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A cheap and easy fix for crummy HDTV speakers

Most smaller TVs have a "secret" feature that lets you plug in a much better set of PC speakers.

Even a cheap pair of PC speakers can make a huge difference in the quality of your TV audio.
Even a cheap pair of PC speakers can make a huge difference in the quality of your TV audio. Amazon.com

It's pretty easy to score a great deal on a TV these days, but most of the lower-end and bargain-basement models have one thing in common: rotten speakers. (Come to think of it, a lot of midrange and higher-end TVs sound pretty crummy, too.)

For example, not long ago I grabbed a 24-inch Vizio HDTV for the bedroom, and while I love the razor-sharp picture and built-in Internet goodies (Netflix, Pandora, and so on), the speakers make my ears cry.

If you feel the same way about your TV, there may be an easy and affordable fix. Most smaller TVs have a headphone jack, into which you can plug any set of powered PC speakers. And take it from me, even the cheapo pair that came bundled with your last desktop will sound better than what's built into your TV.

For example, I used an old, dust-collecting set of Altec Lansings with the aforementioned Vizio (which, like a surprising number of TVs, has speakers that point down rather than forward--what's that about?) Plugged 'em into the headphone jack, plugged the AC adapter into an outlet, and presto: a major improvement in sound quality. Cost: zero.

No headphone jack? No problem. Most HDTVs have RCA audio-out jacks, and a simple adapter cable will let you plug in your PC speakers. The only hitch is that you may have to venture into the TV's settings and switch the audio to "external."

If your TV has a USB port (and a headphone jack), you may be able to get away with USB-powered speakers, like the Altec Lansing BXR1220 speakers (which Amazon.com currently has on sale for $11.99). These little round cans take up admirably little space, and they're cute to boot. Just make sure your TV's USB port can supply power, as not all can; there's often no way to know without trying the speakers.

That said, you might as well opt for speakers with a bit of size and oomph. One nice option is Logitech's Speaker System Z320, which delivers 10 watts of audio goodness from glossy, attractive-looking minitowers. They have a list price of $60, but if you don't mind refurbished, Meritline sells the Z320s for $24.99 shipped.

The bottom line is you don't have to suffer with the crummy audio system built into your TV, nor do you have to spend a small fortune on a receiver and fancy speakers. Dig out any old pair of PC speakers (or hit up Craigslist for freebies), plug 'em in, and see if you don't notice a huge difference. I sure did.