Make Your PC Audio Rock (in Time for the Grammys)

photo credit: Amy LemenThe big, popular names in current music will hit the stage this coming weekend for the Grammys. That got me thinking: I need to make sure that my current music setup is up to snuff. So, whether you’re rocking a Beats Audio-enabled HP gear – or you just want a couple solid tips for when you crank the tunes on your home PC, this story is for you.





The first thing we need to establish here is how you plan on listening to your music.


Will you want others to face the music – or you wanna keep the groove to yourself?

If you want to keep the music to yourself, a headset / pair of good headphones are the obvious option. WHICH PAIR DO YOU BUY? Well, I suppose it’s my job to jump up and proclaim: “BEATS AUDIO FOR EVERYONE!” I’ll spare you that. For now. My best advice: Go to the local electronics store and see if you can test out the demo models. If you need a pair for drowning out sound in-flight, ear-isolating headphones are best…or, of course, battery-powered, noise-cancellers are an obvious choice. What you should be looking out for is how the headphones fit on your head, if they let your ears breathe (any head sweats?) and how well they project sound. If you crank the music, how quickly do the speakers distort sound? (Also, see if you can plug the demo headphones into your own player and listen to your own music. You know what to listen for on your favorite tracks….). I did a whole story a while back about examples of types of Beats headsets that’d be ideal for different situations. You can check that out here.


bluetoothspeakerdanceparty.jpgWhen you do want to share your music, do you want to take it with you on the road?

Let’s assume for a second that there’s a laptop or phone you want to hook up to badass speakers. If you want to share tunes on the road, the best powered speakers are the ones that work reliably and stow easily in your bag. What you’re seeing out there now are Bluetooth-enabled handheld nerdy boom boxes….LOTS of them….and for the most part, they don’t come cheap. Fortunately, I was able to test out HP’s flavor and what I can tell you is that not only is it affordable, I like the rechargeable battery option at work here. You see, there are rechargeable AA batteries that plug into the back (and can be recharged via USB). But, if you’re caught out of position, you can pop in any ol’ AA batteries and you’re back in the mix. Not many other portable speakers offer that kind of flexibility. I did some audio tests on these runts – you can read about them here.


ENVY 27 Beats.jpgHow hard do you plan to bump the beats around your house?

OK, so you’re staying in tonight. That’s cool. But are you throwing your party around your PC? Or are you trying to stuff a house full of audio dynamite?


Here’s the deal: At your desktop, most people these days settle for a 2.1 speaker system (two main speakers and a subwoofer). If you go to the local electronics store, you’re likely only going to find these sorts of setups. Absolutely nothing wrong with em, of course. Heck, if you’re looking to maximize sound in a very tight desktop space, I’d recommend you consider the ENVY 27 monitor. What the heck does that have to do with sound? Well, there are two Beats Audio speakers built into the bottom of the display. You get good two-channel audio and a sweet-looking 27-inch IPS panel for $499. I haven’t had extensive testing time with this solution quite yet, but you can read up on the ENVY 27 right here.


NOW BACK IN MY DAY, it was usually a 5.1 or 7.1 speaker kit in my PC gaming octagon of doom. Yep, surrounded by 7 speakers. Ridiculous, I know…that was before I had to try and impress potential dates. But I digress. Point being, you want to make sure that the speakers are fairly evenly spaced apart even if we’re talking about two speakers. Make sure that the subwoofer is planted in a good location. I like to park the sub near a corner so it has more places to bounce the bass – that’s me, though. These days, I see people buying extra hardware like an external DAC converter and pairing them like a fine audio wine with awesome PC speakers. Other folks veer toward all-in-one kits that have an external Amp and several speakers. Which should you get? Well, that’s a tricky one and it comes down to how much you’re willing to spend. I found a pretty solid list of speaker choices over at – warning, it gets expensive, FAST.

Now, if you’re looking to jam a house-full of house music, all you need to do is remember that in today’s home your PC is easily connected to your home theater on your home network. If you’ve got….let’s see….an Xbox 360, a PS3, an Apple TV, a ROKU box, Boxxee, a SONOS….some smart TVs...basically, you have a lot of ways to connect the butt-kicking speakers in your living room to the PC sitting in your home office.  (We did a story about this very subject a couple years back.)


A quick word about Beats Audio

You knew that I’d have to slip in a couple choice words about Beats Audio into this story. After all, HP is the only computer maker to embed separate Beats Audio technology into the computers themselves for better, crisper sound. Well, I’ll spare you the dissertation on audio quality here, but something to chew on: The difference in sound in Beats audio is that we adjust the settings in a very specific way (for example, even the music content above 10 KHz is tweaked). I sat down with HP engineer Victor Lee to get the skinny…and you should go ahead and read this story if you want how Beats Audio works explained to you.


Now, if you're looking at (or already using) a PC with Beats Audio, don't take the control panel for granted. Your audio settings are highly configurable (for example, try switching to Video or 3D Movie mode next time you're streaming something from Hulu or Netflix.) If your PC doesn't rock the Beats "b" you can always opt to try downloading some extra software for doing some audio fine-tuning beyond what Windows allows. I haven't used it myself, but I did come across Actual Solution's Power Mixer.


All right, that's enough rambling for now. Go forth, my minions, and rock.


(and, if you're following the Grammys in any capacity, check out what my man Arjan is doing over at He's the official blogger for the show.)

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