Best Bookshelf Speakers With Big Sound for Few Bucks
Dear Reader: It's always heartening to hear when some young go-getter -- presumably raised on low-quality MP3s and even lower-quality earbuds -- stands up for audio fidelity. We salute you, sir! (Of course, you're also expecting top quality on the cheap, but we'll forgive your sense of entitlement and chalk it up to youthful exuberance.)
Anyway, we've done the stroll down desktop speaker row ourselves, and have found that the selection generally isn't to our liking. While certainly there are plenty of great 5.1 and 7.1 surround systems, and even 2.1 systems that provide pretty good boom for the buck, when you get into the self-powered computer speaker realm, the pickings get slimmer; cheap plastic bodies and alternately tinny or flat sounds saturate the market. But, as you might guess, we do have a winner for you, and, in case you have a severely limited budget, we've included a cheaper runner-up (as well as a top-shelf pick, should your roommates step up and chip in).
Our pick for best overall buy is a set of swingin' M-Audio Stereophile AV30 speakers, priced nicely at a penny less than 100 bucks. The first thing you'll notice when picking up a pair is that these puppies are husky -- just under 10 pounds to be exact. This is a good thing, and, since the speaker housings are made of sturdy medium density fiberboard (MDF) for vibration elimination, they allow for better audio output than their plastic equivalents.
Best Under $100
Put to the test against our iTunes playlist, the AV30s pump out appreciably fuller, cleaner sound with more bass kick than any comparable speaker we've tested. Listening to a genre-traveling mix that took us from Kanye, Mos Def and The Roots, to Radiohead, classic Bowie, Air, Desmond Dekker and a little Shostakovich (among others), we were literally and figuratively blown away by the ample distortion-free volume -- even when using the 'bass-boost' switch. While we're sure you'd notice the difference between the AV30s and a system with a dedicated subwoofer, there's still plenty of clean bass "thump." Think of it as enough to boogie down without getting a noise violation. Besides the RCA input on the back (as the speakers nicely come with an RCA-to-1/8-inch cable), the AV30s also have an auxiliary input up front, in case your roommates tire of your musical stylings, and want to plug in their own iPod or laptop without fiddling with your connections.