Let's face it: not everyone has the space, the budget or the inclination to set up a dedicated hi-fi system in their home. For many, our laptops or computers are the main way we listen to our music – whether that takes the form of hi-res digital file downloads, CD rips, streaming services or even music videos.
But that doesn't mean you have to put up with the weedy speakers that are built into your laptop. If you want your tunes to sound good in your home office (or wherever you've set up your desktop listening station), a pair of neat desktop stereo speakers to flank your computer, or placed on a nearby 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, either. These speakers all have amplification built-in (making them active or powered speakers), but you should take note of which provided connections suit your desktop system best. Bonus features include Bluetooth or full-fat hi-res streaming, while we always prioritise how good the speakers sound for their size, type and price tag.
Each pair recommended below has been reviewed by What Hi-Fi?'s team of audio experts. We have tested every aspect, including build quality, how the different inputs perform, where they're easy to use, even how well-suited they are to small spaces. Most importantly, every single entry on this list passes our most important test of all: sound quality.
Kashfia is the Hi-Fi and Audio Editor of What Hi-Fi? and first joined the brand over 10 years ago. During her time in the consumer tech industry, she has reviewed hundreds of products (including speakers, amplifiers and headphones), been to countless trade shows across the world, and fallen in love with hi-fi kit much bigger than her.
The quick list
Best computer speakers overall
If you’re looking for a great-sounding but affordable pair of computer speakers, these will be perfect for you.
Best compact computer speakers
These petite speakers are beautifully made, will fit in anywhere, and they sound much bigger than they look – a brilliant addition to any desktop.
Best budget computer speakers
Packed with connectivity options, you’ll be hard pushed to find a better budget option than these unfussy 130W speakers.
Best computer speaker system
A stylish pair of speakers with extra streaming smarts built in, including wi-fi, Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast, makes this the ideal all-in-one system for your desktop.
Best computer speakers overall
The Elac Debut ConneX DCB41 are compact powered speakers, taking up so little space that they can fit neatly on a desktop flanking your computer. If needs be, though, the talented pair can also work in a decently-sized room next to your TV or stereo system.
Playback from multiple sources such as your computer and smartphone is possible thanks to Bluetooth aptX streaming, and USB type B input (which plays hi-res tracks up to 24-bit/96kHz). You can even use the Elacs as a decent soundbar alternative thanks to their HDMI ARC and optical inputs and there's even a moving magnet phono stage built in so you can plug in a turntable and get your records spinning.
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 they're clear, balanced and insightful performers, while 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 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
Best compact computer speakers
If you're really pushed for space, you won't find a finer pair of compact, powered, computer speakers than Ruark's MR1 Mk2.
Those handcrafted wooden cabinets are beautifully made, the speakers are good to use, and they’re the perfect petite size to sit on either side of your laptop, and fit onto a small desk, bookshelf or TV stand – no wonder they're repeat What Hi-Fi? Award winners.
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. Those stylish retro looks are a huge part of the charm too, oozing more class than most of the cast of Mad Men.
Sound-wise, these MR1 speakers are wonderfully musical. The amount of subtlety and detail conveyed is rich and rewarding. Their fluid dynamics, agile timing, punchy bass and natural way with voices all make them hugely enjoyable to listen to and the MR1 Mk2 sound lush and smooth while also being articulate. They convey the mood of songs faithfully, too – an impressive feat for a set of wireless speakers.
The step-up in performance from the original MR1 model is impressive, making the Mk2 even more appealing than before at a very attractive price point. Quite simply, these are superb PC speakers for any space, and absolutely ideal for anyone looking to be smart with their cash.
Read the full review: Ruark Audio MR1 Mk2
Best budget computer speakers
Versatile, simple to use, nicely put together and extremely affordable, the Q Acoustics M20 might not be the most compact pair of powered speakers on this list, but they offer such a versatile range of features that we'd certainly find a way to accommodate them on our desktop.
The modern-looking pair 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 speaker cable. Crucially, they really sound the part, feeling full, loud, spacious and energetic. For affordable speakers that pack in so much, we're impressed with how refined and detailed they also 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 are far more likely to become your entire music system than simply your new desktop speakers – and for this money, you’ll be hard pushed to better the sound quality with hi-fi separates. Well worth considering.
Read the full Q Acoustics M20 review
Best computer speaker system
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, so this might just be the financially smart option after all.
KEF has taken what was already a winning formula (the first-gen LSX were also What Hi-Fi? Award winners) and elevated it. The British company 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, produced a talented set-up that sings with any genre of music sent its way.
If you want serious speakers that will flank your desktop system and offer myriad streaming options, 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 simply fantastic, and nothing else really comes close at this level.
Read the full KEF LSX II review
Best computer speakers for audiophiles
It’s difficult to think of an amplifier and passive speakers separates 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 more expensive speakers and amplifiers to offer a marked improvement on these Acoustic Energy active speakers. Timing is spot on, the punch and drive apparent through all musical genres is thrilling, and the dynamic range is subtle and extensive enough to spotlight differing intensities of beats that can, texturally, be cluttered in other systems. There's fine integration and tonal balance too, with a maturity that's truly impressive.
These speakers have been around for a long while (we reviewed them back in 2018), yet their continued availability is a testament to their class. With that said, you owe it to yourself to track down a pair and discover the AE1's talents for yourself.
Read the full review: Acoustic Energy AE1 Active
How to choose the best computer speakers for you
When it comes to purchasing a pair of PC 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 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 computer speakers 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 (which offers stable and higher-quality playback, too). Some even support wi-fi and have network streaming smarts integrated, while others can connect to your TV and/or turntable to make a truly compact home system.
What all of the products above have in common is their ability to deliver good all-round performance, making it easy to recommend them as computer speakers worth buying.
How to set up computer speakers
Thankfully, computer speakers or PC 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 and Reading, 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.
- Best speakers: standmount, floorstander, desktop, active
- Looking for something more traditional? Here are our best budget hi-fi speakers
- Here are all our best speaker deals