For those with a more conservative budget, there's the Pioneer SP-PK52FS. You get a full-size 5.1 home theater speaker system that delivers the kind of outstanding sound quality that's competitive with systems more than twice as expensive. With two tower speakers up front, a jumbo center channel, 100-watt subwoofer, and two bookshelf surround speakers, it's hard to believe you're paying just a little over $100 per speaker for the package.
The SP-FS52 tower speaker sports a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter and three 5.25-inch "structured surface woofers"; most budget towers have single or double woofers. The three woofers' bass output is augmented with two ports on the back of the speaker cabinet, so the SP-FS52s shouldn't be placed too close to a wall. Unlike a lot of the budget surround sound systems we review at CNET, note that these are full-size tower speakers, measuring 35.2 inches tall.

The curves come from a bonding process which my company contact was kind enough to describe: “A 12mm sheet of medium-density fiberboard is inserted between curved aluminum plates, one convex, one concave, with each plate connected to a high-power RF energy source. The RF field that is created between the aluminum plates heats the resin within the MDF and softens it. The plates are then pressed together to force the MDF to take on the curvature of the plates. The field is removed, the resin recures, and the MDF takes on a permanent curvature.” This is not how you build a cheap speaker. This is how you build a speaker with—dare I say it?—high-end aspirations.

The front has no screws and matches the black vinyl wood-patterned wrap of the sides and back. In lieu of a fabric grille covering the entire baffle, nondetachable metal grilles mask each driver, making these speakers as toddler-proof as a standmount speaker can be (although they still might get knocked off their stands). The Pioneer logo is located between the drivers, flush left, nonconformist-style.

The two-way design features a 1-inch silk-dome tweeter and a 5.25-inch plastic-cone woofer with oversized magnets (90mm in diameter by 15mm thick), and a sophisticated multi-component crossover. The baskets are made of pressed metal. This isn’t as good as the die-cast metal that more expensive speakers use, but in many ways, it’s better than the commodity-grade plastic used in the cheapest ones. Round metal-nut gold-plated binding posts grace the back, along with a port. The use of real binding posts is always a good sign. A speaker designer who uses signal-strangling wire clips on a speaker this size is one who has simply stopped trying.

The SP-C22 center speaker uses similar drivers to aid in close timbre matching, with two of the 5.25-inch woofers, an extra port, and a slightly larger curved enclosure.

The SW-8 subwoofer is an 8-inch down-firing woofer has a paper cone with a polypropylene dust cap and rubber surround. “The diameter of the inverted dust cap is almost as large as the cone, so it adds considerable strength and damping to the cone,” notes the manufacturer. The port is on the front. Amplification is a modest 50 watts RMS.