Published Date
01 - Dec - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Dec - 2006
Even before the PC becomes the entertainment hub of the home, so many of us have such large movie and music collections on our computers that speakers are no longer "accessories"; they're essentials! This year, we've tested a lot of speakers, and were more than satisfied with the evolution that desktop speakers have undergone.

Myths And Realities
PMPO matters: quite simply, it doesn't! Impressive as it may sound, a 10,000-watt PMPO speaker set may actually fail to satisfy your ears. And we're talking regular ears, not audiophile ones! PMPO is the maximum output capability of the speaker set for a very short (usually instantaneous) period of time. The real thing you should look at is the RMS rating. A good speaker set with an RMS spec of 100 watts will probably outperform speakers quoted at 5000 or even 10,000 watts PMPO. This is because their RMS rating will be closer to 40 or 50 watts. There's no mathematical relation between RMS and PMPO, and you'll have to specifically check for the RMS rating. The good news, is they're being advertised a lot more now.

A 5.1 speaker set is always better than a 2.1: not necessarily. Sound quality is what matters, along with your intended usage. A general rule is, realistic gaming and DVD viewing are best experienced on a 5.1 speaker system, while audiophiles swear 2.1 speakers are best for music. Even for music, it depends on whether you like your music without frills-in which case you should opt for a 2.1-or if you like the frills, such as environmental and reverb effects, in which case you're better off with a 5.1.
Sound quality has nothing to do with 5.1 or 2.1. It's a function of the build quality of the speaker components. A good 2.1 will sound better than an ordinary 5.1, and the reverse holds good too.

Questions To Ask

What wattage do I need?
A woofer should be able to thump out at least 30 watts RMS to enjoy decent sound in movies and games. For a larger room (say 20 x 20 feet), you'll need something in the range of 50 to 100 watts RMS from the subwoofer. For a desktop PC, your satellites should make do with 10 W RMS each. For a larger room as mentioned above, you'll need at least 20 W from each satellite. A set of powerful speakers in a small room will not sound good, while a less powerful set will obviously be lost in a large room.

How many speakers?
There are 6.1 and 7.1 sets available too. However, the fact remains all surround sound sources are 5.1 (six channel), so the extra one (or two) channels aren't doing much to your movie experience. Although some games support 7.1 channel sound, the difference isn't all that noticeable, and we'd hardly recommend a 7.1 setup to a gamer. It seems 5.1 speakers hit the sweet spot for gamers and movie buffs alike. 4.1 speakers don't make sense either, since they derive the bass channel from the front two channels. In other words, they aren't good enough for surround sound scenarios.

What To Look For

Subwoofer quality: A heavier woofer generally means better quality components-magnets and heatsinks are heavy! Wooden subwoofers sound best. A good size for the subwoofer driver is 6.5 to 8 inches.

Satellites: Look for the presence of both a mid range driver (3 or 4 inches in size), and a tweeter (0.5 to 1 inch in size) on the satellite speakers. The mid-range driver is responsible for mid-range music reproduction, as in vocals. The tweeter is responsible for producing the very high frequencies.

Live demos: If you're going to buy a 5.1 setup, you'd better take along a good 5.1 DVD movie with lots of sound effects to the vendor. Most showrooms and vendors will give you demos, and you can easily insist on using your own disc for the demo. Music lovers could take along a high-bitrate compilation of their favourite MP3s.

Additional options: A remote for example. Some speakers also come with multiple connects-to a DVD player. Some 5.1 speakers have wireless rear speakers.

Sound certifications: Most surround sound speakers support standards such as Dolby DTS (Digital Theatre Systems), Dolby Pro-logic and AC-3. Some speakers also support the more prestigious THX and THX Ultra standards. THX is a component standard rather than an audio standard, aimed at ensuring a certain level of sound quality through standardised components used in the speakers. For discerning buyers concerned with sound quality, look for compliance to these standards on any speakers you buy. THX certification is costly, and these speakers will cost more.

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