Monoprice 10565 review: Superb-sounding speakers that are a little short on style

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Energy (top), Monoprice (bottom) Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Pioneer SP-PK52FS Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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