How Cheap Can You Actually Go on Computer Speakers?
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Getting top-of-the-line stuff is great. You can walk around knowing that you have the best thing available. In the case of computer speakers 7 Creative Projects to Repurpose or Recycle Old Speakers 7 Creative Projects to Repurpose or Recycle Old Speakers You probably have an old set of speakers lying in some corner. It doesn't matter whether they still work or not, there's a perfect weekend DIY project waiting for you. Read More , you’re looking at hundreds of dollars — no small strain on the budget. Yeah, you get incredible sound quality, but do you need it for the way you use a computer?

Today, we’re going to ignore all the expensive stuff and examine how cheap you can actually go for speakers that’ll get the job done. Will there be sacrifices? Of course, but we’re going to break down what you’ll lose with the cheap models and give you some solid examples out there that you can get without your wallet suffering.

What You’ll Lose

Unfortunately, speaker companies aren’t generous enough to just take their high-end models and stick them in a box for cheap. They want to make money, and in order to do so, features need to be removed. To put it simply, if you walk into your local gadget store and listen to a pair of $200 speakers and some of the $20-ish ones we’re looking at today, you will notice differences.

Most of the variations come in the form of sound quality How to Make Your Music Streaming App Sound Better How to Make Your Music Streaming App Sound Better Streaming music services generally don't sound as good as vinyl and CDs. Thankfully there are ways to make your streaming music app of choice sound better. Read More . In the world of audio, as price goes down, so does sound quality. After all, there isn’t much else that can be cut, as cheap speakers tend to look almost the same as the more expensive ones. You’ll notice the drop as you turn the volume up. However, for watching YouTube videos and browsing the web, you probably won’t need to go too loud. Typically, the dynamic range in cheaper speakers is such that distortion will occur when you go loud.

Loss of Lows and Mids

Cheaper speakers tend to focus their sound on mid-range, then highs, then lows. This is because it’s more difficult (and expensive) to produce clean sound on the low end. If you like bumping bass that doesn’t just sound like vibration, you’re going to be a bit disappointed. That’s why even mid-range speakers tend to include a separate subwoofer, as it’s almost impossible for tiny drivers to push any kind of bass. But again, for day-to-day computer usage (especially if you live in an apartment where thumping bass will make everyone mad), this shouldn’t be an issue.

Loss of Timbre

Now, the biggest sacrifice comes from timbre, which is how natural a speaker sounds. The easiest way to think about this is if you’re listening to music and the drummer hits the hi-hat and snare drum at the same time (which happens constantly in music), and you can distinguish the two sperate notes, your speakers have decent enough timber to create two different sounds. With cheaper speakers, you’re not going to get that clarity, but if you aren’t actually using them to learn to play songs by ear, you should be fine.

Loss of Build Quality

Outside of sound quality, you’re going to give up a little bit of physical quality (though build quality also impacts sound a bit, that matters more in the high-end space). Presumably, you’re going to be keeping these mostly stationary at a desk so you shouldn’t need to worry too much about breaking them. Just don’t go turning the volume to full blast, and look for speaker models from reputable brands with solid warranties Refurbished vs. Used vs. Certified Pre-Owned: Which Is Better? Refurbished vs. Used vs. Certified Pre-Owned: Which Is Better? If you want to save money on electronics, you should not buy them new. But what's the difference between pre-owned, refurbished, and used? Read More , and you’ll alleviate much of the risk.

Models to Look for Under $20

With the basics out of the way, it’s time to take a look at some actual speakers you can get in the $20 and less price range. Instead of focusing on the things you lose, let’s dig into what you get.

Logitech Z150

Logitech Multimedia Speakers Z150 with Stereo Sound for Multiple Devices, Black Logitech Multimedia Speakers Z150 with Stereo Sound for Multiple Devices, Black Provides an extensible design that enables Service prioritization for data Buy Now At Amazon $17.00

When it comes to PC speakers, you can’t find any kind of list that doesn’t include Logitech Speakers For PC Gaming: What To Know Before You Buy Speakers For PC Gaming: What To Know Before You Buy Quality speakers can make a game more immersive and even give you an advantage by making important audio cues easier to notice. Read More . The company makes everything from Surround Sound systems to little speakers like these. They promise 3W peak from each 2-inch driver. The important thing to note is that they come with a limited 2-year warranty from Logitech, so if they break, customer service will replace them. As for ratings, these have a 3.9-star rating, with one of the primary negatives being the short cable between the left and right speaker (you can’t remedy this, as they’re hard-wired into the speakers).

Cyber Acoustics CA-2050

Computer speakers, a powerful 2.0 desktop speaker system from Cyber Acoustics (CA-2050) Computer speakers, a powerful 2.0 desktop speaker system from Cyber Acoustics (CA-2050) Your best choice in desktop speakers, with an optimized listening experience for music, movies, gaming and all audio! Buy Now At Amazon $8.99

Cyber Acoustics is a brand that typically pops up in the cheap speaker space often, and this is about as cheap as you can get from them without getting speakers that sound like you just took an earbud and slapped it into a speaker housing. It comes with a shorter warranty of one year, but at $15, that’s not too bad. Additionally, they have a 4-star rating with many reviewers citing that they’re shocked by how good they sound Buying Wireless Speakers? How to Pick the Best System for You Buying Wireless Speakers? How to Pick the Best System for You Don't make an investment in a wireless speaker system without taking these considerations into account. A little bit of thought can save you a world of money, time, and trouble! Read More . Personally, I had a pair of cheap Cyber Acoustic speakers that lasted a bit over three years before the power cable stopped working (we’ll talk more about those in the next section).

Get That Subwoofer for Around $40!

Logitech Z213 or Logitech Z313

Logitech Multimedia 2.1 Speakers Z213 for PC and Mobile Devices Logitech Multimedia 2.1 Speakers Z213 for PC and Mobile Devices Down-firing subwoofer with adjustable bass control knob: Turn up the bass to add a deeper, richer low end to your music, movies and games Buy Now At Amazon $24.99

These are the cheapest model offered by Logitech with the added bass a dedicated subwoofer brings to the table. The reason I’ve listed two models is that the Z313’s MSRP is $50, but it’s almost never sold for that much on Amazon. As of this writing, it’s $33.99, so there’s no reason not to get it over the slightly less powerful Z213. However, in the event that the Z313 jumps back to $50, the cheaper one is still a very competent set of little speakers.

Cyber Acoustics CA-3000

Cyber Acoustics 2.1 Computer Speaker with Subwoofer - Best for Music, Movies, Multimedia PC and Gaming Systems (CA-3602 FFP) Cyber Acoustics 2.1 Computer Speaker with Subwoofer - Best for Music, Movies, Multimedia PC and Gaming Systems (CA-3602 FFP) Flat panel designed 3 piece stereo speaker system with subwoofer Buy Now At Amazon $39.99

This model from Cyber Acoustic is the cheapest set of speakers with a subwoofer you’ll find out there from a respectable brand. Like the model above, they come with a 1-year warranty. This is the cheap model I mentioned earlier, and as I said, I got about three years out of them. Sadly, I bought them from my local office store for $30 when I needed new speakers quickly. Even at that price, they did the job well, and I never felt like I overpaid.

Can You Spend Less?

“But I’ve seen computer speakers for like $10 on Amazon,” I hear you screaming at me. Yes, absolutely you can, but those models are going to be USB powered 12 Awesome Solar Powered Gadgets That Every Home Should Be Using 12 Awesome Solar Powered Gadgets That Every Home Should Be Using Solar power provides cleaner, more sustainable electricity, but few people can afford solar panels, and few power providers invest in solar power generation. It's time to take solar power into your own hands. Read More , and (in most cases), come from brands you’ve never heard of. There’s the Amazon Basics USB powered ones out there, but Amazon doesn’t readily display its warranty time, which is not usually something I’m too excited to see.

To put it simply, if you want speakers that’ll actually sound like speakers and not headphones with the volume turned up 3 Affordable Noise-Cancelling Headphones Every Student Should Consider 3 Affordable Noise-Cancelling Headphones Every Student Should Consider Noise-cancelling headphones can be just what you need in a plane to block out that low hum, or provide relief when the exams draw closer. Which should you buy? Here are some great choices. Read More really high, you’re going to want to drop at least $20 on a new pair.

On the other side, if you venture into the realm of buying used, then the world is your oyster! Run a search on your local Craigslist Get The Most Out Of Craigslist And Stand Out While Doing It Get The Most Out Of Craigslist And Stand Out While Doing It Craigslist has become the go-to site for anyone looking to buy, sell, hire, be hired, etc. However, at the same time, it has the reputation of attracting “sketchy” people. But this article isn’t just about... Read More for computer speakers, and you’ll probably find something like the Logitech Z333 for around $30-$40 (they’re $60 on Amazon for a new set). On eBay, it’s a bit like the Wild West, with many sellers looking to dump older models for more than they should go for. However, if you’re willing to dig in, you might find some solid deals that’ll give you higher-quality sound for around the same price as the speakers above, and of course, we can help with that 10 Tips to Shop on eBay Like a Boss 10 Tips to Shop on eBay Like a Boss These 10 eBay tips will help you optimize your searching and bidding to save you a lot of money on the items you're looking for. Read More .

Do you have any super cheap PC speakers you’d like to recommend? Share in the comments!

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  1. Ian Hart
    July 21, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Great advice, but unfortunately if you use the standard audio out port on your PC then you will almost certainly pick up interference from the various capacitors, circuitry etc, the signal has to travel across the motherboard. It's a shame as the audio has been enhanced via the chip on your board.
    The only way you'll ever achieve a decent sound is to invest in a dedicated sound card, that will have a decent D/A converter and audio I/O with full-size RCA connectors to link up to a high-end amp. The better the source, the better the reproduction. Avoid MP3's!!