I've heard some surprisingly decent-sounding, dirt-cheap speakers over the years, but quality subwoofer prices bottom out around $250. Sure, you can find deals on closeout models for less, but $250 or so has defined the lower limit of what you'd have to pay for a nice subwoofer.
That's what I thought, until I heard MonoPrice's 8-inch, 60-watt powered sub (model 8248). It sells for $57. Granted, for that kind of money my expectations were low, but the sub's fit and finish are respectable. The black wood cabinet measures 13.75 inches by 11.75 inches by 11.75 inches; the 8-inch woofer and a 2.75-inch sound port are located on the front baffle, covered by a black cloth grille. The rear panel hosts stereo RCA- and speaker-level inputs, volume and crossover setting controls. It sounded fine, but before we go any further, I have another MonoPrice subwoofer to tell you about. It's a 12-inch, 150-watt model, the 8249, goes for just $84!
The 8248 sub is a little thing, but the 8249 is a bigger contender; it's 17 inches by 17 inches by 16.8 inches. It's also more attractive; its curved-sided cabinet is finished in a "colonial maple wood-grain" vinyl finish. The 12-inch woofer is on the front baffle; a 3.5-inch sound port is positioned underneath the enclosure. The rear panel hosts stereo RCA and speaker-level inputs and outputs, along with volume and crossover setting controls. The 8249 feels more solidly built than the smaller sub.
I listened to both subs partnered with two sets of stereo MonoPrice speakers, the 8250 speakers ($28 per pair) and the 8251 speakers ($54 per pair). I'll review both speakers in a few days. I used a Denon AVR-1912 receiver and an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player for all of my listening tests.
The smaller sub and stereo speaker combination would cost $85; the bigger sub and speakers together run $138 (plus shipping).
Starting with the smaller system the sound was lively and dynamic. The bass blend between sub and speakers was easy to achieve. On music and movies, bass definition was very good, but bass power was only fair. I think that's a reasonable trade-off; this subwoofer-speaker combination had the drive of a $300 (a pair) tower speaker. That's insanely great for just $85! Please understand, the $300 towers would sound better overall, and would certainly have a nicer-sounding tweeter, and more accurate bass response. The 8-inch subwoofer may not wow you with its floor shaking power (its bass doesn't reach below 50 Hertz), but this sub will dramatically enhance the performance of many smaller speakers.
The 12-inch sub and 8-inch speaker combination generated a lot more bass oomph, and can energize larger rooms than the smaller sub. The bigger system can also play louder without distress. But the 12-inch sub sounded sloppier than its smaller sibling. In all, I preferred the sound of the small sub/small speaker MonoPrice system, especially for music. It's a less ambitious combination, but sounds better balanced overall. But I'm not hung up on bass power; if that's what you need, the smaller sub would disappoint. The 12-inch sub would be a better choice if home theater bombast is a higher priority than music.
Then again, since MonoPrice sells direct with a 30-day money-back guarantee (there's no restocking fee if you return the system), so you can try them for yourself.