A recent CNET review of the Monoprice 9774 by Matt Moskovciak and Steve Guttenberg revealed that, beyond striking physical similarities, they sounded nearly identical to the more-expensive Energy Take Classic speaker system.
A recent lawsuit seems to bear out that Energy feels the same way.
So how similar are they? I acquired sets of both to take apart and compare the guts. Further, I enlisted the help of measurement wizard and speaker guru Brent Butterworth to measure the frequency response.
The results were very interesting.
A word of caution: there's going to be a lot of tech jargon coming up. I'll link to helpful articles where appropriate, but if you feel your eyes glazing over, feel free to skip to the Bottom Line.
As Matt and Steve covered in their review, the Take Classic and the 9774 look incredibly similar. There are slight differences in the grilles and baffles (including a slightly different waveguide), but it's unlikely these would have a dramatic effect on the sound. To a casual observer, other than the logos, most people would mistake them as being the same speakers. Subjectively, I think the grille design on the Energys looks a little better, perhaps a little more high-end, but it's not a huge difference.
Attack of the clone: Monoprice and Energy speakers compared (pictures)See all photos
Two speakers that look the same could sound radically different if the important bits aren't the same. Here too, on the surface, the Energy and Monoprice appear the same. There are slight aesthetic differences with the woofer, but again these could be just a surface issue.
Time to get out the screwdriver.
The crossover (shown above) is arguably the most important part of a multidriver speaker. It directs the high frequency sounds to the tweeter, and the low frequency sounds to the woofer. The frequency it crosses over from one to the other (and how aggressively it does so) varies depending on the speaker design, the drivers involved, and many other factors.
If Monoprice were just trying to make cheap knock-off speakers that look the same as the Energys but were cheaper, there would be no reason to spend the money on a crossover like this. It would have been easy to simplify the crossover to save money on parts (at the expense of sound quality). Admittedly, you could also argue that it would have cost Monoprice something to re-engineer a new crossover, when copying Energy's design would be faster with essentially no engineering cost.
Looking closer, the numbers on the crossover parts and drivers, aren't all the same (though it's worth noting each company claims the same crossover frequency). There are a few possibilities here. Monoprice could be using similar parts, sourced from a different supplier. Or, probably more likely, it's the same supplier but a different batch. That is, if I bought a different set of Energys, those might not match numbers to either of these sets. As we'll see, it largely doesn't seem to matter.
Poking around inside, the internal construction looks just as identical as the outside.
The subs have different feet but are otherwise twins. Cracking the back reveals:
The amps look just as identical as the satellite's crossovers.
Though the human ear is an amazing device, we can visually represent much of what we hear with speaker measurements. The charts you see below represent the frequency response of the Energy and Monoprice speakers. Brent measured all four satellites. We skipped the center channels, as the sats tell the story (also, the drivers and crossovers on the centers seem identical to the sats).
The blue traces represent the Energy satellites; the red traces are the Monoprice. The far left of the graph represents low bass notes, the far right is extremely high frequency sounds.
At first glance, these seems to be pretty compelling evidence that these are the same speakers. The overall shape of the curves is remarkably similar. Technically, though, the truth is a little more subtle. It's more like these are similar speakers built with similar parts, but are not, as one would assume "identical." As Brent explains, "The low-end differences could easily just be sample-to-sample variation. But the high end variation appears to be a difference with the product." In other words, the subtly different bass responses could just be normal differences between any individual speakers of the same type. The treble response varies enough that slightly different parts and/or design likely cause it.
Could you hear the difference between the speaker that created the top red trace, and the speaker that created the bottom blue trace? In a controlled test, yes, you probably could. However, you're not listening to one speaker. You're listening to the sound created by two or more speakers, a sort of aggregate of them all. So these specific differences will become much less apparent.
More importantly, changing the locations of the speakers in the room would have a much more profound effect on the sound quality than the differences between these speakers. As in, move your speakers to a slightly different location in a room, and that will affect the sound far more than the variation you see in this graph.
Brent's subwoofer measurements tell the same story:
One final point. These are eight speakers (and two subs) from two packages. It's possible another set of each would measure slightly differently, though the overall trends of the curves will likely be the same (presuming the continued use of all the same parts).
It's impossible for us to say if the Monoprice 9774s are built in the same factory as the Energy Take Classics. However, they're far too similar -- down to the screws, connectors, and fonts -- to be mere coincidence. What we can say is these two speaker systems are as similar as you're likely to see from two different companies. The lawsuit certainly shows that Energy feels they're too close. Are they the "same"? Not by the strictest definition, but you'd be finely splitting hairs if you want to argue they're not.
I'll admit, I'm a bit conflicted here. The Monoprice units are clearly a fantastic value, but the design is also clearly Energy's. "Reverse-engineered" is perhaps the most polite way of saying it. Perhaps most telling is this image, from the Monoprice user manual:
We'll leave the official judgement up to the courts (legal and opinion), but let the facts, charts, and images speak for themselves. What do you think?
Got a question for Geoff? Send him an e-mail! If it's witty, amusing, and/or a good question, you may just see it in a post just like this one. No, he won't tell you which TV to buy. Yes, he'll probably truncate and/or clean up your e-mail. You can also send him a message on Twitter: @TechWriterGeoff.