Soundbar Alternatives, $77-$385 and above

As I discussed in an earlier article, while soundbars are popular, they aren’t really a good option for those who want quality sound at a low price. Generally speaking, a soundbar is too small to sound really good. The companies who make soundbars aren’t usually dedicated to audio. Finally, similar systems at lower prices perform better. So today, I’m here to tell you what to buy instead. I’ve put together three different ways to get affordable alternatives at improved quality.
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If You Care About Audio Quality, Reconsider Purchasing A Soundbar

The primary home audio product today is the soundbar, in its various incarnations. They offer superior sound to the sound built into your TV at a relatively low price, with low complexity and a high convenience and aestheic factor. The problem with soundbars is one of compromise. At every turn, audio quality is compromised for price, convenience, simplicity and size. With any design, something has to give, there are no perfect solutions, and when it comes to budget soundbar, the compromise is audio quality. Lets take a look at some of the benefits of a soundbar, and examine how they affect audio quality. From there, we’ll look at some alternatives to soundbars depending on what you’re looking for. If, after reading this, you still want a soundbar, I’ve provided a set of recommendations.

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Micca Covo-S Review (Updated 6/24/2015)

Micca COVO-S Compact 2-Way Bookshelf Speakers -$39.95

These speakers are tough to review for me. On the one hand, as speakers to listen to music on, by themselves, these fall far short of offering something compelling. As a feat of engineering and getting all they could for $40 in a tiny speaker, it is fairly remarkable. So, starting at the conclusion, the Micca Covo-S is suitable only in an extremely compromised position, when you need both a cheap and a small speaker. They could work as a soundbar alternative or in a cheap surround sound setup.

One interesting thing about these speakers, is, in order to make them small, the tweeter is physically inside the woofer. That’s pretty neat by me.

When I listen to music, the problems with these speakers are quickly evident. The low end is a complete mess and non-existent. The very high end is surprisingly missing. The middle frequencies are actually pretty good. This makes them completely unacceptable for listening to music. As far as playing surround sound tracks, they will do just fine at whizzing bullets and spaceships. I also listened to some television programming, and they handled dialog and such just fine.

So, when would I recommend the Micca COVO-S? If you can’t afford a better small speaker, and are using them in an exclusively living room setting. That is to say, I can only recommend them in particular situations and then with reservation.

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Micca MB42X Review

Micca MB42X Bookshelf Speakers with 4-Inch Carbon Fiber Woofer and Silk Dome Tweeter, Black – $89.99

When someone first gets into audio, they are often looking for an affordable, small speaker that doesn’t compromise on performance. The Micca MB42X fills that role admirably. If you’re looking to buy a pair of speakers for under $100, these are your best bet.  Speakers like these sound much better than any soundbar in the same price range. You really will be getting a big step up in performance versus what you get from a typical soundbar.

These speakers are significantly smaller than the Dayton B652 and Dayton B652 AIR, and also offer a flatter frequency response, but with less bass. All-in-all these speakers are really nice at their price point.

I found these speakers enjoyable to listen to when I tested them. They did a nice job with music and voices. They seem to have been designed to handle the typical movie soundtrack and dialog quite well. It shows a real synergy between the marketing and engineering teams in my opinion. A speaker that costs $90 can only do so much. By focusing on a specific problem: making the speaker sound as good as possible on a typical TV show or non-action film soundtrack, they deliver a speaker which is quite good for most of the population and use cases. This isn’t going to be the centerpiece of an exquisite music listening setup, no $90 pair of speakers would be, and the designers didn’t try to make it for that role, to their credit.

My main complaint while listening to them is they are begging to be paired with a subwoofer to give you something even better. This is hardly surprising. They’ve got 4.5″ drivers so physics dictates they won’t have good bass. That said, if you want to get the most out of these, buy a subwoofer. This one should do the trick.

Even when you upgrade your speakers later, these are the kind of speakers you will always find a place for in your house. You’ll use them in other rooms, for parties, your workshop, even with your computer. They are incredibly flexible, and unless you plan on using them for an outdoor event or in a large hall, they will satisfy your needs.

The biggest marketing point to these speakers is they have a well made crossover circuit inside. The Micca MB42 does not, and costs less than half the price. The circuit is a big deal. Dayton Audio’s B452, B652 and B652-Air have very minimal crossovers. A crossover is a circuit that splits the sound and sends part to the tweeter and part to the woofer. The MB42X properly splits the signal between the two which accounts for much of the cost of the speaker, as well as the reason behind its higher quality sound than the Dayton speakers.

To reiterate, these are fairly small speakers, less than 6 inches wide, so they should find a place wherever they are needed. You can put them on their side and underneath a TV, and that should work pretty well.

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