Laptops have never been known for their audio quality. However, we've put together seven gadgets and upgrades that are cheap but will improve your machine's audio ecosystem no end.

When it comes to audio quality on laptops, its doesn't matter whether you've got a top-of-the-range machines that cost the earth, or a budget laptop that didn't break the bank, chances are the audio quality isn't as good as you might like.

Laptops have always come up short on sound because space and power limitations have meant everything is downsized, from audio chips and analogue-to-digital converters to amplifiers and speakers. The result is tinny and distorted sound that never gets loud enough.

However, through a few simple gadgets and upgrades, you can improve your laptop's audio ecosystem. We've rounded up nine products that will help you do this.

The difference can be like night and day, with richer, clearer and more vibrant sound. Regardless of whether your listening tastes tend toward the internet radio stations videoconference chats or your iTunes library, it's time to sound off for better laptop audio.

Logitech AudioHub speaker system

When I get back to my office after a road trip, the first thing I do is plug my laptop into a full-sized set of speakers. Logitech's AudioHub does this one better by combining high-quality speakers with a USB hub, all via a convenient USB connection.

The AudioHub adds a 30-Watt amplifier to a pair of 2.2in adjustable pull-out speakers and a 1.3in subwoofer. It delivers richer audio with warmer midrange tones and stronger bass than any laptop speakers can. The lighted power button doubles as a volume control knob. On the downside, AudioHub lacks a remote control and a headphone jack, and the three USB ports are hidden in the back.

Setting it up takes a couple of minutes, and the AudioHub is good for both PC and Mac laptops. It comes with a two-year warranty.

Price: £49

Samson StudioDock 3i speakers

The beauty of USB-connected speakers is that the audio signal stays digital longer and sounds better than speakers plugged into the laptop's headphone jack. Samson's StudioDock 3i speaker set works with PCs and Macs (it also includes an iPod dock) and takes about three minutes to set up.

The speakers are powered by a 30watt amplifier and each tuned port speaker case has a 3.25in woofer and a 1in silk dome tweeter. They pump out well-balanced sound that's more than loud enough to annoy the neighbors. The set includes a three-year warranty.

Price: £89

NEXT PAGE: Party with Parrot

  1. Inexpensive upgrades to improve audio quality
  2. Party with Parrot
  3. Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Laptop sound card


Laptops have never been known for their audio quality. However, we've put together seven gadgets and upgrades that are cheap but will improve your machine's audio ecosystem no end.

Parrot Party portable Bluetooth speaker system

With a name like Party, you'd think that Parrot's Bluetooth speaker system wouldn't be serious enough for business. That couldn't be further from the truth. This stereo speaker set is lightweight and can go wherever you and your laptop go, making it a great tool for on-the-road presentations (not to mention celebrations).

It can connect with any laptop or digital music player with a standard audio cable or via its built-in Bluetooth radio that can use Near Field Communications technology. Parrot connected on the first try with my laptop and mobile phone, but its range is limited to about 20ft and it doesn't get particularly loud.

Parrot may look like a large black dog bone, but it has a 6-Watt amplifier and pair of speakers that combine for surprisingly sharp and vibrant sound. I really like the system's Stereo Widening and Virtual SuperBass digital effects, which can make a low-quality audio source sound richer and more life-like.

The Party comes with a one-year warranty. In my tests, its battery lasted for nearly seven hours of continuous use - perfect for a picnic or day of back-to-back presentations.

Price: £79

M-Audio Transit USB sound card

We usually think of USB as a way to attach keyboards, mice and printers to a laptop, but it can also be used to upgrade the laptop's audio ecosystem. M-Audio's Transit card plugs into a USB port and replaces the laptop's audio chip and amplifier, creating a 24-bit sound superstar that leaves CD-quality sound in the dust.

The device comes with a slew of high-end software that takes about 10 minutes to install. It works with Macs and PCs, although not Vista systems, and includes a one-year warranty. Once it's set up, Transit takes over your laptop's audio, delivering clearer, more accurate and lively sound.

You can connect an MP3 player or other external audio source, headphones or speakers to the Transit via standard audio jacks or high-quality SPDIF digital optical cables; with the latter you've got the best sound this side of a desktop PC.

The downside is that the device is a bit clunky for a small laptop, but it's worth it if you're a digital audiophile on the go.

Price: £49

NEXT PAGE: Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Laptop sound card

  1. Inexpensive upgrades to improve audio quality
  2. Party with Parrot
  3. Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Laptop sound card


Laptops have never been known for their audio quality. However, we've put together seven gadgets and upgrades that are cheap but will improve your machine's audio ecosystem no end.

Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Laptop sound card

Like M-Audio's Transit, Creative Technology's SoundBlaster X-Fi Laptop sound card can transform laptops into audio powerhouses, but it uses the Express Card interface instead of USB. After you plug the X-Fi into the Express Card slot and let the drivers load, the laptop is able to faithfully reproduce crisp and balanced 24bit audio. Figure on spending 10 minutes to get it going.

The card's Xtreme Fidelity digital effects can help poorly recorded or converted digital tracks sound more realistic and dynamic, with greater clarity. The X-Fi offers the expected microphone, speaker and headphone jacks, and it can also beam whatever is playing on the laptop as far as 100 feet away to a Creative wireless receiver.

While it's not as clunky as the Transit, the X-Fi sticks out of the laptop by about an inch and a half, and works only with Windows XP or Vista PCs. It's covered by a one-year warranty.

Price: £37

Logitech FreePulse Bluetooth headphones

ires get in the way of music, and cordless headphones can give you the independence to move around without losing your groove.

Logitech's FreePulse headphones www.logitech.com are lightweight, fit comfortably over the back of the head and can connect via Bluetooth.
Don't worry if your laptop doesn't have Bluetooth, because the package includes a rechargeable transmitter that plugs into a standard audio jack. An AC charger and six plastic adapter plates for a variety of iPods are also included.

There's no software to load and the headphones connect in a few seconds, providing rich and accurate audio.

However, that the wireless range is limited to 33ft - which means you can use them across a room or two but not throughout the house - and the internal batteries run down after five to six hours of use.

Price: £49

Plantronics Pulsar 590A Bluetooth headset

Do you constantly switch between listening to music on your laptop and making and taking calls on your mobile phone? You don't have to give up top-quality sound to talk on the phone - the Plantronics Pulsar 590A headset excels at both. It includes a rechargeable Bluetooth transmitter that plugs into your laptop's audio jack and an AC adaptor.

The headset interrupts the music from your laptop when a call comes in on your Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone. I quickly got used to working the buttons on the right earmuff for controlling the music and taking calls. Pairing a new Bluetooth device requires turning the device off and on.

The sound is crisp, clear and balanced, and the microphone picks up every word. The set worked with laptop and mobile phone, ran for nearly nine hours on a charge and had an exceptional range of 50ft.

Price: £69

  1. Inexpensive upgrades to improve audio quality
  2. Party with Parrot
  3. Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Laptop sound card