What Are The Alternatives To All-In-One Speaker Packages?

In my article – Speaker Package Deals – Good Idea Or Waste of Money, I was decidedly meh towards speaker packages. So now that I have dashed all your hopes and soured you on a speaker package, what should you do? Go back to (shudder) TV speakers? Let’s not get crazy there, Hoss! But what are the alternatives to all-in-one speaker packages? Let’s discuss. 

Start Slow 

That’s right, slow down. New AV enthusiasts should start with a solid 2.0 or 2.1 system (whichever makes the most sense) and work from there. We all want everything now, but if you have a budget, that means compromises. Ever heard the phrase, “Buy once, cry once?” Sometimes it’s better to follow this advice, save up and get what you want instead of upgrading and spending more. 

So start with a good pair of speakers and a quality subwoofer, then add your center and, eventually, surround speakers. And a center is not as critical as you think. I have run a phantom center for years and never felt my system needed a dedicated center channel. So there is something to be said about no center vs. a cheap center speaker. 

Starting with a solid 2.1 system is a good start!

Or you can do what I did and…

Buy Used 

My first “new setup” was 100% used speakers that I got for pennies on the dollar! For what I would have paid for a mediocre speaker package, I got solid mid-tier speakers that were about ten years old and initially sold for thousands. It even came with a “decent” subwoofer I used for years before upgrading to a new one. (And then I followed the advice of AV Rant and went dual subs!)

And I know that buying used can be scary. But don’t worry. I wrote a couple of articles on how to buy used gear confidently. And unlike electronics, speakers have mostly stayed the same over the years. So I am confident that a good speaker from ten years ago is still a good speaker today! 

Get Powered Speakers

Remember what I said about not needing a center? Well, what if you ditch the center and the amp! Powered speakers are not for everyone. They can be as expensive (or more) than a speaker package. And they generally fall outside of a clear upgrade path to add more speakers

But some folks don’t need or want a complete surround system. It could be a space issue. 5.1 setups take a lot of physical space, plus the need for an amplifier and sources. Or you may want something simple. There is nothing wrong with that. And in those cases, I recommend powered speakers. Why?

Powered speakers can go anywhere!

They have more uses if you later find the space (or budget) for a traditional 5.1 system. You can move powered speakers to your computer for a high-end near-field listening system. Or you can use them for a great set of Bluetooth speakers. And if vinyl or physical media is your jam, add a turntable or a CD player and rock out. 

I have two sets of powered speakers in my house. They both started their lives as main speakers for a TV and moved to computer and living room duties as I moved to traditional speakers. 

Our Take

Speaker packages are not a great deal. Yes, they allow the new user to get into the hobby immediately and with a smaller budget. But what you save in cash, you will more than spend on upgrades in the future. And most times, you will upgrade the entire system several times over. So you are just paying to get into the hobby and then paying again for what you originally wanted.

By starting slowly and buying one component at a time, you prioritize performance and don’t sacrifice quality. And listen, I am totally being a hypocrite. I have purchased many cheap “to-have-now” components, only to sell them for pennies on the dollar to get what I originally wanted. 

Or better yet, go used and stretch your meager budget. I still continue to get great deals on the used market. And I can often sell them for close to what I have paid. In some cases, I have made money! Plus, you can take advantage of those who continually chase the upgrade bug

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