Editors' note: As a result of a legal settlement between Klipsch and Monoprice, these speakers have been discontinued.
Monoprice wants to disrupt the home theater industry. The company got its start selling cheap HDMI cables, and has recently expanded to full-fledged consumer electronics, with a bold mission of rolling out new products only when it can charge about half the price of traditional retailers.
The Monoprice 9774 ($249, plus shipping) 5.1 speaker set is the company's most audacious effort yet: a clone of the outstanding Energy Take Classic 5.1 ($394 street) speaker system for nearly $150 less. And "clone" is barely an exaggeration. The 9774 system performs and looks almost exactly like Energy's speakers, with only the most negligible of cosmetic differences, such as different logos. If we had to guess, we'd say they came from the same factory. This isn't a case where Monoprice is merely aping Energy's design aesthetic, a la the HP Envy with its resemblance to the MacBook Pro. These are essentially the same damn speakers.
Is such a blatantly similar product "legal"? We've seen clone products before, usually OEM PC accessories that are essentially identical but sold under different brands. (Take the Escort Mobile TV and Elgato EyeTV Mobile, for instance.) At the time of this review, Klipsch -- which owns Energy -- would only say its legal team is investigating the issue.
What is clear is that the Monoprice 9774 speaker system is the best home audio value we've ever seen -- a superlative we used to give to the Energy speakers at the $400 price point. That earns the Monoprice 9774 our Editors' Choice award for budget home theater speakers; its competitors aren't even close. The next best value is the Pioneer SP-PK52FS speaker package ($630), which sounds considerably better, but costs almost $400 more and is much larger. Consider the home theater market disrupted.
Design: A rose by any other name
Putting the Monoprice 9774 speakers side-by-side with the Energy Take Classic 5.1 set it's truly striking. Nearly everything -- from the finish, to the placement of the drivers, to the positioning of the speaker connectors -- is identical.
Both systems are six-piece speaker sets, consisting of four identical satellite speakers, a center channel, and a subwoofer. All of the speakers have a gorgeous glossy black finish that's outstanding at $400 and unheard of at $249.
The satellite speakers are incredibly compact (especially considering their performance) at 6.7 inches high, 4.1 inches wide, and 4.8 inches deep. The layout and size of the drivers are, again, the same as Energy's speakers, with a 3-inch poly-titanium midrange driver and 0.75-inch aluminum dome tweeter. The center channel is essentially a longer version of the satellites, with the same two drivers.
Aside from the logos, the main external difference between the Monoprice and Energy satellite and center speakers lies in the removable grilles. Monoprice's grille covers the entire face while Energy's has slightly rounded edges that expose a bit of the glossy cabinet and pop up slightly above the top of the satellites.
The subwoofers look the most different, but even they are more similar than they look. The Energy subwoofer looks bigger, but that's because the plastic feet on the bottom are larger; the actual subs are equal in size. The bass port on the front of the Energy also looks larger, but that's because of the shape of the surrounding plastic. The port itself is the same size. The downfiring 8-inch woofer on the Energy subwoofer also has an extra bit of plastic around the edge, but is otherwise the same.
The only real aesthetic gripe we heard was from some CNET editors who wouldn't be thrilled to own a set of speakers with the obviously budget-associated "MONOPRICE" name emblazoned on the front. Fair enough, but the only place being from a budget brand really hurts the Monoprice speakers is their one-year warranty, which pales compared with Energy's five-year warranty on its speakers and one-year warranty on the sub.