The Best Way to Make Music Played on a Computer Sound Great

If you’re like me, and you listen to music a lot on your computer, you’ve probably tried out various self-powered speakers that connect to a computer. You can put these speakers on your desk, and they don’t take up much space. But you have probably found that, no matter how much you spend on them, they simply don’t sound that great.

There’s only one solution if music quality is important to you. Give up on speakers and connect a stereo amp to your computer.

You don’t need to get top-quality equipment; even a mid-range amp will sound much better than any desktop speakers, and since the speakers will be quite close to your ears, you don’t want too much power.

61lvuQyQEQL._SL1200_.jpgI use a Cambridge Audio Sonata receiver, which currently costs around $300, together with Sirocco speakers, from the same company (similar to their current S30-N speakers. I’ve also got a sub-woofer, and the sound is better than any desktop speakers I’ve ever heard. You could choose any similarly priced amp or receiver and get decent quality sound, or you could go for higher-end equipment, if you prefer. But don’t go for a cheap mini-stereo setup; the amp or receiver won’t be very good, and the speakers won’t give you the type of sound you expect.

41bi60DwezL._SX300_.jpgAnother option is studio monitors. These are high-quality speakers with built in amplifiers, designed for near-field listening in studios. With them, you don’t need a separate amp. For example, the M-Audio BX8 D2 has an 8-inch low frequency driver, which should be enough to get good bass on your desktop. I prefer using a real amplifier, however, as it offers more options for adjusting sound. Also, my receiver has more inputs, so I can connect other audio devices if I want.

I have the speakers on stands on the far corners of my desk that are almost exactly at the height of my ears, angled so they’re pointing at my head; you don’t want the speakers pointing straight out from your desk. They don’t have to be too far apart to get good stereo separation, because they’re close to you; however, I find that the soundfield is best if they’re a foot or so to the side of my 27″ monitor.

You could also put the speakers on your desk, using desktop stands like these that tilt the speakers toward your head. I’d rather not have them on my desk, though, because I’m afraid they’d vibrate too much, and I have plenty of other things cluttering my desktop.

No matter which way you go, spending around $500 will give you an excellent sound system that is superior to just about any “computer” desktop speakers you’ll ever hear. You may already have an older amp and speakers that, perhaps, you replaced in your living room with a surround-sound system. In this case, it is worth recycling that hardware and using it with your computer. (And you could add a DAC to the mix if you want to get an extra-sweet sound, but only if the amp and speakers would benefit from it.)

10 thoughts on “The Best Way to Make Music Played on a Computer Sound Great

  1. I’ve connected my iMac (after 2015) using headphone jack (3.5 mm plug) out to the auxiliary (RCA) input of my integrated amp (TEAC A-H500) which I’m using to power my desktop speakers (Definitive Technology Pro Cinema 1000) . What I’m not sure about is do I set the volume on the amp and control the volume from the iMac or do I set the volume on the iMac and control the volume from the amp. What should level of the volume be set at? Or is it all preference? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • You’ll get conflicting opinions on that. Audiophiles may say to have iTunes’ volume at the max, and only adjust the volume on the amplifier. I don’t think it makes a difference. I’d just choose whichever is more practical. If it’s easier to adjust the volume on the computer, do that; if you have a remote for the amp and find it easier to adjust the volume that way, then do it. I don’t think the sound quality is affected either way.

      • Thanks for the advise! I find your website to be be very informative and I appreciate that. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

  2. I’ve connected my iMac (after 2015) using headphone jack (3.5 mm plug) out to the auxiliary (RCA) input of my integrated amp (TEAC A-H500) which I’m using to power my desktop speakers (Definitive Technology Pro Cinema 1000) . What I’m not sure about is do I set the volume on the amp and control the volume from the iMac or do I set the volume on the iMac and control the volume from the amp. What should level of the volume be set at? Or is it all preference? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • You’ll get conflicting opinions on that. Audiophiles may say to have iTunes’ volume at the max, and only adjust the volume on the amplifier. I don’t think it makes a difference. I’d just choose whichever is more practical. If it’s easier to adjust the volume on the computer, do that; if you have a remote for the amp and find it easier to adjust the volume that way, then do it. I don’t think the sound quality is affected either way.

      • Thanks for the advise! I find your website to be be very informative and I appreciate that. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

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