When you’re looking to buy a set of speakers on a tight budget, it is important to squeeze as much performance as possible out of them. You want something that will sound pretty good that you can use for playing music at parties or for taking your first steps towards an awesome system for your TV, but at the same time won’t cut into your monthly budget.
These speakers are my choice of speakers for you if you’re looking for something which does a reasonable job for playing music, playing video games, or watching movies, and want to spend as little money as possible. Dayton Audio is a company which makes a wide range of audio products, many of which I review here. They are a company which regularly puts out great bang-for-your buck products. You have to be careful and read reviews though, because some are better than other.
That said, at $40, these are necessarily pretty cheaply made speakers and it shows. The box is made of Plywood. While this is better than the common plastics used in other cheap speakers, it isn’t the first choice of material. The speaker design is what is called a sealed box design, which doesn’t extend the bass as well as more intricate designs, but is less sensitive to manufacturing variations. A single capacitor on the tweeter (the top, high frequency driver) serves as a crossover, which prevents the tweeter from breaking, but doesn’t create a smooth transition from the big 6.5″ woofer to the tweeter.
However, the speaker does include wires to hook it up to an amplifier, which most speakers do not. It is a nice inclusion for $40 speakers that makes these a much nicer buy for people who aren’t comfortable cutting your own speaker wire from a spool. (NB if you are confused by this paragraph and are wondering why you need an amplifier, check out my post on an inexpensive stereo build.)
I took some time to listen to my favorite songs and some Netflix shows with these speakers. I was honestly quite impressed with the quality of the sound you get for the price. They sound much better than mass marketed audio products at two or three times the price.
Most people will think these sound pretty good in a typical living room space. They are so much better than what a majority of people have in their houses, you’ll impress your friends and family even at this low price. So if you’re looking to get something reasonable sounding at a low price, this is the speaker to go with. Its why I included it in my build for my inexpensive stereo build.
When I listened with a critical ear, I keyed in on one major flaw, and that is the high frequency response. Voices and higher frequency instruments just don’t have the realistic, natural sound I’m used to hearing on high quality speakers. This leads to instruments a bit muddled versus higher quality speakers as well. The measurements that follow really highlight that point.
Measurements are a very important part of reviewing speakers. Most reviews you find won’t put in the effort to do the detail I have on a pair of $40 speakers. However, I make sure to include them in any review I do because it verifies that what I’m hearing corresponds to something innate about the speakers.
The first measurement we look at is the classic Bode Plot. If you’re unfamiliar with what that is, allow me to explain briefly, or just skip to my TL;DR below.
What we hear is sound is the variation in sound pressure in the air. The number of times in a second the sound pressure goes from high to low is called the “frequency” of the sound. Each note on a musical scale has its own special frequency. When a speaker is asked to play a particular note at a particular volume, it creates a slightly (and sometimes not so slightly) different volume for each tone. To create a Bode plot, you play the each note at the same volume from the speaker and record how loud it is on the microphone.
An important aside is that when doing measurements, the Bode plot (as well as others) are influenced by the room the speakers are in. I use special modern techniques of computer-aided measurement which enables me to isolate the speakers. This means my measurements are only useful above 200 Hz. Below that, the effects of the room cannot be reliably separated from the effects of the speaker.
The TL;DR of the past two paragraphs is: in a perfect world, the graph below would be a straight horizontal line and deviations from a straight line help to explain some of the imperfections of the speaker.
Now that I’m finally looking at the measurements, a few things pop out. First, the frequency response from 200Hz-2500Hz drifts up a bit, but it is actually remarkably good compared to the other budget speakers I’ve reviewed. It’s a good start.
At 3000Hz and above the tweeter crossover creates a sharp dip and large regions of signal enhancement and degradation. This is what I said stood out to me when I was listening critically. Thanks to my background as an engineer, I can readily ascrive this to be caused by the poor crossover I described early on in the review. A better crossover would smooth this transition into something flat. Instead there is this large effect in a critical area.
A Bode plot tells less than half the story, so there are other measurements that engineers and the best reviewers look at to examine a speaker. Below you will see a step response of the speaker. The step response is how the speaker responds to suddenly being given a large sustained voltage after a long period of quiet. Ideally, the pressure created by the speaker would rise immediately before slowly settling out. The initial sharp response is caused by the drivers, the woofer and the tweeter, jumping into position in response to the voltage. The settling out is caused by ringing in the speaker box.
In the step response below, there isn’t a sharp rise. There are a few peaks before the biggest rise. This is ultimately indicative of the poor crossover, and doesn’t add too much versus the Bode plot. The later portion , with its steady climb back to zero is indicative of the sealed box design, and it is perfectly good at that.
One last graph to examine are the Bode plots of the speaker at various angles to the microphone. This helps to gauge how the sound of the speaker changes depending on where you are sitting relative to it. The directional response here shows the tweeter is worse straight on than it is on the sides.
This is good news if you’re planning on using this for entertainment purposes rather than listening to it from the same magic spot every time. As you move through the room, the issues of the speaker won’t be as apparent as they are when you’re focused in on them. This isn’t true for many high quality speakers, so it is worth pointing out how these speakers differ.
I’ll summarize this review by saying if you’re looking to buy speakers for entertaining guests, or you’re on a tight budget, but still want to have something that sounds good in your house, the Dayton Audio B652 is a good choice. You’ll need a few things to go along with it to complete your setup, which I describe in my inexpensive stereo build.
Dayton Audio B652 6-1/2-Inch 2-Way Bookshelf Speaker Pair is available on Amazon for $39.80