What Are Computer Speakers?
When you first turn your computer on, after a short delay, there is typically a distinct sound that comes from your speakers to alert you that everything has come to life and you’re ready to start using the computer. When you play a song on from your favorite playlist on your computer or load up a video you get an instant gratifying feedback from your speakers. Have you ever been more curious about speakers themselves though? I certainly have, and I decided to do a little extra research and wanted to share what I’ve found.
So just what are computer speakers? Computer speakers are an output hardware device that is commonly referred to as multimedia speakers. Speakers can be sold with a computer, or separately as replacements. They use electrical signal input from the computer to generate audible sound for our ears.
There is certainly more to speakers than just that simple answer though. I wanted to take the time to do a more in depth explanation throughout this article.
Important Terms to Know About Computer Speakers
Before we take a deep dive into computer speakers, there are a few different terminologies that you should know. Not all of these will always come up in a discussion about speakers, but knowing them will certainly expand your knowledge!
- Onboard Speaker/Integrated Speaker – Speakers that are built into the chassis of the computer. Modern day speakers of this nature are typically found on laptops.
- Watts – The amount of available amplification for the speakers. The more wattage available, the louder the speakers can go.
- Harmonic Distortion – Refers to the amount of distortion present in the sound produced by the speakers when the volume is increased.
- Frequency Response – A measurement of the highest and lowest point of sound and frequency the speaker can register.
- AC Adapter – A consistent power source for speakers that require it. An AC adapter is typically plugged into a power strip or wall electrical outlet.
- Signal Input Connector – This is a speaker plug used to connect to the computer in order to produce sound. Typically, these come in the form of USB or a 3.5mm jack.
- 3.5mm Jack Plug – A type of signal input connector for speakers. Computer speaker 3.5mm jacks are typically lime green which is part of a color coded standard for the back plate of computer cases.
- USB – Short for Universal Serial Bus. This is a port on the front or the back of the computer case. In the case of computer speakers, a USB port is commonly used to either power the speakers, or connect them to the computer in order to produce sound.
- Bluetooth – A wireless form of speakers that are more rare with computers. Bluetooth speakers typically run off batteries which can be unreliable with computers.
- Subwoofer – This is a loudspeaker that is designed to produce low-pitched audio. This creates a frequency that produces the bass effect, a rumbling effect that adds atmosphere to sound. Higher end computer speakers sometimes come with subwoofers included with them.
If you plan on purchasing speakers, quite a few of these terms will come in handy, as a lot of them will help you know exactly what kind of speakers you’re looking at before you buy them.
A Closer Look at Computer Speakers
When the microcomputer, otherwise known as the personal computer started to become popular in the mid 1980s, computers lacked the type of speakers that we think of today. Speakers back then were built directly into the chassis, a lot like laptop speakers, but at the time, they didn’t emit the same audio we expect to hear now. Instead, these onboard speakers were designed instead to generate different beeping tones. It was basic and low quality.
It didn’t take long for things to change, however. A man by the name of Abinawan Puracchidas got the idea of external and independent computer speakers while doing repairs of electronics in his local community. His initial creation was rudimentary and had a lot of crackling noises or unclear audio. Despite this though, he managed to get a patent for the invention, and ever since then, external speakers have continued to evolve.
These days, most speakers are crystal clear and can be bought with a computer as a package, or separately by third parties. These third party speakers are typically far more advanced than the default ones that come with a purchased computer. Usually offering a range of different options and convenience.
How Do Computer Speakers Work
Computer speakers, like most other type of multimedia speakers, have a fairly simplistic mechanical design. All speakers are made up of an iron coil, a cone, a housing case, and a magnet. This simplicity allows for designers to be creative with the housing case, allowing them to create many unique looks for different kinds of speakers.
Once the speaker is powered and plugged into the computer either through a 3.5mm jack or a USB port, it will receive electrical signals from the computer itself through the motherboard’s sound card.
This electrical signal drives a current through the iron cable which quickly vibrates it back and forth and the vibration interacts with the magnet. This magnetic field allows for the pulses of electricity to create a frequency that passes through the cone and emits different pitches and tones that culminate into the audio feedback we pick up in our ears. Otherwise, known as sound waves!
These days, modern speakers generally employ several different cone sizes in the same housing case. This allows for the electrical current to more precisely reproduce a wide variety of different tones and pitches. The result is a much more robust depth of sound for our ears.
Different Configurations of Computer Speakers
Computer speakers come in a few different varieties of configurations. This is a type of speaker set up that offers varying degrees of audio clarity and quality. The most common configurations are labeled as Two Speaker, 2.1, 5.1, and 7.1.
- Two Speaker – This type of speaker configuration is the most common, as it is simply the two default speakers on either side of the monitor. It’s the most recognizable set up because of its simplicity. For most computer users, a two speaker configuration is more than adequate for their needs.
- 2.1 – This is a very similar configuration to the two speaker set up. The difference is the “.1” in the label, which indicates the use of a subwoofer in the configuration. A subwoofer adds a lower pitch and tone than other speaker systems. A frequency that creates a rumble effect and adding extra depth to the audible sound we hear.
- 5.1 – Like 2.1, a 5.1 configuration comes with a subwoofer in the set up. Unlike 2.1 though, the “5” in the label denotes the use of five main speakers on the configuration. This type of speaker set up is very commonly known as “surround sound” because of the positioning of the speakers around the user.
- 7.1 – This is a very advanced speaker configuration that allows for an extremely high level of sound quality and precision. So much so, in fact, that it isn’t even fully supported by most media. A seven main speaker set up usually costs quite a bit more than all the other speaker configurations, but thankfully, it automatically reverts to 5.1 if whatever media you’re using doesn’t support a 7.1 set up.
Taking a moment to give my personal opinion, but as it stands I do not see any reason to use a configuration above 2.1 on your computer. Unless you find yourself watching all your movies and listening to all your music on your computer, you’re not going to get a great use out of a 5.1 or 7.1 set up. For their price points, it’s hard to recommend them for a computer!
Turn Up The Volume (Conclusion)
Computer speakers are a pretty interesting peripheral part of your computer. They certainly aren’t needed for the computer to function properly, but without them, the user experience would be greatly diminished. Would you want to use your computer without any sound coming from it? I know I certainly wouldn’t. Audio from your speakers truly rounds out the complete experience of using your computer in my personal opinion.
Hopefully you now know more about what computer speakers are and a little more of how they work. If you have any questions of comments please feel free to leave them below and I will do my best to respond to them directly!