Sony isn't usually considered a bargain brand, but when it comes to the company's SS-B1000 Bookshelf Speakers, it's hard to complain that they're overpriced. They carry a list price of $70 per pair, but you can find them online for closer to $60 shipped online. (In weeks past, they were going for under $50 on Amazon.)
The caveat -- if there is one -- is that these are good old-fashioned passive speakers, so you'll need to connect them to an amplifier, such as an AV receiver. But bargain hunters can rest easy: pair them with Lepai's $25 LP-2020A+ stereo integrated amplifier, and you've got yourself a quality rockin' mini stereo system for less than $100. And, unlike a similarly priced iPod speaker dock or Bluetooth speaker, using separate speakers means you can deliver true stereo separation, with speakers at each side of the room.
The Sony speakers' build quality seems decent enough and their design is straightforward yet elegant, with a faux wood-grain finish and removable speaker grilles. Each speaker measures 10.7x7x6.7 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.4 pounds.
Remove the grille and you'll find a 5.25-inch polypropylene cone woofer and 1-inch Nano Fine balanced dome tweeter. There's no bass port on the back, just a set of plastic spring-clip wire connectors. The speaker's impedance is rated at 8 ohms.
Sony throws in some standard speaker wire, so you can link the speakers up to your amplifier of choice (as mentioned above).
Budget speaker comparison
In a mini shoot-out, we put these Sonys up against the Dayton Audio B652 bookshelf speakers, which are popular among budget-minded audiophiles. That speaker pair lists for $52 but can be had for even less online. CNET contributor Steve Guttenberg reviewed the B652s and said that there's nothing about their appearance that "screams cheap." I wouldn't disagree with that assessment, but sitting next to the Sonys, the Daytons look like the cheaper of the two speaker sets. The plasticky vinyl finish may have something to do with that.
The Sonys measure an inch shorter but their dimensions are otherwise very similar to the Daytons'. Sony's step-up SS-B3000 speakers are significantly larger, measuring 20 inches tall. The SS-B3000 speakers feature three drivers (woofer, tweeter, and midrange) and are priced at less than $100 online, so if you can deal with their added size, they're arguably the better deal.