One area of my own personal audio experience I’ve always found a bit lacking was with computer speakers, also often referred to as multimedia speakers. This is especially troubling considering the significant amount of time I spend in front of my computers in general. While I have owned many nice headphones from Audio-Technica, Sennheiser, Ultrasone, etc., my computer speakers haven’t really kept up.
Over the years I have gone through several sets of computer speakers in my search for aural heaven including Altec Lansing ATP4, Creative GigaWorks T20, Edifier S2.1D, Klipsch ProMedia, Logitech Z-2300 & Z-5500, M-Audio AV 40, and Razer Mako 2.1, just to name a few that come to mind. I even tried hooking up a receiver with a pair of bookshelves for a few months but soon became fed up with the desk real-estate the receiver was hogging.
Nothing I tried was really satisfying me. Out of the numerous speakers I have owned, both previously listed and unlisted, the only set that remains is the Edifier S2.1D. While they were good enough to survive the rest of the lot, they still didn’t deliver the level of audio fidelity I was getting from my headphones. That was the sonic heaven I was looking for; speakers that could match or best my headphones. Ultimately I conceded that I had no choice but to go with the nuclear option; studio monitors.
In case you’re unfamiliar with them, studio monitors are speakers that are designed specifically for use in professional audio applications, like tracking and mixing music in recording studios. They are designed to produce a flat, uncolored sound that sound technicians and producers can rely on to provide an unbiased reproduction of a recording. Nearly all music is also mixed and mastered on studio monitors. If you listened to a recording on the same studio monitors that it was mixed and mastered on, you are hearing it as the technician/producer heard it when the recording was created (not counting how rooms effect sound) and in all likelihood this is how it was intended to be heard. Studio monitors also tend to be high quality products in general, designed to take the abuse and workload of a recording studio.
Studio monitors also share a large number of important characteristics with multimedia speakers that make them ideal for use with computers. While passive studio monitors exist, the vast majority of them are actively powered, meaning they have amplifiers built-in like computer speakers, rather than requiring a separate amplifier like home theater speakers. This is convenient because you can plug your studio monitors directly into your computer without passing the signal through a separate receiver or amplifier. It also means the speaker drivers and amplifiers are likely to be well matched because they are chosen by the manufacturer. Studio monitors are also almost always designed for near-field use, which means they are designed to be listened to while positioned relatively close to the listener, another characteristic they share with computer speakers. Lastly, studio monitors typically integrate many safety features that protect the speaker hardware from being damaged by inappropriate input signals, so you would have a hard time “blowing out” a studio monitor.
All of the previously stated reasons combined with the general lack of comparable competition from the multimedia speaker market make studio monitors the ultimate computer speakers. The only speakers that might be able to compete are high end component speakers, like the bookshelf and tower speakers used in home theater applications. However those speakers are generally not designed for near-field listening, do not have built-in protective circuitry, do not integrate a power amplifier and require a pre-amplifier or receiver to provide the signal. The net result is component speakers require you to sacrifice desk space to accommodate the receiver/pre-amplifier/amplifier and you may end up paying more money for a comparable setup.
However, studio monitors are not without drawbacks. For one, they are expensive, easily costing several times the price of a typical multimedia speaker set. Although to be fair, even low-end studio monitors are of higher sound quality than most high-end multimedia speakers. Studio monitors also tend to be significantly larger and heavier than your typical set of multimedia speakers. Most multimedia speakers use speaker drivers smaller than 4 inches in diameter while studio monitors typically start at 5 inches and go up to 8 or more. With larger drivers comes larger enclosures and more mass. A large driver needs a significantly more powerful magnet to control it properly which also means a more powerful amplifier design. Since all of these componants are built into studio monitors, the end result are some truly massive speakers.
The KRK VXT8 studio monitors I finally settled on have 8 inch speaker drivers with a 180 watt amplifier, per speaker. They are 17 inches (433mm) tall, 12.5 (318mm) inches wide, 11.7 (296mm) inches deep and they weigh 41 pounds (16.5 kg) each! They are so massive they threaten to crush lesser desks. Now to be fair, there are many excellent smaller 6 inch studio monitor designs and I am not trying to imply that all studio monitors are as large and heavy as the particular set I purchased, but do expect them to be much bigger than the little “satellite” speakers that multimedia speakers sets typically use.
Ultimately whether or not the trade-offs of studio monitors make sense are up the the individual’s priorities, but in terms of pure sonic enjoyment, the studio monitor reign supreme. If sound quality is the most important factor you look for in speakers, then maybe it’s time to ditch those computer speakers and look into a set of studio monitors.