Do I really need two or three separate boxes for just-OK computer audio?
March 12, 2009 8:53 AM   Subscribe

Do I really need two or three separate boxes for just-OK computer audio? I need some kind of speaker to hook up to my laptop-used-as-a-desktop, but having three or even two separate components is cumbersome. I also don't think I really need an expensive, fancy system.

The sound from this JBL Creature system has been fine, but now I need to use it for another purpose. It was always kind of a pain, anyway, because the sub woofer wouldn't fit on my crowded desk, and it houses the on/off control, so I'd have to crawl under my desk to turn off the power. (the power brick gets alarmingly warm, too, but that's another issue). I always kept the two little "stereo" speakers right next to each other, anyway -- I'm not looking for a "you are there" sound experience from my computer.

I'd love something smallish that will fit on my desk, ideally with a flat surface on top so I can stack something on it. I don't think I need a whole bunch of bass, but enough sound quality for movies and the occasional foray into music (I'm enjoying Admira's classical guitar tracks, thanks!) would be nice.

The speaker built into my tiny Thinkpad is too quiet to even hear most movies, so I need _something_.

I've tried shopping in a couple of local stores, but it seems like everything comes in sets of two, three, or even five separate speakers. Apparently, marketing departments everywhere think that all purchasing decisions are made by teenage boys.

I'd like to spend maybe $50 for something, or maybe a little more if necessary, but it seems like I should be able to find something for less -- used would be OK, even. Is this realistic?

Brand/model recommendations would be extremely welcome.
posted by amtho to Media & Arts (12 answers total)
If you want your sound in stereo, you need a minimum of two speakers. Movies and music designed for stereo--which is almost all of it--sound pretty bad without it. The sub, if you have one, should go on the floor, not on your desktop (if you need an easy way to switch it off, use a powerstrip). Most laptops have crumby speakers, so you'll either have to go with some outboard speakers or a set of headphones.

Those five-speaker setups (usually with a sub as well) setups are for people who want to recreate the whole cinematic experience. You're obviously not going for that, so you can safely ignore those and go for a pair of speakers or a pair + a sub. Bose makes this nice set for $90. There are probably cheaper options, too (and not everyone likes Bose).
posted by wheat at 9:15 AM on March 12, 2009

Searching, I found this Yamaha "one-box" speaker. You might want to do a search for "one box stereo" to find similar products? Yamaha also makes an even smaller one at a higher price point ($100).
posted by muddgirl at 9:17 AM on March 12, 2009

I really don't think I want stereo sound or a subwoofer. One not-too-tiny speaker with a good dynamic range should be sufficient.
posted by amtho at 9:17 AM on March 12, 2009

Thanks, muddgirl. I'm also trying a search for [single-box speaker]; so far, the Yamaha that you mentioned and a bunch of expensive/fancy systems are what I'm finding. Not giving up yet, though.
posted by amtho at 9:25 AM on March 12, 2009

I know you said you don't really want stereo or a subwoofer, but I still want to suggest you take a look at the Logitech Audio Hub. I have on for my laptop at work and it sounds really good. It's about 17 inches wide by about 4 inches tall and 4 inches deep. It plugs into a USB port on your laptop( and has 3 USB ports on it so you're not down one), and has a medium-sized wall-wart (roughly 1" x 2 " x 3") instead of a big power brick. It fits right behind my laptop so that only the 2 speakers are sticking out around the edges of the screen. The MSRP is $100 but they seem to go on sale for freaking 70%-80% off quite frequently.
posted by Liver at 9:45 AM on March 12, 2009

I was going to suggest a Tivoli radio, but they're pretty spendy.

One category of product you might want to check out: iPod docks. Even if you don't use an iPod—this just happens to be a really fertile category of gizmo. These are mostly self-contained units, and many have a line-in jack.
posted by adamrice at 9:46 AM on March 12, 2009

I've been using a Tivoli Model One for years as my computer monitor. Good looking, full sound, flat top, mono. The sound really reminds me of an old AM cabinet radio, rich and clear even at low volumes. Most of the music I listen to is old and originally recorded in mono anyway, but I have to say it also sounds for good playing back movies and stereo recordings too. You just lose the spacial stereoliciousness.

A little over your price range but it will last for years and can also be a great box for any room in the house, and it is a good value for its sound.
posted by quarterframer at 9:51 AM on March 12, 2009

It looks pretty awful, but I like buying computer speakers from goodwill or the salvation army, and then ductaping them together with the power supply. I make a little loop of ductape to use as the handle. They usually sound pretty darn good. Yamaha I think makes pretty decent speakers...other ones I've bought haven't been as good. Usually you could make it out for under $10. Don't get the ones that need a subwoofer, obviously. Just two stereo speakers. They are going to sound a whole lot better than your laptop, regardless.
posted by sully75 at 10:10 AM on March 12, 2009

These answers are awesome. Ranging from the cherry wood cabinet Tivoli (I do like this, thank you so much for bringing it to my attention, quarterframer) to the duct-tape cabinetted $10 goodwill solution (also has its place, thanks for the idea, sully75), with iPod docks thrown in for variety (there seems to be a Tivoli dock that might be super awesome), these are great possibilities. Thanks! More recommendations are welcome, too!
posted by amtho at 10:21 AM on March 12, 2009

Liver - do you know if one can hang the Logitech Audio Hub on the wall? This looks pretty cool, too, but I don't have that much desk space.
posted by amtho at 10:56 AM on March 12, 2009

I think it would be difficult to satisfactorily mount the Logitech Audio Hub on a wall because it is somewhat unusually shaped. When viewed from the side it has a parallelogram profile so it would lay awkwardly against the wall. You could possibly get away with mounting it so that the speakers fire downward. Depending on the wall you could mount a small shelf (need: 2 shelf brackets, 1 piece of wood for the shelf, and a few screws ) and sit the LAH on that. You might want to put up some more shelves anyway, if you have open wall. It sounds you could use some more space.
posted by Liver at 1:25 PM on March 12, 2009

This isn't what you asked for, but based on what you've written, you might want to look into a decent (~$40-50) pair of over-the-ear headphones. You can install a little hook underneath/on the side of your desk, so they take up zero space.

I know some people are more can-adverse than others, but dollar-for-dollar they're about a thousand times better than speakers. You can hear crazy nuance in music (even studio noise), every floor creak in a movie, and rip people to shreds in Call of Duty (followed shortly by their shrieks of "How did you know I was coming! That's some old bullshit!") - whatever your thing is, all while blocking out the world and not intruding on other people's aural space. Just a thought.
posted by McBearclaw at 1:25 PM on March 12, 2009

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