JVC SXXSW6000 5.1 Surround System (Only $50)

JVC's $50 Surround System: Any Good? SXXSW6000 JVC SXXSW6000 From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to The Simpsons, many of the 20th century's great philosophical works have confronted the question of quality. For Homer Simpson, the answer is easy: Anything is good if it's cheap enough. For the rest of us, the question is more complicated. We know an $8 bottle of scotch won't satisfy, and also that a $500 bottle of scotch is overpriced. But what if it's a $20 bottle claiming to be a single-malt from the Scottish Highlands? Tough question, indeed. It's the question I faced when I stumbled upon the JVC SXXSW6000 on WalMart.com. The boys from Bentonville offer this speaker system with five satellites and a powered subwoofer for a mere . . . $49.88. That makes it the least expensive surround-sound speaker system I've ever encountered - and I've been covering surround-sound speakers since there were only two systems on the market. I had to know: What kind of compromises did JVC make to get the price so low? And could a 5.1 speaker system costing $50 actually sound okay? When I picked up the system at my local Wal-Mart (thus saving the shipping fee), I didn't even need a shopping cart - the 22-pound box was small and light enough to ride on my shoulder. Inside the box were five little plastic satellite speakers, roughly cubic in shape and measuring a little over 4 inches on each side. And under them, a real, honest-to-goodness powered subwoofer, with a power cord and a volume knob (although not much else). The package even included five color-coded speaker cables, though they're probably too short to use in anything larger than a dorm room. Each of the satellites houses a single oval-shaped "racetrack" driver, the frame of which measures 2 by 3.5 inches. The speaker cone itself is about two-thirds that size. It looked as primitive as the driver in the Realistic AM pocket radio I got when I was 7. To my surprise, JVC included a simple crossover in each satellite made up of a resistor and a capacitor in series - .just enough to block deep bass notes that would destroy the tiny driver in short order. In ultra-cheap speakers, the crossover is often the first thing to go because you'd have to disassemble the speaker to know it's missing.

The Short Form

$49.88 (at retail) / JVC.COM / 800-252-5722
Snapshot
An almost impossibly inexpensive 5.1 speaker system. While it does have some strengths, overall sound quality is not good. But if you need a super-affordable little subwoofer to fill out the sound of some minispeakers or a flat-panel TV, buy this system and discard the satellites.
Plus
• Fantastic fit, finish, and design for the price • Surprisingly competent little subwoofer
Minus
• Tough to balance satellites with subwoofer • Tough to use with low-powered receivers • Tough to listen to the satellites for long
Key Features
• Satellite speaker • 2- by 3.5-inch full-range driver; 4 3/8 in high • Subwoofer • 6.5-inch woofer; 100-watt amplifier; 12 in high

From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to The Simpsons, many of the 20th century's great philosophical works have confronted the question of quality. For Homer Simpson, the answer is easy: Anything is good if it's cheap enough. For the rest of us, the question is more complicated. We know an $8 bottle of scotch won't satisfy, and also that a $500 bottle of scotch is overpriced. But what if it's a $20 bottle claiming to be a single-malt from the Scottish Highlands? Tough question, indeed.

It's the question I faced when I stumbled upon the JVC SXXSW6000 on WalMart.com. The boys from Bentonville offer this speaker system with five satellites and a powered subwoofer for a mere . . . $49.88. That makes it the least expensive surround-sound speaker system I've ever encountered - and I've been covering surround-sound speakers since there were only two systems on the market. I had to know: What kind of compromises did JVC make to get the price so low? And could a 5.1 speaker system costing $50 actually sound okay?

When I picked up the system at my local Wal-Mart (thus saving the shipping fee), I didn't even need a shopping cart - the 22-pound box was small and light enough to ride on my shoulder. Inside the box were five little plastic satellite speakers, roughly cubic in shape and measuring a little over 4 inches on each side. And under them, a real, honest-to-goodness powered subwoofer, with a power cord and a volume knob (although not much else). The package even included five color-coded speaker cables, though they're probably too short to use in anything larger than a dorm room.

Each of the satellites houses a single oval-shaped "racetrack" driver, the frame of which measures 2 by 3.5 inches. The speaker cone itself is about two-thirds that size. It looked as primitive as the driver in the Realistic AM pocket radio I got when I was 7. To my surprise, JVC included a simple crossover in each satellite made up of a resistor and a capacitor in series - .just enough to block deep bass notes that would destroy the tiny driver in short order. In ultra-cheap speakers, the crossover is often the first thing to go because you'd have to disassemble the speaker to know it's missing.

The subwoofer has an ordinary-looking 6.5-inch woofer and an amp rated at 100 watts, both housed in a 12-inch-high, rear-ported enclosure. Its grille is made from acoustically transparent fabric and stretched over a sturdy, curved frame. I'm touched to see that JVC's product designers took the time to bestow even this marginally profitable product with some style.

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