Speakers for Laptop Or Notebook

Category: Audio

Many people use a laptop or notebook computer as their primary computer, eschewing the bulk and immobility of desktop machines. But they also like their music and videos. However, the speakers that come with most portable computers are just a step above terrible. Here are some tips on selecting a set of great portable speakers for your laptop or netbook...

portable speakers

Choosing Speakers for Your Laptop

Everyone knows that laptops typically have lousy speakers -- the same kind of speakers that my little AM/FM transistor radio had when I was a kid in 1978. The problem is not the laptop's audio processing technology, generally speaking. The audio chips built into the motherboards of modern laptops, notebooks, and even tiny netbooks are usually adequate for all but the most finicky audiophiles. No, it's the electromechanical reproduction of sound waves - the speaker system - that often falls short.

The speakers built into most portable computers are tiny and their components are chosen more to save cost and weight than to reproduce sound with high fidelity. If you want a pleasant listening experience, you need quality external speakers of some sort. There are several options.

Earphones are the most portable sort of external speakers, and they allow one to listen to Metallica at full volume without being thrown out of a library or off of an airliner. Earphones range in size from nut-sized earbuds that literally plug into your ear canals (some of which sound surprisingly impressive) to full-blown wraparound headsets with padded ear cushions. The top of the line here are the Bose QuietComfort 3 acoustic noise cancelling headphones, which offer high-performance, a compact design , and a price tag of $349.

But some people don't want speakers on their heads; for them, desktop portable speakers are the answer.

You have to be careful when choosing desktop speakers for a portable computer. Some "passive" speakers do not have their own power supplies, or built-in amplifiers. A desktop computer may supply adequate power to speakers, but a portable computer's batteries will drain more quickly. The audio circuitry in portable computers rarely provides adequate amplification; an amplifier must be built into the speaker system. An amplifier and power transformer add bulk and weight to speaker systems.

Portable USB Laptop Speakers

But there are plenty of well-engineered portable speaker systems on the market today. They draw power from the computer through USB cables, but they are so energy-efficient they can be used on battery power for extended periods. They're tiny - two inches in diameter or less - so they fit into a notebook case. Most importantly, the best portable speakers are rugged, with metal cases and protective grilles over the speaker membranes.

Amenities to look for in portable speakers include volume and playlist controls, which allow you to select songs and adjust the sound without typing or clicking with a mouse. A single cable running from USB port and through both speakers is simpler and less liable to tangle than a pair. Mini-jacks for MP3 players, an iPhone, and other sound sources are built into some speaker systems. Remote-control speakers are available for adjusting sound and selecting tracks during presentations.

Here are a few USB-powered portable speaker systems that I think are good choices:

  • Logitech V20 Notebook Speakers are lightweight, USB-powered, and offer spectacular sound reproduction, especially in the bass and high ranges. One nice feature: you can change tracks or adjust the volume right from your speakers. Street price: $69.
  • Creative Labs N400 portable notebook speakers come with X-Fi technology that promises to enhance your MP3s, and turn music and movies into immersive surround sound. The N400 has a single USB cable for both power and audio, built-in control buttons, and a compact travel case. Street price: $69.
  • The Altec Lansing iML237 USB ORBIT is billed as ultraportable,. But the ORBIT delivers surprisingly big sound from a small form factor. The round design provides a 360-degree sound field, making it good for parties. Street price: $49.
  • HP USB Mini Speakers are small, compact and offer great sound for the price. On the downside, they lack onboard controls, and require you to fiddle with three color-coded cables for setup. A nice set of travel speakers, and I found them on Amazon for only $24.

In addition to those listed above, other portable speaker manufacturers include Pioneer, Sony, Panasonic, Tritton, Yamaha, the Edirol division of Roland, Alesis, and many others. The best place to buy portable speakers depends on your budget and tastes. If you're going to buy anything under $80, shop around online to find the best deal. If you're a true audiophile, you'll want something in the higher end. In that case, specialty audio stores will have the widest variety of high-end portable speakers for you to sample before buying.

Do you have something to say about portable laptop speakers? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Speakers for Laptop Or Notebook"

Posted by:

Victoria
23 Apr 2010

Hi Bob
Some months ago I bought Dell computer and totally assumed it would come with a speaker built into the "box" - it didn't. After weeks of using headphones I purchased a Logitech Pure-Fi Anywhere 2 speaker system and a stereo audio cable (to connect the speakers to my PC).

Now for my problem. Sometimes I get a bassy feedback kinda noise when the speakers are connected to my PC. It gets so loud I have to turn the speakers off. I have the speakers sitting on the PC "box". What is cuasing this noise and how can I stop it happening?

(I hope this isn't too far off topic...)

Victoria


Posted by:

Nitin
24 Apr 2010

Why not consider bluetooth stereo speakers? No wires, no load on laptop (they have their own power source) I suggest Altec Lansing Portable Bluetooth speakers. Good quality sound and good portablity, at a reasonable price.


Posted by:

SarahL
28 Apr 2010

Talk about timely! My spiffy new USB "speaker bar" just arrived today from Dell.

It clips to the top of the laptop screen with a nicely padded clip (that has an opening to accommodate a webcam/microphone) and uses a single USB port.

The system promptly identified it as a headphone device, and installed a driver, in under 15 seconds.

This unit has a little white LED in the top (to show that it is connected) and on the back there are two "ears" that pop out so that you can wrap the USB cord around them for tidy toting. It also came in a really cool clear plastic tube. The speaker bar itself is about 12" long, and the travel tube is probably about 14" in length.

While my laptop has "OK" sound, the soundbar takes that to "excellent". Most audiophiles (of course) would probably poo-poo it, but it works quite well for me. I'm pleased as punch, and will be getting a second one for my husband!

$50 from Dell


Posted by:

Amirah
14 Sep 2010

I don't know what I deleted, but now not only do my speakers not work, but all the sound that used to come through the speakers comes through the phone of my magic jack. I went to their website to see if they had a clue on how to fix my problem. Their site said to change the default audio thingamajig but when I tried to do that, the computer says that there is no audio device.

How to I get my speakers to play when the computer thinks that no speakers exist?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sounds like System Restore might fix the problem. See http://askbobrankin.com/system_restore.html


Posted by:

SteveR
02 Mar 2011

I went to Best Buy and listened to everything they had for speakers, desktops and laptop/notebooks. It's very hard to discern quality in a warehouse environment, but each speaker system was worked with the same handicap. I walked out with the low end Bose. They're clean, trim, I can opt to jack in to them w/headphones when I'm playing something that might disturb the neighborhood. Highs and lows are very good. They respond well to eq programming. My only "complaint" is the only control is volume, but as mentioned, a good EQ handles the speakers range. They were I went to Best Buy and listened to everything they had for speakers, desktops and laptop/notebooks. It's very hard to discern quality in a warehouse environment, but each speaker system was worked with the same handicap. I walked out with the low end Bose. They're clean, trim, I can opt to jack in to them w/headphones when I'm playing something that might disturb the neighborhood. Highs and lows are very good. They respond well to eq programming. My only "complaint" is the only control is volume, but as mentioned, a good EQ handles the speakers range. They were


Posted by:

Jayne
14 Sep 2012

Hi, I really hope you will be able to help me.
I have a canal baot and enjoy touring the canals throughout the UK
I would like to be able to listen to the radio and some music while cruising. please can you tell me how I can inexpensively manage to do this and how many speakers could I have and can I work it remotely? I am hoping I can purchase an inexpensive notebook or laptop to do this job. Ideally I would like wireless speakers and about four to 6 speakers.
Regards
Jayne


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