Desktop and hi-fi speakers, what’s the difference?

The PSB Alpha B1 speakers on the left are functionally very different from the Audioengine A5+ speakers on the right.

(Credit: Steve Guttenberg/CNET)

Judging by the number of e-mails I get on this subject, a lot of folks don’t understand the difference between computer and hi-fi speakers. For example, how is an Audioengine A5+ ($399 a pair) functionally different from a PSB Alpha B1 speaker ($300 a pair)?

Both have 5-inch woofers and tweeters, but the A5+ has something you won’t see on the Alpha B1, or any hi-fi speaker: a volume control. That’s because the A5+ is a “powered” speaker, meaning it has built-in 50-watt-per-channel stereo amplifiers. The Alpha doesn’t have its own amps and has to be hooked up to a power amp or receiver. The differences don’t end there: the A5+ can be used as a “nearfield” speaker on a desktop, where you might be just a few feet away from the speakers. The Alpha B1 was designed for stand- or wall-mounting, and listened to from 6 or more feet away. That’s why it’s classified as a hi-fi, not desktop, speaker.

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