Even more important than volume, when it comes to sound quality, is bandwidth (the range between the lowest and highest frequencies that can be reproduced by an audio system).
Even if they have excellent sound cards, built-in speaker subsystems found on laptops –even those of expensive macs– usually have bad performance at the lowest frequencies, because they are too small.
And if you put some plastic on top of them, you are not only redirecting the sound towards your position, but in the process also cutting the higher frequencies, or even introducing some distortion due to vibrations. But you are in no way "amplifying" sound.
It's simple, lower frequencies require more power than higher frequencies to perform at the same (audible) volume level (that's why sub woofers are much bigger than than satellite speakers on home theaters, for example).
You don't need to buy an expensive (>100 USD) set of speakers or home theater; even a cheap set of amplified desktop speakers (~5 USD) will sound a lot better than plastic cup halves vibrating on top of your laptop. But if you can afford a 2.1 set (with a decent sub-woofer, ~30 USD) just don't hesitate, it's an extremely huge difference, and you'll really start to enjoy audio quality.