Premium Two-Channel PC Speaker Roundup

It’s time to focus on basic PC audio with a two-channel speaker roundup. We look at the Altec Lansing Expressionist Bass FX3022, Bowers & Wilkins MM-1, Creative Gigaworks T40 Series II, and M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 to see what these systems can offer.

Human beings come factory-equipped with five senses. Taste and smell are effectively ignored when it comes to PC technology (Ed.: unless you really screwed up an overclock, in which case your sense of smell might be assailed), and touch typically plays a limited role in interfacing with peripherals like keyboards and mice.

That leaves sight and sound to do most of the work when it comes to "experiencing" software. Of those two senses, sight gets most of the glory. Advances in graphics cards, displays, and now stereoscopic technologies are most palpable, and consequently receive most of our attention. Let’s face it, sight is the pampered sense of the computer industry.

Sound isn’t ignored, of course, but we'd argue that speakers aren't doted on like modern GPUs. So, we’ve decided to take a thoughtful look at some of the premium PC audio options available out there. We recently scrutinized a handful of 2.1-channel speaker systems. But what if you don't want a subwoofer taking up floor space? What if earth-pounding bass isn't your cup of tea? And when it comes to cost, what if you'd rather save some money? After all, 2.1-channel configurations tend to cost more than two-channel setups. If any of these issues concern you, perhaps a pair of satellites is preferable to the 2.1-channel kits we reviewed earlier this month. Today, we're broadening our horizons to include a few alternatives.

Here are some of the more important specifications of the products that we compare in this review:

Altec Lansing
Expressionist Bass FX3022
Bowers & Wilkins
Gigaworks T40 Series II
Studiophile AV 40
25 W
72 W
32 W
20 W,
per channel into 4 ohms
Small Speaker:
two 1.5" drivers
two 1" tweeters
two 1" tweeters
two 1" tweeters
Large Speaker:two 4" subwoofers
two 3" drivers
four 2.5" drivers
two 4" cones
two 1/8" jacks
1/8" jack (rear)
USB input (rear)
1/8" jack (front)
1/8" jack (rear)
1/8" jack (front)
Stereo RCA input (rear)
1/8" headphone (rear)1/8" headphone (front)1/8" headphone (front)
Stereo RCA output (rear)
Stereo TRS output (rear)
Controls:Volume buttons
Volume buttons
(satellite and remote)
Various media player controls
on remote
Volume, treble, and bass knobs
Volume knob (front)
Bass boost switch (rear)
10" (H) x 5.25" (W) x 5.25" (D)
per satellite
6.6" (H) x 3.9" (W) x 3.9" (D)
per satellite
12.3" (H) x 5.5" (W) x 5.5" (D)
per satellite
8.75" (H) x 6" (W) x 7.25" (D)
per satellite
1.15 lbs. per satellite,
2.3 lbs. total
1.8 lbs. per satellite,
3.6 lbs. total
3.3 lbs. per satellite,
6.6 lbs. total
7 lbs. per satellite,
14 lbs. total
6' long
1/8" mini-to-mini cable
5' long USB cable,
5' long 1/8" mini-to-mini cable,
Wireless Remote
6' long 1/8" mini-to-mini cable,
1/8" stereo mini-to-RCA adapter
5' long 1/8" stereo mini-to-RCA splitter cable,
5' long 1/8" mini-to-mini cable,
two grip pads
two yearstwo yearsone yearone year
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  • Anonymous
    Has the reviewer heard of Audioengine A2 speakers? They are outstanding 2 channel speakers for $199.
  • Randomacts
    No love for the budget minded folk?
  • Harby
    jdmiHas the reviewer heard of Audioengine A2 speakers? They are outstanding 2 channel speakers for $199.

    Indeed, A2s are really good, though a bit on the weak side with 30 watts. But since you went with B&W you could have tested Audioengine A5s which are insanely awesome and cheaper than B&W's at ~$325.
  • gostumpy
    Large knob that feels quick robust? ;)
  • dEAne
    I like that Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 - but yes theirs a bit lacking to the design.
  • sparky2010
    I'm really happy with my 4 year old creative soundworks 7.1 system... until now it still offers great sound, and having true 7.1 really rocks, especially in FPS... although i'm considering the logitech z5500.. hat sounds amazing and looks even better...
  • icehot
    Nice review, I bought the Creative Gigaworks T40 Series II about 4 months ago, and have loved them, the sound is superb.
  • titaniumsquirrel
    The AV 40s were the first speakers I've ever owned that failed on me. I don't care how good they sound if reliability is an issue. I'm never purchasing another M-Audio product. Decided to go with a pair of Gigaworks refurbs for a fraction of the price afterward and have been very pleased.
  • hardcore_gamer
    2.0 is way too low.For gamers, a 5.1 is the minimum requirement.
  • megatron46
    Nice Speakers but i like my Monitor Audio RX8 teamed with Definitive Technology Supercube I sub and Cambridge Audio Azur 840A Amp.......
  • Anonymous
    Too bad the nuberts arent out yet
  • Anonymous
    Well, I'm not a hardcore gamer, but I'm well into music. I tried lots of 'computer' speakers, only to find that none comes close to even sub-par 'hifi' speakers.
    So, I went for a pair of Mackie MR8 - which are pro audio monitors. They're not much more expensive than high-end PC speakers - but it's a totally different world in any respect: sound quality, power, you name it.
    If you're serious about sound, check them - they're discounted everywhere.
    By the way, I'm driving them with a Fucusrite Saffire Pro24 DSP: a killer combination.
  • Alvin Smith
    KRK Systems RP5G2 Rokit G2 Powered Studio Monitor - 5 inch, 75 Watts

    Just Better.
  • JohnnyLucky
    My pc is connected to my old audio receiver & speakers through a fiber optic cable. The sound is outstanding.
  • jeverson
    For that kind of money I would rather just get this...

    That way I also get a dedicated sub.
  • Yargnit
    Hopefully we'll see a 5.1+ article soon as well. I have a Logitech z5500 that I use for PC as well as TV and Xbox, and I'd love to see how other surround systems stack up.

    I do find it odd that you'd include a $500 2 speaker setup, yet you don't include any systems in the ~$50 range. It seems like $500 2 speaker systems is a very niche market, my 5.1 system cost less than that, and it can function as a home theater system as well. It would be interesting however to throw a cheap system in there to see if there is a big difference. The $100 and $500 seemed amazingly close.
  • orodreth
    The article should have provided additional parameters around which the selections were determined (unless you sampled only speakers that manufacturers were giving you for free in exchange for the review... though that would be nice to know). Price is probably the number one differentiation that consumers would consider. Then you have physical dimensions, power, inputs/outputs, and perhaps frequency response, which would be the collection of main factors that might categorize purchasing decisions.

    The only two criteria cited were 2.0 configuration and "pc speakers" which would presume that all of the samples had to have their own internal powered amplifier. If you were trying to get a sampling amongst a wide price range, your sample size is too small, though that might also be due to the limited vendor options noted.

    THG, you can be more comprehensive than this. You guys do Video Card reviews by price bracket and you're claiming sound is the big #2 sense used in computer use. You could do 2.0 speakers in two or three price brackets, 2.1 speakers in the same brackets and 5.1 or 7.1 in same brackets. We know you have the intelligence and enthusiasm :)
  • Zoonie
    Harman/Kardon's Soundsticks should've definitely been a part of this roundup :)
  • cyrusfox
    RandomactsNo love for the budget minded folk?

    While a bit of a pain to set up in Windows 7, these are great for the budget lover

    LOGISYS Computer SP8000BK 4.1 Speakers for $30 from newegg.

    Or you could go the other route, and just use a receiver and hand select your own speakers. Unfortunately it is hard to find nice used receivers at a decent price.
  • wasupmike
    agree with how good the M-Audio speakers sound... ya, they're a bit pricey... but they're that good sounding - especially good for 'audio professionals'

    so if it's within anyone's budget... they're very worth considering - even over more complex setups (like 2.1)