Q: I know computer speakers will never take the place of full-sized audio equipment, but I'm facing a situation where my listening will be centered around my office desktop computer. What can you recommend for this less-than-ideal scenario? I enjoy crisp and honest sound in my music, so I'm looking to make the best of this compromise.
A: Getting good sound from computer speakers might involve less compromise than you might think. As you have said, it is not ideal, but there are some very good computer speakers that provide a high-fidelity listening experience on your desktop.
Alas, that segment of the marketplace is kind of fickle, so some of the best speakers of the type are no longer available new. They are still available on the used market, so I will be recommending them as well as new models.
The best computer speakers have a USB connection for audio. They take a raw digital signal from the computer and convert it into sound. The conversion circuitry (called a digital-to-analog converter) in these speakers tends to be much better than that in the computer itself, which contributes to their excellent sound. My first two examples have USB connections, as well as the traditional miniplug connection.
Axiom Audio (axiomaudio.com) makes excellent computer speakers based on its award-winning home models. The Axiom M1 computer speakers sell for $499 and include a USB connection and 75 watts of power per channel. You even can pair them with a separately powered subwoofer.
One of my all-time favorite models has been discontinued, but with some searching, they can be found used on eBay and Amazon. Definitive Technology Incline speakers are a bipolar design that radiates sound from the front and back. They look like miniature versions of the monolith from "2001: A Space Odyssey," albeit tilted backward — hence the name Incline. Despite their small footprint, they make big, solid, well-defined sound that is rich and clear. Expect to pay $250 to $400 for a used Incline system.
My next two recommendations have standard miniplug inputs and connect to your computer using the audio output jack. The HiVi Acoustics Swan M200 Mk. II speakers are currently on clearance for $219 a pair, reduced from $299, by importer Chane Music & Cinema (chanemusiccinema.com). These are substantial, beautifully finished speakers that have a high-end sound very close to the Definitive Technology Incline. An even better version, the M200 Mk. III, also is on clearance for $379, reduced from $519. There are a few other Swan speakers on sale there, as well, though I have not heard them. I can certainly vouch for the M200 series speakers, though; I use them.
If you feel daring, try a Monsoon MH500 speaker system. This three-piece system uses planar magnetic drivers, like a high-end Magnepan speaker, paired with a subwoofer. When they came out in 2000, there was nothing else quite like them, and every reviewer I knew was using them. The Achilles heel of this system is the connecting cable, which has a volume control that can go bad. The sound is absolutely tremendous, beyond belief for the price, really. When they were discontinued, I bought an extra pair, and I still have them in reserve for a rainy day. A used MH500 system sells for under $50 on eBay (make sure it works before you buy it).
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.