14th December 2006
In my opinion the best dedicated computer speakers for less than $300 is the Logitech Z-5500 which has about 500 watts. What about using a home theater system? For about $200 you can get a name brand 800 watt surround system, or for less than $300 you can get over 1,000 watts. Are any of these systems any good? Now this is probably one of those n00btacular questions, but if most good sound cards have separate audio headphone ports for each channel, how would you go about hooking your PC up to a home theater system that has coaxial audio (only a right/left). I mean you can get an adapter for coax, but there is still no way it could take all of the seperate out-puts from a PC. The only way I can think of is the optical out if you have one. Mostly those are only offered as an integrated solution. So can you get your PC to work with a 5.1 surround sound home theater speaker system? Its very cost effective...
Must you really use a (p) but brackets to make paragraphs on here?
Ever heard the expression "Size isn't everything"? Well in this case it's wattage, especially if you're getting LOTS of it for little cash. Bang for the buck home theater speaker/receiver sets make less sense than buying decent PC speakers IMO. One of the main drawbacks to such sets is in paying for the receiver they cut corners on the quality of the amp and speakers. You can call them "name brand" all you want but most big name brands anymore have their price point junk. With a good set of PC speakers you're paying for mainly the speakers themselves and the AMP. I use the original Creative Gigaworks 5.1 set that IMHO is far better than the Logitech Z5500s. It has 560 watts total, but the main thing is it supplies 260 of that just to the sub, which is where much of the wattage is needed. What's left is about 60 watts per satellite which is about what the Logitechs use for theirs. Mine also have two drivers per satellite so you get dedicated tweeter and midrange drivers rather than one driver that is full range. I also don't have buzzing or hissing in the center channel which has been a common complaint with the Z5500s. Nor does the bass sound boomy, it's very tight and accurate having plenty of wattage. Unfortunately the current Gigaworks 5.1 design is far inferior to the originals and even cost more. Much of it is due to their going to a totally unnecessary and at times even problematic wireless design. They no longer have two drivers per satellite and now have only 310 watts total. To get Gigaworks like mine you either have to hope to find them on Ebay (Creative has an Ebay store as well) or get the Gigaworks 7.1 set, which goes for about $430. I still prefer mine even to their 7.1s though because the 7.1s use 70 watts per satellite vs 60, leaving you with 210 watts for the sub vs 260 watts. Still though, 210 watts to an 8" sub makes WAY more sense than the Z5500s 188 watts for a 10" sub, which is really pushing it as far as under powering a sub, especially if you have it at half or more volume in a fairly large room. The Z5500s using 69 watts for their center channel DOES make more sense however than the Gigaworks 60 watts, as dialog in some movies is fairly soft, but if I had to put up with the buzzing and hissing many have spoke of, usually a sign of poor amp design, it would just be worse. The first 5.1 speaker set I ever had was the THX ones ALtec Lansing used to make for Dell that were egg shaped (forget the model). They too had an annoying buzz in the center channel and I can tell you it is nerve racking. I got my Gigaworks 5.1 set for $317 nearly 3 years ago from Newegg and fear if I ever part with them I'll never find anything comparable, certainly not in that price range anyway. One other note, if you don't already have a decent sound card I would factor buying one into the price. Even though onboard sound has evolved into commonly being 7.1 channel and even HD audio, it still lacks the frequency response and THD levels to take full advantage of good speakers and can even damage them at loud volume levels. Much of this is due to their solid state design, lacking capacitors to store current needed for bass tones.
I'll eventually (hopefully soon) be buying some Z-5500's after reading up a lot on them. I hear the Gigaworks set is nice too, but they've had a lot of issues with them, more so than the Logitech set. The speakers I have now, Creative p7800 7.1, sound OK and haven't given me trouble but they sure aren't high end.
To the OP, I know my X-Fi soundcard has optical in/out on the front panel.
I have the Logitech Z-5500s and a friend of mine had the Creative 5.1 Gigaworks and I can easily say the Logitechs are much better. When I was considering buying my speakers I was looking at Z-5500s or the Klipsch Pro-Media Ultra or whatever it was that was 5.1 and had that little square box control pod. The Klipschs cost about $60 more at the time and I didn't really see it as worth it. In any case, if you want a good sound card get an M-Audio Revolution. I certainly do not trust Creative and their problems with their sound cards and drivers. You could hook home audio speakers to your PC, but it would be a bit much. The cheap recievers you can buy at the store are not that good of quality. If you were considering that, you'd be better off to buy something older (Late 80's thru 90's). I was recently trying to acquire a stereo system setup and I have finally got all the necessities and I really enjoy it. I have a Technics stereo receiver (100 watts per channel), a very nice professional Technics CD player, and an old professional Pioneer Turntable (PL-71). It's all hooked up to a pair of KLH T-5AWs and I have to say they have a very clean and good sound. They are a tad lacking bass at specific times but otherwise they sound very good and when I turn them up to listen in the other room I can hear them much easier than my PC speakers turned up. In any case, I'd just stick with PC speakers for your computer because they're just easier to hook up and for the application you'd be using them are more appropriate. Let me know if you end up getting a home audio setup on your PC though, I had considered it before I bought my speakers and may do it on my other computer.