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6

Kemove61 (Shadow) Review

Background

I type a lot, both at home and at work, and have always generally preferred IBM M keyboards or ergonomic keyboards. At home I use a Lexmark M15 split and recently purchased a Mistel MD770 split. I love the feel of the M15, but a few of its keys have some problems and it needs to get refurbished, and it’s a bit loud. The Mistel MD770 has MX Clears in it which are quiet but tactility is definitely lacking. In fact when typing I can barely tell they are tactile at all.
Since I had not tried Blue switches yet, I decided to get this keyboard with Blue key switches. Note; this keyboard comes with standard 2 pin switches, not Optical. I have a MX Red keyboard and I literally type on it without even trying, just putting fingers on the home row so that keyboard is essentially unusable for me. MX Clear are higher weight Browns so they have enough weight for me. Not the best tactile key in the world by any means but they are accessible and was available on the Mistel keyboard. I've gotten pretty used to their feel, weight, and do actually appreciate the quiet. But I really wanted to give the Blues a try.

Switches and Key Caps

Switch and Typing Sound

Having never used Blue switches before I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but are not nearly as loud as I honestly expected them to be. Much quieter than IBM M buckling springs. So far all of the keys feel about the same, the keys on the outside of the keyboard have a slightly different sound to them as I think the acoustics are simply different. The only key I really found noisy was the space bar, it was by default very loud and clunky. I put o-rings on all three stems on the key to prevent it from bottoming out and it's much, much better. I might experiment more with this on some of the other keys that seem to be a little loud, but I think the space bar was just bottoming out.
This keyboard comes with three extra switches, presumably to allow you to try out other types of switches. The ones I received were Gateron White, Yellow, and Green. I'm not sure who could possibly type on White as it's the lightest key switch I've ever felt, but some people might like it. Yellow is so close to Red I'm not quite sure why there is a difference, but I don't have a Gateron Red to directly compare against so not sure. Green are impressively stiff, I tried it in the space bar here and even wasn't a fan of it there. But it's always good to have options!
I do have trouble getting the key switch puller in the right place on the switches. not sure if I'm doing something wrong there but it doesn't seem to push in the clipped bits for me. Maybe it's not supposed to, just seems like it should push in the clipped bits then grab the underside and you can pull up. I have seen some videos of someone using a thin nylon pry bar to carefully push the clip and and lever the key up. This seems to be the most effective way to remove the switches one at a time.
Speaking of switches, I am likely going to try Box Royals in the near future, if I can actually find any. I’ve read multiple times they are the most tactile, non-clicky MX style keyswitch that exists. I like the Blue switches, but I think long term I’ll be happier with a quieter switch. But I love the fact that this keyboard lets you hot swap keys and lets you try out different types of switches so easily.
I do wish that there were a wider offering of switches when purchasing the keyboard. I know that the market is fairly niche and having a dozen varieties of a keyboard to cover switches is a bit much but it would be nice to have more options, such as Kali Box or more premium switches for those who want to pay the difference in cost.

Stabilizers

I've looked into keyboards a bit and seen all about greasing stabilizers and clipping and taping and this keyboard is a great platform to experiment with all of that, but not sure it's really necessary. But again, it is a nice platform to play with that. When I was looking at the space bar to put orings on it, I can see generous amounts of lube on the stabilizer bar so I think they did a good job putting grease on it in the factory. I have put a little grease on the sides of the stabilizer stems as there was none on them, just to eliminate a tad more rattle. The keys have a little rattle if wiggled, but not in actual use. When I eventually take the keyboard completely apart I’ll be able to see better, but it all looks quite heavily greased.
I eventually realized that you can remove the stabilizers from the top of the board by removing the cap, switch, then push in the locks on each one so I have removed all of mine, band-aid modded, more heavily greased (especially the elbows) and reassembled. They are even less rattly now and sound more solid. I should have greased the stems better while I had them out vs the top-down grease job I did but I forgot; I’ll do it next time I’m disassembling things. Besides the bandaids being fiddly to get the paper off of, it was pretty quick to do. Seems kind of silly to go crazy on the stabilizers with Blue key switches, but it’s still nice to have no random rattling.

Key Caps

Like most people, I find the secondary legends too dark and hard to read on the Shadow board having brown secondary legends on black keys. It would be really cool for them to be shown through like the primary key, but that's not likely, so something much lighter would make sense. I am not a blank key kind of guy, I know some people like minimalism on their keyboards. I personally want to be productive. And I'm way too old and ornery to memorize the layout very quickly so I'll be looking at the caps quite a bit for the secondary keys. Even in good lighting in my computer room I really can't read them.
But the overall quality, feel, and appearance of the caps is excellent. They feel very good, wobble is minimal, and they do not sound thin or hollow. The home row f/j keys have a good nub on them to index from and the keys are very standard which means you could replace the caps rather easily if you choose to do so.

Layout/Typing

Maybe this is normal on a keyboard with modifiers like a 60% but if I want to type Alt-F11, I have to be careful to hit the Alt key first. If I hit FN first, it just sends F11, not Alt-F11. In order if I press Alt FN - it sends Alt-F11 fine. Not a big deal, just threw me off the first few minutes when this keystroke worked one try but not the next. (Alt F11/F12 are what I commonly use for volume up/down and I try to keep that consistent across keyboards)
I'm pretty used to TKL keyboards, so getting used to a 60% will take some time. My primary use for this keyboard will be secondary so it'll be fine. I sometimes have to keep my keyboard tray pushed in and can't really reach my keyboard, or frequently I have to scoot back from the desk, etc.. The compact size of this makes it easy to put anywhere, and is actually pretty comfortable in my lap. I've read a few complaints about it being very tall and requiring the use of wrist pads and I suspect I'll have the same feeling if I put it in a normal place on my desk keyboard tray, but so far I've been typing with it in my lap with no problems. Yes, you do have to float when it's in a proper height keyboard tray but honestly that is better for your wrists, it just can be tiring when you're typing a long time. I could see the need for wrist rests and I do generally use them myself.

Unmarked Keys

There are a number of keys that are undocumented and/or unclear in what they do, they are as follows.

Function Key Sequence
Toggle NKRO/6KRO FN + N
Tilde (~) FN + Shift + Esc
Hardware Select (Profiles 1-4) FN + Q, W, E, or R
Bluetooth Pairing (Devices 1-3) FN + Z, X, or C for 3 seconds
Bluetooth Select (Devices 1-3) FN + Z, X, or C
Disconnect Bluetooth FN + Z, X, or C for current device
Toggle FN Lock FN + Space
Unlock FN Lock Space
Lock-Out Windows Key FN + Win, same to unlock
Power Saving Mode FN + Enter for 3 seconds
Restore Factory Settings FN + Tab for 5 seconds

RGB Lighting


Function Key Sequence
Lights On/Off FN + Backspace
Cycle through RGB Presets FN + \
Cycle through User Presets FN + ]
Cycle through static colors FN + CapsLock
Lower and Raise RGB brightness FN + P and FN + [
Slow down or Speed Up RGB Effects FN + ; and FN + ‘

Indicator Lights


Function Key Sequence
Current Bluetooth Device Z, X, or C lights up when FN is tapped
Right Alt is Yellow or Red Yellow = Charging, Red = Low battery when FN is tapped
FN Key FN key is lit Red when locked
Windows Key Windows key is lit Red when locked
P or [ Blinking RGB Lighting at Minimum or Maximum
; or ‘ Blinking RGB Lighting Speed at Minimum or Maximum

Connectivity

I have used bluetooth on a Pixel 3 XL device for a few hours and it worked flawlessly. Paired a second device, an Android tablet, works fine. Paired up to my other older Android tablet, works fine. Switching between 1, 2, 3, or off, works fine. I had heard some folks say that they could only pair a single device at a time but no problem here so far. I was switching between tablet/phone yesterday with zero problems, USB/bluetooth, no problems. Also, switching back to USB is just a matter of hitting the same Z/X/C again to disable connection to that device. I’ve had no issues flipping back and forth between USB and Bluetooth, no need to touch the On/Off switch on the keyboard etc.
If your keyboard is not plugged in and you’re connected bluetooth, plugging in USB remains connected to bluetooth. To switch to USB, just disable bluetooth to the device you’re using same as any other time with FN Z/X/C.

Switches on back of keyboard

There are Win/Mac and On/Off switches on the back of the keyboard. If you use the keyboard on bluetooth a lot you will be flipping the On/Off switch quite a lot. It is a pretty low profile switch and won’t likely get turned on by accident but it’s also a little hard to find just fumbling on the back of the keyboard without looking. I have heard some people say they have to use this switch to use Bluetooth when plugged in USB but I have not found this to be the case. As far as I can tell, this is really only useful when the keyboard is not plugged in to save power.

NKRO

A lot of keyboards claim to have NKRO but really do not; this keyboard does, and I have verified that I can input basically every key at once using https://keyboardchecker.com/ You can toggle between NKRO and 6KRO using FN N, and apparently this is required for using the keyboard with gaming systems. If you’re using this keyboard on an XBox or Playstation, you will need to turn off NKRO. There is currently no indicator to know which mode you’re in but this is supposed to be coming in a future firmware. You can use the keyboardchecker site when connected to the computer via USB and mash all the keys, if only 6 show as active it’s in 6KRO mode. You will probably want to use NKRO mode on the PC by default.
I have seen some reports that some modifier keys don’t operate at the same time, but I have not experienced this issue myself. The example I heard was holding Shift or Control and a key then being unable to also hit another modifier key. On the keyboard checker website I haven’t been able to reproduce such issues.

RGB Lighting

Backlight through the keys is pretty uneven, like the menu key only half of it is lit, Alt key 'lt' is lit, not the A. Just looks a little sloppy, not a big deal. Probably less obvious in the dark, but my computer room is pretty well lit. But overall the colors are well saturated, bright, and look nice. For me I prefer a solid color just to see the keys in the dark a bit better although the color that highlights key layouts that I mention below has come in pretty useful to quickly see where the navigation cluster is etc.
Recent firmware updates have added the ability to choose your static backlight, which has always been one of the default keyboard RGB modes but previously was only a single color (red, as I recall). You switch to this static color mode (the mode after WASD mode) and then FN + Capslock cycles through. There are only 10 colors in this fixed mode, however.

Firmware/Software

Do not update firmware in a virtual machine, it won't finish and you'll have to manually recover, which happily is not difficult, there is a file on the Kemove BBS for this. But it will leave your keyboard in an unusable state if you do this and report version 0002. Recovery was trivial though, run the exe firmware updater and it updates and everything is good. That said, this keyboard is still in active development so you will want to update the firmware. Just don't do it in a virtual machine! I think as the firmware updates the USB reconnects and the VM may not reconnect or reconnect fast enough and the update fails. No fault of the keyboard here, it's always a bit sketchy doing this sort of thing in a VM anyway.

Key Remapping

Good news for me is that all settings done in the Apex software do persist in the keyboard, no need to be running the software for it to work. I am a Linux user and remap Caps Lock to be Control, so it's great that this is done directly in the keyboard when set.
The Apex software to configure this keyboard is a bit rough at this time, but the Kemove BBS has links to youtube videos that make this pretty obvious how to do and I was able to remap Caps Lock to Left Control very easily. Basically go to the second tab in the program, looks like a key being pushed down (to the right of a light bulb, on the left side) and clicked Caps Lock on the keyboard at the top and LCtrl at the bottom and hit Save. That easy!
You can actually do an impressive amount of key rempaping in the Apex software. I have seen youtube videos of users who have changed their Menu key to a FN key as they are used to that key on their previous keyboards, but yet it still works perfectly fine as an arrow key when hit with the real FN key. You can assign almost anything to any key, including macros, using the software. Even mouse clicks, or actions such as Back/Forward that a lot of mice have these days.
Some folks, me included, type ~ a lot, and this is semi-awkward by default. You must press shift-fn-ESC in that order. It's possible to remap ESC to default to `, shift ESC to output ~, and FN-ESC to output ESC. So for those Linux guys out there, this might be more convenient (unless you're a vi guy and use ESC a lot I suppose).

Setting RGB in Software

I also set some silly custom colors on my keyboard.. Blue for modifiers, pink for numbers, red for arrows, green for the nav cluster buttons, purple for media controls, then cyan for the remaining buttons. This worked pretty easy in the software, but it took a bit of fiddling to figure out. Once I realized what I needed to do, it’s quite easy and could be reproduced in about a minute. I spent a few minutes trying to set up what I think are basically animation layers and that isn’t what I was ultimately trying to do.
Luckily the Kemove folks are making videos about how to do things like this and if you follow along you can do it pretty easily. It's not hard, but it's also not all that intuitive. Oddly however,I was able to get my custom colors originally to work but I’ve yet to be able change them. Not sure what's going on, but every time I try to save my changes again the Apex software just freezes with a spinner showing but doesn't seem to change anything or ever finish. Oddly, some time after I gave up on tweaking my color layout and it not taking effect, it later did take effect. I am not sure what happened, although I had unplugged the keyboard and used it Bluetooth for a while, so perhaps something along the lines of the keyboard losing power or switching to Bluetooth made it reload the color layout? I’m unclear what made this work, but it’s still certainly a bit rough.
In case it’s not very clear, FN ] is how you select the user-created RGB layouts and flip between them.
I have written up a detailed post on creating a custom color effect here: https://www.reddit.com/MechanicalKeyboards/comments/ifxotq/kemove_61_custom_color_effects_guide/

Software RGB Modes

The software has a bunch of preconfigured RGB modes that are NOT included on the keyboard, oddly. You can pick these lighting effects and they will be used on the keyboard. Some of them you can even set things like how many colors, what colors, and center points of the effects. So the built-in RGB effects on this keyboard are quite extensive.

Profiles

As mentioned previously, this keyboard has four separate profiles, which you can select using FN-Q W E or R for 1-4 respectively. In the software, this is shown as Hardware 1 through 4. Keep in mind that each of these profiles has unique settings for the keyboard mapping and macros, default color mode selected (including RGB on/off), as well as user created RGB color layouts. If you create a custom RGB layout you have to assign it to a profile and use that profile in order to select it using FN ] If you assign multiple user RGB layouts to a profile, you can flip between them with FN ] same as you’d flip between the built-in colors using FN \

Software Bugs

Initially I had no real issues with the software except for it being non-intuitive, but at some point but anything I try to do in the software now just spins when saving and I have had to kill it every time it does this. This has started happening when I change key assignments, change colors, etc. Not sure what's going on. However, the changes do seem to take effect in the keyboard, such as changing key mappings etc. I have been unable to modify the custom RGB color layout that I made for myself. At some point the changes I was attempting to make did eventually make it to the board, but it was a frustrating process of the software hanging on me.

Firmware Bugs

If the keyboard is set to NKRO, which really only applies to USB usage, and you use the keyboard on bluetooth you will likely run into random keys getting “stuck” and inputting forever until you turn the keyboard off. Support says turning off NKRO fixes this issue, oddly, but that it will be fixed in a future firmware.

Summary

The good

A solid, affordable platform for a custom keyboard with your favorite switches that are easily swapped out. Not sure you like a switch type? Get a 10 pack and load them in. The keyboard is solid, the feel is great, the RGB and basic functions of the board work great, and I've had zero problems with bluetooth, the USB connection, the USB cable, etc. I was able to remap Caps Lock to Control very easily within the software and that's a huge plus for me; I was afraid I'd have to do this in software as the keyboard has no dipswitches to control this directly on the keyboard. The keyboard is also getting firmware updates periodically, which improves and adds features.

The bad

The software is not intuitive and unstable. If you follow the guides on youtube you can follow along and do a great deal of things with it, but it's unintuitive. And worse for me, it locks up. In most cases the changes I were making DID apply, but I have to force kill the software and restart it. They are still actively working on the software so I have hopes that it continues to improve.

Overall

Because of the buggy software, I am giving the keyboard overall 4/5 stars. Once the software improves stability I believe it is worthy of 5 stars. But as the software is essential to remapping keys I think it needs serious improvement. Kemove are doing a great thing for the keyboard community providing this keyboard and continuing to innovate and work with customers, I hope they continue to work on this keyboard and look forward to what they do next.
submitted by khaytsus to MechanicalKeyboards

PC User's Guide to Hi Quality Audio

Hello friends, today I'd like to talk about an aspect of our glorious systems that get overlooked a lot: our audio experience on our battlestations.
I've been building systems for myself and others since I randomly took a buildapc course in middle school (currently 28) and enjoy music very much (I grew up on linkin park, dre, biggie smalls, 3 6 mafia, tupac, ac/dc, red hot chilli peppers am fond of electro and dubstep and various genres of music). I have 2 decades of experience playing saxophone, clarinet, and the electric guitar, and have performed in jazz bands, rock bands, and an orchestra.
So occasionally while answering questions on this subreddit (mainly on why new builder's systems aren't posting, or what components they should get, or just mourning with fellow builders for systems that have passed on) I would come across the occasional "what speakers/headphones are best under $xx" and with the state of pc products being "gaming rgb ultimate series XLR" or , it's hard to discern what audio products are actually worth your money. Note that if you are using just "good enough" cheap speakers, any of the speakers/headphones on this list will blow your mind away. Get ready to enter a new world of audio.
Now, I totally understand using simple logitech speakers due to budget/space/easy-access from best buy or not knowing about the wider audio world. So I am here today to give you a perspective on what audio components are TRULY worth your hard-earned cash. I have owned $20 logitech speakers in college, I have owned guitar amps as well as studio monitors/other speakers ranging from $100-$1500. Do know that all of this information is readily available in /BudgetAudiophile /audiophile and /headphones . I am merely condensing all of it into a single list, and attempt to sort of explain it to the pc builders, or just an idiot rambling.
Couple things to note: I originally thought I would make a 5 minute low effort post with just a list of speakers and headphones, but this turned out to be longer than I originally anticipated. If I repeat myself in certain sections, it is because I wrote this abomination in multiple sessions with edits....or I'm just an idiot...probably the latter. If you would like more information on specific speakers, I would check out reviewers on youtube like zerofidelity, steve guttenberg, nextbigthing (nbt) studios, and thomas and stereo. For headphones, metal751, innerfidelity, Ishca's written reviews, DMS.
Z reviews is okay and he reviews everything from amps and dacs to speakers and headphones, but he gives 90% of his products good reviews, and has affiliate links to every single product he reviews....so you see where my dislike of him as a reviewer comes from. He still knows his shit and is a great entertainer whilst talking about audio products.
Also with speakers, speaker placement is extremely important. Get those speakers off your desk and the woofers/tweeters to your ear level NO MATTER THE COST. Stack boxes/books, buy speaker stands/isolation pads from amazon, at worst buy yoga blocks from amazon. Put your speakers on them, get ready for even better audio.
General rule of thumb: dont buy HiFi at msrp. There are ALWAYS deals on speakers/headphones to take advantage of at any given time (massdrop for headphones, parts-express, accessories4less). Speakers will get cheaper over time as manufacturers have to make room for new products/refreshes of the same models just as with headphones. If theres a particular headphone model you want, check to see if massdrop has it (website where users of the website decide what niche products the website will mass order, and both the website and you the users get reduced pricing).
Now this list is just simple guide. Obviously for $150 budget, theres probably like 10 different speakers to choose from. You will catch me repeat this many many times but sound is subjective, I don't know what genres of music you enjoy and what sound signatures in headphones/speakers you would prefer (warm sounds? bright? aggressively forward? laid back sound signature? importance of clarity vs bass?) So consider this list with a grain of salt, as this is after all, the ramblings of an idiot on reddit.
So I will be splitting this list into 3 categories: active speakers, passive speakers, headphones and amps/dacs. And before I start, bass depth and low end does not fuc**** equal boomy bass. I absolutely detest low quality boomy bass like in Beats headphones and general "gaming speakers" or w/e.
Active vs. Passive (crude explanation)
So when a speaker plays music from your pc, the audio is processed by the audio card on your motherboard, which is then sent to the amplifier where the signal is amplified, and then finally is sent to be played on your speakers. Active speakers like logitech speakers that have a power cable running from the speakers directly to the wall socket have built-in amplifiers to power the speakers, whereas passive speakers require a separate amplifier to amplify the audio signal and feed the speakers power. Active vs passive, no real difference as both types of speakers will have good audio quality depending on how they are made and which ones you buy, but in the ultra budget section of speakers (under $300) actives tend to be cheaper than their passive counter parts. This is due to the manufacturer cutting corners elsewhere.
Take for instance the Micca MB42X passive speakers($90) which also have a brother, the Micca PB42X ($120) powered speakers. Same exact speaker, but built in amp vs the amp you buy. Obviously the mb42x will sound marginally better purely from the virtue that the amplifier you buy will be better than the shitty one in the pb42x. But the mb42x + amp + speaker wire will probably cost you anywhere from basic $130 to $200 with difference in amplifier and whether you use bare speaker wire or banana plugs/cables. Cabling aesthetics and management will be greatly affected, with sound quality affected to a lesser degree, or more (but at what cost?). Amp choice to be explained later.
Now generally speakers should be recommended based on your music/audio preferences and tastes as speakers and in a larger part, speaker brands will have their own unique sound signatures that some will love and others will hate as sound is such a subjective experience. But since this is meant to cater to a wide audience, note that my list is not the ALL inclusive, and again is only the ramblings of an idiot.
BLUETOOTH SPEAKERS
If you want to add bluetooth capabilities to your wires active or passive speakers, simply buy the esinkin W29 wireless bluetooth module, plug your speakers in, connect to your bluetooth on pc/phone/w/e, enjoy.
ACTIVE SPEAKERS
Note: you may experience a hissing with active speakers that may annoy you to no end even up to the $400 mark. This is a result of the amplifier being built in to the speaker in close proximity, as well as sometimes the manufacturer cutting corners elsewhere. Passive speakers do not have this unless you buy a really shitty amp. Note that while bigger woofer size does not necessarily indicate better quality/bass, this does more often than not seem to be the case as manufacturers put bigger woofers on the higher stepup model.
  • Cyber Acoustics CA-3602FFP 2.1 $40. This is the I'm broke af but I need speakers route. 2.1 setup for 40 bucks. We do not have the luxury of options here. Enough said. Amazon
  • Okay, for under $100 for good quality active speakers, there really is no other choice here besides Edifier speakers on amazon. In fact, their entire lineup is pretty solid all around ranging from the 980T for $70 to the S350DB which is a 2.1 system with 2 bookshelves and a sub for $300. Differences in the models are basically bigger woofers/tweeters as you go up in price, resulting in better bass performance and clarity (again crude explanation). If you don't want to research much and want simplicity, any of the edifiers are the way to go, with the 1700BT being the goto 2.0, or the 1850db which as a sub-out so you can add in a subwoofer into your setup later.
  • Micca PB42X: $120- The active version of the popular MB42X passive speakers. Very good performance for price.
  • Mackie CR3/4 $90/$140- Now normally I don't recommend these, but they are okay/meh speakers and have that razer aesthetic going on, and aesthetics are big part of speaker choice, so if you like the black/green color scheme, I guess these are passable.
  • Klipsch Pro Media 2.1: $150- the only 2.1 system I'd recommend under $200. The thing about adding in a subwoofer to a 2.1 system under $200 means they have to cut corners elsewhere. This is the main difference of 2.1 systems vs bookshelves. While the subwoofer will allow your music to hit the lower notes in frequency resulting in deeper and more bass, this will usually come at a cost of audio quality in the mid and upper ranges in the music. If you are a BASSHEAD then yeah you probably want a subwoofer, though bookshelves under $200 also have decent bass. Note, ALWAYS BETTER TO BUY BOOKSHELVES AND SUBWOOFER SEPARATELY, but this will be pricier. Klipsch Website Direct or amazon.
  • Fluance ai40/ai60: $200/$300- nice looking speakers that come in white and walnut and black that also have good clarity and quality. Their bass is surprisingly okay as they are rated to go a little bit below in the lower frequencies than speakers in similar price. I have listened to these before shortly for 2 hours, and would recommend. IIRC the ai60 has a subwoofer out. Mind the size of the 60s, quite big. Fluance direct or amazon.
  • Kanto YU4: $270 Direct competitor to fluance ai series. Comes in white as well.
  • Audioengine A2+/A5+ :$270/$400. I have no experience with this lineup, but lots of love/hate dynamic with this brand over on budgetaudiophile. Good and bad thing.
  • JBL 305P: $300 - maybe the endgame speakers of this list. These are very famous and respected studio monitors that music artists and producers use often. They are sold $150 per speaker, and you will need to get 2. Hooking them up requires separate cables, as these are standalone speakers with it's own volume control on each speaker. Simplest way is to buy a 3.5mm to dual TS Cable. Set both speakers to same physical volume level via knob, and adjust volume using windows settings (having a volume knob on your keyboard helps immensely here). Or buy a separate in line volume control from amazon ($20 bucks or under) and connect via 3.5mm to rca. Being studio monitors, these are meant to reproduce sound neutrally (they will have no external flavoring like how Beats adds muddy boomy bass to its headphones to use as a bad example) and may not sound alive or bright or to your tastes. They can be demo-ed/tested out at guitar center if you have access to one in this pandemic.
  • Logitech G560 $200: Okay, now normally I'd be crucified for recommending a logitech speaker in the other audio forums. But I have used these speakers briefly for about 3 months when I got them cheap from a friend. The sound quality of these satellite speakers are....surprisingly not bad? Might I dare to say that these are even....decent for it's price? Now these are $200 speakers for a 2.1 system. This means that it's either this or Klipsch 2.1. Honestly my vote here goes to the logitechs. I owned the Klipsch promedia 2.1 for about half a year. I can definitely say I prefer the clarity of the logitechs vs the boomy bass of the Klipsch. The subwoofer on the 560 does NOT have its own control knob, so you would need to adjust bass settings through logitech eq. Note, these speakers will not sound good out of the box. You will need to go into the eq settings via logitech software, and change the settings to match your tastes. But with a little elbow grease, you have a good 2.1 system that also looks good if you're enjoy the RGB. Note that I am not recommending the z623/625. Don't get those. I used these in college in my apt in brooklyn, and while boomy bass, I'd definitely go with the B652 + mini amp, klipsch 2.1, or the g560 over the z623/625 FOR SURE.
PASSIVE SPEAKERS
These speakers will require you to buy a separate amplifier, as well as separate cables. But the passive route allows you to have a modular audio system that allows you to upgrade parts as you go along in your life, or even just add parts in altogether (like having a miniamp on your desk for your passive speakers, having a separate dac or bluetooth module for your speakers so you can connect the passive speakers via USB or bluetooth wirelessly, stacked on top of a headphone dac/amp combo, stacked on top of a preamp, etc). Amplifier list to follow later.
Passive speaker specs to pay attention to will be their impedance (measured in ohms) and their sensitivity (measured in xx db/1w/1m). Speaker ratings in wattage are measurements of how much power can be driven to them (higher watts, higher volume...once again crude explanation). A 20 watt x 2 channel amp (measured in 4 ohms) is enough to power 4 and 6 ohm speakers rated at 100 watts to moderate/decently loud listening levels on your desktop. Now the sensitivity thing. A speaker with a rating of 85db/1m/1w means it will produce 85 decibels of noise at 1 meter with 1 watt of power. Now this not linear....to make the same speaker go up to 90 decibels may require 10 or 15 watts of power depending on other variables. Depending on how loudly you play your music and what impedance/sensitivity your speakers have will result in your choice of amplifiers. More on this later.
The thing about bookshelf speakers are that you can use them in your desktop setup, AND with your TV as a legitimate starter 2.1 home theater setup (which you can upgrade to 3.1, and then 5.1/5.2, just buy a used receiver from craigslist for 50 bucks, ez)
Note that passive speakers and amp require you to purchase speaker wire separately (fairly cheap) and strip them (youtube video will guide you, very easy). Or if you like clean cable management and easy setups, banana plug cables from amazon will set you straight, and while these cables are very nice, they will add up in cost as your buy more of them for frankenstein 2.1 cabling. Also a 3.5mm to rca cable will be required. The connection will be your pc -> 3.5mm->rca->amp->speaker wire-> speaker wire->speaker. (replace speaker wire with banana plug if going that route). Subwoofer connection will be explained in subwoofer section.
  • Dayton audio b652+ mini amp combo on parts-express for $60/70. Two combos, two separate mini amps, one from lepai (china) and one from dayton. Same shit. It LITERALLY does not get better than this for under $100, maybe even $150. CHIEF THIS IS IT, i cannot stress this enough. This is the budgetaudiophile 101 starter pack. I'd recommend these over the active Mackies, Edifiers (up to the 1700), and any and all logitech/creative pebble/cyber w/e EVERYTHING systems (except for the g560). These are very BIG speakers and hence will deliver good sound and good bass due to its big woofers. If you have less than $100 to spend on the ENTIRE audio setup, go get these and speaker wire/banana plugs no questions asked. gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
  • Dayton Audio B652 AIR $70- The difference between the AIR and the normal 652 is in the tweeter. The AIR tweeter on this speaker costs as much as the entire b652 speaker. This tweeter upgrade gives even more clarity and quality in the treble range (middle upper sound frequency). The next best thing for under $100, though doesn't come with the mini amp combo.
  • Sony SSCS5 Bookshelf Speakers. $150 msrp, $120 on amazon/bestbuy until recently, and sometimes goes on sale for $75. These are 3 way speakers with woofer, tweeter and supertweeter. The strength of these speakers lie in its unmatched clarity in the highs and upper mids. I still have these in my collection, and VERY WORTH though my opinion of these is skewed as I got them for $75/pair. If you appreciate bass, you will need to add a subwoofer with these (or generally any speaker below $500....some people would say you cant listen to music on bookshelves without subwoofer) as they sound a bit thin compare to the b652s (a bit less bass because smaller woofer) but better sound quality (though this is just my SUBJECTIVE thought after listening to the cs5s and b652s). These have 5 in woofers and have okayish small form factor.
  • Micca MB42X $90- the passive version of the powered PB42X in the active list. The difference is between the amplifier built into the PB42X vs the one you're going to buy separately to power the MB42X. Obv the MB42X route is going to be better because the amplifier in the PB42X will be shit compared to the one you're going to buy ($30/50/75/150 options to follow later)
  • Micca RB42X $150 - Amazing small size speakers. For under $200, either this or the cs5s. The rb42s have a bit more bass.
  • Elac Debut 5.2/6.2 ON SALE NOW FOR $230/250. GET EM WHILE IT LASTS. Normally $280/350. These are speakers highly acclaimed by many of the speaker reviewers I consider the best (imo zerofidelity, steve guttenberg, nextbigthing (nbt) studio, thomas and stereo). Great bass, warm sound signature. Just go, what are you waiting for. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
  • Q Acoustics 3020/3030i $230/400. Highly acclaimed by reviewers, look VERY NICE in white, and have a warm sound signature with lots of bass clarity and bass depth. These speakers are big, which is why they have great bass. Check the dimensions. Their size is the only downside to these fantastic speakers.
  • PSB Alpha P5 $400: Great speakers for nearfield listening, aka at your desk, excels in this department more so than the other speakers (better at low volume, etc). Just all around amazing. Get these if the Q Acoustics ones are too big.
  • Triangle BR02/03 $450/550. Coming from across the atlantic, these french speakers made a splash last year destroying its competition in the below $1000 range. Highly acclaimed to the point where some see them as overrated (too much hype out of nowhere in such little time). If you have the space in your setup as well as in your wallet for these, they are the way to go. Comes in black, walnut, white.
AMPLIFIERS
Okay here is where we need to get into specific numbers. Active speakers have built-in amplifiers so they are exempt. But passive speakers will require separate amps and so you will need to pay attention to certain specs. In speakers you will need to pay attention to their impedance (measured in ohms) and their sensitivity (measured in xx db/1m/1w). The typical mini amplifier will be class D (small form factor amps for desktop use) and their wattage per channel will be usually expressed in 4ohms. Take for instance the popular SMSL SA50. This is an amp that delivers 50 watts to its 2 channels, rated at 4 ohms. Speakers will have impedance of 4, 6, or 8 ohms usually. 50 watts at 4 ohms can be 25 watts at 8 ohms, but is probably more like 20 watts at 8 ohms, refer to product specs for specific wattage ratings at specific ohms. Speakers with high sensitivity (85-95 db/1w/1m) that have 6 ohm impedance are easier to drive with lower wattage.
But here's the thing, an the smsl sa50 will not deliver 50 CLEAN watts. Somewhere in the 30-40w range distortion will start to appear. But for reference, 30 clean watts is enough to drive sony cs5s to uncomfortably loud levels in an apartment (the whole apt, not just your room) so listening on your desktop, you only really need 10-15 clean watts. Do note that if you have the space, a used AV Receiver that will just shit out watts and have 5.1 surround will be the best, but these things are massive.
  • Lepai 2020ti (LEPAI and not Lepy be wary) $25. 20 watts in 2 channels. Budget
  • SMSL SA36 $62: SMSL's 2x20w.
  • SMSL SA50 $72: The most bang for buck amp that's also decent. 2x50watts.
  • Topping MX3 $130: Speaker amp, headphone amp, dac rolled into one. Allows for your speakers and headphones to be connected via USB and Bluetooth.
  • SMSL AD18 $150: SMSL's answer to the MX3. This one is probably the goto. It's got 2x80w at 4ohms, has USB connection, has subwoofer out, has bluetooth connection, headphone amp, coaxial and optical connection.
If you need more watts than the AD18, you're gonna need to get a class a/b amp that just shits out watts for cheap, or get a used av receiver. If you want a new one, the best budget option is the DENON AVR-S540BT 5.2 channel AVR from accessories4less.
SUBWOOFERS
Good subwoofers are expensive, and cheap subwoofers will hurt your listening experience rather than improve it (muddy boomy shitty bass). Your best bet may be to simply find a used subwoofer from craigslist or offerup, just dont get the polk audio PSW10, this is a very common sub you see on the 2nd hand market, because it is a shitty sub and so people get rid of it. Now as to whether you need a subwoofer. If you are in a dorm, don't get a subwoofer. Because.... if you live in a dorm, do not get a fucking subwoofer. Now if you live in a small apartment, fear not, proper subwoofer management will save you noise complaints. A good subwoofer will produce good quality low end you can hear and feel without having to turn up the volume. You want to look at the subwoofer's lowest frequency it can go to. That will show you how "tight" the bass will be. Now, low volume levels on a good sub will produce that bass for you without vibrating your walls (though subwoofer and speaker isolation
Now as to how to add a subwoofer to your system will depend on what setup you have and the available connections. If your speakers or amplifier has a subwoofer output, simply connect that to your subwoofer, set the crossover freuency (the frequency at which the subwoofer will start making sound) to 80hz, or lower depending on how low of a frequency our bookshelves can go down to.
If your speakers/amp do not have a subwoofer out, you will need to find a subwoofer that has high level speaker inputs . You will need to connect your bookshelves to the speaker outputs on the subwoofer via speaker wire/banana plugs, and then run speaker wire/banana plugs from the subwoofer input to your amplifier, ending with rca to 3.5mm connection to your pc.
  • Dayton Audio SUB-800 $100: The cheapest one, don't go any cheaper. Enough said. Get from parts-express. If you need cheaper, 2nd hand market.
  • Dayton Sub-1000 $120: The bigger brother. This thing is 10 inches, be prepared for a BIG box sitting in your room.
  • Dayton Sub-1500 $200. The even bigger brother. I'm sorry, that's just how good these things are.
  • SVS SB-1000 $500: Bassssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.
HEADPHONES
Okay, I keep saying headphones and not headsets right. But you ask, Kilroy, you're an idiot. You're posting on buildapc for PC gamers and builders but you're talking headphones and not headsets. How idiotic are you? Pretty big, but friends hear me out. Now I used to live in South Korea, where PC Bangs (internet cafes) set the nation's standards for computers. All the places had to get the best bang for the buck pc gear to stay in business and remain competitive (all 100 computers at these places had like i5-6600k and gtx 1080 in 2015 or something I don't remember, along with mechanical BLUE SWITCH FUCCCCCCKKKKKKKK (imagine 100 blue switch keyboards being smashed on in a small underground area in Seoul) keyboards and decent headsets.
So I have tried MANY MANY different headsets, here is my conclusion. Just get proper headphones and get either get an antlion modmic, or V-MODA Boompro mic both available on amazon. (short list of mics later) or get proper headphones and usb mic. The TWO EXCEPTIONS that I have observed to this rule are the Hyperx Clouds and Cooler Master mh751/752.
  • Hyperx Cloud CORE/1/2/ALPHA (please find prices on amazon). So these headphones are a rare instance of when a gaming branded pair of headphones was actually a good no bullshit product. These are hyperx reskins of OEM Takstar Pro 80, a pretty damn good pair of cans from china for under $50 (no longer available on aliexpress but Seoul had a SHIT load of these) with a mic attached to it. Chief, this is it. Reasonably good audio quality from headphone drivers for their price, and you get a mic for discord needs.
  • Coolermaster MH751/752 $90/110. Now beware, on amazon there are the mh630/650/670 series headphones that are in the same...product "selection" styling part of the product page. Do NOT GET THESE, these are the typical bullshit gaming branding and are pretty bad. Now, the mh751 and 752s are coolermaster's copycat of the hyperx clouds. They are coolermaster reskins of the Takstar pro 82, another good pair of headphones. I cannot comment on this one, as I have not used either the takstar variant nor the cm variant. But the pro 82s are just as good as the 80s. If i had to guess, different styling (headband) and maybe slightly different sound signature. Difference between the 2 is the dac (the block thing in between your headphones and the wires to your pc). The dac the mh752 is most likely inferior to the dac on your mobo's build-in soundcard. Get the 751, unless you have a laptop, then the 752's dac may be better.
  • Audio-Technica ath-m40x $80: You may have heard of the ath-m50/x. Now these headphones are looked down on, on the headphone forums or reddit. The m40/x is the bass reduced, aka the neutral version of the m50x for cheaper too. Great headphones for under $100. Now, I have owned the m50 waay back, and I think if you enjoy bass, then go for it. After all, they are YOUR fuckin pair of headphones and ears, who are others to say shit?
  • Sony MDR7506 $100: I remember these were $75, but I guess everything changed when the coronavirus attacked. Anyway, these are the venerated mdr7506, the industry standard for headphones in the professional audio/music industry. Great quality, cheap price. They just, dont have anything going on in the looks department. These are it for pure price/performance.
  • BeyerDynamic DT770 (32, 90, 250 ohms) $150: Amazing pair of cans, very comfortable. 32 ohm version if simply plugging into your motherboard. The higher ohm versions require separate headphone amp. Generally more amps=better audio quality.
  • HiFiMAN HE4XX $160: Simply amazing. Open back planar headphones.
  • Sennheiser 650/6xx from massdrop/660 $220-$400. The legendary series of headphones from sennheiser. Highly venerated.
WIRELESS HEADSETS
Okay. Wireless headsets, now let's think why do you need a wireless headset? Do you want to walk around your house while on discord? Maybe you want to keep the headset on while having to afk real quick for a smoke break or whatnot.
  • TaoTronics 5.0 Bluetooth transmitter+receiver unit $30. It's a small device that can either A: give your non-bt PC bluetooth capabilities by acting as a receiver, or give your wired headphones wireless connectivity to your pc by acting as a transmitter. This thing is battery powered (like a wireless gaming headset) up to 10 hours. You just plug your wired headphones in, put the thing in your pocket and leave your pc.
MICS
  • V-MODA BoomPRO $30: this is a mic with a 3.5mm that plugs in to your headphones that have a removable cable, simple.
  • Antlion modmic $50: yes the modmic. You've probably heard of this.
  • Fifine K669B condensor mic $46: simple mic on a stand that plugs in via usb. Imo has better recording quality than Blue snowball.
  • Blue Snowball $57: Yes, you've most definitely heard of this.
Cool.
submitted by Kilroy1311 to pcmasterrace