My poor opinion of Bose speakers (all things Bose, really!) and building a great budget system

Week 49, 2006

Q: I have a new HDTV and DVD player and want to add a home theater audio system, keeping within a budget. I was hoping to get something for about $1000 and was considering the Bose 18 system, but was told from a few people that it is not that good and your paying for the Bose name. In one of your recent articles you suggested a Onkyo TX-SR604 receiver. I thought it may be better to get a receiver and speakers than an “in a box” system. Are there any affordable smaller sized speakers like the Bose system uses that you could suggest?

-Mark Reis, Pittsburgh, PA

A: Regular readers of my column know I am not a fan of the small Bose speaker systems. An excellent summation of why Bose is unpopular with myself and many other audiophiles can be found at http://www.intellexual.net/bose.html.

You are on the right track- a receiver and speakers purchased separately will almost always sound better than a Home Theater In-A-Box (HTIB) system, and it will usually sound dramatically better.

The key is to maximize your budget, whatever that budget may be. The speakers are the most important part of the sound reproduction chain and will have the greatest impact on sound quality, so spend most of your budget there. The Onkyo TX-SR604 is a great receiver, but if you buy the TX-SR304 for $200 you will have $800 remaining in your $1,000 budget to spend on speakers.

It seems you definitely want very small speakers, which is good for saving space in a room, but involves sonic compromise as small speakers do not reproduce the midrange as well as bookshelf or tower speakers. The best compromise between space and sound is bookshelf speakers mated with a subwoofer. For some the smaller speakers are the only viable option, and there are a few small systems I can easily recommend to you and other readers. Not only are they good for building a system from scratch, but also for replacing the speakers included with a HTIB. Many HTIB systems have decent electronics but lousy speakers, and replacing them with something from a dedicated speaker manufacturer can make a world of difference.

I have always been a fan of Polk Audio’s small speaker offerings, as they sound good without doing anything artificial or annoying such as over-emphasizing the treble to make the speakers sound more “exciting”, and also less realistic. Polk’s special promotions often make them an unbeatable value. You can currently buy a Polk RM6005 system complete with powered subwoofer for $279 at crutchfield.com. This is a great buy for anyone looking for a first system, or looking to improve the sound of their existing HTIB electronics. Since you have a bit more in your budget, I would look towards Polk’s RM-10 and RM-20 systems, selling for $539 and $699 (including subwoofer) respectively at crutchfield.com as well. You can see the entire line of Polk speakers at www.polkaudio.com. Customer service and support is some of the best I have seen in the industry- be sure to download their free “Home Theater Handbook” located under the Education section of their website.

Another great choice is Paradigm, a speaker line sold only in high-end home theater shops. The Paradigm Cinema series has a crisp, detailer and natural sound that is great with both music and movies. It is available in several configurations which can be tailored to your room size and budget. See and hear them at your local dealer or learn more at www.paradigm.com.

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