Computer Speakers: A Short History

Computers used to come with a small mono speaker placed in the back. All they were used for were short beeps that communicated messages from the BIOS. One beep would mean the computer is functioning properly while two beeps would refer to a boot issue. This is still the case with many computers. Computer speakers have come a long way since they were first created. From that first diagnostic beep to full multimedia capabilities computer speakers have matured alongside the personal computer.

The first revolution in computer speakers occurred during the transition between text based computing (as experienced in a DOS system) and a more visual experience (first widely introduced in Windows 3.1). Now that there were visual aspects to computing (maximizing and minimizing windows, clicking icons etc.) sounds became associated with these visual effects. I am sure many of you remember the sound that Windows 95 made when you started it up! These sounds (stored as.wav files) became more and more advanced. Short music files were looped and accompanied the first games increasing their immersion factor. Sound became an integral part of computer use.

All of these sounds were generated by the sound capabilities provided on the motherboard. As the sound demanded by these programs increased, separate sound cards were developed to deal with the required complexity. These sound cards were able to do the necessary computations in order to generate richer, fuller sound; the CPU of the computer was no longer required to handle these tasks. Now the sound cards were dedicated to providing the best possible sound experience to the end-user.

The introduction of the mp3 file brought music into the mainstream for computer users. Now they could listen to their favourite artist while doing their normal computer tasks. Now there was a reason to provide separate computer speakers to drive the listening experience. These speakers originally were just two tweeters and were low in power. As they advanced in quality a subwoofer was added enhancing the deep bass abilities. In time, these have progressed to full 5.1 systems (5 speakers providing surround sound along with a subwoofer).

The latest multimedia computer speaker systems can match, and even exceed the quality found in bookshelf speakers. They have become more aesthetically pleasing to the workspace and often provide that extra touch to the decor of a room. Technically, they can now provide exquisite sound along the whole spectrum of audio wavelengths with strong low ranges and crystal clear high ranges. Having that extra sound experience can improve the watching of videos or provide that extra immersion when playing video games.

Try this experiment. Use your computer for a full week without having the speakers turned on. You will quickly realize the benefits of a quality computer speaker system. Computer speakers have advanced in all categories since their beginnings in the early 1980’s.