This Top 10 speaker list isn't in any particular order, it's just a sampling of the best desktop/computer speakers, priced from $249 a pair and up.
The original Audioengine A2
set the standard for affordably priced, audiophile grade desktop speakers. The A2+ ($249/pair) sounds the same, but adds new features such as a built-in USB
digital converter and better quality connectors.
Even in this highly
competitive market, Audioengine stayed the course, the little A2+, standing a
mere 6 inches tall, always sounds sweet. Granted, it probably won't satisfy
headbangers' lust for power, but the A2+ will smooth over any grit or nastiness
from cruddy sounding MP3s or YouTube videos.
The M-Audio BX5 Carbon's sound
is beautifully balanced and clear, definitely up to audiophile standards. As I
listened, at first I just enjoyed myself and forgot to pay attention. Once I
focused on the task at hand, I noted that bright recordings sounded harsh, but
the BX5 Carbon $149 (each) was just doing its job, telling it like it is.
The deeply recessed
"waveguide" surrounding the tweeter is the first tip-off the LSR305 is special. The guide focuses and controls the
tweeter's dispersion, and how the speaker projects sound forward into the room.
The LSR305's five-inch woofer was designed to match the tweeter's dispersion,
so the blend between the two drivers is perfect.
With good recordings the speakers
produce a sense of spatial depth, and the stereo soundstage spreads wider than
the actual locations of the two LSR305s. It's a nearfield monitor, designed to
sound great from as close as 36 inches away, but the LSR305s also sound
terrific as stereo hi-fi speakers.
Even before you hear KEF's LS50 speaker there's no doubt it's a unique design. The speaker's single
"rose" colored driver sports radial fins, and the cabinet has a swept-back front baffle. I've never seen anything quite like it before. The speaker
stands 11.9 inches tall, it's 7.9 wide, 10.9 deep, and weighs 15.8 pounds. The
internally braced MDF cabinet has the build quality of a very high-end design.
The sound is just as extraordinary as the look, and the LS50 can be used as a
desktop monitor or as hi-fi speakers. Unlike most of the other speakers listed
in this survey, the LS50 isn't self-powered,
so you need to also buy a stereo power amp.
The LS50 commemorates KEF's 50th
anniversary; MSRP runs $1,500 (pair).
Emotiva Airmotiv 5s speakers
The Airmotiv 5s is a direct descendent of the Airmotiv 5 that debuted not that many
years ago; the carryovers from the original model are the 5.25-inch
polypropylene composite woofer and folded-ribbon tweeter. What's new? The
cabinet and electronics are upgraded over the original design. There are two
50-watt amplifiers in each cabinet: one for the tweeter, another one for the
woofer. The rear panel has RCA and XLR inputs, and three-position woofer and
tweeter tone controls.
production Airmotiv 5s' frequency response is calibrated to be within a half a
decibel of the factory's reference specification. That exceedingly close
tolerance ensures every production speaker will sound the same. Emotiva sells
them for $349 (pair).
Equator Audio D5 speakers
Take a good look at
the picture of the Equator D5 speaker -- do you see anything unusual about its
design? Where's the tweeter? Look closer -- there it is, right in the center of
the woofer! The D5's "coaxial" driver combines the tweeter and woofer
into a single driver, and that's really cool! The speakers sell for $400 (pair).
Magnepan Mini-Maggie speaker system
Magnepan is known for its six-foot-tall, flat-panel speakers, but the Mini-Maggies are 14 inches high, 9.3 inches
wide, and just 1.25 inches thick! They can be super thin because they don't use
conventional cone woofers; Mini-Maggies feature proprietary thin-film driver
technology and ribbon tweeters. The
Mini-Maggies are made in Minnesota with
The Mini-Maggie system also includes a
third panel, a woofer that measures 22.5 by 19.25 by 1.25 inches. The speakers
and woofer are covered in black cloth and sit on small stands.
Sitting three feet away from the
speakers the sound takes on a three-dimensional presence, and the crisp attack
and dynamic impact of well-recorded drums are on par with what you get from
high-end hi-fi systems. You can almost feel the texture of the drum heads, and
hear the metallic brassy ring of the cymbals.
The Mini-Maggie's tweeters are so pure
and effortless, you don't think about their sound. It was just there, more akin
to the way we experience high-frequency sound in real life. The three-piece
Mini-Maggie system retails for $1,490. It isn't self-powered, so you also need
to also buy a stereo power amp (the woofer panel and speakers are designed to
work with stereo amplifiers).
Genelec G One speakers
The little Genelec G One
monitor is a close cousin of the 8010A monitor Genelec sells to professional
sound engineers all around the world. The G One is a really tiny speaker, so it
should be partnered with a subwoofer, like Genelec's matching F One. This
Genelec system can also be used in home theater and hi-fi systems in very small
The first thing you notice
about the G One's sound is how articulate it is. Drums and other percussion
instruments' dynamic contrasts are vividly presented; the G One's resolution
and clarity are truly exceptional. You hear everything -- the good, bad, or ugly -- sounds in your
recordings. Play an audiophile recording, and you'll hear how good it really
is, while nasty and harsh recordings sound nasty and harsh.
The G One retails for $395 each, and
the F One is $795.
Adam Audio F5 speakers
Adam's rather unusual tweeter, the X-ART air
motion transformer, is made in the company's factory in Berlin, Germany. The
tweeter's "pleated" diaphragm compresses and expands with the audio
signal. Air is drawn in and squeezed out, "like the bellows of an
accordion," and the tweeter's high-frequency response extends beyond the
range of most dome tweeters. The X-ART has a much larger radiating surface area
than a dome tweeter, which is one of the reasons why it produces less
distortion than dome tweeters. If you've only heard domes, the F5's treble will
be a revelation.
The F5 also features a 5-inch
fiberglass-paper woofer, sourced from outside suppliers, but made to Adam's
specifications. Each F5 speaker is bi-amplified: there's a 25-watt amp on the
tweeter and a 35-watt amp for the woofer. Rather than go with an off-the-shelf
Class D digital amp, the F5 has superior-sounding Class AB amps, which
audiophiles prefer. The speaker is 11.5 inches tall and sells for $499 per
Focal Alpha 50 speakers
The Focal Alpha 50 has an all-new
1-inch "inverted" aluminum dome tweeter (it curves in instead of
bulging out), and a new 5-inch polyglass woofer. The tweeter is mated to a 20-watt, Class AB amplifier, and the woofer to a 35-watt AB amp. The drivers and
built-in amplifiers are designed and manufactured by Focal. The medium-density
fiberboard cabinet weighs 16.1 pounds; the speaker has balanced XLR and
standard RCA inputs.
The Alpha 50 tells the truth
about the sound of your recordings -- the good ones sound really good, the best
stuff is astonishing. Close up, desktop listening minimizes typical room
acoustic issues/problems, so you hear a lot more direct, from-the-speaker
sound, and with a something as tasty as the Alpha 50 that level of quality may
come as a big shock. The speakers sell
for $349 each.