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, 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. 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, 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.
When it comes to PC speakers, you can’t find any kind of list that doesn’t include Logitech. 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 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. 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!
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.
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, 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 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 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.
Do you have any super cheap PC speakers you’d like to recommend? Share in the comments!