Though nothing can compare to a full home theatre system, we’ve found that getting a decent set of desktop speakers for your computer can wildly enhance your enjoyment of time spent sitting at the glowing box that loves you. Music for your home office is better, podcasts come through clearer, games are more immersive, YouTube clips aren’t nearly as muddled, and movies you stream to avoid writing listicles about the best desktop speakers are far more engaging with good audio. If you’re still using whatever came out of the box with your machine, it’s time to fix your life.
In selecting quality desktop speakers, we aimed for those that didn’t require a separate amplifier to get good sound, since that opens up a whole new range of problems. We wanted simple, plug-and-play options that had high clarity, good sound, easy setup, broad ranges, and managed to keep their footprint to a minimum. After all, a giant set of bookshelf speakers will sound great, but you won’t be able to use your desk. When the noise subsided, only the 9 best desktop speakers under $500 were left.
Logitech Speaker System Z323
If your budget is heavily constrained, and you can live without room-filling sound, Logitech has again swooped in to save you. For the money, you won’t find anything that produces the same quality, or has the additional subwoofer to help get those low down, dirty notes just right. The angled build puts audio right in your listening sweet spot when placed below your head, and you’ll get great balance across the range. They’re even small enough to accommodate a compact space. Purchase: $45
As with many small speakers that aren’t outfitted with a subwoofer, the sheer size limits how much bass you’re going to hear and feel, but with these focusing heavily on the mid-range with a special penchant for keeping vocals on pitch, you won’t miss the bumping too badly. Loads of rear connections allow you to tune in and turn on easily, and a handy aux front input lets you hook in outside audio sources without needing to dig the speakers out of their vaunted position. An easy, enjoyable upgrade at a price that’s frankly shocking for the level of quality. Purchase: $100
Harman Kardon Soundsticks III
We had our doubts with HK first released their Soundsticks, as they opted to go with a range of small speakers backed by a sub, rather than the more traditional tweeter and mid. We needn’t have fretted then, and they’ve only gotten more adept with time. Quite the lookers and able to use the combined speaker array to find notes and harmonies that other speakers missed, just wait until the beat drops on that down-firing sub. Purchase: $150
M-Audio BX5 Carbon
On-board amps for each speaker and a vented bass port at the back should hint at exactly how much sound this sound chucker can chuck. The Carbon is a monitor, rather than a standard speaker, so it doesn’t smooth out rough sounds as well as many of the competitors, but rather brings true audio to life, ringing, sharpness, warts and all. They have a massive soundstage that’s excellent for deep audio that will allure the mediaphile who wants to get into movies as much as music. One is all you need, though note the lack of RCA plugs if that’s what your rig requires. Purchase: $150
Klipsch ProMedia 2.1
If you find yourself longing for a wireless, Bluetooth speaker that can work on your desk or be picked up to go where you do, then the smart sound and sleek connections that come with the ProMedia line should suit you. These are outfitted with Klipsch’s MicroTractrix Horns, which have clarity to spare, even while using the wireless setup, and the 200-watt sub lands hot and heavy when you need it to. Purchase: $179
Edifier e25 Luna Eclipse
We love smart sound, and the Eclipse is brighter than most. You can put them into an existing audio setup to augment your existing noise profile, then move them over to pair with your computer for a whole lot of loud in a small package. Ignore the delicate space-age look, as these little eggs have bass to throw around, with silk-domed tweeters that love to get high. You can even get them in a set of sexy colors to offset or enhance your decor. Purchase: $200
Coming on the heels of the dynamic success that marked the original A2, the A2+ continues the tradition of audiophile-grade sound that doesn’t come with an overblown price tag. Demure at about half a foot tall with a look that rises up to be uninspiring, the lack of fluff is precisely what you want, since the quality is all beneath the surface. The USB digital converter is smart, as is all the connectors which reduces interference and degradation in the electrical system. Providing a clean sound that polishes up sketchy camera audio and badly rendered mp3s, the lack of bumping bass is the only slight gap to be had. Purchase: $249
Known more for their odd speakers, Edifier has proven here that they can do normal better than most. Though these run a little large, that extra size results in noticeably superior audio that has a deeper baseline than most anything you’ll be putting on your workstation. They’re also specifically designed for sitting on a desk, as the upward sweep points them right at your listening holes, which means less volume is required to get your sound delivered where it needs to hit. A bit of bark bloats the bass, but the rest of the wide range rings true and delightful. Purchase: $250
If you want a pair of desktop speakers that will make aural love to you almost as well as a bigger theatre system, these are the way to go. Though the woofer is a scant 4″ in diameter, it’s fiberglass which allows it to push punishing amounts of power for responsive sound that can’t be matched without adding a whole lot more cash to the entry fee. You’ll also have loads of connectivity options, from Bluetooth to subwoofer outputs, which flexes to meet your setup, big or small. Purchase: $399