/ Technology

Do you want better sound quality on your laptop?

Man with laptop wearing headphones

I’ll often listen to music or watch TV on my laptop and, although it’s doable, I’m definitely not getting great audio quality. With the trend for ultraportable models and thinner laptops, isn’t it likely to get much worse?

The space needed to create a rounded sound experience is just not available on laptops.

Is it time to admit defeat, and realise that if you care about the quality of what you’re listening to, you must bite the bullet and plug in some speakers?

Of course, you could use a pair of headphones – slightly more antisocial and you’d have to be sitting in one place – but our laptop testing generally shows far improved sound when listening through this method than with the built-in speakers.

Different sounds for different reasons

I suppose it’s all a matter of convenience, personal preference, and what you’re actually listening to. If you’re Skyping a friend or watching a short TV show, the built-in speakers are likely to be fine. But if you’re listening to music or watching a film that tinny sound is going to grate after a while.

You might think that the whole point of having a laptop is to have a portable computer that you can use wherever you like, without having to tie it down to a separate speaker set. And you certainly wouldn’t be wrong.

And what about laptops with branded audio, like the ones that claim to have Harman Kardon or Dolby speakers? They might have the sticker on their product but, as our laptop testers at our lab recently pointed out, it’s not always clear what difference this actually makes in practice.

No hope for laptop sound quality?

Even though sound quality varies between models, I’m not blaming the manufacturers – even the best just can’t compete with a full surround sound external speaker experience. And to be fair to them, the technical limitations of built-in speakers on laptops mean it’s just not possible.

What do you think? Are you happy with the sound quality of the built-in speakers of your laptop for what you want to use it for? Would you be willing to plug in an external solution or are you happy to take a drop in quality to keep it portable and reduce hassle?

Comments
Member

You can’t have a laptop that is cheap and does everything you want it to.

Similar to the convo on audio performance in flatscreen tv’s, manufacturers will not overspend on features they feel are superfluous to many. If you want high-quality sound then you will have to invest in some high-quality audio equipment.

Member

Hi Dean – I totally agree with your comment, if you want a laptop that’s cheap you are going to have to make some compromises. The point I was trying to make is, even if you are willing to spend the money on a top of the range laptop, it doesn’t make much difference in terms of the audio quality.

Member
Chris Payne, says:
14 September 2011

I get a reasonable sound from my laptop, it has a bass speaker in the base that throws out a better than average sound. Headphones are much better and save batteries on train when commuting and reduce noise for my neighbours. At home I have Blutooth speakers for radio quality for sharing YouTube etc and films get streamed to desktop plugged into Dolby surround amp and large tv. No one expects to have great sound on this platform, like an iPhone there are plenty of solutions if quality or louound is needed, the market does not support specialising laptops for the mainstream, it does support by providing lots of hardware and software to enable laptop and desktops to be great tools.

Member

I use a set of Logitech G51 5.1 surround sound speakers with my laptop (I also use an external 7.1 surround sound card via USB) and they generate awesome sound when playing HD films on my laptop or simply listening to music. Being 5.1 I never move them, but my TV is by my desk so I often play content on my TV from my laptop using the speakers. The laptop’s internal speakers are surprisingly loud but in the past 3 years I’ve hardly ever used them – they’re more a handy accessory if I need to share audio with other people nearby.

Member

Speaker design has improved greatly over the years but it is still not possible to produce good quality sound from anything small enough to fit in a laptop. If sound quality is important then use earphones, headphones, external speakers or a stereo system – or more than one of these options.

Tablet computers present even more of a problem because they are so thin and there is so little space available for speakers.

Which? has recently reported that flat-screen TVs produce rather poor quality sound compared with the old TVs that had large cases and much better speakers.

Member
Prakash says:
18 September 2011

Hi

I have never had good, or even acceptable, sound neither from my desktop PC nor my laptop (both Medion). The other aspects are just as good as any other PC/laptop, and the sound quality and volume have been a constant irritation. I don’t want ‘theatre/cinema-quality sound, only some reasonable, consistent sound.

There are numerous controls available, and it is impossible to change a property/sound effect, then listen to the ‘Test’, and, invariably, repeat the process until I am suficiently annoyed to give up trying – in most cases, my personal attempts at improvement, have failed. The technical support team (calls at premium rate) have little information regarding sound issues; the standard answer is: “check your sound card, check for driver updates, do not use sound booster devices, the speaker configuration is incorrect and an engineer callout would cost £100 at least (because it is not a fault), read the manual, but we don’t give one with the product, the latest drivers/updates and up-to-date manual/options are available online only” etc. These are designed either to make money or to reduce complaints/blame customers and essentially put the blame on the owner, convincing them it is their attempts that caused the problem. Importantly, these are ‘manipulation’ techniques to reduce their costs, most customers will never opt for an engineer callout and the potenial cost they have to agree to ‘in advance’ providing a credit card payment

I do hope someone has some good ‘sound’ advice to help all of us to get reasonable quality from in-built laptop speakers – is there a sound control program that is easy too use and works?

Member

I suggest that you use external speakers. There is a huge variation in quality, so it is worth finding a friend or a shop that will let you test your laptop on their speakers.

Member

If we will have “HD” & “3D” Video why go pre 78rpm Audio?

Member

I agree with others. I don’t think we can expect small laptop speakers to be as good as a larger external alternative. Having said that I have an Acer Aspire with (I quote) Dolby Home Theatre 5.1 Cinematic Surround. It’s not quite Hi-Fi but, for a laptop, I think it is excellent. It did come at a price. I hasten to add, though, that I did not buy the laptop because of the audio. I bought it for the 19″ screen.

Member

Has Which? tested speakers for laptops? I’m looking for some to plug into my MacBook Pro. (Not too pricey but with good sound quality.)