tld;dr I don't need help picking speakers, I need help learning how to pick speakers.
After a few months of shopping around for new (my first) TV speakers, I'm basically no closer than when I started. So while I still need to figure out what to buy, this thread is really about how other people navigate the mid-range speaker market, because I'm having a hard time discerning any useful information.
It seems like once you pass a certain price point, maybe around $500, the audiophile websites will actually start telling you useful information about how a given speaker stacks up against the top-end gear *and* other speakers in the same price range. Below that, though, it seems like most reviews from audio sites end up saying "their good for $100, but...", or "they're good for $200, but...", and they never really make a good comparison to the speakers they're competing with.
Take, for example, the Sony SS-B3000. They're like $100 or less if you shop around, and customer reviews on amazon/etc are really strong. Then you look at audio websites and get the standard "good value for $100, but..." reviews and they end up with two stars for performance. So then I look at some other speakers, say the Polk Monitor40s ($150), which are popular on Newegg. Again, customer reviews are really strong, but independent reviews are again pretty generic. And my real hangup is that I just don't know enough about speakers to be able to compare them, and I can't find a good resource of anyone who's making those kinds of comparisons.
Let's add one more speaker to the mix, the Polk RTI A1, at $250. Now I have three sets of speakers at $100, $150, and $250 that are all pretty much "perfect" according to customer reviews, but I have almost no way of figuring out what the actual differences are. The Sonys are 3-way and the Polks are both 2-way, but I haven't found a single review that says anything along the lines of "cheap 3-way is better than expansive two way", or vise versa. Or anything that compares $150 Polks to $250 Polks. The general impression I get is that there's really not a ton of difference between speakers in this range, but even then no one's saying in these reviews "just another pair of mid-range speakers, you might as well stick with the cheaper X".
It just seems like if I were shopping for some other hobbyist/enthusiast item, like a flashlight or a computer power supply, if I had spent the same amount of time doing research as I have on these speakers I'd be able to make a really informed decision. It's pretty easy to figure out that, with power supplies, there are a couple SeaSonic models that kind of stand on their own, and then there are a few quality brands right below that, and then there are some budget brands, and then there's the crap. And I can take that info and make an informed decision like, "this computer I'm building doesn't need to be crazy efficient, will only have one SSD, and a low power CPU: this power supply is a good fit". Even though there's no way anyone could say "this is THE power supply you should always buy", there's enough good data around that I can figure out what makes sense for me at the time.
With these speakers, though, maybe I'm just missing something, but I can't find that kind of data. And this whole confusion is just bookshelf speakers; I've also been looking at used and floor standing speakers, which doesn't help things. Maybe what I need is like a basic speaker guide; is a $150 of floor standing speakers basically the same as a $150 of bookshelves, but with built-in stands? Or is there some actual difference in audio. Where would I go to figure that out?
I feel like I'm either way over thinking things (and it doesn't really matter what I get between $100 and $250), or I'm way under thinking things, and I really just need to be able to evaluate my needs (TV vs. Movies vs. Music), other equipment (with a sub vs without a sub, which amp), and environment, and once I can do that these reviews will actually help me make a decision. The worst part is that I really don't care too much about all this. I could spend $100 on speakers and probably be perfectly happy, or I could spend $400 on speakers "just to be safe", and not miss the money after a couple months and...be perfectly happy. My frustration is really just that I'm the kind of person who likes to know about that their buying, and I can't figure this out. For most things I buy, if someone asked why I bought X not Y, I can usually give them a reasonable answer. I feel like if I bought speakers today, even if they were perfect for me, I wouldn't be able to explain way, and that is what I'd like the fix. And even though I'm only buying stereo speakers today, someday I'm sure I'll get into surround, and I'd like to be able to say "I have X, they can get moved to the back, and these new Y fronts will fit in well", etc, so I know if I don't figure this out now I'll just get frustrated later on also.
Thanks for any help.