With the holiday shopping season coming up, for the rest of the year I'm going to recommend exceptional products and values for home theater and music systems, as I did in the beginning of the year.

Kicking things off are excellent, extremely affordable speakers for music or home theaters.

Speakers are the most important part of the audio reproduction chain, so I'm always excited to find great-sounding models that are downright cheap. Best Buy's now-discontinued Insignia NS-B2111 bookshelf speakers are a good example. Selling for only $89 a pair, they had rich, detailed sound and good looks that belied their price. Over the years, they have been one of my most popular recommendations.

Although the Insignias are gone, they won't be missed. Pioneer (www. pioneerelectronics.com) has introduced a family of speakers that set a new standard for good sound at prices anyone can afford.

Designed by acclaimed speaker engineer Andrew Jones, Pioneer's new models look like the Insignia NS-B2111 with their black simulated wood finish and curved cabinets. The innards are different, though, with Pioneer using higher quality parts throughout.

I reviewed the Pioneer SP-FS51-LR towers, selling for $199 a pair. Although they lack the fullness, evenness and delicacy that distinguish the best speakers, they have sound quality that is pleasingly warm, detailed and dynamic. Given the price, it's hard to find fault and they are a better value than the Insignias. The Pioneer towers don't need stands to sound their best and with three woofers per tower, the bass is much deeper and more dramatic.

You can build a matched home theater using the towers as front speakers, the $79 SP-C21 as center channel and the $99 SP-BS21-LR as surrounds. Add a $149 Pioneer powered subwoofer or a $90 powered subwoofer from Monoprice (www.monoprice.com), and you have a complete home theater speaker system that will make you smile big for less than $500.

FireWire compatible

Q I'm trying to connect my FireWire video converter to my Macbook Pro. Both say they have FireWire, but my Mac has a square connection and my converter's connection port looks like a long rectangle with a V at the end. Are they compatible?

A Yes. There are two kinds of FireWire, FireWire 400 (just called FireWire) and FireWire 800. FireWire has a 4-pin connection, which looks like a tiny square with a groove in it, and a 6-pin connection, that looks rectangular with a V-shape on one side and square on the other. Cables that are 4-pin to 4-pin, 4-pin to 6-pin, and 6-pin to 6-pin all exist. FireWire 800 has a large square connection and is backward-compatible with FireWire. The cables can be found online for less than $10.

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