SLIDESHOW

Review roundup: Computer speakers

Nine stereo speaker systems that give a boost to your Mac's audio.

Reviewed: Nine stereo speaker systems

Give the gift of better Mac audio with a set of computer speakers. You can use our computer speakers buying guide to help you choose a set. We’ve also gathered nine sets of 2.0 and 2.1 speakers priced from $100 to $300. All of these speakers are built for stereo sound replication. Read on to see how these models fare. (Product photography by Peter Belanger.)

Altec Lansing Expressionist Plus FX3021

The Expressionist Plus FX3021 (3.5 mice) is a 2.1 system, which means it uses relatively compact left and right satellites for higher frequencies plus a larger subwoofer/amplifier component for lower frequencies. Each satellite houses a single 2-inch driver, with the subwoofer/amplifier unit hosting a 5.25-inch woofer and providing 36 Watts of power—28 Watts to the sub and 4 to each satellites. The FX3021’s audio quality can’t compete with some of the better systems we’ve tested, but it’s pretty good for a $100 sub/sat system. You get plenty of treble detail, although the system is missing some richness and warmth in the midrange. As you might expect from a system with such a small woofer, bass and upper-bass response is a bit boomy, especially at louder volumes. Read the full review. [$100 (Compare latest prices); Altec Lansing]

Altec Lansing Expressionist Bass FX3022

The Expressionist Plus FX3022 (4 mice) is a 2.0 speaker system, meaning it uses only left and right speakers (no subwoofer). Usually, 2.0 systems don't provide the same kind of bass punch as a 2.1 system, but the FX3022 fares better at the low end than most 2.0 computer speakers. Midrange and treble are solid with good relative balance, letting vocals sound full and rich while preserving a good amount of detail. Treble fiends may find the higher frequencies to be a tad recessed, but most people will enjoy the presentation. Read the full review. [$130 (Compare latest prices); Altec Lansing]

Creative GigaWorks T40 Series II

Creative’s GigaWorks T40 Series II (4 mice) is the company’s top-of-the-line 2.0 system for computers, and it stands out for its size, audio quality, and flexibility. In addition to the miniplug audio port for connecting your computer, the T40 has a handy RCA-to-miniplug adapter for connecting the system to an audio source that uses standard left/right RCA cables, and a multi-pin jack that lets you connect Creative’s iPod Docking Station, a dock that features a wireless remote control, Creative’s X-Fi audio processing, and power to charge your iPod. The T40 II provides nice treble detail and strong midrange, along with surprisingly impactful bass for the system's size. Read the full review. [$150 (Compare latest prices); Creative]

Edifier E3350

With its unique design, Edifier’s E3350 (3 mice) is a budget-level 2.1 computer speaker system that tries not to seem like a set of budget speakers. It’s when you get to audio quality that the E3350 shows its budget-minded pedigree. While the system has good treble extension, there’s an emphasis in the lower-treble and upper-midrange frequencies that makes the system sound a bit tinny. The lower frequencies often sound boomy and muddled, especially at louder volumes. Read the full review. [$100 (Compare latest prices); Edifier]

Harman Kardon Soundsticks II

Harman Kardon’s SoundSticks II (4 mice) has been around for a good many years. But the fact that the SoundSticks II is still available says a lot about the system’s staying power—put simply, exceptional popularity has extended the SoundSticks II's shelf life. Part of this appeal is undoubtedly due to the SoundSticks II eye-catching design, but the system also offers impressive performance at a reasonable price. The SoundSticks II system provides very good sound quality, especially when it comes to treble detail and upper-midrange frequencies (surely due to the four-tweeter array in each satellite). Midrange performance is good, although slightly recessed compared to treble, especially at higher volumes. Read the full review. [$170 (Compare latest prices); Harman Kardon]

JBL Duet II

The Duet II 2.0 (3.5 mice) speakers stand out aesthetically, with each 10.4-inch-tall speaker comprising a thin, football-shaped body atop a 4-inch-wide base. The Duet II provides only a single audio input; if you want to connect your iPod and your computer without switching back and forth, you’ll need to get a switchbox of some sort. When it comes to audio quality, the Duet II are limited at the low end but sound pretty good otherwise, with detailed treble and clear, quality midrange. Without those lower frequencies, the lower midrange can sound a bit light, and on some tracks the treble can sound a bit too prominent, but overall I was surprised by how enjoyable the system was to listen to once I got past the lack of bass. Read the full review. [$100 (Compare latest prices); JBL]

Logitech Speaker System Z520

The Speaker System Z520 (3.5 mice) is the flagship 2.0 system in Logitech’s latest line of computer speakers. Each speaker is angled upward significantly so that when placed on a typical desk, the tweeters will be aimed directly at the ears of the listener. The overall sound quality of the Z520 is pretty good for a two-piece system, offering clear detail, decent midrange, and some bass punch. And with 26 Watts of power, the Z520 can easily fill a bedroom or office with loud, no-distortion audio. Where the system falls short is in tonal balance—a common shortcoming of 2.0 systems. Read the full review. [$130; Logitech]

M-Audio Studiophile AV 40

Studio monitors are powered speakers designed for use in recording and production studios. While professional studio monitors can cost well over $1000, M-Audio’s Studiophile AV 40 (4.5 mice) offers a taste of studio-monitor performance and features for only $200. The AV 40 is the best-sounding of the 2.0 speaker systems we’ve recently tested, producing realistic sound and good bass extension without sounding thumpy or boomy at normal listening levels. It also provides unusual flexibility thanks to three inputs, a convenient headphone jack, and the use of standard speaker cables. Read the full review. [$200; M-Audio]

Razer Mako

The Mako (4.5 mice) is a 2.1 speaker system with a design unlike that of any other 2.1 system we’ve seen. This odd design is a result of the Mako’s use of THX Ground Plane and Slot Speaker technologies—the Mako was designed jointly by Razer and THX. Inside each enclosure, the speaker drivers are oriented face-down and close to the bottom, forcing sound out the grille ring towards, and reflecting off of, the desktop or ground. The Mako’s sound quality isn't as accurate as I expected, but the system offers huge sound (including standout bass performance) that impresses from anywhere in the room. I also loved the Mako's unique touch-sensitive control pod. Read the full review. [$300 (Compare latest prices); Razer]