Certain close members of my family will tell you that I game A LOT. In fact, the bullets are flying constantly in my living room and it’s a miracle that the bomb and grenade explosions haven’t yet made the neighbors sell their house and move away.
Speakers are often forgotten about because gaming monitors, keyboards, desks and chairs take top spots on most wishlists. So this article is dedicated to finding the best gaming speakers for PC and console gamers.
Yes, I have an absolute beast of a sound setup, which I’ll describe for you later. But here’s a list that pretty much takes you through all the research I went through when I was trying to figure out how to get the best gaming speakers that weren’t so expensive that my girlfriend would walk out in disgust.
Don’t Let Them Sneak Up On You
I’m old enough to remember when gaming soundtracks were pretty much crap and weapon sounds were even worse! Back then you could slap a cheap pair of 5-inch plastic speakers on either side of your computer monitor and deal with it.
But nowadays… woah… try pulling out an old set of plasticky Cyber Acoustics from 2005 and you’ll easily miss 9/10ths of the action going on around you. Game developers have dramatically upped the immersion factor of modern games and your sound gear has got to keep pace.
If you play ANY shooters online, the guy with the surround sound setup has got the jump. Period.
It doesn’t matter if it’s zombies, assassins or Nazis. You need way better equipment to hear the crafty enemies that are out of your field of vision but still close enough to kill. Nothing would get me down more than being raked from behind by a bunch of chumps in Fortnite, so I solved my problem by finding the gaming speaker upgrade that I’m going to tell you about a bit later.
What I love about computer equipment is that performance (in general) keeps going up far faster than prices do, which is a big win if you want to upgrade your gaming setup one piece at a time. Honestly, a simple pair of AmazonBasics desktop speakers runs about $15 and blows away what used to cost twice that about 5 years ago.
Before we start ranking and rating speaker systems, let’s talk about some of the standard terms, types and connections.
Speaker Tech 101: A Crash Course
What is 2-channel sound?
Often called simply ‘stereo’ sound, 2-channel attempts to present audio as it would come from either your right or your left. When rendered with the proper equipment, you will hear sound coming from those two directions.
What is 2.1 multichannel sound?
A step beyond plain, 2-channel sound, 2.1 adds a subwoofer component to the mix. So you still have the left-right distinction as above but the addition of the subwoofer makes it possible to deliver more accurate bass.
Bass was one of the toughest things for old desktop speakers to deliver, so the addition of the subwoofer was a welcome step. While 2-channel sound had been capable of simulating that fighter plane sweeping from your left to the right, the subwoofer could help you feel the rumble of its throaty engines.
What is 5.1 multichannel sound?
Put simply, the ‘5’ in 5.1 means that a system can simulate sound coming from 5 points around your location. When gamers use the term surround sound, this is what they mean… the ability to interpret where the action is taking place around them.
It took a while for computer technology to develop process this many distinct sound tracks in realtime, but every popular video card on the market now can handle the task with ease.
If 5.1 multichannel is good, will 7.1 be great?
Naturally, 7 is better coverage than 5. But the incremental joy you’ll get with a 7.1 multichannel setup is probably less than you’d guess. Spatial sound processing (encoding and decoding) has already made 5.1 sound nearly like a 360-degree experience.
A nicely-engineered set of 5.1 gaming speakers will rock all but the largest of rooms, I assure you. It’s also extremely atmospheric when you’re creeping through the Skitterweb Tunnels in WoW or hitting the ground running in the Montana badlands of Far Cry 5.
Are Gaming Speakers Expensive?
Well, they can be. There are always companies that build audiophile speakers, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near necessary to spend big money for an awesome gaming experience.
My favorite gaming speakers are all under $100, and you can even find big sound (though maybe not quite as crisp) for half of that price!
Things to Remember BEFORE You Hit the Buy Button
Firstly, you have to make sure your new speakers have exactly the connection types you need. Most PC computer gamers are using motherboard-based audio these days, using 3.5mm stereo inputs. Finding a compatible speaker set for those is no problem at all, but make sure you are getting an adequate amount of speaker wire. Even a 15′ by 12′ room requires nearly 100 feet of it to give you true flexibility in speaker placement.
Console gamers have a few decisions to make that PC gamers do not. First of all, if you’re connected to an average TV’s sound you’re gonna hate the result. There are very robust soundbars out now that do their best to simulate surround sound, but hardcore gamers know that it doesn’t translate very well in something hectic like a first-person shooter game.
That leaves you with three big options, really. One is to outfit the TV with a true theatre/gaming setup, and that gets super-expensive really fast – especially if installation technicians are needed to keep the living room or family room looking uncluttered when the job is finished.
The second option is to get a proper mixer and patch your PS4 or Xbox sound into your computer speakers. I’ve done that and it was a very simple setup overall.
Finally, you could opt for a great console gaming headset and be done with it all in a hurry. That puts the mic right where you need it, gives you very acceptable spatial sound separation AND keeps your marathon gaming sessions from causing the neighbors to send the police over for a chat.
Best Gaming Speakers: My Top Recommendations
Desktop Gaming Speaker Category (Includes 2.0 Powered Monitors and 2.1 When Subwoofer Available)
Mackie CR3: CR Series Multimedia Monitors
This is a “simple” set of 2 desktop-sized speakers that provide excellent 2-channel sound at a price that won’t break your budget. In fact, they sound absolutely amazing!
First of all, they’re visually attractive. The cabinets themselves are black and 100% wood, with very tasteful green highlighting. They sit comfortably on most desks with a width and depth of right around 6″ and a height around 9″ when you use the included (and awesome) isolation pads that sit between the speaker and desktop to minimize rattle or distortion at higher volume levels.
The front of each monitor is really sharp AND useful with an AUX input plug if you want to rock tunes from your tablet or phone, a headphone ouput plug and a spinner volme know that has a circular green-lit highlight around it for night use. There’s no fumbling around for the remote or reaching around to the back – so easy to use and it looks awesome when the room is dark.
These do not come with a subwoofer, but there are other options in the Mackie Creative Reference Series of speakers that we will discuss below. But honestly, most small to medium-sized rooms will be perfect for these. With a full-range frequency response of 80 Hz – 20 kHz and power at 50 watts, you have all the sound you need for crystal-clear music and gaming.
Things I Love:
– lighted volume control on the front
– AUX input plug on the front
– Isolation pads to sit under each speaker
– Uber-clear 3-inch woofers
– Top-quality cabinets that look very smooth
Things I Think Are Missing:
– Subwoofer for more bass
You can grab the Mackie CR3 speakers here, but read on first to see what your other options are.
Mackie CR4BT: CR Series Multimedia Monitors
If you were to tell me that you were willing to plunk down $100 and no more for your gaming speakers, I’d say the Mackie CR3 above are your very best budget speakers. But you’re going to stumble upon some music, and at least a few games, where the extra bass that comes from either a subwoofer or bigger woofers would make all the difference.
And for that reason, I’d like to suggest the Mackie CR4BT speakers. For more money you are adding features to the already-incredible CR3.
The CR4BT comes with a beefier 4″ woofer. For those of you who have some audio experience, you’ll already know that larger woofers can quickly ramp up the bass. Of course, too much bass can make it hard to pick out the mids – but that’s a prioritization that every person has to decide for themselves.
These speakers also include bluetooth streaming, so if you want to stream Spotify from your phone but can’t be thethered to your desk while doing so, just pair up with the CR4BTs and off you go!
Look, these cost more $$$ than the CR3 (which I love!) because you get two main features – larger woofers and bluetooth streaming – that the CR3 doesn’t have. But both of them have tons of the key features that make Mackie a great desktop speaker option.
Things I Love:
– the beefed-up woofer makes gaming so much more immersive
– the bluetooth streaming is really nice – pairs up easily and lets you move around with phone in handle
– all the stuff I raved about with the CR3… these look beautiful, sound spectacular and have crazy-useful front-panel features like volume and AUX input
Things I Think Are Missing:
If Money is No Object: Klipsch R-15PM Powered Monitors and R-10SW Surround Subwoofer
This one is for the audiophiles and budding producers.
Not a lot of people would even consider spending so much money on a pair of of monitors. Especially considering the quality of some of the budget speakers like the Mackie choices above.
That said, there is a reason why these Klipsch R-15PMs command such premium bucks. Premium price means premium sound, and the R-15PMs deliver a clarity from tweeter to woofer that will have you noticing fresh nuances within tracks that you have already heard dozens of times.
The’re truly spectacular in every respect.
They’re designed with their own high-end phono pre-amp built into the body of the speakers. If you are frustrated by the ridiculously low sound output from TVs, you can hook these up to and modern television and the ultra-low noise amplifier will give you all the sound you’ve been missing. It’s a home theater setup without a bunch of unnecessary clutter and complication.
The R-15PMs also come with 3.5mm aux, bluetooth, digital optical, analog RCA and USB inputs. One nitpick is that all of these inputs is on the speaker’s back, and I find that frustrating – especially not having the volume know and AUX input handy like the Mackie monitors do.
These are pretty big on a desk. You’ll need about an 8″ footprint for each one and they rise to a height of 13″ or so.
To take the sound quality to insane levels, you can pair the R-15PMs with a matched Klipsch subwoofer. Yes, you’ve now spent hundreds of dollars on your setup but you can just sit at your desk for days and days slobbering over how amazing everything will sound. Your music? Like being in-studio with the musicians.
Your games? Have you ever picked a lock in Assassin’s Creed and heard exactly what a professional thief listens for when he does it? It almost pulls you out of real life and shoves you into the story.
We recommend pairing up with the Klipsch R-10SW to kick this sound quality from stratospheric to interstellar. It produces possibly the most complete sound we have ever heard from a set of desk speakers.
There are certain experiences in life that we will decide to spend extra on, and I can see why this Klipsch speaker-subwoofer combo would be one of those passion purchases. Yes, they are pricey, but if you are in the market for high end sound, there are plenty of reasons to take a long look at Klipsch.
They are as good as desktop speakers get. And, when combined with the versatility of having so many different inputs as well as built in pre-amp, there’s a lot to love with these wooden and copper cubes.
As an aside, you can choose between Cherry and Black cabinets for these speakers, but the Cherry model is (without a doubt) the best-looking desktop speaker set that I have ever seen.
Things I Love:
– Excellent low noise pre-amp fleshes out the sound spectrum beautifully
– Perfection in sound with the subwoofer; but still priceless without it
– Cherry cabinet option that looks better than anything on the market
– Robust set of inputs
– Comes with a really nice IR remote
Things I Think Are Missing:
– Front-panel inputs (esp. AUX and volume control)
Creative Inspire T6300 5.1 Channel 22W with Subwoofer
These Creative Inspire speakers are our number 1 pick for the average gamer, especially if you’re into atmospheric RPGs and FPSs where sound direction is almost a character of its own.
They’re in the middle of our price-range and come with a full complement of 5 satellite speakers and subwoofer. Which means you get full surround sound at a reasonable cost.
While it’s not a ‘professional’ setup, they won’t break the bank and are a brilliant choice for those looking to upgrade to 5.1.
The subwoofer is the main hub for the speakers, with all the satellite speakers plugging into that along with the inputs from the PC.
To get the best out of the T6300 system you will need a motherboard or soundcard to push all of the separate sound and subwoofer outputs to the speakers.
There’s also quite a bit of setup required, with 6 speakers to position and set up. Luckily the rear speakers come with extra length in the cables so you can put them where you need them.
Once set up, the speakers are pretty impressive. With excellent bass and a powerful, crisp sound perfectly suited to a medium-sized room.
The wired-in volume control is handy as well. I would have liked a bass adjustment on there too. Instead, you’ll need to reach round to the subwoofer to make adjustments.
For a gamer’s first foray into the surround sound market, these speakers can’t go too far astray here. With quality sound and the versatility that comes with small satellite speakers, they’re excellent mid-range gaming speakers.
Razer Leviathan – Elite Gaming Soundbar: Fanboy’s Choice
If there is one gaming brand that stands out beyond all the rest it would have to be that glowing green snake we all know and love as Razer.
‘Built by gamers – for gamers’.
And now finally Razer have weighed in on the speaker market with the Leviathan soundbar.
Rather than go for a standard speaker system, Razer has opted for a bluetooth enabled soundbar.
Dark and brooding below your gaming screen, the Leviathan blasts out phenomenal sound quality. It also comes with a separate stand-alone subwoofer to give a real level of depth to the sound.
Software-wise, it has selectable equalizer options to optimise the sound quality for what you may be using it for. And the Bluetooth connectivity means you can play anything you want through it.
One issue we have with the Leviathan is that it doesn’t come with a remote control. That said, the soundbar is designed for PC use and so we expect to be sitting in front of it most of the time.
If you have the budget, get the Razer Leviathan. It’s a great high-end choice for a gaming speaker setup with great looks and excellent sound quality to match.
Products Featured in This Review
The list of gaming speakers above is a great set of options for excellent sound at reasonable prices. I’ll keep it updated as models change and technology advances, but there’s nothing on that list that can’t give you at least 3-5 years of steady hardcore gaming.
If your budget is, say, $50 or less then go ahead and grab a 2.1 multichannel system from above. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that a good 5.1 system doesn’t sound better, but budget is budget. Nobody’s gonna defend your wallet like you, man.
And don’t buy a system for wattage. Oh no!
The dumbest gaming speaker mistake you can make is getting some tiny plastic box with tissue-thin speakers and trying to cram 250 watts through it. Your ears are gonna hate you, your neighbors are gonna let their dogs crap on your lawn, and your goldfish will be floating at the top of its bowl before your first boss battle ends.
Remember, we want loud and clear when we are gaming, NOT I’m-at-a-death-metal-concert sound violence. All the setups I posted above have the right wattage for their components to really shine.
If you have the patience to setup a nice speaker system and configure your sound card to maximize the effect, you’re going to enter a seriously special gamer realm. And you’ll thank me.
It’s gonna be glorious.