Speaker Package Deals – Good Idea or Waste of Money?
Getting into the home theater hobby is expensive. There are TVs, components, AV receivers, and of course, all those speakers. It’s tempting to grab one of those all-in-one speaker packages that you see all over the place. So we ask, speaker package deals – good idea or a waste of money? Let’s discuss this.
So What Are Home Theater Packages?
As the name implies, it’s an all-in-one solution to your home theater needs. Typically the setup will have five floor-level speakers (right, center, left, and two surrounds) plus a subwoofer. If you want an object-based surround system, pick up one of the 5.1.2 systems offered. They generally only offer Atmos modules that bounce the sound off the ceilings. But the good news is most wedge speakers will mount on the wall!
And speaker packages are not a new thing. In the ‘90s, I purchased the Energy Take 5 speaker package as my first home theater system. I used that speaker set for years until I could afford to upgrade to something bigger.
Pros Of Speaker Packages
So let’s get right into it. There are some serious pros to getting a home theater package. So let’s dive in, and hopefully, we can answer the question: Speaker package deals – good idea or waste of money?
Pro 1 – Simplicity
Right off the hop, you get everything you need in the box. You get the five floor-level speakers and, in some cases, speaker wire. This setup is ideal for beginners who don’t have a great deal of knowledge. The instructions tend to be decent, and the system is easy to set up. My dad, who is not a theater geek, got his system set up and speakers in the correct position without even a call to me!
The hardest part of setting up these systems is getting them on stands and wires hidden away. Simplicity is the name of the game in all-in-one speaker packages. And I think that is why they appeal to the beginner. They don’t take a lot of effort to get set up.
Pro 2 – Matching Speakers
So we have talked about timbre-matching speakers here. But, in short, timbre-matched speakers have identical tonal qualities and reproduce sounds the same. Timbre-matching is essential for the front soundstage (right-center-left) because those speakers carry most of the dialogue and sound effects. If there is a significant mismatch in tonal qualities, you can hear it as the sound pans across these speakers. While this doesn’t seem necessary to the newbie, you will get the importance when you listen to it yourself.
The other piece is aesthetics. While some people don’t care about the looks of their speakers, I dare say many home theater nerds do! I spent the better part of 2 years finding matching speakers for my Paradigm home theater system. Did I need matching surrounds for my system to sound good? No. Did I want them all to match? You’re damn right I did!
Pro 3 – Price (Maybe)
So the price can be an important factor when choosing an all-in-one package. As I said earlier, home theater is expensive, and buying everything at once can put a considerable dent in your wallet. Many all-in-one packages aim at the budget-minded person.
But you will see that I said maybe. That’s right, just like anything else, price is subjective. I see a lot of 5.1 sets for under $1k. Remember the Energy Take 5 I referenced early? Yeah, they were $600ish. And you can find variations of those for around that price today. But you can also find much more expensive “speaker packages.” Just because they group them doesn’t make them a deal.
Generally, speaker packages under $1k tend to be smaller speakers aimed at a minimalist setup. But again, I would put any 5.1 speaker package against a high-end sound bar and be confident it would trounce it.
Pro 4 – Reusability
So the last pro I want to talk about is reusability. My Energy Take 5 lasted through three upgrades to my system. The first was my primary system. Then I moved them to surround and surround back duties with my towers. Lastly, they moved to on-ceiling Atmos before I upgraded to in-ceiling speakers. That $599 lasted me a very long time. And to be honest, if I didn’t want to go for a cleaner look with in-ceiling speakers, they would still be with me.
And that’s one of the real pros for speaker packages. When you upgrade your main speakers, you can generally move the speaker package to surround or Atmos duties. And remember, your surrounds and Atmos don’t need to be timbre matched. So if you go to a different brand, you can (probably) still use them.
Cons of Speaker Packages
So there are some cons I can think of if someone poses the question, speaker package deals – good idea or waste of money? First, the cons will generally will not apply to “packages” that your local HiFi shop has because those are bespoke (and expensive) packages. These apply more to the set you get from your local Best Buy or Costco at 30% off.
Con 1 – The Subs Generally Suck!
So my editor always says this about subs. “When choosing a subwoofer, you can get small, loud, or cheap. Pick two.” Boy, is that true with speaker packages! Remember my beloved Take 5 I spoke to earlier? Garbage sub for sure. It had an 8” driver and an underpowered amp. That speaker system desperately needed some bass, as all the speakers were small and couldn’t play low. That’s true of most of these low-cost packages. The speakers don’t play low, so a good subwoofer is a must. Unfortunately, “good” subwoofers are often as expensive as the entire speaker package!
That is the compromise you make with speaker packages. They have to sacrifice somewhere, and the subwoofer is typically where they start. I have yet to find an all-in-one speaker package with a great subwoofer. And yes, I know SVS has a Prime Satelite 5.1 system. But it’s about $1500, and they built it around the subwoofer! I don’t know many people that would consider $1500 a “budget” system.
Con 2 – Quality
So let’s get to the elephant in the room. You almost always get what you pay for. If your store-bought speaker package is budget-priced, you can’t expect it to compete with something 10x the price. Again, I go back to my own experience with my Take 5’s. For $600, they were an absolute bargain and sounded fantastic for what they were. But compared to my current Paradigm 200B’s ($1100/pr), they don’t stand a chance.
So if you buy a $500 speaker package and expect it to be “the best,” you will be disappointed. Sure, it can be the best in its price category, but it will still be a budget system with all the compromises expected for that price.
Where do they lack in quality? Typically they are small, which often translates to small drivers with limited extension and output. So if you are not sitting close to them, you will need to crank them, and they will start to distort or clip. Plus, they tend to have the most basic of designs and finishes. So don’t expect them to look and sound amazing.
So, what is my verdict to the question, speaker package deals – good idea or waste of money? Well, just like most things, it depends! Buying a speaker package can seem like a great idea to get a novice up and running. I would agree with that. But just like anything else, before you put your hard earned cash down on the counter, go in with both eyes open. You can get a great starter package if you make an informed decision.
Some speaker packages are great for beginners and can grow with your system. If that’s the case, I am even more enthusiastic about it. This way, you can upgrade over time and move your speaker package to Atmos or surround duty.
But what about you? Did you buy a speaker package? What was your experience? Do you still have them? Let us know in the comments!