If you want your music to sound good in your home office or a spare room, a pair of neat desktop stereo speakers to flank your laptop/computer or sit on a shelf could well be the answer.
The best computer speakers will blast out your Tidal or Spotify playlists, YouTube videos and Zoom calls much more capably than your laptop's built-in speakers – and they won't take up too much room in the process.
Each pair of speakers recommended below has been reviewed by What Hi-Fi?'s team of audio experts. We have tested every aspect from build quality and if they're suited to small spaces, how the different inputs perform, whether it's easy to use, and to sound quality, of course.
How to choose the best computer speakers for you
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When it comes to purchasing a pair of speakers for your laptop/computer desktop system, size will no doubt be a factor in your buying decision. All of the pairs of computer speakers that we've tested below are inherently from the more compact end of the speaker market and better suited to being perched on a desk than the majority of stereo speakers. Only have room for a one-box unit? You should check out our best Bluetooth speakers guide instead.
But it isn't just size that matters; one of the invariable beauties of having speakers within your workspace is that they can connect easily to your phone or laptop. Some of the computer speakers below can connect over Bluetooth so you needn't worry about unsightly cables trailing all over your desk space, while others require connecting over, say, USB via a cable. Some even support wi-fi and have network streaming smarts integrated, while others can connect to your TV and even turntable to make a neat, compact system.
What all of the products below have in common is their ability to deliver good all-round performance, making it easy to recommend them as computer speakers worth buying.
The Elac Debut ConneX DCB41 are powered speakers that don't take up much space. The individual units stand around a hand-span high, fitting into most places with ease. Build quality is pleasing, good and solid. These speakers would be right at home on a desktop, but can also work in a decently-sized room next to your TV or stereo system provided you don’t require party levels.
It may lack network streaming smarts, but you do get Bluetooth aptX for playing songs wirelessly from your mobile device. You can also plug in your computer using the UBS Type B input (which plays hi-res tracks up to 24-bit/96kHz), or use the Elacs as a decent soundbar alternative thanks to the HDMI ARC and optical inputs. There's even a switchable input for line level sources or for hooking up a turntable – that's right, these speakers come with a MM phono stage built in.
You do get a remote control, but if you'll be using these as desktop speakers, be warned: our one main niggle is that the volume knob (which can also toggle through the inputs) is awkwardly positioned on the back panel, making it tricky to reach.
Sonically, the Elac speakers provide a good level of detail, and they organise that information into a cohesive and musical whole. Use the digital inputs and it's a clear, balanced and insightful performer, and the understated way this system goes about its job is eminently likeable.
The overall presentation is controlled and even-handed in the manner of Elac’s award-winning Debut 2.0 series of passive speakers. These are speakers that fade into the background, letting the music take centre stage. We're big fans of speaker systems such as this, and the Elac's combination of size, features, performance and reasonable price (£529 / $595 / AU$900) means they get a hearty recommendation from us.
Read the full Elac Debut ConneX DCB41 review
The Q Acoustics M20 are a pair of powered speakers designed to work wherever you feel like putting them. They have a lot of useful connections on the back – TVs, CD players, turntables and laptops can also be wired to the M20 through optical, RCA line-level, aux and USB Type B connections. And there's wireless Bluetooth streaming, too. One speaker in the pair is the mains-powered 'master' and feeds the other through a supplied piece of speaker cable.
Versatile, simple to use and nicely put together, these are also on the affordable side – we tested them at £389 / $599 / AU$899.
Crucially, they also sound the part. The M20 speakers sound full, loud, spacious and energetic. For affordable speakers that pack in so much, we're impressed with how refined and detailed they manage to sound.
Q Acoustics has made an unfussy, just-add-source set of powered speakers that we find impossible to dislike. With all of the amplification squirrelled away in the master speaker and the plethora of connectivity and placement options covered, the M20 is far more likely to become your entire music system than it is simply your new desktop speakers – and for this money, you’ll be hard pushed to better the sound quality with hi-fi separates.
Read the full Q Acoustics M20 review
Gorgeous looks, streamlined design and features, sound quality that’s been improved in every way – the Ruark MR1 Mk2 are multi-What Hi-Fi? Award winners that deservedly feature high on this list.
You can connect over Bluetooth, optical or 3.5mm – easily and quickly – and hi-res audio is supported all the way up to 24-bit/192kHz. The step-up in performance from the original MR1 model is impressive, making the Mk2 even more appealing than before. They're affordable, too, costing £349 (around $423 / AU$629).
The Ruark MR1 Mk2 are lovely to listen to, but their stylish retro looks are a huge part of the charm too. The handcrafted wooden cabinets are beautifully made, the speakers are good to use, and they’re the perfect petite size to fit onto a bookshelf, TV stand or desk.
Quite simply, these are superb speakers of their type.
Read the full review: Ruark Audio MR1 Mk2
For the all-new LSX II, KEF has taken what was already a winning formula (the LSX were What Hi-Fi? Award winners) and elevated it. It introduced some key upgrades that improve user experience by adding more modern connectivity and updating the companion app, and, without really altering the speaker hardware, has produced a talented set-up that sings with any genre of music sent its way.
The KEF LSX II is a compact and stylish all-in-one streaming system that comes with none of the baggage and extra boxes that a separates set up brings. Not to mention the extra cost: it may seem pricey (£1199 / $1400 / AU$2195), but an equivalent separates system would cost far more for the kind of performance LSX II delivers.
If you have a smaller room or want speakers that will flank your desktop, the LSX II will happily oblige with a clear, musical sound and a fine sense of rhythm that has us tapping a foot or finger along to whatever we play through them. They're fantastic. Nothing else really comes close at this level.
Read the full KEF LSX II review
Klipsch describes The Fives as a ‘powered speaker system’. They can be used as a hi-fi system – either standalone or with a source plugged in – as desktop speakers, or indeed as a true stereo alternative to a soundbar thanks to the inclusion of an HDMI ARC connection. Thanks to RCA, 3.5mm aux, digital optical and USB inputs, plus wireless Bluetooth 5.0, they will connect to pretty much anything. They even have a built-in phono stage for hooking up a turntable that doesn't have one itself.
Yes, they're relatively expensive (£839 / $969 / AU$1599) compared to the Elac, Ruark and Q Acoustics listed here, but sonically they offer good detail, plenty of punch and decent stereo imaging – even if they don't sound as organised or tonally balanced as we'd like. A step up on a computer, soundbar or wireless speaker for sure, and much more convenient than a completely separate system.
Read the full review: Klipsch The Fives
While the more insightful and feature-packed KEF LSX II would be our first choice at this price, it’s still difficult to think of an amplifier/passive speakers combo that could better these Acoustic Energy active speakers for the same money.
These former What Hi-Fi? Award winners do everything with a flourish. They're relatively basic in terms of set-up and function – connect them to your source via either their RCA or balanced XLR inputs and you’re ready to go. There’s no Bluetooth, but you can always affordably attach a separate module (such as the iFi Zen Blue) post-purchase.
You'd need to invest in a more expensive pair of components to offer a marked improvement on these Acoustic Energy active speakers – and you owe it to yourself to track down a pair to discover that for yourself.
Read the full review: Acoustic Energy AE1 Active
How to set up computer speakers
Thankfully, computer speakers are by nature pretty simple to set up. They are compact systems that typically comprise two boxes, or three if they include a subwoofer. Naturally, you'll want your left and right speakers to flank your computer, laptop or monitor – either at, or just above, head height if practical, and preferably ever-so-slightly angled inwards towards your seated position. This is a general rule, but there's no harm in experimenting.
You'll want them sat on a sturdy desktop surface, though more substantial computer speakers like the KEF LSX II will invariably sound optimal on dedicated stands.
If your computer speakers come with a small subwoofer, you should keep them as close to your speakers and seat as possible – but on the floor. After all, you don't want their low-end output causing the table you (or the speakers) are working on to vibrate.
How we test computer speakers
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door – including computer speakers that will fit and work on a desktop.
What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, so we listen to every pair of computer speakers we review against the current leader in its field to gauge how it compares to the best-in-class competition. We keep What Hi-Fi? Award winners, such as the Ruark MR1 Mk2 in this category, in our stockrooms so we can always put new products against ones we know and love.
We are always impartial in our testing and ensure we hear every pair of computer speakers at their optimum in the scenarios they are intended for. We'll use them with different partnering source kit (phones and computers, for example) as well as play different types of music through them. Naturally, we give them plenty of listening time (and time to run in).
Really, testing computer speakers is pretty similar to testing 'standard' speakers and soundbars, in that we are testing their tonality, left/right balance, vocal clarity and overall musicality (by which we mean their rhythmic, organisation and timing abilities).
From all of our reviews, we choose the top computer speakers to feature in this Best Buy. That's why if you take the plunge and buy one of the products recommended here, or on any other Best Buy page, you can rest assured you're getting a What Hi-Fi?-approved product.
You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.
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I was wondering why the abscence of usb input is not mentioned for the KEF LSX but "no usb input" is mentioned for the Ruark Audio MR1 Mk2 as a reason to aviod? Why the difference?
Agreed. They are also happier at moderate volumes than the premium units I auditioned (not so well at high though) which suits me fine for desktop speakers. Mine are now paired with a Zen Blue DAC and they sound well beyond the (literal) sum of their parts, to my ear.