With most music collections now stored on a hard drive, getting good sound from a computer – or portable MP3 player – has never been more important. We sample what 2.1 speaker systems bring to the (work) table.

Recently, it’s become difficult to tell where one entertainment device stops and another starts. Your TV can display your PC desktop, your 5.1 surround connects to your computer for gaming, and your computer can play DVDs and function as a mass storage media server.

So what if you want to separate business and pleasure, as it were? Or at least, separate different kinds of pleasure? What if you want your PC to be a dedicated music device that sits in its own space, leaving your lounge room entertainment system to itself?

Anything you can get for your home cinema you can get for your PC, that’s the nature of the market. But there?s been a recent trend toward bigger, louder, more technologically complex devices.

Less is more

Forget 5.1, now it’s all about 7.1. Speakers in every nook and cranny! Massive subwoofers in place of your coffee table, making all the teacups rattle when the Vicar comes to tea!

Having a 5.1 (or more) system for your PC can be fun, and is great for many modern games. But a big speaker system isn’t so great if you’re pressed for space. We’re talking wires, wires and more wires, and somehow figuring out how to suspend the two rear speakers behind your study chair.

Dimly, you may remember a thing called ‘stereo’, where two speakers sent slightly different audio signals to each of your two ears.

Stereo as a term might be outmoded, but there are still simple, compact and even stylish 2.1 speaker systems available. They’re called 2.1 because as well as two satellite speakers (one for the left channel, one for the right) they also include a subwoofer to enhance the bass signal that compact satellite speakers can’t produce. This subwoofer is either built in to an integrated unit or sits apart from the satellites, usually on the floor under the desk.

When basic, entry-level PCs started shipping with built-in surround sound capability, the future of the 2.1 speaker system looked dark indeed. But 2.1 systems have been rescued by, of all things, a portable device: the MP3 player.