Premium Two-Channel PC Speaker Roundup

It’s time to focus on basic PC audio with a two-channel speaker roundup. We look at the Altec Lansing Expressionist Bass FX3022, Bowers & Wilkins MM-1, Creative Gigaworks T40 Series II, and M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 to see what these systems can offer.

Human beings come factory-equipped with five senses. Taste and smell are effectively ignored when it comes to PC technology (Ed.: unless you really screwed up an overclock, in which case your sense of smell might be assailed), and touch typically plays a limited role in interfacing with peripherals like keyboards and mice.

That leaves sight and sound to do most of the work when it comes to "experiencing" software. Of those two senses, sight gets most of the glory. Advances in graphics cards, displays, and now stereoscopic technologies are most palpable, and consequently receive most of our attention. Let’s face it, sight is the pampered sense of the computer industry.

Sound isn’t ignored, of course, but we'd argue that speakers aren't doted on like modern GPUs. So, we’ve decided to take a thoughtful look at some of the premium PC audio options available out there. We recently scrutinized a handful of 2.1-channel speaker systems. But what if you don't want a subwoofer taking up floor space? What if earth-pounding bass isn't your cup of tea? And when it comes to cost, what if you'd rather save some money? After all, 2.1-channel configurations tend to cost more than two-channel setups. If any of these issues concern you, perhaps a pair of satellites is preferable to the 2.1-channel kits we reviewed earlier this month. Today, we're broadening our horizons to include a few alternatives.

Here are some of the more important specifications of the products that we compare in this review:

Altec Lansing
Expressionist Bass FX3022
Bowers & Wilkins
Gigaworks T40 Series II
Studiophile AV 40
25 W
72 W
32 W
20 W,
per channel into 4 ohms
Small Speaker:
two 1.5" drivers
two 1" tweeters
two 1" tweeters
two 1" tweeters
Large Speaker:two 4" subwoofers
two 3" drivers
four 2.5" drivers
two 4" cones
two 1/8" jacks
1/8" jack (rear)
USB input (rear)
1/8" jack (front)
1/8" jack (rear)
1/8" jack (front)
Stereo RCA input (rear)
1/8" headphone (rear)1/8" headphone (front)1/8" headphone (front)
Stereo RCA output (rear)
Stereo TRS output (rear)
Controls:Volume buttons
Volume buttons
(satellite and remote)
Various media player controls
on remote
Volume, treble, and bass knobs
Volume knob (front)
Bass boost switch (rear)
10" (H) x 5.25" (W) x 5.25" (D)
per satellite
6.6" (H) x 3.9" (W) x 3.9" (D)
per satellite
12.3" (H) x 5.5" (W) x 5.5" (D)
per satellite
8.75" (H) x 6" (W) x 7.25" (D)
per satellite
1.15 lbs. per satellite,
2.3 lbs. total
1.8 lbs. per satellite,
3.6 lbs. total
3.3 lbs. per satellite,
6.6 lbs. total
7 lbs. per satellite,
14 lbs. total
6' long
1/8" mini-to-mini cable
5' long USB cable,
5' long 1/8" mini-to-mini cable,
Wireless Remote
6' long 1/8" mini-to-mini cable,
1/8" stereo mini-to-RCA adapter
5' long 1/8" stereo mini-to-RCA splitter cable,
5' long 1/8" mini-to-mini cable,
two grip pads
two yearstwo yearsone yearone year
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  • mi1ez
    Once again, I'll stick to my Denon amp and Mission floorstanders, thank you.
  • Silmarunya
    A rather strange selection of speakers... A lot of well received speakers in this price range are missing (the Audioengine A2/A5 for example) and even the speakers that you did select are strange at best. They range from lower end ones to fairly expensive speakers. Not a real apples to apples comparison.
  • mcVAN
    1. If you take measurements in a live room, which your room appears to be, the reflections (echoes) make a complete hash of all freq. response tests. NONE OF YOUR FREQ RESP. GRAPHS CAN BE TRUSTED. The only way that FR testing in a live room can be done accurately is to time-limit the signal or the capture -- ie capture only the first -- say -- 50ms of the white noise (or whatever test signal you are using). Short enough so that most of the room reflections don't have time to get to the mic.

    2. Nowhere is listening setup indicated. What room, what position, what distance between speakers & listener, etc, etc. Atop the desk? On stands? close to the wall? away from the walls? within 4' of the speakers? 8' away? Speaker/listener positioning is so pertinent to the end result you hear. You blithely tell us of subjective impressions without a single word about the setup for each speaker system.
  • dz1
    Yet another reviewer who fails to mention the annoying buzz the amp makes on the AV40. I had to get rid of two sets because of the humming problem that reviewers like to ignore. I've owned about a dozen sets of computer speakers and none buzzed like the AV40.
  • Anonymous
    I've always been intrigued by the PC audio amplifier/speaker systems and the prices they command, and the fact that PC-oriented reviewers never look any further than these 'PC dedicated' systems. As a music buff first and foremost, even the top-end PC speaker systems sound appalling compared to even a moderate hi-fi. Resorting to e-Bay and the like I was able to get a Meridian 101/103 pre and power amp, and a pair of fantastic specialist-made bookshelf speakers for under £200. Yes they're old, but to better their audio performance you would need to spend GBP1,000 plus on new equipment. This is real hi-fi and better than most people's main audio systems today. Music and game audio from the PC are a world apart from anything these PC speakers will deliver.
  • dz1
    What bookshelf speakers do you have or do you recommend costing under £200? I am looking at a second hand pair of Monitor Audio BR1. The AV40 would have been great if it didn't hum.