So you’ve picked up a new AV receiver and you’re wondering what speakers to use for the best surround sound.
Well you could buy individual speakers and carefully test and match them for tonal balance. Or you could go for a package that includes all the speakers you need. Most speaker manufacturers provide packages of speakers with front, centre and surrounds along with a subwoofer. Since they’re from the same manufacturer they tend to match carefully and are designed to work together to create a cohesive sound field. So whether you’re creating a five or a seven channel system, here are the best speaker packages we reviewed in 2014.
Tannoy Mercury 5.0 Speaker Package - £620 - Best Buy
The first speaker package in our list offers great value at around £600 and whilst it doesn't have a subwoofer, if you have a decent pair of floor-standing speakers at the front, you might not need one. As people are crammed into their tiny, expensive houses, the appeal of a satellite and subwoofer package is obvious. However, if you are looking for something that really makes films and music an event, we honestly don’t think there is much out there anywhere near the price of the Mercury system that can deliver the same performance.
You will need more room and there is no argument that a halfway house package like the Dali Zensor can deliver some of this performance in a more room-friendly manner but this is a set of speakers that will make your viewing and listening so much more entertaining. It also manages to do so at a very sensible price and for that reason alone they are worthy of consideration. Once you take into account the solid build quality, the handsome appearance and flexible setup, they then become highly recommended performers as well as fantastic value.
You don't necessarily need a subwoofer to start your surround system and you can always add one later.
Dali Zensor 5.1 Speaker Package - £1,079 - Best Buy
If you don't have room for a larger speaker package that makes use of floor-standers at the front, then the obvious choice is a more traditional satellite and subwoofer combination. Which brings us to the excellent and great value Dali Zensor 5.1 package. Aside from the distinctive wood fibre drivers, there is nothing in the specifications of this package that suggests anything truly out of the ordinary will result when you plug them in. Compared to the technology supposedly at use in rivals complete with marketing blurb that reads akin to the conquest of space, these little Danish boxes can seem a little dull.
In reality the Dali Zensors demonstrate a consistent ability across film, TV and music that can make many rivals seem rough and poorly integrated. For a relatively sensible outlay, the 5.1 package is able to do a great deal right. They aren't the most beautiful design we've seen and there are a few moments when a little more ballistic aggression wouldn’t go amiss but as a set of speakers to use all day, every day, the Dalis excel. The concept of a surround package is losing ground to the soundbar and persuading people to go for anything larger than tiny satellites is a tough sell but this package is a potent demonstration of why it is worth doing so.
Cambridge Audio Aero 7.1 Speaker Package - £1,745 - Highly Recommended
If you really fancy going to town then this approach has floor-standers at the front, a matching centre speaker and a subwoofer, along with side and rear surrounds. This approach doesn't need to cost a fortune, as Cambridge Audio's Aero range proves and whilst their design is rather uninspired, there's no questioning the performance. The package as a whole is capable of providing a genuinely immersive and very well integrated soundstage, whilst the tonal balance makes the panning and the steering of effects almost seamless as they move around the room and the bass is very well integrated.
The centre speaker handles dialogue with exceptional clarity and the stand mount speakers can work just as well at the front or the rear. The dedicated surround speakers are a welcome addition, allowing you to use them either in either dipole or dual monopole configurations, thus providing greater flexibility. Whilst the subwoofer matched the overall system, allowing the other speakers to concentrate on the higher frequencies, thanks to the lower crossover of the BMR drivers. However, the inclusion of the larger front speakers does create a more imposing front soundstage and obviously pays dividends when listening to two-channel audio.
You'll be surprised how effective five channels can sound but if it's practical why not go for a 7.1 system.
Monitor Audio Silver 6AV12 5.1 Speaker Package - £2,795 - Recommended
If you want to follow a similar approach to the Cambridge Audio Aeros but with a higher build quality and better looks, then Monitor Audio might have the answer. Many of us have front rooms that must fulfil a variety of tasks other than home cinema and speakers that are placed in this space will need to be attractive as furniture. Monitor Audio has always balanced these requirements well and the latest Silver 6AV12 series is no exception to this tradition. Whilst we reviewed the 5.1 package with floor-standers, centre speaker, subwoofer and surrounds, you could also create a 7.1 system if you preferred.
What makes this package more exciting still is that while they look excellent, the speakers also deliver sonically as well. The performance is exciting but easy to live with and the dedicated surround speakers and clever subwoofer setup software give these speakers a cinematic performance that is unfailingly enjoyable. The use of floor-standers also means that the Monitor Audios can deliver a great sound with listening to two-channel audio as well. If you want a speaker package that delivers on sound and aesthetics, this is a great place to start looking.
Focal Aria 5.0 Speaker Package - £2,999 - Highly Recommended
Finally we have another 5.0 speaker package that is once again built around a pair floor-standing front speakers, a centre speaker and two surround speakers. The Focal Aria speaker package once again combines an attractive design with superior build quality and an excellent audio performance. The Aria package uses Focal speakers that could also serve as a stereo pair and the answer to whether what makes a great stereo speaker also makes a fine surround speaker isn’t going to be definitively put to bed with one example.
However the Focal Aria system does make use of many of the attributes that make their speakers a fine stereo performer and use them to great effect in film. Detail retrieval, the cohesion and depth of the soundstage and the astonishing tonal accuracy all combine to great effect. In addition, if you aren’t a bass monster, it is also capable of doing justice to many films without a subwoofer. Whether you feel they are worth £2,300 more than the Tannoy Mercury 5.0 package will come down to budget and requirements but the Focal Arias are capable of astonishing detail and depth of performance that justifies their price.
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