After years of having a traditional AVR system with my TV, I finally made the switch to a soundbar. The combination of smart features, ease of setup and support for new-age immersive sound technologies (like Dolby Atmos) made the decision pretty easy, actually. But now I have a problem: what should I do with my leftover bookshelf speakers?
One idea I had was to turn them into a set of badass computer speakers. Most people turn to a set of powered speakers, like the Bose Companion 2 Series III ($149) or the Audioengine A2+ ($269), but those are small and can't really compare to the audio quality of a set of real bookshelf speakers. The problem with bookshelf speakers, of course, is that they're passive; so you need to buy an external amplifier that connects to your computer in order for them to work.
While external desktop headphone amplifiers (which are used to boost the audio of wired headphones) are a dime a dozen these days, external amplifiers with the proper connections for passive speakers and a computer are surprisingly rare breed. In fact, I could only find one that wasn't wildly expensive: Audioengine's N22 ($199).
The N22 is an integrated amplifier that's small enough to fit on your desk. It has dedicated connections for either wired headphones or binding posts for passive loudspeakers, as well as a 3.5mm stereo jack input. (It also has RCA connections in case you want to connect a turntable.) To get your bookshelf speakers working as computer speakers, all you have to do is connect them to the N22, and then connect the N22 to your computer. All the necessary cables are included. You then just go into your computer's sound out settings and select the N22 (or headphone port). It's super easy.
The N22 is a straightforward device to work. In fact, it lacks the wireless connectivity of modern integrated amps (but you don't really need the extra bells and whistles if you're using them as simple computer speakers). Part of the reason for this is that, well, the N22 isn't new. It was released in the fall of 2010 and hasn't changed since. "The N22 is still an in-demand product for Audioengine," says the company's co-founder Dave Evans. "The design is the same as when it was released."
The N22 was originally designed to use with Audioengine's P4 ($249), according to Evans, but it really can used to power any pair of passive speakers that require 4-8 ohms. So if you have a pair of good passive bookshelf speakers lying around — for me, it's a pair of Q Acoustics 3020 (released in 2015) — there's a good chance that the N22 is more than capable of powered them.
As for why there are so few desktop amplifiers to turn passive bookshelf speakers into computer speakers — that's a good question. Perhaps it's the cost. A solid set of passive bookshelf speakers runs around $250 (or more) and the N22 is another $200 on top; while a set of powered computer speakers usually come in at $150 or less. Or perhaps it's size. Bookshelf speakers are quite large. But maybe more and more people, like myself, who are working from home and looking for new ways to breath life into their unused bookshelf speakers will be in need of a desktop amplifier. And for right now, that means they need to get the N22.
"Everyone's setup and needs are different," says Evans. "In some cases, powered speakers may be the best fit. Having a separate amplifier may be an advantage to customers that already have passive speakers that they love, and we want to have a good solution for that."