Before you buy a home theater sound bar, read this

A set of MonoPrice's stereo speakers and powered subwoofer together sell for as little as $85, and sound better than many $300 sound bar systems.

MonoPrice's speakers and subwoofers may be priced at the extreme low end, but they offer respectable performance for very little money. I wrote about the company's subs a few days ago, today we'll look at two MonoPrice "bookshelf" speakers: the 8250 ($28 per pair) and the 8251 ($54 a pair). When the speakers and subs are used together they can serve as a viable alternative to a sound bar home theater system, for buyers who already have a receiver.

The MonoPrice 8251 three-way speaker MonoPrice

The 8250 is a small two-way bookshelf speaker with a 6.5-inch polypropylene woofer and a .5-inch dome tweeter. The textured black wood cabinet is about 8 inches wide, 12 inches tall, and 6 inches deep. The 7.2 pound speaker comes with a keyhole mounting bracket, but since there's also a bass port back there, wall-mounting would adversely affect the speaker's bass output. The spring-loaded connectors feel cheap, but MonoPrice claims the connectors can accept fairly thick 16-gauge wires.

The larger 8251 speaker is a three-way design with an 8-inch polypropylene woofer, 4-inch polypropylene midrange driver, and a 0.5-inch dome tweeter. It's 16.2 inches tall, 11.3 inches wide, and 9.4 inches deep. If your walls are up to it, the 16.5-pound speaker can be wall-mounted with the keyhole bracket on the back of the cabinet. The 8251's high-gloss black front baffle gives the speaker a more upscale appearance than the 8250. The big speaker has the same spring-loaded speaker wire connectors as the 8250.

The 8251's vertical dispersion was uneven, so it sounded very different when I stood up or sat down. I found that it sounded best when the speaker was around 20 inches off the floor. I used a Denon AVR-1912 receiver and an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player for all of my listening tests.

Both speakers sounded nicely balanced on solo piano jazz recordings, and the larger speaker had a fuller and richer balance. Peter Gabriel's voice and orchestra on his "Scratch My Back" CD sounded more natural played over the smaller speakers. Morphine's "The Night" CD has a lot of bass, so sure, the smaller speakers seemed lightweight by comparison. Even so, we felt the 8250's sound was more natural and even-tempered. The treble range of both speakers was a little harsh, and if these speakers sold for hundreds of dollars I would find that roughness unacceptable. But for $28 or $54 a pair, the sound is really very nice. The degree of harshness varied from one recording to the next, and as I listened I found it easy to ignore.

The MonoPrice 8250 two-way speaker MonoPrice

For my home theater tests I teamed the small speakers with the small MonoPrice 8248 subwoofer; and the larger speakers with the 8249 sub. The smaller combination would cost $85; the bigger sub and speakers together run $138 (plus shipping). In both cases the sound was pretty impressive for this kind of money, and well ahead of most budget sound bar systems, which always limit the stereo image's width. The MonoPrice stereo speakers can be placed further apart than the sound bar's internal speakers and can produce a bigger, more satisfying soundfield. Since the MonoPrice 8250 speaker has a 6.5 inch woofer it has an advantage over sound bars with 2- or 3-inch woofers. Come to think of it, some budget sound bars don't have tweeters, so again, the 8250 speakers have the advantage.

The 8250 speaker/8248 subwoofer system's home theater sound on films like "Wall-E" and "King Kong" was very listenable. The blend between the sub and speakers was excellent (with the Denon receiver crossover set to 100 Hertz). The stereo soundstage was deep and wide, and the soft-to-loud dynamics were at least on par with what you'd get from the average sound-bar-subwoofer system. CD sound quality exceeded most budget-priced sound-bar-subwoofer systems I've heard to date. Remember, this is an $85, three-piece system with two speakers and an 8-inch powered subwoofer, but unlike many sound bars, the MonoPrice speakers must be used with a receiver.

The larger 8251 speaker/8249 sub system had more bass power and could play significantly louder without distorting. The blend between the sub and speakers was also good. Even so, I preferred the sound of the smaller 8250 speaker/8248 subwoofer system. The smaller system's sound seemed to hold together better, when played at soft to moderately loud volume.

So the MonoPrice speakers and subwoofers might be worth checking out before you buy a sound bar system (both MonoPrice speaker/subwoofer systems were sonically superior to MonoPrice's own sound bar). Of course, you could also buy five MonoPrice speakers and one of their subwoofers, and put together a 5.1 channel system for very little money. Best of all, MonoPrice sells direct with a 30-day money-back guarantee (there's no restocking fee if you return the system).

 

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