Audioholics’ Guide in Getting Good Sound From a Desktop Audio System

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shadyJ

Speaker of the House
Staff member
Let’s start this article by stating the obvious: Computer desk settings have become a central part of not only much of many people’s work but also their hobbies. In other words, much of people’s activity happens at a PC desktop. The problem is that this isn’t exactly a setting for great sound, and we don’t typically think of a computer desk as a place for high-fidelity audio enjoyment. This is why headphones are so often the preferred audio device of choice in a desktop setting. The problem is that headphones have some significant shortcomings compared to speaker-based sound systems. The problem with loudspeakers on a desktop is that they are more complex to set up and are compromised by being stuffed into a desktop environment. So are we stuck with headphones and otherwise doomed to spend our time in a place that just can’t have good sound reproduction without them? The answer is a resounding no! Read our guide in getting good sound from a desktop audio system!

READ: Audioholics’ Guide in Getting Good Sound From a Desktop Audio System
 
JamMaster

JamMaster

Enthusiast
Wow, thank you so much for putting this together! I do still have one question. In the sections about dispersion you mention driver distance and waveguides but no mention of concentric/coaxial designs. Could you please address this specifically? I am very keen to know if concentric designed speakers would in general be better suited to this environment and to what degree. As per my other thread, I also have the question of concentric speakers in side orientation. If you were able to reply to that question as well it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
 
S

shadyJ

Speaker of the House
Staff member
Wow, thank you so much for putting this together! I do still have one question. In the sections about dispersion you mention driver distance and waveguides but no mention of concentric/coaxial designs. Could you please address this specifically? I am very keen to know if concentric designed speakers would in general be better suited to this environment and to what degree. As per my other thread, I also have the question of concentric speakers in side orientation. If you were able to reply to that question as well it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
Concentric drivers would be very good for near-field applications since there is no significant distance between the tweeter and woofer. There is no off-axis lobing which would occur with pretty much every other speaker were you to lay them down on their side. Concentric driver speakers are mostly unaffected by orientation.
 
KenM10759

KenM10759

Audioholic Samurai
I have had KEF iQ10, LS50, and now Egg (active) concentric driver speakers on my desktop for years. They work fabulously.

I've found that NOT pointing them right at my head, rather straight ahead, gave me a much broader and deeper soundstage.
 
panteragstk

panteragstk

Audioholic Spartan
I need to get some monitor pads. Or make some. That'd help with keeping the bass out of my desktop and tilt my speakers up toward my ears. Hmm..
 
JamMaster

JamMaster

Enthusiast
Concentric drivers would be very good for near-field applications since there is no significant distance between the tweeter and woofer. There is no off-axis lobing which would occur with pretty much every other speaker were you to lay them down on their side. Concentric driver speakers are mostly unaffected by orientation.
That is a very helpful confirmation. Should we assume then that a "semi-concentric" speaker, like the Elac Ubi 3-ways which have the concentric mid and tweeter but a separate woofer, would therefore be less desirable oriented on their side due to the lobing effect? They would be better compared with a standard design, but still not as good as the full concentric design like the KEFs? Thanks.
 
S

shadyJ

Speaker of the House
Staff member
That is a very helpful confirmation. Should we assume then that a "semi-concentric" speaker, like the Elac Ubi 3-ways which have the concentric mid and tweeter but a separate woofer, would therefore be less desirable oriented on their side due to the lobing effect? They would be better compared with a standard design, but still not as good as the full concentric design like the KEFs? Thanks.
Coaxial speakers that have a separate bass driver like the ELAC Uni speakers may not work quite as well but should still work well if placed on their side. The reason is that the crossover to the bass driver is so low that, acoustically speaking, it may still act as a single emitter with the coaxial drive unit. If drivers are closer together than one-half of the wavelength of the upper end of their crossover frequency, the pressure waves they emit are too large to behave as though they came from discrete sources. With a 270Hz crossover to the bass driver, I wouldn't expect the Elac Uni speaker to have much in the way of cancellation lobes on either the horizontal or vertical axis. It should work pretty well on its side.
 
JamMaster

JamMaster

Enthusiast
Thank you very much James, that is precisely the information I was looking for. Very helpful.
 
J

JoeThePop

Audiophyte
Nice article. Because of the pandemic I have been working from home since March of 2020. I decided after using my old Yamaha receiver, a pair of Paradigm Titans and a CD changer on my desktop for a few months that I needed something a bit tidier. I now have a pair of SVS Prime Wireless speakers on my desktop and love how they sound. However, they are sitting directly on my desktop, and your article has just about convinced me that I need to lift them up a bit. So would setting each of them on a book be a good interim plan? I can't think of any negative effects of this except maybe how it looks.
 
S

shadyJ

Speaker of the House
Staff member
Nice article. Because of the pandemic I have been working from home since March of 2020. I decided after using my old Yamaha receiver, a pair of Paradigm Titans and a CD changer on my desktop for a few months that I needed something a bit tidier. I now have a pair of SVS Prime Wireless speakers on my desktop and love how they sound. However, they are sitting directly on my desktop, and your article has just about convinced me that I need to lift them up a bit. So would setting each of them on a book be a good interim plan? I can't think of any negative effects of this except maybe how it looks.
You can use a stack of books to elevate the speakers. It's not the ideal speaker stand but it is better than nothing. For what it's worth, I think those iso-acoustics desktop speaker stands that are popular are very over-priced. Here are some affordable alternatives that look decent: Technical Pro 8, Universal Desktop, and here is one that looks pretty good for larger speakers: Workstream by Monoprice, although that is meant for video monitors, it looks about perfect for some o the larger loudspeaker monitors. Desktop speaker stands are something that could be done real easy as a DIY project as well.
 
L

LRAD

Audiophyte
Those with Windows PC will want to consider a method to obtain ASIO (Audio Stream In Out) personally I utilize a USB Audio 2.0 windows driver to clean up the signal path. That goes from the laptop out to a DAC for the office system or the home system. From research those with Apple OS do not have the same limitation so they have no need to fix the audio path.
 
S

Skinjob

Audiophyte
What LRAD said. It would be good for the article to mention how important it is to use ASIO or WASAPI Excusive Mode drivers. Otherwise there is going to be resampling going on in the windows mixer, even if all the "enhacements" are disabled. Any pro audio interfaces will come with those drivers, but on-board or consumer audio interfaces usually don't. In that case you can use ASIO4ALL to avoid windows molesting the digital signal, but that really only helps if you want to output digital as the analog output of on-board or cheap interfaces is usually terrible.
 
panteragstk

panteragstk

Audioholic Spartan
You can use a stack of books to elevate the speakers. It's not the ideal speaker stand but it is better than nothing. For what it's worth, I think those iso-acoustics desktop speaker stands that are popular are very over-priced. Here are some affordable alternatives that look decent: Technical Pro 8, Universal Desktop, and here is one that looks pretty good for larger speakers: Workstream by Monoprice, although that is meant for video monitors, it looks about perfect for some o the larger loudspeaker monitors. Desktop speaker stands are something that could be done real easy as a DIY project as well.
Nice. Now I have a design to copy for my own stands. The technical pro 8 look to be pretty much what I'm looking for.
 
XDM

XDM

Enthusiast
My experience: there is such a thing as 'too big' when it comes to desktop audio.

Example: I had a BK P12-300SB-PR subwoofer (big 12" sub with a passive radiator).
It barely added anything because that cone needs some minimum amount of power to get moving, but if I turned it up, it ended up being too loud for me in nearfield. And caused all kinds of room modes (excess bass). I switched to a sealed subwoofer (REL) and the experience was much better.

Another anecdote: I regretted putting my Mission QX2 bookshelves on my desktop. They have a 6.5" woofer ('curvilinear' front cone), which is great for HT but is not suited for low volume listening that goes with a nearfield setup. So ironically I experienced a lack of bass with those at low volume.

I kept thinking I should have gotten the QX1 (or LX1) with the 5" driver. I switched to speakers with 5" woofer and may even go to speakers with 4" woofer soon...
 
S

shadyJ

Speaker of the House
Staff member
My experience: there is such a thing as 'too big' when it comes to desktop audio.

Example: I had a BK P12-300SB-PR subwoofer (big 12" sub with a passive radiator).
It barely added anything because that cone needs some minimum amount of power to get moving, but if I turned it up, it ended up being too loud for me in nearfield. And caused all kinds of room modes (excess bass). I switched to a sealed subwoofer (REL) and the experience was much better.

Another anecdote: I regretted putting my Mission QX2 bookshelves on my desktop. They have a 6.5" woofer ('curvilinear' front cone), which is great for HT but is not suited for low volume listening that goes with a nearfield setup. So ironically I experienced a lack of bass with those at low volume.

I kept thinking I should have gotten the QX1 (or LX1) with the 5" driver. I switched to speakers with 5" woofer and may even go to speakers with 4" woofer soon...
I don't subscribe to the idea that minimum power is needed to get a cone to move. If that is true of a speaker or subwoofer, then the suspension system has been poorly engineered.
 
R

RedGreenBlue

Audiophyte
Love your article.
By the way I found it much easier to setup surround speakers for my desktop system than for my home cinema.
I connected three stereo sets with two speakers each to my sound outputs, thus having Front L/R /Side L/R and Rear L/R Speakers.
Makes quite a difference in some games (Thief The Dark, Project, Thief 2 , Apex Legends...).

(Not using HDMI because most graphics cards only output audio when extrending or cloning the screen area. Which either requires an addional monitor or forces one to live with limited options regarding refresh rate...)

I like to ask something.

If I have an analogue stereo signal is there a simple device which basically takes a Stereo signal and outputs L, R and Center or would I need a special amplifier/receiver?

(It seems almost all soundcard/motherboard audio will only support up to 7.1 (maybe excluding hdmi).)
I would like to expand my system to 8.1 so as to get better positional sound in games.

PS:
Awesome website. Keep up the great work and stay healthy.

Best wishes from Germany
 
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S

shadyJ

Speaker of the House
Staff member
If I have an analogue stereo signal is there a simple device which basically takes a Stereo signal and outputs L, R and Center or would I need a special amplifier/receiver?

(It seems almost all soundcard/motherboard audio will only support up to 7.1 (maybe excluding hdmi).)
I would like to expand my system to 8.1 so as to get better positional sound in games.
Pretty much any upmixer can take a stereo signal and mix it to have a center channel. Any AVR with analog inputs can do this. However, I think going from 7.1 to 8.1 will offer very negligible returns in positional sound and probably isn't worth the effort.
 

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