[Updated] I've been trying to find a descent 5.1 speaker system for a 34' motorhome. My challenges have been space limitations and the desire to use the speakers for both music and home theatre. My cabinet boxes for the front speakers are 22"W x 5.5"H x 6"Deep, I have 10" of height for the sub to fit under the sofa. I did a lot of internet research, but didn't find much comparing different systems. I've spent almost a month researching and demoing systems. I even bought a couple systems to compare. Thought I'd share my findings since I get so much help browsing these forums.
Your selection is really governed by your installation limitations, desired sound quality and budget. You'll find that what everyone says is true...the bigger the speaker, the better the mid-range and bass...but some are better than others. I have not by any means demo'd every system out there, but have tried some very popular ones. I must point out that I was not able to test all of these systems side-by-side or as complete sets, but was able to compare most by buying the Energy and Pinnacle systems and taking the front speakers to the stores with me to compare them to the others. I used comparable subs at the stores rather than lugging the subs around with me. Consequently, I only able to directly test the front L/Rs since I considered them the most important for music. Virtually every systems used the same speakers for the rears. Additionally, since center speakers are usually identical or very similar, they aren't usually used for music in stereo mode, and most receivers control their relative volume separately from the front/rear, they were't a big differentiator for me. Consequently, I would say this wasn't a completely fair comparison between the systems as a whole, but as close as I could get without being able to buy and test them all side-by-side. Right or wrong, that was my thought process and methodolgy.
I would also note that the low, mid-range is where these systems face the biggest challenge due to the limited size of their mid-range drivers (3-4") and cabinets. Although the smaller subs can fill in some of that mid-range, there are limitsand the trade-off is the loss of low bass that you feel during movies or listening to music with deep bass , e.g. hip hop, rap, some classical. the 8" subs obviously fill in the mid-range better, but lack the rumble of lower base, and the 10" sacrifice some mid-range gap filling, but provide some of that missing low bass. I realize not all these speakers are in the same price range, especially due to closeout sales on Energy Takes, Pinnacle MB8000s and Martin Logan MLT-1s, but they all fit (or were close to fitting) my cabinets.
Systems Demo'd and impressions in order of good to best:
1. Definitive Technolgy Pro-Cinema 60/600, 800)(60/600: 3.5" mids (1 in L/Rs and sats, 2 in center), 1" tweeter, 8" sub; 800 4.5" mids (1 in L/Rs and sats, 2 in center, 8" sub)) - The Definitives had descent highs that were very similar to the Paradigms, but not as good at the Pinnacles and Martin Logans (ML). The mid-range was clear and crisp, but lacked lower-mid range. The 600s differ slightly from the 60s in that they have a mid-range passive radiator which is supposed to help expand the mid-range (kinda like a passive subwoofer combined with an active subwoofer). I didn't a/b test the 60s and 600s, but the difference seemed small and the 600s still didn't go low enough to get close to the subwoofer. This low mid-range gap didn't really matter much for movies, but was noticeable with music. The 800's had a little wider mid-range, but I didn't really test them since they were too big for my cabinets. People that like bright speakers will like these. Given I need speakers for music as much, if not more than movies, I wanted better mid-range. The 60s 5.1 system is being replaced by the 600s and can be found for $400. You can find the 600 5.1 system on line for $650 and the 800 system for $1k. http://www.definitivetech.com/Produc...lfSystems.aspx
2. Energy Take Classic 5.1 - (one 3" mid in all speakers, 10" sub) - I'm probably going against popular opinion ranking these near the bottom of these systems. I really expected these to be near the top. The energys had very good mid-range for their size, especially if you can position them to take advantage of the rear ports. Placing them in the wrong spot can make them sound hollow and distorted. I had to block the ports because I had to mount them in enclosed cabinets. With the ports blocked they loose some low mid-range, but were still better than the Definitives, Paradigms and Pinnacles. Oddly, their highs were the worst of the all the systems. Even when cranking up the treble on the receiver, they still lacked range and definition. People that like warm sounding speakers would probably like these. I didn't try the sub. I assumed it would fill in pretty well, but it would likely still leave a small gap in low, mid-range. If not for the lack of highs, I would have also been happy with these and probably would rank them just below the MLT-1s. They were clearly the most efficient of the lot (not sure about the efficiency of the Motion 2s). So you wouldn't need a real powerful amp to get good sound from these. The Take 5.1 system can be had for $400 on line. http://www.energy-speakers.com/na-en...-5-1-overview/
3. Pinnacle MB8000 (S-Fit 150, 250, subcompact 8" sub) - (3" mids (2 in center and L/Rs, 1 in sats), 1" tweeter, 8" sub) - I thought the one inch silk dome tweeters in this system were phenomenal, especially for speakers in this price range and were only matched (possibly bested) by the Martin Logan (ML) Motion 2's ribbon tweeter. The Pinnacle tweeters were very clear, not harsh, had great range and sounded true to the source. The MLTs came close, but still didn't match up. The S-Fit mid-range drivers were also very clear, but didn't have a lot of range...no low mid-range. However the sub filled in pretty nicely. The sub's dimensions are the smallest of all the setsunder 10 in height. In spite of a small gap in the low mid-range, this system was well balanced and sounded nice. I didn't really press the sub for low bass, but given the size of the sub, don't expect real low, clear, room-shaking bass. If L/Rs and sats had fit my cabinets, I might have settled for these simplely due to the bargain I got on them and the clear highs. These were the least efficient speakers of the lot, so make sure you have enough power to drive these to the levels you want. http://www.pinnaclespeakers.com/mb8000.html
4. Paradigm Cinema 70CT, 90CT, 110CT - I found the Paradigms similar to the Definitives , maybe slight deeper mid-range, but I wasn't able to make a direct comparison because they were at different stores. The 90's and 110's were slightly better than the 70's, but not by a huge amount. The 90's are styled like the 70's, but deeper. The 110s and the CC center are wide/tall with two mid-range and shallow, so they filled my cabinets nearly perfectly. However, I didn't think they had a wide enough range for their price (between $130-$160 per speaker). I didn't really test the sub with the system since the the subs were all too big for my space. However, they did sound good with the B&W ASW608 (8") sub which I'm guessing would fill in the mids a little better than the Paradigm 10" sub that they are normally paired with. If I had to choose between the three, I would opt for the 110s for the front, cc for the center, 70s for the rears and the B&W sub for a total of ~$1,200. http://www.paradigm.com/products/paradigm/ct-5-1-system
5. Martin Logan MLT-1 - (1" tweeter, 3.5" mids (1 in L/Rs and sats, 2 in center), 8" sub) Martin Logan has built its high-end reputation on electrostatic speakers...which the MLTs do not use. I believe ML offers the MLTs to fill a niche for small budget bookshelf 5.1 systems. Calling $1,000 (MSRP) a budget sytem gives you an idea of the class of products and consumers they cater to. I suspect they created the motion series to replace the MLTs. Although they still support them, the MLTs have sort of been forgotten. In fact, the only way to find them on their website is to use a search engine. I certainly don't think the MLTs are something ML should be ashamed of, but of course I'm not an audiophile or an audio snob.
The MLT-1's mid-range performance was almost as good as the Energys, and the tweeters not quite as good as the Pinnacles, but I think better than the Def Techs and Paradigms. I couldn't make a direct comparison with the last two since they were at different stores, so I base that opinon on comparing the Pinnacles and the Energys to them all. The MLT-1's mid-range wasn't as deep as the MLT-2s, however, the sub complimented them welland better than the balance of the MLT-2s with it's 10" sub. There was still a small gap in the low, mid-range, but it was barely noticeable with the test tracks I played. If you watch for sales, these can be had for $400but they may not be around for long. http://www.martinlogan.com/products/mlt1. I later discovered that the MLT-1 front & rear speakers are Paradigm Cinema CT-70s in disguise (ML badging), but the sub is different....larger cabinet on the Paradigm.
6. Martin Logan MLT-2 - (1" tweeter, 4.5" mids in the L/Rs and sats, and 2 3.5" in the center, 10" sub) - The MLT-2s were better than the Energy's in mid-range and maybe as good or close to as good to the B&W M1s. Again, I couldn't make a direct comparison with the M1s. The MLT-2's highs were like that of the MLT-1s, not as good at the Pinnacle or Motions, but still very goodrelatively clear with broad range. Overall, they sounded a little better than the MLT-1s, especially for music. The 10 sub didn't sound as well balanced with the system as the 8 did with the MLT-1s, but I don't know that the store had them dialed in completely. I did play around with the settings on the Onkyo receiver and on the sub, but still couldn't get the system to balance as well as the MLT-1s. These are selling on line for $650-$800, but went as low as $400 on black Friday. I believe these too have been discontinued and supply may run out soon. http://www.martinlogan.com/products/mlt2. I later discovered that the MLT-2 front & rear speakers are Paradigm Cinema CT-90s in disguise (ML badging), but the sub is different....larger cabinet on the Paradigm.
I ended up with this set and have used them a few times...music on a 1,000 mile trip and a couple movies...and have been very happy with them. They are phenomenal for their size. My 17 yr old son has used them to play Call of Duty and Sky Rim and says they make those games more realistic and "scary." Probably has something to do with him laying on the couch under which the sub is mounted...shakes the couch during explosions :-)
7. Martin Logan Motion 2 - (Motion 2: 1" ribbon tweeters, 3.5" mids) - I didn't spend much time with the Motion 2s. Although they fit into my cabinets, they are not shielded and would likely cause problems mounted 6 from my LCD TV and 3 from my cable TV switch box, neither of which I could move. ML recommends they be placed at least 2' away from other electronics devices. They did have an excellent tweeter, however, I found it slightly on the harsh side and they over-powered the mids at flat eq settings. I didn't spend any time trying to dial them in, but suspect that would've made a big difference. Still not sure the 3.5 mids would have been the best. If you have the room and the cash, the Motion 4's 4 driver would probably be a better choice for wider mid-range. Had they been shielded, I would've looked at pairing these with a Motion 6 center. The Motion 2's can be had for $200 each, the Motion 6 center for $350 and the 10 sub for just over $400 for a total of $1,750. http://www.martinlogan.com/motionSeries/
8. B&W M1 - (1" Nautilus tweeter, 4" mid (1 each for all speakers), can be paired with various subs) - The B&W seemed to be the best of all the speakersat least from what I could tell within the limits of my comparisons. They had a very wide range and even though the tweeter didn't go quite as high as the Pinnacles or Motion 2s, they had a silky smooth quality to them. The ESW-608 8" sub was also very smooth and tight and would match up well. The ESW-610 10 would probably work nicely too, but I didn't try that one. I couldn't find these for less $200 per speakerabout the same as the ML Motion 2s. The ESW-608 was another $500, making a 5.1 system $1,500. One other downside to these speakers is they require proprietary mounts that could make mounting them awkward in really tight spaces, but on the plus side the mounts come with the speakers and they are pretty sleek looking. If not for the price and the fact they didn't fit in my cabinets, these might have been my first choice. However, I'd have to compare them to the ML Motion series if I was going to spend this kind of money. I doubt the Motion 2's mid-range would've been able to compete with the B&W's, so upgrading from the Motion 2s to the Motion 4's would've probalby been necessary to get adequate mid-range. In that case, the B&Ws would probably be the better value of the two, but the complete Motion 4 5.1 setup might out-perform them and might be the cost-is-no-issue choice.
I ended up buying the MLT-2s and returning the Pinnacles and Energy Take Classics, but overall, I think the Pinnacle MB8000 is the best value if you can get them for $300 and you have an adequate amp. If you can find the MLT-2s for $400, I think that would be the next best value...or even better, you can occasionally find the MLT-2's on sale for $300 which would make it my first choice for value. If not, the MLT-1s at the same price would almost as good.
I should also mention I tried out a Sony BDV-570 all-in-one HTIB system. Although I really liked the functionality of the Blu-ray player/receiver and its wireless network features, the speakers left a lot to be desired. They were passable for movies for someone's first surround sound system, but were horrible for music. The highs were thin, almost scratchy, they had no mid-range to speak of and the sub was boomy and did a poor job of filling in the the low mids.
I realize this was a subjective comparison and people with different tastes might make other choices, but I thought my observations might be helpful to others given I couldn't find much info on how these compared.
Edited by ratherBflyn - 12/12/12 at 5:52am