Setting up a home theater system can be expensive, but the most costly parts are usually the TV (or projector) and the speakers themselves. This can be quite daunting for beginners, but happily there are bargains to be had. For a time one, of the greatest values came in the form of the Monoprice 9774 , a set of 5.1 speakers -- two fronts, a center channel, two rear surrounds and subwoofer -- which sold for just $250 from the online accessory retailer.
While they sounded amazing for the money, they were basically unauthorized clones of the Energy Take Classics -- rated 5 stars by CNET, and still a budget favorite. A subsequent lawsuit from Klipsch, Energy's parent company, saw the 9774 models removed from the market. Undeterred, Monoprice swiftly replaced these with the retooled 10565 which sounded even better to our ears, and was seemingly different enough to stay further legal action.
Flash forward to two years later, and Monoprice has replaced the 10565 system with the 13773. (Apparently, Monoprice's low-price philosophy means there's no marketing investment in snappy model names beyond random four- or five-digit numbers.) The design differs from the former 10565 with paper drivers instead of polypropylene -- and an even more homely look. Performance is geared towards home cinema use with a very exciting sound, but music takes a hit as a result.
While it's not as good as the original 9774, at the cheaper price of $200, the new model is the new lion its field: at that kind of money, it has no natural predators. If you want more refinement and better musical sound, your next best option is to stump up $350 for the aforementioned Energys -- which are still available, and still excellent.
While the 10565 featured four satellite speakers and a wider center channel, the 13773 has opted for five identical satellites instead. The benefits are that it both keeps the costs down and ensures consistent voicing across the soundstage. The satellites are roughly the same size as the former models at 6 inches tall and 4 inches square. They include a gray vinyl wrap that's better finished than the more expensive Onkyo SKS-HT594 speakers, which left some exposed fiberboard. The Monoprice speakers feature a 3-inch paper driver and a 0.5-inch polymer tweeter which are protected by a removable grill. The connections at the rear are spring clips, and while it lacks a bracket for wall mounting there is a threaded mount on the rear.
The subwoofer is similar to the previous design and it features an 8-inch paper driver with 100 watts of power. It's also covered in the same grey vinyl as the satellites and measures 15 by 10 by 13 inches.
The sub features a ported design and is capable of reaching down to a claimed 40Hz low-end frequency. Monoprice includes typical controls such as a variable crossover and volume/phase controls. It also includes both speaker terminals and LFO/stereo RCA connections.
We used the Monoprice with two different but comparably priced receivers: the Denon AVR-S500BT and the Yamaha RX-V479. We used the speakers with and without the onboard calibration and generally preferred the calibrated sound. While we didn't have the Monoprice 10565 speakers on hand, we were able to compare to the original 9774 system -- and those sound so similar to the Energy Take 5.1 that they're almost interchangeable.
First, the good news. These speakers are made for movie soundtracks. From the hefty sub to the dextrous satellites the system filled the CNET listening room with dynamic and exciting sound. The Thanator chase from "Avatar" had us gripping the lip of the chair as each desperate scratch and frustrated howl from the creature ripped through the AV room.
While we found previously that the Monoprice 8247 -- an even cheaper 5.1 speaker system, still available for an insane $69 -- could sound small, there were no such problems with the 13773. Dialogue never sounded boxy or as if it were coming out of the tiny speaker at the front of the room. Effects spun around the room effortlessly and the sub provided a decent underpinning to proceedings. While it obviously wasn't the most immersive sonic environment ever conjured in the CNET listening room, it was surprisingly good for a $200 system.
Compared to the 9774, however, we found that the new subwoofer wasn't quite as good as the original's. When set to the same volume -- as confirmed by a setup with our decibel meter -- the new Monoprice sub failed to provide the authoritative deep end that the original did. This was particularly true where detail counts: in music.
The new sub tended to waft over the particulars whereas the original sub was able to preserve low details. Take as an example the simultaneous deep kick drum and bass synth growl in The Flaming Lips' "Yoshimi and the Pink Robots" -- the earlier model was able to unravel both parts whereas the 13773 presented them as a tangled whole.
And that, in a nutshell, is the bad news. If you want to listen to music, the Monoprice falls short with a sibilant balance that makes instruments such as the strings in Bjork's "Stonemilker" sound steely and unpleasant. Similarly, the snare hits in Metallica's "Don't Tread On Me" sounded more like drummer Lars Ulrich was bouncing spoons off an air conditioning duct than he was striking a drum.
If you're buying this speaker set to watch TV and movies exclusively, then its detailed and open sound will suit soundtracks particularly well. For this amount of money we can't think of another (current) system that can conveys movies this well.
However, if you want refinement, especially with music, you should go with a different set of speakers. At the time of writing, the Monoprice 10565 speakers are still available -- and for a little less than what the company is charging for the replacements. Failing that, spending more on the Energy Take 5.1 will not only get you better performance, but better looking speakers as well.