Q Your answer to Eli Hauser's question regarding expensive vs. inexpensive speakers might have been correct and reasonable from an audiophile's point of view, but he specifically excluded himself from that community.

I know it's your job to evaluate high-tech equipment and to recommend the best of that equipment, but sometimes a low-tech solution is just as good. In reality, neither he nor I can probably hear a substantial difference between the $1,500 5.1-channel speaker system you mentioned and a pair of $100 Radio Shack stereo speakers.


A In the column, I said, "$1,200 to $1,500 for a 5.1-channel home-theater speaker system based on bookshelf or small tower speakers provides movie and music performance that the nonaudiophile will be completely thrilled with." Reading this, you could infer that audiophiles would not be happy with the sound quality, when they actually would find the sound excellent.

And what is an audiophile? It is an audio hobbyist with a passion for music, good sound and high-quality equipment, investing a great deal of time and money on the hobby. Most audiophiles spend a lot more on their systems than my lower-cost recommendations.

Although the original reader is not an audiophile, he was interested in good sound for his money and asked about "the point of diminishing returns for the average person." That is how I answered. The $1,200 to $1,500 price point is not out of line, and the differences between these and an $800 system should be clear, even to a nonenthusiast. There are many nonaudiophiles who spend several thousand dollars on Bose systems, so I know there are some willing to spend the money. (It is safe to say that audiophiles do not buy Bose systems.)

Almost anyone without a hearing deficiency can tell the difference between a $100 pair of speakers and a good 5.1 system selling for $1,500, or even $100 speakers compared with a pair of highly rated $250 speakers. It's the difference between looking through a clean window, a tinted window and a dirty window. If you can tell the difference between a mediocre singer and a great singer, you will hear the difference.

As for low-cost solutions, one of my favorite recommendations is the nice-sounding Insignia NS-B2111 bookshelf speakers from Best Buy, which sell for $90 a pair. When the Speaker Co. (TSC) was still in business, I recommended them, because they were affordable and sounded great.

But the Insignias and TSC are still noticeably outperformed by the Axiom, Acculine and Paradigm products. People should have that information, and then they can decide what to buy and how much to spend.

As always, I will keep my eyes out for exceptional speaker values and tell readers when I find them.

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