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Premium Two-Channel PC Speaker Roundup

Small Systems, Big Sound

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 FX3022Bowers & WilkinsMM-1CreativeGigaworks T40 Series IIM-AudioStudiophile AV 40
Power:25 W72 W32 W20 W,per channel into 4 ohms
Small Speaker:two 1.5" driverstwo 1" tweeterstwo 1" tweeterstwo 1" tweeters
Large Speaker:two 4" subwooferstwo 3" driversfour 2.5" driverstwo 4" cones
Inputs:two 1/8" jacks(rear)1/8" jack (rear) USB input (rear)1/8" jack (front) 1/8" jack (rear)1/8" jack (front) Stereo RCA input (rear)
Outputs:None1/8" headphone (rear)1/8" headphone (front)1/8" headphone (front)Stereo RCA output (rear)Stereo TRS output (rear)
Controls:Volume buttonsVolume buttons(satellite and remote)Various media player controls on remoteVolume, treble, and bass knobsVolume knob (front)Bass boost switch (rear)
Dimensions:10" (H) x 5.25" (W) x 5.25" (D) per satellite6.6" (H) x 3.9" (W) x 3.9" (D) per satellite12.3" (H) x 5.5" (W) x 5.5" (D) per satellite8.75" (H) x 6" (W) x 7.25" (D) per satellite
Weight:1.15 lbs. per satellite, 2.3 lbs. total1.8 lbs. per satellite, 3.6 lbs. total3.3 lbs. per satellite, 6.6 lbs. total7 lbs. per satellite, 14 lbs. total
Accessories:6' long 1/8" mini-to-mini cable5' long USB cable,5' long 1/8" mini-to-mini cable,Wireless Remote6' long 1/8" mini-to-mini cable, 1/8" stereo mini-to-RCA adapter5' long 1/8" stereo mini-to-RCA splitter cable, 5' long 1/8" mini-to-mini cable, two grip pads
Price:$105.31 (newegg.com)$499.95(store.apple.com)$149.99 (newegg.com)$179.99 (newegg.com)
Warranty:two yearstwo yearsone yearone year