What are you doing while you read this? Chances are good you're listening to music on your computer desktop. How does it sound? If it's coming through your run-of-the-mill computer loudspeakers it probably ranks as barely listenable. It doesn't have to be that way. The computer desktop listening environment can be the best place in your home for listening to two-channel music. Why? Let me count the ways.
Ten Reasons The Computer Desktop Makes
1. Listening to music at your desktop can be a far more intimate experience than a full sized room.
2. Desktop loudspeakers can be set up to completely minimize early reflections.
3. You have precise control of your listening position.
4. Short distances make passive preamplifiers practical.
5. Cable runs are short so you can minimize their negative effects.
6. Subwoofers can be easily placed under the desktop.
7. Using subwoofers means you can use smaller, more sensitive loudspeakers that need only go down to 200Hz.
8. Nearfield placement makes it possible to drive loudspeakers with low power amplifiers.
9. With most amplifiers you will use five watts or less to drive your speakers to full levels, which reduces the amplifier's potential for distortion.
10. It is simpler and less expensive to set up the ultimate high-end desktop music system than to assemble a system in a full-size room.
The Death Of Two-Channel Listening Rooms
In The United States
As a reviewer I have not one, but two top-flight home multi-channel home theater screening rooms in my home. Both do a fine job of reproducing two-channel sound, but even the smaller one lacks the intimacy of the best two-channel systems I assembled during the '70's and '80's using Quad ESL-57 loudspeakers and tube gear. I'd venture to say that both of my current systems are more accurate, but pure accuracy does not always equate to musical intimacy and emotional involvement. The ideal two-channel environment must allow the listener to emotionally bond with the music.
A Two Channel Solution
Listening to two-channel music at my computer desktop creates a similarly intimate and direct experience as with headphones, but with desktop speakers carefully triangulated with my listening chair and less than two feet away from my ears, music retains full dimensionality and proper spatial relationships. In short, the computer desktop is the ideal two-channel listening environment.
Until recently my computer desktop listening environment consisted of a pair of small active computer-grade speakers. I listened to many different models and brands before I settled on a pair that sounded tolerable. When set up properly they could image decently and at least had a tolerable midrange between 500Hz and 3000Hz. Like all computer-grade speakers housed in plastic boxes they had noticeable plastic resonances when you tried to play them at anything approaching satisfying volume levels. Also their pitiful little internal amplifiers produced audible distortion when driven hard. In short they were adequate for reproducing "You've got mail" and low-level background music, but little else.
One day I had an epiphany -- why not use small high-end monitors instead of computer speakers on my desktop? Why not, indeed?
Having been in the high-end audio reviewing game for decades, I've inevitably kept certain two-channel gear that I grew attached to, even though I've had no place to use it. It's been filling my closets for years. Explaining to my wife why I needed to keep it has often been an exercise in creative rationalization. "I might need it someday." Someday suddenly arrived.
Personally, I've come to the conclusion that a high-end desktop system has the potential to offer the dedicated audiophile the most intimate and fulfilling musical experience possible. The late great Harvey Rosenberg believed that musical ecstasy could only be obtained by using single ended triode tube amplifiers. I feel that the ultimate musical ecstasy lies right here in front of you, on your computer desktop. In the coming months I intend to explore the outer limits of the two-channel nearfield desktop listening experience. I hope you will join me.