55% of Americans Prefer Their Music through Computer Speakers

If you care about sound quality, the following will be a depressing read.

According to a survey conducted by Strategy Analytics, built-in computer speakers are now the most common way to listen to music, by a sizable margin.  In the study, laptop and desktop speakers overwhelmingly topped the list of frequently-used listening methods, with 55% picking the category.

Headphones connected to a portable device followed with 41% of respondents, alongside stand-alone radio, also with 41%.  Surprisingly, TV speakers were also highly-ranked, with 29% ticking that box.

“…most listening happens through systems that aren’t designed exclusively for music.”

Other, more audio-focused playback technologies, with loudspeakers and wireless speakers commanding 12% and 11%, respectively.  Indeed, audiophiles are buying higher-fidelity playback solutions, but that isn’t the mainstream.  In fact, most listening happens through systems that aren’t designed exclusively for music.  “Including radios, only four of the 10 most popular are dedicated music playback devices – connected loudspeakers (12%), wireless speakers (11%) and speaker docking stations (10%),” the Strategy Analytics report stated.

But this low-quality tale gets even more woeful.  According to the study, despite the relatively low quality devices selection, 43% of respondents reported being ‘very satisfied’ with the audio quality, with 26% ‘somewhat satisfied’.”

“…sounding the death knell for the likes of the hi-fi system.”

David Watkins, Strategy Analytics’ director of Connected Home Devices, blames a technological rush that has always prioritized convenience over quality.  “Music’s focus over the past decade has been about usability and convenience – being able to get it on as many devices as possible – whilst sound quality has been largely ignored or forgotten in this race to portability,” Watkins said.  “It’s bred a generation of listeners who’ve never really known what it’s like to listen to high quality sound and, consequently, is already sounding the death knell for the likes of the hi-fi system.” 


51 Responses

  1. pbody

    This will eventually make high end audio gear (studios) mostly obsolete. You can barely tell the difference between a high end Neumann ($2-$15k) and a cheap Chinese knock off ($200) condenser mic through miniature speakers. And you would have to be a high end producer or sound engineer to notice that difference, if its not just placebo at a point. Let alone the different capacitors and opamps used in different preamps which some people argue about over which sound better.

    This gap between the availability of high end sound and what people are actually using is huge. This could change with marketing though. EDM is always going to sound better on a good sound system. EDM also uses all the available frequencies where certain styles of rock is quite limiting and focuses around the 1-2k mhz mark. At the moment the most popular music is based around the mid-range hook, and this can get its point across through anything. Even a crappy mono computer speaker. Try to run a hooky low end bass line through that same speaker though and you just might not even hear it.

    In time i predict high end sound will have a comeback. How long we have to wait is the question.

    • Anonymous

      As I mentioned below, headphones are the only realistic solution.

      They’re extremely cost-effective — even the worst brand improves your sound dramatically.

      And if people are ready for the next step after that, they’ll need new interfaces.

    • R.P.

      I have to disagree about telling the difference. You can definitely tell the difference on high-quality produced albums. Sure, most albums are produced with shitty quality these days using stock sounds and terrible recording techniques, but the well produced albums sound distinguishably and undeniably better. By far.

      To be fair, I’m also an audiophile with Sennheiser 800’s for refs and Genelecs 8351’s for listening, so I may not be the majority, but I can tell even over macbook speakers or apple in-ear headphones. Listen to Adele’s newest album in comparison to Jadakiss. It’s not the rap that’s shitty, it’s the quality of the mixes that are terrible. None of the songs match in volume when transition over to the next one. The production on nearly every song varies so much, and the sounds that all those different producers used aren’t the best. Some of them are even stock sounds that came with their drum machines.

      Drum machine stock sounds will never sound the way mic-ed drums do over any speakers. The effects are different too.

      However, I get what you’re trying to say.

    • Dave Dunn

      “At the moment the most popular music is based around the mid-range hook…”.

      This sounds just like the way they engineered music in the 60’s to sound best on a car or transistor radio.

      Of course, ‘best’ is a relative term.

      Compared to a nice component system with full-range speakers throughout, ‘dreadful’ is more realistic.

      I haven’t seen any mention of specs for modern music consumption devices.

      I want to see some numbers: Rumble, wow, flutter, frequency response, signal-to-noise ratio, dynamic range, etc, of BOTH the electronics and anything pretending to be a sound transducer like mics, earbuds and speakers.

      Specs aside, doesn’t anyone care what music really sounds like anymore?

  2. Whatever

    According to a survey conducted by me, 90% of humans are idiots. Abandon all hope and you will not be disappointed.

  3. Name2

    55% of people do listen through computer speakers. Numbers embedded in the article itself indicate that doesn’t mean they necessarily prefer it.

    Again, a lying headline at DMN.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Actions show preference, not what we babble in conversation or say to impress our friends. Americans are typically active consumers with lots of options, they are choosing to go with built-in computer speakers because of the extreme ease, convenience, laziness, or all the above. Yes, that’s what we call a ‘preference,’ regardless of the rationale.

      • Name2

        Or, you know, the boss isn’t going to spring for $200 worth of speaker hardware for everybody.

        • FarePlay

          I’m with name2 on this one. While it may seem like a subtle difference, most peoples listening habits are not knowledge based, but rather utilitarian based. Even I’m guilty of listening to music at times through the earbuds that came with my mobile phone, once I listen to something that is actually acoustically designed the difference is significant. If you want to listen to music on your phone, spend forty bucks and get a pair of Sennheiser ear buds.

          i use a Klipsch system with subwoofer to listen to playlists I’ve created on my computer and a component system to listen to vinyl and CDs. BTW both the vinyl pressing business and turntable manufacturing business are booming.

          This is also another generational thing. Growing up, record stores and stereo stores were extremely popular. I actually worked in both and in the day those were ‘status’ gigs.

          Gone, all gone. If you want to really get someone’s attention give them a CD and tell them to listen to it in their car; if it has a CD player. They’ll hear the difference immediately.

          And you know 12% is a lot of people. A lot more than subscribe to music streaming services.

    • Mixolydia

      +1… (although i disagree with “lying” cos that implies intent.)

  4. Name2

    Yeah, so 55% of respondents used computer speakers, and 43% (of whom it is not exactly clear, but DMN has never been bullish on denominators) are ‘very satisfied’ with their status quo. SO it is possible (although not necessarily probable) that 43% of 55% (or, 23.6%) of the population use computer speakers and are happy about it.

  5. Anonymous

    So I assume we can stop talking about 24/96 once and for all now? 🙂

    And forget about expensive speakers, that’ll never happen in the real world.

    This is what we need to do: Make consumers understand why they need headphones (and not earphones) if they want to hear our music.

    Even the most crappy ones sound way better than $500 dollar speakers. Decent ones compare nicely to $1,000 speakers.

    And you can take them anywhere…

    • Gailstorm

      Headphones are obviously an improvement over computer speakers but they aren’t ideal. Bass waves are two feet long for starters. Mostly you feel bass. And no pro recording engineer ever mixed for headphone use.

      • Anonymous

        “And no pro recording engineer ever mixed for headphone use”

        Not true. You arrange, mix and master for real-life users — not for your engineer friends.

        Which means you use the best studio monitors you can possibly afford for crucial listening, but you use shit for mix & mastering as well to make sure the thing works on whatever is used out there.

        • danwriter

          True, hence the continued survival of Auratones. However, LF in the 60-Hz range takes nearly 20 feet to unroll. Music needs space.

  6. Anonymous

    Paul, how about fixing your comment system? 🙂

    Usually, you get a message that the session has timed out (after, like, 30 seconds) and you need to refresh humanity verifier — and when you do that and post again, you’re told that duplicate comments are detected…

  7. Idiocracy

    Oddly enough, most people are ready to spend a fortune on an HD TV….Even 4K Tvs are selling decently well, even with very little 4k movies available on a consumer format. Dvd and Blu-ray are selling very well too.
    Why people are not treating music the same way is a mystery.

    • danwriter

      Actually, there is a huge and well-documented disparity between how the brain process information taken in visually versus aurally. People react to ever-higher video resolutions viscerally and relatively objectively — it’s easy to see the difference between SD, HD and 4K. Audio, on the other hand, tends to be very subjective and vary by a range of factors person to person.

    • danwriter

      Actually, there is a huge and well-documented disparity between how the brain process information taken in visually versus aurally. People react to ever-higher video resolutions viscerally and relatively objectively — it’s easy to see the difference between SD, HD and 4K. Audio, on the other hand, tends to be very subjective and vary by a range of factors person to person.

    • Name2

      Why people are not treating music the same way is a mystery.

      Because for years, a movie cost less than an “album”/CD?
      Because kids want games?
      Men want big screens/HD for sports?

      And none of this has been headline news for years?

      • Paul Resnikoff

        The TV and film industries have a lot of problems, but far fewer problems overall than the music industry. This is a really interesting comment above, because consumer behavior around video is oftentimes very different than its behavior towards music. Sure, we’re watching viral videos in the worst quality, but we’re also purchasing super-expensive TVs and spending $500 million on a film.

        There is an ongoing thought that TV and film executives are smarter than music executives, and there may be some truth to that, overall. Technology has been cruel to music, which, alongside photography and a few other industries really faced the initial brunt of piracy. But even in its post-piracy, post-digital recovery, the music industry seems only loosely able to control the situation, and still paying executives extremely high salaries (Car Sherman, Doug Morris, list goes on).

        • Name2

          The music industry had their day in the sun when everybody bought updates of old recordings on CD.

          Then, the film industry had their counterpart in DVDs replacing videotape.

          Then, instead of innovating online when that opportunity arose, the music industry dawdled, sued everybody, and as a last gasp made Apple the only game in town and one of the most unpleasant music-consumer experiences on the planet.

          When the dust settled … well, here we are.

          Technology is VERY kind to music vs. video – everything from a light data payload to wide discretion in compression severity to the fact that degradation becomes obvious only slowly as you notch up the compression to 11.

          Music business still couldn’t make a go of it. Fast forward to today. And here we are.

          • Name2

            Let’s not forget Sony rootkits. I think that’s when everybody knew it was over.

          • Vail, CO

            “and as a last gasp made Apple the only game in town and one of the most unpleasant music-consumer experiences on the planet. “

            Not sure I agree with the ‘unpleasant’ assessment, but, looks like the music business is handing the jewels to Apple Music once again.

          • Name2

            “handing the jewels”?

            Like saddling Apple with DRM?
            Paying nada for infrastructure or tech support and getting 70% off the top?
            Forbidding re-downloads?

            On what planet is that handing off the jewels?

          • Paul Resnikoff

            You have to admit, it’s pretty strange that in the heyday of downloads, iTunes Music Store (and later iTunes Store) was basically the only game in town. The industry failed at creating a competitive landscape, therefore they were at the mercy of Apple in many situations.

          • Name2

            “Strange” how?

            Clearly you never tried to use the Sony/Columbia emusic download store.

  8. Peter Stroud

    The audio digital to analog interface also has a major part to do w sound quality. The headphone output of an iPhone or computer is highly marginalized and no comparison to a USB digital/analog conversion device, like the Apogee USB units used for home recording or some of the new dongle sized USB devices cropping up on the market.

  9. john

    Headphones ruin your ears when listening with high volume. The mass market has no TASTE anymore, so MP3 + pc loudspeakers are good enough. The Sonos effect with ine Speaker per room has the consequence, that Stereo is not important anymore. For 5.1 one really needs an accurate setup of the speaker array.
    Good Mono recoerdings are musically great, just listen to the Beatles Mono box.

    I wonder whether people still listen to the music, I mean really LISTEN !!!! I have the Impression that most people are happy listen via earplugs and pc Speakers. A decline in TASTE. There are still many good Music tracks being produced, just listen to Adele 25. The sales numbers confirm this quality.

  10. Name2

    So I assume we can stop talking about 24/96 once and for all now?

    I get that this is one of those “Everybody’s a thief! Kill Google! Pirates and hippies are under my bed!” websites, so I understand the lying in headlines about music consumer trends even when contradictory numbers are right in the article, but on one aspect/subject I do not understand… This drumbeat of “Nobody cares about quality!”.

    I just don’t get whose interest is served by telling that lie. Resnikoff has now posted two articles in a row concerning consumer attitudes towards sound quality, and actual polls of actual consumers contradict the tale he wants to tell, so he lies in the headline. Fine, it’s his reputation, WGAF? But I don’t get the DMN commentariat latching onto this magic nugget of “wisdom” even in unrelated articles. I don’t get why the “I want more money! I want a dollar per stream!” mindset also has this companion idea, or why they’d want to promote it as reality.

    Can someone explain how these seemingly divergent roads in the wood converged?

  11. Your Computer Speaker

    You think I’m only pumping out crappy music, at a low quality.

    But I’m also listening, to every word you say.

  12. DeserTBoB

    Well, the gullability of the “instant gratification” GenYers and Millennials once more shows up, because they dont’ want to be BOTHERED with “big speakers”. Most dont’ even know what high fidelity sound is (or was) and thing that Chinese crap foisted on them by outfits like Snapple are “just fine,” just like their easily broken $600 iPhone. I still listen through JBL 4305 monitors at home, and on the computer I had a crapp Altec-Lansing (NOT the real Altec) Chinese made computer speaker system that’ll let ma audition things, but once I want to hear something more properly, out to the JBLs they go. I also have highly modified Klipschorns out in the front room.

    • Name2

      GenYers and Millennials

      You know that people this age and under hear things you can’t, right???

    • Danwriter

      They can’t hear you. They’re afraid to walk on your lawn.

  13. HHuman Listener

    I think there are 3 driving factors that push audio system quality down:

    (1) Cheap Prices for Average Systems

    With acceptable amp/speaker packages available for under $50, a lot of “computer speakers” are actually good enough, which is to say they sound better than any music playback device I had growing up, although not in the same league with something I could build for $1000 worth of components. They sound an order of magnitude better than my old-school cassette player or “ghetto-blaster”, and the are good enough to convince more and more people not to bother with component systems. I’m not a big fan of headphones, but they sure are convenient when other people are sleeping. I have kids and nieces and nephews, so only 1 set of headphones is an expensive one, and that’s the set I keep on the top shelf in my office. I have lots on-ear, lightweight, total absolute cheap junk headphones because they get used for video games, music, audio books, skype, and throwing at the cat. They get abused and destroyed so I buy in bulk and I buy cheap. I think many people have a situation like this.

    (2) Ubiquitous Sound with Less Hassle

    Portable music players and cheap compact amplification means you can have sound in every room. In my house I have audio systems in my bedroom, living room, kitchen, office, master bathroom, and movie room. I don’t have the space or money to build an audiophile fantasy stack in every room of my house, so only my movie room has decent sound. The other rooms have “good enough” stereo sound, less than $100 of compact equipment per room. I don’t ignore quality at all, but I have a budget of both money and space. In modern times, music is often a background to other activities. In a lot of cases the music will be turned down low so people can talk. Having a mediocre stereo amp/speaker package with a subwoofer is is actually totally fine for those situations. Compact systems also minimize clutter. I just don’t have a place for big speakers and components in most rooms.

    (3) Knowledge and Effort vs Return

    For many people on this site, sound is a hobby. Being surprised that the average person is more into their own hobby than they are into yours is totally silly. I am sure that plenty of people have better cars or clothes or watches or power tools or fantasy football teams than yours, because those are the things they are into. They probably feel the way about their watch that you feel about your speakers. Putting together a component system with good parts is expensive and time consuming. I have friends who are into music recording, so they helped me understand how to build a better than typical sound system for those times when I want to do nothing but listen to music (or watch a movie with good sound). But it required time and money to research and build, and it’s more complicated to operate. The average consumer depends on the vendor, or on a third party to tell them what stuff is good.

    If good audio is so important to you, make a blog and show people how to put together a great sounding system that is cheap, compact, and easy to understand. Or, alternatively, just complain on the internet about how all the youngsters don’t get sound because they are not as cool as you are. You know, whichever one of those options best suits you.

  14. Rick Shaw

    People are generally lazy, so I’d say it’s more that they settle rather than prefer.

  15. Confused

    Surely all these percentages are not right? They add up to far more than 100%. Unless math has changed somehow, I would suggest these numbers to be incorrect.

  16. Name2

    I’m sure that Martha Stewart can say a lot of “interesting” things about her audience when you get her high at a party.

    I’m also pretty sure she doesn’t go on her TV show and say “Why do I bother? You retards don’t know marzipan from a springform pan. Training you to appreciate fresh ingredients instead of that frozen slop you slap on your family’s table and call dinner is like trying to teach a pig to sing. And you’re never going to live anything close to a ‘good life’ on the money you make. Call me when you’ve got a spare couple grand to drop on that dinner party you’re saying is SOOOO important and looking to ME to turn into something from a costume drama. Martha out.”

  17. yo man

    Well I disagree with the fact that studio material will be obsolete, there is 10.000km of difference between laptop speakers and studio monitors (I have a pair, I mix music), I know most people can’t afford or don’t care much about it but this is because they haven’t experienced also that kind of sound systems. On the other side, headphones are a pretty good solution but they are much more fatiguing to your ear, as a portable device, or for night sessions of whatever they are good, but I prefer good speakers over headphones. By the way, when did studio monitors or high end sound devices have been an average thing? The closest moment was the Vinyl era… but now we go for the practical small devices.

  18. Acuvox

    This is a vicious circle. If you listen to digitally compressed files on a fifty cent amplifier chip fed by a computer power supply through two dollar (production cost) earbuds or built in speakers in TVs, laptops and phones, it degrades your hearing. The 99% population who look for the cheapest and most convenient way to cover up post-industrial noise pollution don’t know what music sounds like, and couldn’t listen to a three minute pop song without visual distraction, let alone sit still for a concert set.

    In the audio ecology, this drives production further into unreality, which means that even if you try a better system, you won’t find any recorded sound like musicians playing in a room. This forces live performance to copy elaborate studio production with rack of processing gear either physical or virtual, and almost universal pre-recorded tracks peeking out of the PA speakers.

    Real ears that listen to music in the room can hear better than microphones (like the cocktail party effect) and hear time to finer divisions than the resolution of upper hearing frequency – up to ten times better:


    BUT, it takes training, daily training, to life-like sound. This is why so many mainstream technology reviewers claim they can’t hear the difference in HD audio – they are 100% acclimated to atrocious audio, with YouTube running through the nearest screen-attached speaker, while burned out rockers with physical hearing loss like Neil Young, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones are advocating for 24/96 and SACD.

    This is the awful truth about streaming and portable music: the quality of the sound in iTunes, MP3 and instant gratification from the cloud is so bad the music is NOT WORTH PAYING FOR – and musicians wonder why they can’t make a living. Most of the audience can’t appreciate a good live show because music has become a highly degraded soundtrack for social networks and video.

  19. david*

    I think there’s a few reasons.
    1. Speakers and stereo systems are big and cumbersome and most young people don’t want to lug them from apartment to apartment.
    2. iPhone ear buds do actually sound good.. and even playing music through your mono iPhone speaker can sound acceptable.
    3. Computer (iMac) and Laptop speakers are ok .. I always thought the iPad speakers sounded particularly good.

    We live in a mobile/portable world and most people want music they can move around with.. so playing tracks on your phone, bluetooth into a car system, over computer speakers etc .. it all makes sense.

    I don’t know ANYONE who has a stereo anymore .. or if they do they certainly don’t use them.. (including me most of the time..)

    I made a ringtone using Garageband on my iPhone and monitoring on the phone stock standard ear buds.

    Listening to music when I was a lot younger usually meant being stuck in either my bedroom or the main living room with a big woodgrain HiFi stereo system with silver components and listening to my favorite records before heading out into the sunshine.

    Then along came the walkman and things started to head towards mobile portability..

  20. Ed Dzubak

    The conclusion is misleading – the stats only show “how” people listen, not which they “prefer”. Because of convenience, I primarily listen to music either through my laptop’s speakers, or with headphones tied in to my laptop.

    However, I “prefer” to listen through my studio monitors or my university’s even better monitoring setup.

  21. Jrel

    Obviously, no one who took this survey has a car stereo.

  22. Wayne DeMunn

    I note I’m commenting a year after this was first posted and I’m certain this has already changed. I’m seeing more portable speakers plugged into (or wireless speakers) smart phones all the time. I think you could boil the reasons all down to new technology and changing times. I also note that car audio was omitted from this survey question but I’m not sure why, since so many only listen to music in their car.

    I’m probably among the throwbacks in all of this and I doubt I’m alone but we are likely few in numbers. I have several old style stereo systems in my house including one main system. I do listen to youtube videos with my PC but I’m hooked up to an old Int Amp, with EQ, using a 12” three way speakers system.

    Been buying my own audio equipment since the 70s and been through many tech changes and fads, with
    numerous formats. Even back then portability was an issue. I recall using a portable manorial cassette player/recorder then a TNT 8-track player. Of course when I started driving I forgot all that and just had a car stereo of some sort but I always had at least one decent audio system at home.

    Later in the 80s my contribution to the party was to bring my amp, reel to reel and speakers to the party. It was a pain but it was fun to some degree. Much later I did the same thing a few times at more grown up parties. Yeah there were boom boxes but even the best of them couldnt beat my home systems.

    I’m older now and though I have a pretty good poor mans audiophile stereo (the main system I eluded to earlier) in one room, however I must confess when I’m at home and in the mood for music, I just search and play videos from youtube most of the time. I have probably 150 CDs but youtube is just too easy I guess. Its definitely not great hi-fi but not all that bad with the optional equipment I’m using versus the computer speakers which just flat out suck.

    In my own defense I think my latter day habits have a lot to do with age and being tired from work. Though if I had a PC back in those earlier years I’m not sure I could have resisted the temptation.