube between gaming sessions.
9. Best for Budget Music Producers: Mackie CR-X Series
- Tuned for content creation
- Multiple inputs
- Neutral sound
Mackie may not be a brand with a lot of recognition in mainstream computing, but for musicians and music producers, Mackie is one of the most respected audio gear makers.
Tese CR-X monitors aren’t meant for playing video games or consuming other mastered audio sources. Instead, they are “monitors” built to have a flat, neutral, and balanced sound suitable for mixing and producing music or audio tracks of your own.
This is what’s meant by “studio quality” sound. The audio is a good reflection of what it sounds like without being colored through the speaker’s construction and tuning.
What’s amazing is that Mackie has managed to put this speaker system out for only $100. Even entry-level monitors cost hundreds of dollars, and mainstream professional monitors quickly have a price range of thousands of dollars. If you’re starting in music production or creating YouTube videos with a good audio mix, this is a great place to start.
If you have a slightly higher budget, Mackie makes versions of the CR-X speaker with Bluetooth and USB audio interfaces. You can also get them in larger sizes, up to eight inches, with a dedicated subwoofer.
10. Best Bluetooth PC Speakers: Creative T15 Wireless Bluetooth 2.0 Computer Speaker System
- Dedicated tweeters
- Slick design
- Bluetooth support
- BasXPort technology
The last speakers on this list are yet another member of the Creative T-series of speakers. This just goes to show that Creative still knows what PC users want from their speakers.
The main feature we’re interested in here is support for Bluetooth devices. Since these are also Bluetooth speakers, you can easily port audio from your phone or tablet through them as needed.
At first glance, these may simply seem like the T10s with Bluetooth added, but they have significantly different designs. The T15 looks more modern and lacks the speaker grill of the T10s.
The T15s feature a dedicated tweeter in each speaker to handle treble sound and a BasXPort in each speaker cab to boost the bass coming from the driver. Therefore, you can expect sound at least as good as the T10s, but with a more attractive facade and wireless audio.
Usually, the T15 is a reasonable $20 more expensive than the T10s, but we’ve seen the T15s drop down to T10 prices before. So if you’re going to buy the T10s, check the current price tag on the T15s first.
For the Love of Good Sound
Every speaker we’ve highlighted here provides a different listening experience for just about every use case. From studio monitors to compact laptop speakers, there’s something for everyone, even if you only have $100 or less to spend.
If separate speakers aren’t the right fit for your desired sound system, don’t forget to check out our best PC soundbar roundup for the best single-unit sound solution.