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Monoprice's last home theater speaker system was literally too good to be true: a near clone of the outstanding Energy Take Classic 5.1 speakers ($350 street) for a fraction of the cost. The copycat 9774 speakers ended up as the subject of a lawsuit from Energy's parent company, Klipsch. The proceedings were settled out of court, and the 9774 speakers were discontinued.
Now the company is back with the 10565 speaker system ($249), with the same price, but a different look. The new speakers still share many of the same specs as the Energy speakers, but there are just enough differences that the two systems don't feel identical. Unfortunately, those cosmetic differences make the Monoprice speakers less stylish, looking more like the budget speakers than they actually are.
On the other hand, the 10565 system surprised us by actually sounding better (to our ears) than the Energy speakers. That's no easy feat, as the Energy Take Classic has long been a standout in sound quality when it comes to compact speaker systems under $500. The other surprise is that despite the retail prices, both systems are pretty similar in real-world cost, once you factor in Monoprice's shipping costs and the Energy system's frequent discounts.
Ultimately the choice between the two systems comes down to your preferences: the Monoprice speakers sound a little better, but the Energy speakers look a little better and have a better warranty. Either way you go, you're getting an outstanding budget speaker system.
Design: The same, but different
When you put the Monoprice 9774 speakers next to the Energy Take Classic, it was hard not to think of the word "knockoff." They were the same in almost every detail, including very similar performance, which almost certainly contributed to Monoprice's legal settlement with Energy.
The 10565 speaker system doesn't have the same knockoff feel. The speakers are obviously inspired by the Energy speakers, but they don't feel as if they're trying to pass as the same system. The biggest reason for that is the 10565's matte gray finish, giving a much more staid impression than the Energy's high-gloss look, although the Monoprice speakers do a better job of hiding fingerprint smudges and dust. (The difference in finishes is also much more apparent in person than in photos.)
There are plenty of other differences, too. Despite the listed dimensions being the same, the Monoprice satellite speakers are slightly taller, wider, and longer than the Energy counterparts. Pulling off the speaker grille, the drivers look similar, but definitely not the same. On the backside, the positioning of the speaker connectors and the port is swapped, plus the Energy speakers sport a keyhole bracket, whereas the Monoprice speakers have a screw hole.
But listing all the incongruities overstates the differences between these two systems. The systems have satellite speakers and center channels with identically sized woofers and tweeters, and both have 200-watt subwoofers with an 8-inch down-firing woofer. I'm not aware of any two other sets of speakers from two separate companies that are so similar.
The real knock against the 10565 speakers, style-wise, is they have a generic feel to them. The prominent "Monoprice" label on the front doesn't help. Holding the speakers in your hand, the Monoprice satellite speakers feel a little hollower and more like "cheap" speakers. The best way to put it is that the Energy system does a better job of creating the illusion that they're more expensive speakers; the 10565 speakers look and feel more like what they cost.
Setup: Straightforward and simple
There's nothing unusual about the setup requirements of this 5.1 channel system, except for one thing: Monoprice recommends using a 110Hz subwoofer-to-satellite crossover setting. We used that with our Marantz NR1403 receiver and the sound was fine, but since some receivers don't offer a 110Hz option in their bass management menus, we also tried 100Hz, which worked just as well.
After that it's mostly a matter of setting the sub's volume level to achieve a smooth, seamless blend with the satellite speakers. We found the 10565 unfussy in this regard; we were perfectly satisfied with leaving the volume knob around 12 o'clock, nudging it up or a down a little over the course of the review. As always, you'll get the best sound by keeping the sub close to the front speakers; anything within 5 or 6 feet will do the trick.
Sound quality: A little better than the best
There was really only one way to test the Monoprice 10565 system and that was to set it up directly next to the Energy Take Classic speakers. We used the Marantz NR1403 to power both systems and, at best, we expected the 10565 system to equal the performance of the Energy speakers like the old 9774 system did. What really surprised us is that we ended up preferring the Monoprice system.
Again, both the speakers and sub are very similar, so it was unsurprising that our first impression was that both systems sounded very similar. That's high praise for the 10565; it was holding its own against our longstanding champion of budget-priced, small sub/sat systems.
As we listened more, we started to notice that the 10565's sub reached a bit deeper into the bass, and definition was also better controlled than the Take Classic 5.1's sub. The special effects on the "Iron Man 3" DVD tested the systems' stamina, but the 10565 edged out the Take Classic 5.1 with its more potent sub, and the speakers' superior clarity.
That was even more obvious when we played jazz singer Patricia Barber's high-resolution "Modern Cool" Blu-ray. The 10565's five speakers created a more enveloping, room-filling sound field, and the band's rhythm section had a slightly more dynamic feel. Barber's vocals were less sibilant than they were over the Take Classic 5.1 system. The 10565's satellites' midrange and treble detailing is ahead of the Take Classic 5.1's, and we noted the same advantage with stereo playback of CDs. Again, the differences between the two systems aren't huge, but they are clear cut.
Switching to action movies, the 10565 had an effortless sound, and handled fairly loud levels with ease. The sound with two-channel music was also well behaved, and that's not always the case with sub/sat systems with tiny speakers. The 10565 took it all in stride.
While the two systems definitely sounded different and we preferred the Monoprice system, it is a matter of taste. When CNET contributor Geoff Morrison (along with Brent Butterworth) measured the new Monoprice speakers against the old ones, they found that the new Monoprice speakers did indeed measure differently, but the old system was slightly more accurate. Ultimately, both systems sound very similar, so it's important to keep that in mind if you're choosing between the two.
We next compared the 10565 with the $84 Monoprice 8247 5.1 speaker system. Surprisingly, the little system's subwoofer dominated its sound; there's a lot of bass, so we kept turning the subwoofer volume down, and the blend between the sub and sats was less smooth than what we achieved with the 10565 and the Take Classic 5.1.
Considering the price difference, the 8247's sound wasn't bad, but the 10565 was more refined, clearer, had stronger dynamics, and the tonal balance was more accurate. We could never forget the 8247's sats were little, tiny things -- they sounded awfully small. Investing the extra cash to get the 10565 is money well spent.
How much are you really saving?
Monoprice's appeal has always been incredibly low prices for solid products, but the math with the 10565 speakers isn't as straightforward as it initially looks.
When you just compare retail costs, the Monoprice speakers ($249) seem much less costly than the Energy speakers ($400), but that's ignoring the real-world marketplace. For one, the Monoprice speakers don't include mandatory shipping costs, which can be pricey -- about $40 to CNET's New York office, or $21 to CNET's San Francisco office. With the Energy speakers, you'll typically get free shipping from a retailer like Amazon or Newegg.
You'll also want to consider the fact that the Energy system is frequently discounted down to $350 and sometimes all the way down $300. If you're willing to wait for those discounts, the price between the two systems almost disappears, depending on how much it costs to ship to your area. (Monoprice also initially ran a sale on the old 9774 speakers, bringing the retail cost down to $200, but it's hard to tell how frequent there will be discounts on the 10565 speakers.)
The main takeaway is that the cost difference isn't as much as you'd think from looking at the retail prices. When you consider the fact that you're likely to hold onto these speakers for upwards of five years, you're typically talking about a few dollars difference per year. And the Energy speakers also come with a five-year warranty on the speakers (one year for the subwoofer), whereas the Monoprice system is only covered for one year.
What are the alternatives?
For the price and size, the Monoprice (and Energy) speakers are tough to beat. But there are some compelling alternatives once you move away from those restrictions.
The next best value is Pioneer's SP-PK52FS. It's a much larger system and a little pricier, but the sound quality is much better, especially if you listen to a lot of stereo music. It's the best-sounding system you can find in this price range, although you'll have to put up with its faux wood-grain looks.
On the other end of the spectrum is Monoprice's 8247 speakers ($84). It's hard to believe you can get any 5.1 speaker system for that amount of money, let alone one that doesn't sound all that bad. If you're just looking for a cheap surround sound system -- maybe for the basement or another less frequently used room -- you can get away with the 8247 speakers, just don't set your expectations too high in terms of sound quality. (Although it easily beats just about any sound bar.) But for your main listening room, you're better off spending the extra for the 10565 speakers if you can afford it.
Conclusion: A fantastic bargain, provided you like the looks
The Monoprice 10565 is a fantastic bargain in the same league as the Energy Take Classic speakers, but it falls just short of earning the Editors' Choice. It's a close call, but ultimately we think most buyers will prefer the Energy's more stylish design and the comfort of the longer warranty over the somewhat better sonics. But if you're looking to get even more performance out of a set of compact budget speakers, the Monoprice 10565 is the way to go.