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If someone asked me what’s the best all-around buy in a 2.0-channel computer or desktop speaker system today, I’d recommend the M-Audio Studiophile AV 40. We won't be able to do a new round of testing until early 2016, but we continue to stand by the M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 as our top pick. We're going to be doing a new round of testing by the end of the year to see if any new models can compete with our current picks.
We're going to be doing a new round of testing in the next month or two to see if any new models can compete with our current picks. We anticipate new 2.1 channel speaker systems debuting at CES in January 2015, and will be updating this guide shortly thereafter. Since publishing this guide, we've been using the M-Audios for more than 80 hours and have experienced no problems with them at all.
After looking at new competition, we've changed our pick from the Audyssey Media Speakers to the M-Audio Studiophile AV 40.
Audyssey PR told us that they have no plans to continue manufacturing these speakers in the near future. There's a Bluetooth version of these speakers that produce sound that's almost as good, but they cost nearly twice as much.
That said, the AV 40s can be a bit large and not very nice to look at, so we have some alternative picks as well. Unfortunately, while all these speakers have okay bass response, if you want really big bass, you’ll probably want a 2.1 system, which will include a separate subwoofer. If you do anything with your computer that involves audio…you’re much better off with one of these two-piece systems. But if you’re a casual listener who just wants to play your favorite tunes or podcasts, a home Bluetooth speaker might be a better choice.
We’d previously selected the Audyssey Media Speakers as our top pick in computer speakers, but the company has discontinued that model.
To get to these candidates, we first had to come up with some criteria to narrow down the field from dozens of possibilities. First of all, we decided to focus this piece on a simple 2-channel system because it doesn’t make sense to directly compare systems with subwoofers to ones without. The only must-have features for a computer speaker are a volume control and a line input, which connects to either the headphone output on a computer, smartphone, tablet, or other source, such as a TV’s audio output.
Because these speakers can connect to most audio sources, you can use them for more than desktop audio.
We figured anyone who cares about the sound of their computer speakers would be willing to spend at least $100 on them and that only the most devoted desktop audio enthusiasts would want to spend more than $300, so we narrowed our search to models in the $100 to $300 price range. We figured the main criteria most buyers seek in computer speakers is sound quality, so we focused on that.
The AV 40s were one of the least expensive models we tested, yet no other speakers came close to the sound quality and value they offer. In our tests, no other computer speaker came close to offering the combination of sound quality and value we found in the M-Audio Studiophile AV 40. Will largely agreed: “The bass is somewhat boosted, but still, it seemed to have the most even balance of highs, mids, and lows. I was immediately taken with the AV 40, amazed at how flat its frequency response sounded (except for that mild bump in the bass that Will noted), and how loud it could play without distortion.
I should note that the Studiophile AV 40 is a hybrid design intended as much for use as a studio recording monitor as it is for desktop use. Here I should note that the Studiophile AV 40 is a hybrid design intended as much for use as a studio recording monitor as it is for desktop use. It has a convenient front volume knob, but the power switch is on the back of the left speaker, which is a bit inconvenient. Other reviewers generally agree that the Studiophile AV 40 is a solid buy. CNET’s Steve Guttenberg said “[t]hey sounded bigger, delivered more bass, and played louder than the other PC speakers we had on hand,” and rated them four out of five stars. Even with the cost of the warranty factored in, these still cost less than half as much as anything that will give you similar sound quality.
The Audioengine speaker set is one-third the size of our main pick, but it can’t play as loud or as deep. Lauren seemed to like the A2+ a little more than the AV 40 overall but picked the AV 40 because of its price and greater bass output. Will listened to more R&B—and more deep bass notes—than Lauren did, and while he thought that the A2+ had the clearest mids and highs, the best stereo imaging, and the biggest stereo soundstage, he said, “Unless you’re very close to the speakers, it lacks adequate volume. Voices and most instruments sounded extremely natural, and overall the A2+ performs like a real high-end stereo speaker. The Grace Digital speakers have somewhat tinny highs and an artificial-sounding upper midrange, but they do have Bluetooth. If you really want the convenience of Bluetooth so you can stream wirelessly from your smartphone, tablet, or computer, we can’t blame you. Lauren ranked the GDI-BTSP201 below the M-Audio AV 40 and Audioengine A2+, criticizing it for tinny highs, but still rated it third overall. The Edifier Spinnaker E30 has one of the most exotic designs of any desktop speaker system, looking more like a pair of rhino horns than speakers.

Lauren described the Spinnaker’s sound as “not bad,” but complained that the treble sounded a little soft.
The Bose Companion 20 didn’t impress us; we found the sound dull compared to all of the top-ranked speakers in this test. The Creative GigaWorks T40 Series II made the cut because it’s well-liked by Amazon user reviews—it has a score of 4.3 averaged over 310 reviews.
The Edifier Eclipse looks super-cool and is reasonably priced, but I found the bass performance weak and noticed a big spike in the treble response that was a real dealbreaker.
Emotiva’s Airmotiv4 was one of the top picks in our last ranking of computer speakers, but at the time we did the test the manufacturer was deciding the future of the model, and we didn’t want to risk recommending something that might not be around for long. Logitech’s Z600 easily sounded the worst of all 11 speakers we tested: barely any bass and raspy, shrill mids and highs.
PSB’s Alpha PS1 gets raves from some audio enthusiasts, but in our blind test we were less impressed with it than we were with the M-Audio AV 40 and Audioengine A2+, especially later, when we considered the $299 price. To set up our blind test, I first broke in each of the 11 computer speaker systems with pop music for 10 hours. All of the speakers were wired through their line inputs into my testing switcher, which allowed me to match the listening level for all of the speakers. I also did lab measurements of all the speakers mentioned here (except the Harman Kardon Nova, which I couldn’t get working).
This was an easy decision because the M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 sounded so good and cost so little. We actively moderate the comments section to make it relevant and helpful for our readers, and to stay up to date with our latest picks.
The Wirecutter and The Sweethome are lists of the best gadgets and gear for people who quickly want to know what to get. Since 1989, Wirecutter home audio editor Brent Butterworth has reviewed thousands of audio products and conducted hundreds of comparative tests.
We held a blind listening panel to find out it offers sound that’s competitive with everything we’ve heard under $300, yet it’s readily available for just $119. We still think that the Audioengine A2+ and Grace Digital GDI-BTSP201 are great picks, although we realize that they might have unnecessary features or cost too much for some readers. We'll keep testing them for long-term reliability and will report back periodically with our findings. We didn't run into any issues while testing the pick, but will keep using the M-Audios for longer to see if we do. The Audioengine A2+ is sleekly designed, super-compact, and sounds fantastic, although it isn’t real loud and doesn’t have a lot of bass. Because you can separate the speakers, you’ll get a much better stereo effect than you can with any all-in-one audio system. Most Bluetooth speakers are one-piece designs with rechargeable batteries built in so you can carry them around easily. Also, many new models have been introduced since our last article on this subject, and some had received few or no reviews from major publications. Some desktop speakers augment the main input with other options such as a Toslink optical jack, USB digital audio jack, or a front 3.5 mm input jack. They can serve as music systems and TV sound systems in small dens and bedrooms, as long as you have only one or two sources you want to connect. There are countless inexpensive plastic computer speakers selling for $50 or less, but we haven’t yet heard one that’s good enough to please anyone who’s even slightly serious about audio. With one possible exception, it equaled or bested the sound quality of any other speaker we tried. I normally use a $1,260 pair of Genelec monitors for recording projects, but I expect I could work with the AV 40—especially considering it’s about one-tenth the Genelecs’ price. There are a lot of user reports of these things starting to break after about a year and a half — enough to make us concerned considering the fact that the warranty lasts only one year.
On the off chance that yours does crap out down the road, you’ll still come out ahead in terms of sound quality and price by buying another pair of these, compared to buying a different set of speakers. At just 6 x 4 x 5.25 inches (HWD), it’s only one-third the size of the AV 40, so it’s more practical for the average desktop.
Our two top picks in computer speakers lack Bluetooth, but we did find a couple of pretty good systems that include it. Will lauded the GDI-BTSP201 for its “very big sound,” but thought the upper midrange sounded artificial and hyped-up.
Still, though, the Grace Digital system has decent sound, a great design, and a fair price. So if you want to make a statement with your desktop speaker system, the Spinnaker is your baby. It’s the only system here with a Toslink optical digital audio input (good for use with TVs), and it has a cool wireless remote that turns the unit on and off and controls volume.
But Will liked it even better than the M-Audio AV 40, applauding its “velvety sound” although he, too, wished for a little more treble. It’s one of the three models I pulled from the comparison before it even got to the listening panel.

First, the umbilical cord connecting the two speakers uses a fragile connector similar to the hated S-video connector of the pre-HDTV days, but with even more tiny pins. Given the reputation of this speaker, I wondered if we might have missed something or if something might have been wrong with the test sample.
I gave all of the systems a long listen, and culled what I thought were three definite non-winners so we’d have two groups of eight. Playing a pink noise test tone from my iPod touch, I measured and matched the sound pressure level of each speaker system at roughly the head height of a seated listener using an NTI Minilyzer audio analyzer and an NTI MiniSPL test microphone, then confirmed the level match through listening. All speakers were covered with thin black fabric so Lauren and Will couldn’t tell which was which, and for that matter, they weren’t even informed as to the brands and identities of the speakers. But would we put the bulky, plasticky-looking AV 40 on our sleek executive desks (if any of us had sleek executive desks)? The Audioengine A2+ is super-compact and sounds fantastic, although it doesn’t play very loudly and doesn’t have a lot of bass. When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we earn affiliate commissions that support our work. We select each pick with the utmost care, relying on expert opinion, research, and testing. He also reviews for SoundStage and Home Theater Review, and has been editor-in-chief of Home Theater and Home Entertainment, contributing technical editor for Sound & Vision magazine, senior editor of Video, reviews editor of Windows Sources, and marketing director for Dolby Laboratories. However, until we have the time to do a new round of testing on the latest computer speakers—including the replacement for our pick, M-Audio's AV 42—we will not have a best pick for most people. The Grace Digital GDI-BTSP201 sounds good (although not as good as the AV 40 or the A2+) and adds Bluetooth wireless plus a user-friendly design and control layout.
And I’ve also done lab measurements of hundreds of speakers; here’s an easy-to-understand primer (PDF) I wrote on that topic. You can use conventional speakers (like our pick for best budget bookshelf speakers) in a desktop or computer audio system if you add some sort of amplifier, but having the amp built in minimizes desktop clutter.
Some add features such as Bluetooth, a headphone output, a subwoofer output, or a desktop remote control. We’ve been testing these more for than 80 hours (and counting) and have experienced no problems with them whatsoever.
In fact, he said the combination of the sound and the design made the Spinnaker the one he’d buy. I then placed the eight remaining systems in groups of four atop two 32-inch-wide, 28-inch-high MDF stands I built for speaker comparisons, with the fronts of the speakers positioned so they were 15 inches from the wall behind them. For each testing session, I changed the order of the speaker presentation and re-matched the levels.
For most of our listening, we sat 6 feet from the speakers, although we occasionally moved closer to see what they’d sound like from close-up. The Grace Digital GDI-BTSP201 sounds good (although not as good as the AV 40 or the A2+) and adds Bluetooth alongside a friendly design and control layout.
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The Edifier Spinnaker has a cool, cutting-edge design with a handy wireless remote, Bluetooth, and pretty good sound. Computer audio systems are usually a pain to move around; most have a separate power supply and wired connections to the computer and from speaker to speaker.
However, if this really concerns you, we recommend the optional two-year warranty that Amazon offers for an additional $12. But it can’t play as loud or as deep as the AV 40, mostly because each A2+ has a 2.75-inch woofer.
It certainly had more than I expected from 2.75-inch woofers, but still, most of my deep-bass test tracks overwhelmed it, even when I was sitting just 3 feet away with the volume turned down a bit.
It’s a nicely designed set of two-way minispeakers with convenient controls on top of the right speaker.
I generally agree with the way Will and Lauren described the sound, and I’ll add that that the bass from the Spinnaker’s 4-inch woofers sounded weak compared to several of the other speakers we tested.
I didn’t know which system was which when I plugged the cables into the switcher, so this was a blind test.
Will used his HTC One phone as his source, Lauren used her iPhone, and I used both my iPod touch and a laptop computer with a Musical Fidelity V90-DAC USB digital-to-analog converter. I also found that the other speakers easily played 3 to 6 decibels louder; at 6 feet, the A2+ simply doesn’t produce enough volume. Lauren had a sample of the Nova and found that it always stayed in Bluetooth pairing mode, such that she was scared out of her wits when an old Genesis tune from her neighbor’s phone suddenly started blaring from the Nova.
My preference varied depending on the music I played, but I settled on speaker #1, which lacked a little in the upper bass and wasn’t quite as smooth in the treble, but had the clearest midrange and the smoothest response overall.

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