Computer speakers are an essential component of today's desktop and laptop hardware. Whether in the form of external powered speakers or built-in speaker units, these devices provide users with essential feedback in the form of sound reinforcement. As a computer owner, understanding how your speakers function and what power they require ensures that you have all the resources you need to enjoy your hardware to its fullest extent.
Fortunately, identifying and mastering the functionality of the various types of speaker units in operation can be accomplished relatively easily.
The Basics of External Speaker Units
Generally speaking, there are four primary speaker configurations in use. Depending on an individual's specific needs, one of these four primary arrangements will likely fulfill all their audio needs. These four setups are: a two-speaker system, a 2.1 speaker arrangement, a 5.1 speaker arrangement, and a 7.1 speaker arrangement.
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For the vast majority of casual computer users, a two-speaker system more than meets their needs. Two-speaker systems provide an accurate stereo reproduction of sound, routing the original stereo audio signal to dedicated left and right speaker units. For the computer user, dividing the audio signal into these two channels creates an experience that adds vitality and immersion to games, films and other applications.
Because of their popularity, two-speaker systems are available at a variety of price points. Although two-speaker systems often lack the frequency range of larger, more elaborate speaker configurations, these devices still fulfill the requirements of most multimedia applications.
Advanced Speaker Configurations
Although two-speaker systems are popular, a significant number of computer users opt for more advanced speaker arrangements. In general, speaker systems that use more than two speakers are composed of satellite speakers and a subwoofer. The subwoofer represents the ".1" added to the number of satellite speakers being used. For example, in a 2.1 speaker arrangement, two satellite speakers are used in conjunction with a subwoofer. In a 5.1 speaker system, five satellite speakers are used in combination with a subwoofer.
It may initially seem that 2.1, 5.1 and 7.1 speaker arrangements can be used interchangeably with one another for the spectrum of computing applications being used today. Although this may be true, there are recommended uses for each of the aforementioned configurations.
2.1 Speaker Definition
The 2.1 computer speaker system commonly sold consists of two satellite speakers and a subwoofer. Given the small physical footprint of 2.1 speaker systems, these units represent the perfect balance of portability and functionality. Generally speaking, 2.1 speaker systems are ideal for individuals who primarily use their audio hardware to play music. Irrespective of the specific genre or music platform being used, 2.1 speaker systems are more than capable of providing excellent music playback.
5.1 Speaker Systems
In a 5.1 speaker system, five individual satellite speakers are paired with a subwoofer. Unlike a 2.1 speaker system, 5.1 speaker configurations are capable of providing surround sound. Larger configurations of speakers can also provide surround sound reinforcement, although they often require a larger financial investment. In many situations, individuals use 5.1 speaker systems for playing movies or video games on their computers.
Many video games are specifically designed to provide an immersive, surround sound-driven experience for players. Although 5.1 speaker systems include a significantly larger amount of hardware than two-speaker configurations, they can still be purchased at an affordable price point in popular electronics stores.
7.1 Speaker Arrangement
As the larger speaker configuration in use today, a 7.1 system includes seven individual satellite speakers and one subwoofer. The 7.1 systems are capable of a degree of sound precision that is rarely in use. Although these systems may be worth the additional investment for audio applications where such sonic clarity is possible, this particular speaker configuration is not often necessary.
In fact, 7.1 surround systems automatically revert to 5.1 surround audio when encountering audio programmed in more standard surround sound configurations. Anyone who is interested in 7.1 surround sound should know that these systems are typically more expensive than any of the configurations mentioned previously. Because of this, individuals may choose to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of 7.1 systems before making the financial investment.
The World of Sound Bars
A soundbar is yet another option available to individuals in the market for computer speakers. This innovative system provides accurate stereo reproduction of audio without requiring a large hardware profile. Given their relatively small physical dimensions, sound bars are often positioned on top of or directly under a display, allowing individuals to take advantage of excellent stereo sound reproduction while simultaneously minimizing general clutter.
Unlike the systems mentioned previously, which include multiple hardware units, a soundbar is an all-in-one system. Each of the satellite speakers is aligned within a sophisticated array that creates a highly immersive experience during use. In recent years, the price point for soundbars has dropped dramatically, making them an affordable and powerful solution for those who are seeking to create a home theater-like experience with their speakers.
Although soundbars pack an incredible amount of performance into a small hardware profile, these units typically do not feature the same level of audio clarity as traditional speaker systems at the same price point. This is primarily because soundbars do not include a subwoofer with their primary hardware unit, rendering playback of lower range frequencies impossible.
However, to overcome this particular issue, many soundbars being sold come equipped with a wireless subwoofer. In some situations, soundbars are complemented by multiple satellite speakers to optimize audio playback. Whether this system matches your specific expectations and preferences, however, is entirely up to you.
Powered vs. Non-Powered Speakers
In some situations, you may be required to purchase an additional amplifier to ensure that your speakers play audio successfully. These speaker units are often referred to as non-powered speakers. Non-powered speakers are typically considered to be more sophisticated than powered units, due in large part to the fact that individuals can customize the specific amp they are using to modify the final sound output.
That being said, powered speakers often win over customers because they act as an all-in-one system without requiring additional financial investment. For the majority of users, powered speakers are the preferred solution.
Wireless Speaker Systems
For many individuals, the ability to configure a speaker system that is free of annoying cables is a huge perk. Wireless speaker systems have become a popular item for individuals who are seeking to integrate audio solutions in a variety of environments seamlessly.
In many situations, wireless speakers connect to a computer using the Bluetooth communication protocol. Bluetooth is commonly found on the majority of modern computer hardware. After connecting to the computer, these speakers output any audio from the computer just as if they were connected by conventional cabling.
Some wireless speaker systems may opt to connect with your computer through your wireless network rather than Bluetooth connectivity. In situations such as these, it is important to make sure that the speaker system won't conflict with your internet connectivity during use.
Not only do wireless speaker systems connect to your computer through the internet or Bluetooth, but they also link with each other without the use of cords or cabling. This allows individuals to specifically tailor the physical setup of their speakers to their liking. For example, they can adjust the positioning of their wireless speakers to accommodate a larger group or to experiment with various forms of surround audio playback. The ability to customize your setup to this degree is a distinct perk of wireless systems and a huge advantage over traditional audio speakers.
Wireless speaker systems are the perfect solution for individuals using laptops who may need speaker reinforcement while they are traveling or on-the-go. Portable wireless speakers can be purchased relatively inexpensively through the majority of electronics retailers. You can buy wireless computer speakers at Walmart and various other popular shopping outlets.
Considering Your Options
With any of the speakers mentioned previously, you can not only integrate this hardware into your computer setup but also into your home stereo system. The majority of modern speaker systems are compatible with both televisions and stereos, meaning that the line of separation between a home stereo system and computer speaker setup has become virtually indistinguishable.
Your budget will most likely play a significant factor in your decision to purchase a particular computer speaker system. Before taking the leap and purchasing the latest and greatest speaker hardware, take a moment and clarify what your specific need is.
For example, are you planning on using your computer speakers to watch movies as part of a home theater setup? Or, are you looking for a lightweight system that you can transport with you? Are you looking for a system that will accurately output the immersive sonic environments in your video games, or are you more in the market for a straightforward stereo output?
Knowing specifically what you need to accomplish your goals with regards to your stereo system helps you avoid overspending on a system that you won't be using to its full potential.
Your stereo system represents a significant purchase and should be thoroughly researched before you make your financial investment.
Moving Forward With Your Purchase
Once you have decided which specific speaker system you want to purchase, you can begin the process of finding the best possible price. Depending on the size of your speaker system, you may benefit from shopping at traditional retail stores rather than online to avoid excess shipping costs. Generally speaking, however, you can expect to find the majority of popular speaker systems through both online and brick-and-mortar stores.
If you have any questions about computer speakers and general performance, you should take the time to ask an audio expert at any one of several electronics stores before committing to your purchase. Given the fact that some of these units can be quite expensive, it pays to take the time to resolve any nagging issues, concerns or questions you may have before you finalize your purchase and begin using your new gear. Audio professionals are more than happy to listen to your specific needs and walk you through various options that can meet and exceed your requests at the best price point possible.