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7 tips to improve your computer sound quality

How to make your computer sound better: 7 easy steps
(Image credit: Ruark)

Be it at work or at home, a lot of us spend a whole lot of time at our desks. For many, a 9-to-5 job is likely to have you sitting in front of your computer for upwards of 1,500 hours every year.

But look at it another way: that's enough time to listen to a couple of thousand albums, and there's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be listening to them in style.

While it's easy enough just to jam a pair of headphones into your laptop, or even play music and video through built-in speakers, there's no denying that better sound is attainable through just a few simple upgrades.

These seven tips don't involve massive investment, and you don't have to spend money on every aspect to achieve a great-sounding desktop set-up. Follow a few of them, though, and we'd like to think your time at your computer will be greatly improved.

Invest in good desktop speakers

How to make your computer sound better: 7 easy steps

(Image credit: KEF)

If you're still using the speakers built into your laptop for listening to music, then this is how to transform your desktop music experience in one single step.

Like with televisions, computer audio wasn't always quite this bad when we had big box computer monitors, often with decent-sized speakers tacked onto the side. But ultra-thin screens and lightweight laptops have meant we now receive ultra-thin and lightweight sound.

There are loads of options out there – check out our round-up of the best desktop computer speakers for decent and affordable options. They usually have a good range of connections, too, including Bluetooth compatibility for easy wireless set-up.

Try home-specific headphones

How to make your computer sound better: 7 easy steps

(Image credit: Grado)

You certainly don't need a different pair of headphones for every separate task, so if you've just spent a few hundred on a pair of five-star wireless noise-cancelling headphones then your wallet can remain closed.

If you're only using the bundled in-ears from your smartphone, however, then this is another easy win. Most of us are fine with compromised sound when we're out on a run or on a busy train – textural insight is less important here than just having something to drown out the world's noise – but that is less the case at home or in a quiet office.

Forgoing portability and features such as noise cancellation and wireless connectivity means you can get a lot more performance for your money from a pair of home-specific headphones. Open-backed headphones leak sound, which makes them better suited to home use and the design allows the best models to offer up a lot more space in a presentation.

Upgrade your DAC

How to make your computer sound better: 7 easy steps

(Image credit: Audioquest)

Think of all the tasks your computer is asked to perform, and that four-figure sum you paid for it rapidly starts to appear great value for money. But that also means that not a huge amount of production costs can have been budgeted for absolutely every feature.

So, while you have a digital-to-analogue converter in your device already, it means you don't have to spend much at all to achieve a significant upgrade. The aptitude and accuracy with which digital files are translated into analogue signals can have a huge bearing on sound quality, so it is also one of the areas in which you might hear the greatest difference.

From USB sticks to components that would feel just at home in a traditional hi-fi system, there are portable DAC and headphone amp combinations to suit all budgets. Just make sure to pick one that complements the talents in the rest of your chain. Our round-up of the best DACs should help.

Boost your wi-fi

For the best streaming experience you'll need a strong and stable internet connection. That means wiring your computer by its ethernet connection is highly preferable, but it isn't always all that convenient or even possible.

So whether it's via a signal booster, or as a last resort upgrading your internet plan with your service provider, pimping your wi-fi is a good way to make sure you're always getting the highest-quality streaming experience possible.

Use a hi-res music streaming service

How to make your computer sound better: 7 easy steps

(Image credit: Tidal)

The above entry only really matters, of course, if you've subscribed to one of the web's many hi-res streaming platforms. It appears the rest of the world is finally agreeing with us that MP3 is a dirty word, not to mention a grubby little performer.

We use Spotify for a lot of things – its catalogue is unparalleled and the ubiquity of its users makes playlist sharing relatively hassle-free – but there's no point spending a load of money on new speakers and headphones if all you're going to do is expose its highly compressed streams.

Our Award-winning hi-res streaming service for the past few years has been Tidal, which offers CD-quality and MQA streaming, so its trial offers are as good a place as any to start.

Download music rather than stream

How to make your computer sound better: 7 easy steps

(Image credit: Qobuz)

Though we are all quite taken by the convenience of streaming – especially now it doesn't necessarily mean deficient audio quality – you will still achieve better sound from hi-res files downloaded and stored on your computer or separate hard drive.

Certain streaming services such as Qobuz also offer hi-res downloads, with a healthy discount in their download store for those who take up their premium annual plan, which – though we have our issues with it as a streaming platform – could be a cost-effective way of experiencing both worlds.

And until 15 May, Qobuz is offering What Hi-Fi? readers 29 free hi-res and CD-quality album downloads.

Make sure your desk is sturdy

Regular readers are likely sick to their back teeth of us going on about this kind of thing, but stable and rigid support for your electronics is something you ignore at your peril.

It doesn't mean you have to go out and buy a specifically treated desk or else your speakers will sound like you got them out of a bin, but it shouldn't be buckling under the weight of your computer or tipping on wonky legs as you type.

And keep it as clear as possible. You don't want books covering your speakers or newspapers heating up on your DAC. Try to organise your desk around your audio set-up, rather than the other way round.

After that, our best advice is to keep listening to new music and try to enjoy work time as if it were play.