While soundbars get more complicated (and more expensive), A/V aficionados and home theater hobbyists know there’s nothing like a component-based surround sound system. Pair a nice preamp/processor or A/V receiver with a set of discrete wired speakers and you can put together a great-sounding surround sound system without breaking the bank. You can either piece together a system one speaker at a time, or you can buy a pre-packaged surround system with everything you’ll need in one right in one box.
The Monoprice Premium 5.1.2 Channel Immersive Home Theater System is a pre-packaged speaker system which can provide discrete Dolby Atmos or DTS:X immersive surround sound when paired with a compatible A/V receiver. The system includes 5 small satellite speakers and a powered subwoofer and sells for $249.99 (sometimes even less). The system is available directly from Monoprice and Amazon.
The front left and right speakers include additional top-firing drivers which provide the height channel effects for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive surround. We matched the system up with Denon’s excellent AVR-S760H receiver ($599), which supports 5.1.2-channel layouts for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.
The front and rear satellite speakers are two-way bass reflex designs featuring a 3/4″ aluminum dome tweeter and 3 polypropylene midrange/woofer. The immersive satellite speakers include a 3″ polypropylene full range driver on top angled slightly forward to reflect sound from the ceiling for height effects. The center speaker is also a two-way bass reflex design using the same drivers as the satellite speakers in a slightly larger horizontally oriented cabinet. The satellite and center speakers are rated at 88 dB sensitivity while the upward firing drivers are rated at 89 dB. The subwoofer is also a bass reflex design with an 8″ paper cone driver and amp that peaks at 200 Watts. The sub is roughly cube shaped a little less than a foot on each side. Recommended amplifier power for the system is 20 to 100 Watts/Channel.
I was a bit surprised when I received the box that an entire 8-channel speaker system could fit in it. But fit it did. Everything came in a box roughly cube shaped, 20 inches on each side, weighting around 45 pounds. Inside were the five main speakers, plus the powered subwoofer. A cable to connect the subwoofer to the receiver was also included but speaker cables were not, so be sure to pick up a roll of wire when you get the speakers. 14 or 16 gauge speaker wire should be sufficient for most distances. The speaker terminals are of the basic spring-loaded variety. You can use bare wire or pins, but banana plugs won’t fit. Wire thicker than 16 gauge will likely need to be trimmed to fit in the terminals.
When estimating how much speaker wire you need, be sure to account for the height speakers. Even though the height channel drivers are built into the front left and right speaker cabinets, they do require separate lengths of cable from receiver to speaker. So you’ll need a total of seven speaker cables: four for the main left and right front and height channels, one length for the center channel and two for the surround speakers. Make sure to measure out a bit extra to get around corners and door frames or under moldings. Depending on the size of your room, 100-150 feet of speaker wire should be plenty to wire everything up. Also, the subwoofer cable provided is a bit flimsy (and a bit short). I’d recommend picking up a decent subwoofer cable as well (see link at the bottom of the article).
Once you’ve got everything connected, be sure to run the speaker test tones on your receiver. Better yet, run the receiver’s speaker calibration routine. This will confirm that everything is plugged in properly to the right outputs and the levels are set appropriately. Monoprice recommends you play music through the speakers for at least 50 hours to break them in before doing final calibration and critical listening. Of course, you can listen to them in the meantime, but the sound will likely improve after a few days as the speaker drivers are broken in.
Subwoofer placement can be tricky so be prepared to experiment with the location a bit. Subwoofers generally perform well along the front wall, not too close to a wall or corner in order to avoid sounding boomy. Use music you’re familiar with that has good low bass energy and be sure to listen from your “sweet spot” as well as as other seating positions as you move the subwoofer into different locations. Once you’ve got all the speakers in your selected locations, you should re-run your receiver’s calibration procedure, and don’t be afraid to make tweaks to the levels to suit your specific listening preferences. In my case, the Audyssey settings were pretty good and I only made a couple of manual tweaks to levels.
Because this system relies on up-firing “Dolby Atmos enabled” speakers which bounce sound off the ceiling for height effects, you’ll need to confirm that you have an appropriate room layout for this. These types of speakers perform well with flat reflective ceilings that are somewhere between 7.5 and 12 feet high. You’ll want to make sure that the angle of reflection will reflect sound toward the primary listening position. This may require that you move the front speakers back or forward a bit, depending on the height they’re mounted and the height of the ceiling. If your ceilings are angled, textured, vaulted, irregularly shaped or just very high, then you may be better off with a system that uses dedicated height speakers mounted in the ceiling or high on the walls.
The Monoprice speakers can be wall-mounted using speaker brackets attached to the standard 1/4″ size 20 threaded mounting hole. I mounted ours on floor stands to give them more room to breathe and to give me the ability to experiment with height. The speaker grilles don’t muffle the sound too much but they can easily be removed if you prefer your speakers “au naturel.” I removed ours to get a slightly crisper high frequency response.
Over the course of several weeks, I played all kinds of material through the Monoprice system, most of it in Dolby Atmos surround. From TV shows like Star Wars “Andor” and “Westworld” and “House of the Dragon” to movies like “Gravity,” “Dune” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” the Monoprice system was able to create a huge and satisfying immersive surround sound stage, with good image specificity. Whether it was capturing the gentle pitter patter of a drizzling rain or the roar of a Dragon flying overhead, the Monoprice system brought a nice cinematic feeling to movie and TV viewing.
The opening scene of “Gravity” (Diamond Luxe Edition on Blu-ray) is a nice test for Dolby Atmos processing and speakers. After a powerful crescendo of white noise, the sound cuts to silence with a view of the Earth from space. We slowly start to make out a faint conversation between astronauts in (and near) a space shuttle, and mission control personnel back on Earth. As the shuttle floats into view, the voices get louder, tracking the motion of the shuttle through space. The Monoprice speakers were easily able to maintain the sounds and locations of individual voices, which makes the conversation much easier to follow in Dolby Atmos than it is in the standard 5.1 Dolby soundtrack. The earlier crescendo caused a bit of strain on the speakers, which may have been a limitation of the speakers, the receiver or both at this high volume. At reasonable listening levels, the speakers were much better behaved.
While the overall system offers decent bass response, thanks to the powered 8″ subwoofer, it won’t go as deep as a 10″ or 12″ sub. Monoprice rates its response down to 30 Hz, but it’s down -10 dB at that frequency, which means that lowest octave is barely audible. Also, because the main speakers are quite petite, the subwoofer has to reach all the way up to about 110 Hz to blend with the satellites. This leads to a bit of a gap in the mid bass response. But while the bass doesn’t extend as low as I might like, it’s still impressive for a system at this price point. Lorde’s “Royals” prominently features a repeating deep bass drum note in the mix. This comes through cleanly on the Monoprice system, without too much boom or strain.
Male and female vocals sound pleasant but lack a bit of heft and presence in the lower registers. There is a slight brashiness to strings and cymbals but nothing that leads to ear fatigue with extended listening. High frequency details are noticeable without being overly strident. If you prefer a softer high end, then do leave the speaker grilles on.
Where the system shines is in its presentation of three dimensional space. Classic tracks like Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” A-Ha’s “Take on Me” and REM’s “Everybody Hurts” take on new life in Dolby Atmos, with instruments and voices spread across three dimensional space. Rush “Tom Sawyer” in Dolby Atmos is a bit more restrained in its use of surround and height channels but still enjoyable in creating a deep 3D soundstage. John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” has a wonderful sense of intimacy in Dolby Atmos on the Monoprice system. Voices and instruments lock in place with these speakers, except when they’re meant to be moving, as in tracks like “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen (remixed in Dolby Atmos). In this case, the tonality stays consistent as the sound moves, with instruments and voices maintaining a uniform sonic signature all around the room.
Turning to stereo listening, you’ll definitely want to keep the subwoofer active. Without the sub in the mix (as in the Denon receiver’s “Pure” listening mode), there is simply no bass. But with the front left and right speakers and the subwoofer active, stereo LPs and stereo CDs sound quite full and rich with a solid soundstage. Lossy MP3 files sound a bit thin through the Monoprice system but that’s likely more the fault of the source material than the speakers. On some 2-channel material, the overall sound improved when engaging Dolby Surround or DTS Neural:X to “upmix” the sound to multiple channels (and multiple speakers). But for the most part, two-channel material sounded best played back in standard stereo mode.
- Inexpensive, without feeling “cheap”
- Decent bass extension
- Good representation of 3D space on Dolby Atmos and DTS:X content
- Compact form factor
- A bit thin-sounding
- Blend between satellites and subwoofer could be better
- Fairly inefficient (88 dB)
The Bottom Line
With the Premium 5.1.2 Immersive Home Theater System, Monoprice has created an impressive entry-level speaker system that, when paired with a high quality budget A/V receiver, will outperform soundbar-based systems that sell for twice the price. You’re getting eight channels of immersive surround sound for less than the cost of a single high quality bookshelf speaker. Spend a little time with set-up and subwoofer placement and you’ll have a fine-sounding entry-level immersive surround system that can take your movie and music enjoyment to the next level.
Where to Buy the Monoprice Premium 5.1.2 Immersive Home Theater System:
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