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Do All Monitors Have Speakers? An Expert Analysis

Computer displays have undergone rapid innovation from bulky bezeled CRTs to today‘s ultra slim frameless LED panels. But while video capabilities have dramatically improved, audio integration has suffered. This in-depth guide examines the past, present and future of built-in monitor speakers to help you upgrade your sound.

A Brief History of Monitor Audio

Integrated speakers were a standard feature of early personal computer displays. Basic single driver units fit neatly into the voluminous rear casing of CRT monitors. Sound quality was mediocre at best, but acceptable for basic system sounds and multimedia.

The transition to slimmer LCD displays in the early 2000s brought an initial boost in monitor audio. CCFL backlight panels had enough depth for improved stereo drivers and tuning. Multimedia displays with built-in TV tuners were also popular, making quality sound a key selling point.

However, around 2010 monitor speaker technology plateaued then rapidly declined. Ultra thin LED backlighting and near bezel-less designs meant no more room for decent integrated audio. Panel innovation was instead focused exclusively on maximizing video capabilities and aesthetics.

According to Omdia research, the percentage of monitors shipping with speakers dropped from over 60% in 2011 to under 25% by 2020. Desk space conscious consumers were also choosing compact external speakers over integrated audio.

But the rise in remote work and web conferencing has renewed interest in quality desktop audio/visual solutions. Dell estimates up to 30% of business monitors will include webcams and speakers by 2025 to serve hybrid workspaces better.

Identifying Speakers in Modern Monitors

The days of easily spotting monitor speakers behind front grills or side panels are long gone. But there are still subtle clues to look out for when display shopping:

1. Model Numbering – Monitor series featuring speakers usually have an "S" in their numerical codes. e.g. the Acer V277QS has integrated audio.

2. Product Images – Side views may show speaker grills along the bottom rear edge. Although images can be deceptive, so double check specs!

3. Ports & Connections – Search for 3.5mm audio out jacks in technical specification lists, as these allow speaker or headphone connectivity.

4. Feature Lists – Explicitly stating built-in "stereo speakers" in features/highlights confirms audio capabilities

5. Physical Checks – Open any plastic panels on rear underside to try and spot speaker drivers. No visible grills means no integrated sound.

Do Monitor Speakers Provide Decent Audio?

The bottom line is monitor speakers generally sound terrible for consuming multimedia or gaming. Their tiny drivers often face downward, resulting in muffled distorted audio. Limited space also means severely restricted bass response and peak volumes.

But what constitutes decent monitor audio? Technically, the key measures are frequency range, wattage power, and driver size:

Audio Spec Poor Average Good
Frequency Range (Hz) 100 – 15k 60 – 20k 40 – 40k
Power (Watts) 1 – 3 4 – 10 12 – 20
Driver Size (mm) 30 – 50 60 – 100 110 – 150

Monitor speakers usually fall into the poor category, with 100Hz – 15kHz response and 1-3W power through ≤50mm drivers. Their focus is reproducing voice for conferencing as opposed to immersive gaming or video soundtracks.

For decent integrated audio with warm balanced sound, look for larger rear ported speakers ≥100mm rated at 10W+ power. But lower frequencies ≤100Hz require a quality dedicated subwoofer.

Latest Monitor Innovations Showcase Improved Audio

The recent CES 2023 tradeshow gave exciting glimpses into the monitor marketplace trends. Multimedia displays made a strong showing, aimed to elevate home entertainment and remote workstation experiences.

Models like the Samsung Smart Monitor M8 feature built-in streaming apps plus 20W speakers tuned by audio experts Harman Kardon. Rival Dell also announced new Dual Speaker monitors with large angled drivers for clearer conference call sound.

But the most audio advancements come from professional media monitors transitioning to desktop. Brands like Genelec leverage decades of studio expertise for compact nearfield displays with pinpoint imaging. Similarly, Adami revealed their first consumer 3-way monitors tailored for creators seeking accuracy.

Integrating this degree of HiFi sound does raise costs considerably though. Be prepared to spend $500+ for professional quality monitors with speakers built to match.

Gaming and Surround Sound Setups

Serious gamers should avoid monitors with speakers altogether. Multichannel surround systems provide fuller immersion from accurate spatial audio. And open-back headphones give better in-game clarity from their wide soundstages.

But constructing an enveloping setup presents challenges. Five satellite speakers plus a subwoofer require careful placement following Dolby‘s guidelines:

  • Front L+R speakers angled inward at 30-45° as the main focus
  • Center channel directly in front, either above or below display
  • Side surrounds at 90-110° to listening position for ambient effects
  • Subwoofer on the floor away from corners to prevent boominess
  • Rear speakers behind the listener complete surround imaging

Ideally, position the listening spot one-third into the room facing the display. But compact desktop dimensions make this 5.1 layout tricky. Instead, virtual surround headsets using Dolby Atmos spatial processing create immersion without excessive hardware.

Alternatives to Monitor Speakers

Assuming built-in monitor audio is subpar, what are your best options for upgrading computer sound?Popular choices like multimedia headsets, desktop speakers and soundbars each offer distinct advantages:

Product Pros Cons
Headsets Virtual surround sound
Noise isolation
Voice chat
Wired can catch on objects
Audio isolation
Desktop Speakers Balanced stereo separation
Warm room filling sound
Desk space
Many wires
Soundbars Compact all-in-one audio
Simulator surround effects
Lack upward firing drivers
Need subwoofer for full range
Bookshelf Speakers Audiophile grade components
Open sound stage
Large footprint
Requires amplifier

For all-around audio excellence, compact powered speakers leveraging complex DSP provide stunning results without a separate amplifier. Models like the Genelec 4030C minimize resonance and sound profile customization tailors output to your room‘s acoustics.

Alternatively, simple soundbars mount neatly under monitors, with virtual Dolby Atmos adding immersive height to flatscreen displays. Just be sure to check for a wireless subwoofer for filling out bass response.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In closing, while monitors with speakers provide a tidier all-in-one package, their audio capabilities are decidedly lackluster. Instead, invest wisely in desktop solutions that enhance your computing experience rather than detract from it.

For most users, a quality headset or compact speaker system gives infinitely better sound for under $150. Let the display handle the brilliant visuals, and leave the audio to specialized components crafted by sound experts. Your media will spring to life with minimal fuss or clutter.

Do you have any other hot tips for realizing great desktop sound? Let us know your setup secrets in the comments below!