Insignia NS-B2111 booksheld speakers: great sound for under $50!

Week of September 17, 2006

Q: I know very little about sound systems and would like to get the most for my money. My brother-in-law said you recently wrote a column about stereo speakers that are a very good value. I’d like to know about them. I’d also like to know of a quality surround sound receiver that fits the same description (biggest bang for the buck) and where to shop.

We haven’t set a budget, mainly because we don’t know what to expect. We want to stay under $400 for the speakers and likewise for the receiver. I am wondering if there are any “best kept secrets” out there, when it comes to quality for the price.

-Tim Heymans

A: There are lots of good speakers out there, but when it comes to bang for the buck, one speaker is clearly the king… make that the emperor!

You asked about a “best kept secret”. The best kept secret in speakers is not much of a secret any more, at least if you frequent audio enthusiast circles. The Insignia NS-B2111 bookshelf speakers sound absolutely amazing, for under $50 per pair! I bought a pair myself just to see what the buzz is all about and they sound better than some $500 speakers I have heard. They sound great at any price, and when you are told they are under $50, you pinch yourself. Insignia is the Best Buy house brand, so the only place you can buy them is at a Best Buy store.

The NS-B2111 features a 6.5 inch woofer, so bass is nice and deep, and the fit and finish is exemplary. They really distort the price/performance equation and make building a genuinely excellent system a lot easier for people on a budget.

For example, you can get two pair of NS-B2111s for $100. That would make one front pair and one surround pair. Use phantom mode on the receiver and you will not need a center channel. Of course, you could add another pair for $50 and have a back speaker and a center channel, but you will have to watch placement of a center with a CRT TV because the speakers do not have magnetic shielding. The NS-B2111s go low enough in the bass that a subwoofer isn’t absolutely necessary.

At www.shoponkyo.com you can get a refurbished Onkyo TX-SR303 receiver for only $109. It will mate well with the Insignias. This gives you a surround-sound system that will sound amazing with movies and music for only $209! Just add your DVD player and TV and you are all set.

Ideally the front speakers should be put on stands. Given we are $591 under your $800 budget at the moment, get some nice speaker stands for your front speakers. You can place the surround speakers on the floor next to the back wall, pointing upwards to create an immersive wall of sound.

The Insginias do not make other speakers obsolete, and if you spend more you will likely get better sound if you choose well. For example, the Axiom Audio M2i are clearly better, having a fuller, more refined sound, but at over five times the price. You asked about bang for the buck and the NS-B2111 definitely is the standout in that category.

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