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For basic audio, cheap isn’t always bad—a pair of $25 computer speakers can provide decent playback. Take the Creative Pebble, our current top pick for budget speakers, which comes in at $20 and can stand toe to toe with some models twice its cost.
But cheap speakers have physical limitations. You generally can’t create the same sound as more expensive alternatives with less expensive materials and a smaller footprint. As you go up in price and size, you should expect a richer audio experience. And the Edifier R1280T, which sits at the high end of the budget price spectrum at $100, largely delivers that.
These 42W bookshelf speakers aren’t computer speakers by design—they connect to each another with typical speaker wires and require an RCA-to-3.5mm cable to plug them into a PC. (One is included in the box.) Down the road, you can connect these to a compatible receiver as part of a broader audio setup, if you so choose.
But you don’t need anything beyond these speakers, since they have a pre-amplifier built-in. You can pull the R1280T right out of the box, plug it into your PC and an outlet, and immediately hear the benefit of using speakers four times the size of the Creative Pebble. Bass is strong and smooth on these at higher volumes, something smaller speakers can’t pull off.
And these speakers can go loud. The R1280T easily fills a bedroom at moderate loud volume and can still pushfurther. They’re not immune to distortion—if you like to blast your music or you’ve got a penchant for small house parties, these won’t be up to the task. But as computer speakers positioned within two or three feet of you, you can crank them up pretty high without issue.
As for the quality of the audio through these speakers, everything gets a fuller, warm finish, including voices in video calls. On default settings, the balance between the lows, mids, and highs isn’t as even as I prefer—the bass slightly overwhelms the mids and highs. In songs with a lot going on, not every element comes through crisply. Fortunately, you can adjust the treble and bass separately with the two adjustable knobs on the side of the right speaker. With some fiddling, I was able to bring the mids and highs more to the foreground without compromising those pleasing lows.
Performance for the R1280T also depends on where the speakers are placed at your desk. For the best experience, you want them at ear level. When they’re below that (which can happen when you put them directly on the desk), sound coming out of them becomes hollow and thin. It can take a little bit of thought to figure out where they should go, however. They take up a fair amount of room, with each speaker measuring 5.8 (W) x 9.2 (H) x 7.7 (D) inches, and they’re also weighty. I ended up positioning them behind my monitor, stacked on old books so they cleared the top of the screen. (You can opt instead for a set of speaker stands for a cleaner, tidier look, but the books gave me more control over the exact height.)
Speaking of looks, the Edifier R1280T comes in three finishes: black, white, and faux wood. Our unit was the faux wood variant, which I preferred over the more sterile appearances of the white and the black. (But that’s of course a matter of taste.)
For $100, you should expect speakers that don’t sound like you’re on budget. Edifier delivers that with the R1280T, but its out-of-the-box sound profile and distortion at higher volumes keeps it from being a hands-down winner. If you don’t need the flexibility that its RCA connectors offer, you may want to consider the Sound BlasterX Kratos S3, which costs $20 less, comes with a dedicated subwoofer, and takes less space on your desk. But you won’t go wrong choosing these speakers.
Alaina Yee is PCWorld's resident bargain hunter—when she's not covering PC building, computer components, mini-PCs, and more, she's scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.