The urge to not splurge on speakers is understandable; settling for built-in TV speakers or overall poor audio quality is less sensible. The Yamaha NS-SP1800 (*Est. $120) is an entry-level system that includes a full 5.1-channel configuration for a price that's lower than what many soundbars cost. While no experts have conducted a full review of the system, which is several years old, it has accumulated an impressive feedback record among owners posting at Amazon.com and other review sites.
To appreciate the NS-SP1800, expectations have to be realistic. While it doesn't stand up against more expensive products, myriad users report that it offers a value that's almost unbeatable, considering the sound quality it delivers for its price.
Hundreds of users weigh in at Amazon.com, and an overwhelming majority of contributors give it positive ratings. Several reviewers say they own higher-end speakers but purchased the Yamaha NS-SP1800 for use in a vacation room, bedroom or secondary home theater and are completely satisfied. Complaints are few, though a flimsy hookup cable is among the most consistent. Reports indicate that audiophiles will want to look elsewhere, but the NS-SP1800 is a solid gateway system into the home audio arena.
While most surround-sound systems use a powered subwoofer to deliver bass, the Fluance AVHTB (*Est. $250) instead relies on large, full-range, front-channel speakers to take care of the low end. The build quality of these speakers is much higher than their price suggests, reports say. They feature solid-wood construction and are magnetically shielded so they can be placed close to a television.
The Fluance AVHTB's front-channel speakers are a far cry from what's normally seen in most budget home theater speaker systems, instead harking back to the days when speakers were expected to deliver high, mid and low frequencies in one cabinet. Each is 33 inches tall and weighs 27 pounds. The customary tweeters and midrange/high bass drivers are joined by 6.5-inch woofers and tuned bass ports in the front surrounds.
The result is pleasing bass, though the low end does lack some punch on special-effects-heavy movies when compared to systems that include a powered subwoofer. If that's a concern, a subwoofer (*Est. $250) is available, but the system should be more than satisfactory for smaller spaces (250 square feet or less) as-is, and reports say sound is otherwise "shockingly good." Although Fluance recommends power inputs as low as 20 watts, CNET's Steve Guttenberg says the AVHTB is inefficient, and low-powered receivers/amplifiers are a poor match if you like to play your music or movies loud.
Finally, there's the Monoprice 9774 (*Est. $250) . That 5.1-channel system is a direct take off of the very well regarded Energy Take Classic 5.1 (covered elsewhere in this report). CNET takes the two speaker systems apart and finds few meaningful differences. Though listed as current by Monoprice, the 9774 was on "back order" at the time this report was prepared, and future availability may be uncertain as Klipsch (Energy's parent company) is suing Monoprice over alleged patent infringement.