While most users tend to prefer a reliable headset for PC gaming (see our ), nothing beats a trusty set of speakers when you’re in the mood for room filling sound and ground shaking bass. Not to mention even the best headsets can become uncomfortable over extended gaming sessions.
Some would argue a headset is required for PC gaming, especially when it comes to first person shooters where accurately identifying the direction of a sound can mean life or death. But in-game communication requirements aside, a good set of speakers can actually be more than sufficient. We’ve spent a good portion of the last month upsetting our neighbors while testing a mountain of options to find the best speakers for PC gaming. Here’s what made the cut.
The best low budget speakers
When you’re out shopping for cheap PC speakers below $50, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the choices out there. It also doesn’t help much when reliable brands have multiple options in the same price range. The differences between the multiple low-end speakers we tested were minimal, but the Creative A250 2.1 Speakers stood apart from the competition with big sound despite their compact size.
With a total power output of 9 watts, we were blown away to see the speakers pumping out crisper audio than some of their competitors using two to three times the amount of power. While they won’t produce the highest volume of sound, we found little distortion with the volume cranked all the way up. Despite being smaller and lower powered than a few of the other options we tried, such as the Cyber Acoustics CA-3602 or the Logitech Z313, the A250 subwoofer actually provided clearer lows. The only complaint here is a lack of bass control to complement the convenient volume knob located on the right speaker.
Wherever the A250 speakers lacked in volume, they made up for in clarity. This is why we highly recommend these speakers for students on the go. Pictured above with my 13″ ultrabook, the speakers are small enough to fit on any cramped desk surface. They’re easily the most portable 2.1 system we tried and perform best in a smaller bedroom or dorm.
Like any other pair of speakers below $50, the Creative A250 2.1 Speakers are easily beat when compared to a mid-range set. If you’re willing to spend a bit more for a quality speaker system, the results when gaming can be very rewarding. But for gamers on a budget, we found these speakers to be the clear winner.
The best mid-range speakers
- Excellent audio clarity
- Unique design
- Bluetooth support
When building a gaming PC or upgrading a battle station, speakers typically aren’t very high on the priority list. But jumping from the integrated set of speakers on your monitor to a $200 pair of external speakers can actually give you a sound quality boost similar to the performance increase you’d see when switching from integrated to discrete graphics. When moving on with our tests from our low budget speakers to the Harman Kardon SoundSticks, the difference was night and day.
Priced at $169.95 for the standard SoundSticks III and $229.95 for the SoundSticks Wireless with Bluetooth connectivity, the price tag on our top choice for mid-range speakers can be a tough pill to swallow. But when you consider their one-of-a-kind design and equally satisfying performance, these speakers are a worthwhile investment and great addition to any battle station. Among our speaker tests within the same range, the SoundSticks excelled in audio clarity with little distortion even when cranked to uncomfortably high volumes.
With four full-range drivers on each satellite, the speakers offer tremendous sound while remaining deceptively minimal. Even at lower volumes they were more than enough to fill the room with clear audio. You can even adjust the angle of the satellites to further optimize the sound direction. While the low-end performance of the subwoofer was slightly lacking in comparison to the Klipsch Promedia 2.1 speakers we tested, the exceptionally crisp audio from all types of music and game sounds made it difficult for us to pass up the SoundSticks.
Our only complaint with the speakers are the capacitive touch volume buttons located on one of the satellites. Unless you have sound playing, there’s no way to know how the volume adjustments are going. And if you want to adjust the bass level, you have to go to a different location and find the knob on the back of the subwoofer. It’s a minor inconvenience when we consider the added benefits of the Bluetooth support in the SoundSticks Wireless.
Unlike most Bluetooth speakers, the SoundSticks enter and stay in pairing mode as soon as they’re turned on. This made it easy for us to switch between audio sources at any time without having to touch the speakers. We also noticed little loss in sound quality up to the 30ft recommended range.
With their satisfying lows and crystal clear mids and highs, the SoundSticks were our favorite choice for PC gaming. But for big budget audio purists looking for the best of the best, the performance and expandability of powered bookshelf speakers or studio monitors are tough to beat.
The best high end speakers
- Extensive connectivity options
- Built-in amplifier
- Studio grade audio
- Large for most desks
Most users couldn’t imagine spending upwards of $500 on a PC speaker system, but audiophiles crave the high end like any PC gamer lusts for the best graphics cards. High end desktop speaker systems are typically composed of powered monitors and a separate subwoofer. And while many of them offer exceptional sound clarity, we found them lacking in consumer-friendly features PC gamers would benefit from. That is until we tested the Klipsch R-15PM powered monitors.
With up to five input options including Bluetooth, USB, 3.5mm AUX, digital optical, and analog RCA / phono, the R-15PM is the most versatile set of speakers we’ve tested. A small remote allows you to plug in multiple sources at once and switch them on the fly. The built-in amplifier eliminates the need for an external DAC to help keep your desk clean and allows you to forgo the a/v receiver when used in the living room.
On their own, the speakers already delivered consistent robust sound in all ranges. But once we added the Klipsch R-10SW subwoofer into the equation, the R-15PM monitors quickly entered a class of their own. While passive speakers have to be paired with an external amplifier engineered to work with a multitude of speakers, the internal amp inside the R-15PM was fine-tuned for one specific model. And the optimization shows as the system produced unmatched accuracy in all of our tests.
At the time of writing, Klipsch is offering the R-15PM for $349 which is a steal considering we’d still recommend the set at their usual $400+ price. They aren’t the cheapest high end speakers by far, especially when you consider the cost of adding a subwoofer. But once we consider their simplicity and consumer friendly features, the R-15PM monitors are our top choice for high end PC speakers.
Since our guide is called the best speakers for PC gaming, we kept the testing process simple and focused on gaming. We tested each set of speakers in-game for several hours through a wide range of games with rich soundtracks and sounds including Skyrim, Dark Souls 3, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch and Furi. Afterwards, we ran listening tests which included snippets from the film Jurassic World and a variety of albums in lossless FLAC format such as Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and Psychic from Darkside.
With gaming in mind, one of the most important features to test for was left/right balance. To test this in game we used the CS: GO Audio Test Chamber workshop project by geri43. It’s a simple map that allows you to reproduce all sorts of in-game sounds including ladder movements, sniper scopes, gunfire, footsteps and more. Moving around the map or behind a wall allowed us to manipulate the location of the sounds and test how easily we could identify their direction with the speakers.
We put a number of speakers through their paces over the course of our testing. Here’s the competitors who showed promise but weren’t quite as good as our favorites.
Creative Inspire T12
If you’re looking for an affordable compact set of speakers, the Inspire T12 from Creative are a 2.0 set of speakers that pack a serious punch. Although the speakers include Creative’s “BassFlex” technology for improved bass response, we much preferred the A250 set with its dedicated subwoofer for PC gaming.
Easily one of the most popular 2.1 speaker systems available, the Logitech Z313 is a solid choice for PC gaming. The included control pod makes it easy to make volume adjustments and the speakers produce balanced sound. But we found more muffled low ends in the Z313 than we did with Creative’s A250.
Cyber Acoustics CA-3602
The CA-3602 is definitely one of the loudest low end speakers we tested. It’s able to fill a relatively large room with balanced sound but falls short in clarity at higher volume levels. Although it had the largest subwoofer in the budget bunch, the CA-3602 struggled the most with clear bass.
Creative T30 / T50 Wireless
Priced at $129.99 and $199.99, the Creative T30 and T50 Wireless 2.0 speakers are priced higher than several 2.1 sets in the mid-range but a top-located bass port offers surprisingly competitive lows. The main difference between the two is an additional driver on the T50. Both come equipped with Bluetooth and NFC capability making them great options for the house, but the lack of a subwoofer has them fall short for gaming.
Klipsch Promedia 2.1 Wireless
Priced similarly to the Harman Kardon SoundSticks Wireless, the Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 Wireless are also an excellent choice for mid-range speakers. Equipped with a built-in amplifier, the speakers offer room-filling sound with a commanding low end presence. Unfortunately, the wireless USB dongle would not stay connected during our testing so we had to go with the wired AUX input.
Overall, the Promedia 2.1 speakers performed exceptionally well but slight distortion and minor low end rumbles when listening to music left us preferring the SoundSticks. Klipsch has updated the Promedia 2.1 Wireless to include built-in Bluetooth support. The speakers no longer require a USB dongle and are now called the .
Unlike most of the products we test here, there aren’t a whole lot of developments happening each year when it comes to speakers. That being said, we still have a long way to go before we test out all of the competitive speakers out there for PC gaming.
As usual, we’ll continue to update this story with new developments as we continue testing. Your feedback and suggestions are always welcomed. Some of the speakers we’re hoping to test next include options from M-Audio, Audioengine and Altec Lansing.
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