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Monoprice 13773 review: Ultrabudget surround speakers trade subtlety for thrills

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Conclusion

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.

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