System for listening while working at computer

I have a friend who spends most of his workday at his computer and is not satisfied with the sound he’s getting from the Mac’s built-in sound card and speakers. He would not call himself an audiophile, but several members of his family are musicians and he often goes to live concerts; I know he can hear differences among audio components.

I’ve never set up a system designed for a work desktop, so I’m asking for suggestions to help him. I’m imagining a pair of speakers designed to be placed on either side of a monitor (maybe with a subwoofer) and a combination amp/dac/volume control. I do know that powered speakers are available; is it better to use those or stick with a separate amp? I assume that an external DAC would be much better than the built-in sound card. That’s all I know (or should say don’t know). My friend says he prefers speakers to headphones. He often streams Apple Music (I think; if Tidal or Qobuz offer better SQ I’ll steer him that way) but will also play CDs or digital files stored on the Mac. He would be receptive to mid-price components but not the really expensive stuff. I (and he) will appreciate any help.

I loved my Sprout. It offered a low cost entry into the world of high end audio.

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I just looked carefully at the Sprout page on the PSA website. This is a very impressive unit and might be just what my friend needs. The question then becomes what speakers to pair it with. I noticed that PSA offers a package of Sprout and ELAC 6.2 speakers. I don’t doubt that those work well with the Sprout, but they may be physically larger than would fit next to a computer. I also wonder if speakers used in this situation need to be specifically designed for listening at very close range.

You might want to take a look at a Audioengine, they come in both active and passive and are popular in desktop setups. I went through several types of “desktop” speakers before I settled on the A2’s and haven’t felt the need to upgrade (yet…)


In terms of bang per buck a pair of iLoud Micro Monitor active speakers would be hard to beat. I use them both as my computer speakers and as the ‘hifi’ in my wife’s French house. Their performance is impressive.

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A couple of KEF LSX and a small sub was my covid desktop system, it sounded great.

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I had used those Elac 6.2 and eventually evolved to Elac UB 5.2. Those are probably still rather large for desktop situation, BUT, I do actually use them in what some might consider a near field setup. I sit about 4 feet from the speaker setup and I end up with an amazing sound stage, always impressed by imaging I got from that setup.

Though, seeing some of the comments, an active speaker is a great idea too and would remove some of the bulk of the setup. Though…the Sprout. An amazing piece of kit.

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Matrix mini-i Pro 3 is a good example for reasonably priced DAC-streamer with a decent headphone amp (balanced & single ended plugs) in addition to a pre-input.

Add active speakers, and he’s all set.

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I don’t recommend audioengine speakers because I find them sounding muffled and very low-fi.

Consider Schiit Audio gear. A Modi DAC with Magni used as a preamp into a Rekker amp driving a good small bookshelf speaker by Elac or Wharfdale will sound better than powered speakers.

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Thanks to everyone who has replied – the suggestions are all very useful! Much research to do here . . . . Sprout + passive speakers appeals to me because it’s a paradigm I’m familiar with. I’ve never used powered, wireless speakers; a whole new thing to wrap my head around. I might even try a pair with my own laptop to replace the Amazon Basics super-cheap speakers I have at the moment, except that I just spent a lot of money on my DS Mk2 + streamer upgrade.

OK, a followup: I’ve been researching this stuff today. It seems that the various powered speakers don’t have built-in DACs. So you connect a pair to your computer, and the SQ – however good the speakers are – depends a lot on the sound card in the computer, which probably isn’t very good.

For better SQ, one could get an AudioQuest Dragonfly DAC (or similar) to feed the powered speakers, or get a Sprout, which comes with a DAC of reasonable quality, and use passive speakers. Have I got that figured out right, more or less?


I use a Dragonfly Red and an AQ Jitterbug and a splitter for taking the signal to an inexpensive, low-wattage tube integrated to great effect.

My current desktop speakers of choice are AGA DUE speakers. Long out of production, but great for this application and available on the used market from time to time.

A step up would be their big brothers, Strada’s or Strada II’s. A lot of performance for the buck with this kind of system.



Another great thing about the AQ USB DACs is you can plug a pair of headphones directly into a Dragonfly.



I just recently put a desktop system together and have a Mac. I use the Sprout 100 and Emotiva Airmotiv B1+ bookshelf speakers. Although small, speakers bigger than these would have been too much for my space. Plus if I want, a sub can be hooked up to the Sprout but with the bass boost I have not found it necessary.

Also, I have my speakers on isoAcoustics stands.

Thanks – that sounds like a great combo! Are you using the Mac’s built-in sound card or DAC? Maybe Macs have better quality ones than the typical Windows laptop does.

You connect the Mac to the Sprout via USB. Sprout’s DAC is way better in my opinion. It’s a good system for a desktop without breaking the bank.

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I’m a fan. Something like the Asgard with USB DAC module paired with one of their new small amps (Gjallarhorn or Rekkr) makes for a really tidy desktop setup. Five year warranties are class leading (Rekkr 2 yr). I just bought a Gjallarhorn and Lyr for desktop use and couldn’t be happier.
Depending on the desktop, you may be finding speakers that’ll fit to be a challenge. You might consider Rogers Sound Lab CG3 for a decent speaker that is shallow. I’m using a pair of the long discontinued CG4 on the desktop right now.
As odd as this may sound, a pair of used Realistic Minimus 7 would be hard to beat. I have a pair bought in the early 90s that are still perfect. The CG4 just replaced them but only because I wanted to change it up a bit and the 7’s use spring clip wire terminals that aren’t compatible with the Gjallarhorn’s banana outs.
Regardless, a speaker that’ll fit may eventually need to be paired with a sub. The Schiit gear doesn’t have sub outs. I’ll defer to someone who knows for sure but RCA Y splitters may be option.