Editors' note: This review has been updated as part of a recent budget speaker roundup and its rating has been changed accordingly.
If you're putting together a home theater on a budget, the first options that probably come to mind are sound bars and home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems, but that's too bad. Budget 5.1 speaker systems like the Klipsch HD Theater 500 are available for less than $500, and once you pair them up with a competent AV receiver, they sound drastically better--it's not even close. Sure, the Klipsch HD Theater 500 has more pesky speakers to deal with, but their compact size and tasteful finish really won't tarnish your living room decor.
While the HD Theater 500 system certainly puts HTIBs and sound bars to shame, it fares less well compared with other 5.1 speaker systems available for less than $500. If you like to turn the volume up even moderately loud, the Energy Take Classic 5.1 sounds significantly better at higher volumes, and if you're OK with huge speakers, the Pioneer SP-PK21BS delivers truly outstanding sound for the price. The Klipsch HD Theater 500 offers competent sound for a budget 5.1 system, but we like most of its competitors more.
Design and features
The HD Theater 500 is a six-piece system that comes with four satellite speakers, a center channel speaker, and a subwoofer. The curvy ABS plastic speaker cabinets are attractive and finished in a combination of satin and high-gloss black; the speakers all have removable black cloth grilles.
The satellites are just 6 inches tall, 3.6 inches wide, and 3.85 inches deep. The center is slightly larger, at 3.6 inches high, 9 inches wide, and 3.85 inches deep. The build quality of the speaker cabinet feels solid, but the speakers' plastic spring-clip wire connectors look and feel cheap. The spring-clips' grip on the wire doesn't feel secure, so even a moderate tug on the wire may pull the wire out. The clips only accept skinny bare wire ends, so you can't use banana plugs, spades, or pins.
The satellites' speakers feature horn-loaded 0.75-inch aluminum tweeters and a 2.5-inch midrange/woofer. The center speaker is a larger version of the satellites and features dual 2.5-inch woofers and the same horn tweeter. The horn projects the sound forward, reducing the wall, floor, and ceiling reflections that you get with more typical dome tweeters, and that benefits the sats' imaging accuracy. The horn design also increases the speakers' efficiency, which means you need a less powerful amplifier to push the system louder.