A variety of computer audio amplifiers are available on the market, including audio interfaces, headphone amplifiers, and surround sound amplifiers. Each type of computer audio amplifier is designed to meet the needs of a specific type of consumer, such as a gamer, musician, or movie lover. Selecting a computer audio amplifier might seem like a difficult task, but if you know what you'll be using the amplifier for, and how to match one to your computer's hardware and software specifications, you'll be able to make a good decision.
Gamers, movie watchers, and musicians each need different types of amplifiers. Gamers and movie watchers typically require good audio quality, while musicians require the best and most accurate audio possible. Additionally, the content that gamers and movie watchers access is more likely to provide surround sound than the content musicians listen to or create. In general, gamers and movie fans benefit more from surround sound systems, while musicians prefer dedicated audio interfaces that provide a main stereo output. Musicians also require audio inputs, allowing them to record sound in audio production programs.
Surround sound systems for computers come in many configurations. Typically, each system includes a subwoofer and at least three other speakers. Depending on the type of system, it might connect to the computer via the universal serial bus (USB) or FireWire® port, and will usually show up as an additional sound card in the computer's hardware list. To select the best surround sound computer audio amplifier, consider the amount of space you have for accommodating the speakers, the types of connections available on your computer, and the loudness of the system. The system's loudness is usually defined in root mean squared (RMS) watts, with the loudness increasing as the wattage increases.
For musicians, a computer audio amplifier must provide accurate sound reproduction and at least one audio input for transmitting audio from an instrument to the computer. Typically, musicians use devices called audio interfaces, or external sound cards, to take care of their audio needs. These devices are available as rack mountable, desktop, and mixing console units. Rack mountable and mixing console units are typically larger than standard desktop units and provide more user controls, such as additional volume knobs, faders, and buttons. Each device also provides varying numbers of audio inputs and outputs, so you need to calculate the number of inputs and outputs you require for recording instruments, audio playback, and routing sound from the computer out to other devices, such as hardware effect units.
If you want to send the audio from a computer to multiple pairs of headphones, headphone amplifiers might be right for you. This type of computer audio amplifier takes the signal from the computer via USB, FireWire®, or the headphone output, and sends it to multiple stereo mini-jack outputs that are compatible with most headphones. The amplifier might also house additional controls, such as independent volume control for each pair of headphones or a master volume control. Some units also provide equalization (EQ) settings, allowing you to improve the audio quality by changing the amplification of certain frequency bands, such as bass and high frequencies.
Before selecting a USB or FireWire® computer audio amplifier, ensure that it is compatible with your computer's hardware and operating system. Each device typically provides a list of minimum system requirements, including recommended operating systems, hard drive space, the amount of required random access memory (RAM), and recommended processors. Your computer should meet or exceed these requirements. If it doesn't, the device might not work properly.