I'll cut right to the chase: the Dayton Audio MK402BT two-speaker system fills a room better than any single speaker could: whether thats a $349 or a $399 smart speaker. The big advantage of bona fide stereo separation is hard to beat for the money; the MK402BT sells for just $98 a pair.
When I had them spread five feet apart, the MK402BTs' stereo was wonderfully spacious, with a fair degree of soundstage depth. While I didn't have a HomePod or Home Max on hand for direct comparisons, I know those bad boys deliver more potent bass. Still, the MK402BT's bass is definitely adequate.
The MK402BT speakers are the active version of one of our new favorite budget designs: the. As well as offering a wired connection, they also include Bluetooth connectivity.
Like the original, this is a two-way speaker with a 4-inch treated paper woofer and a 0.75-inch soft dome tweeter. The internal power amplifier is rated at 20 watts per channel. The cabinet is finished in a black vinyl wrapped and a set of removable black cloth grilles. Each MK402BT measures 9.5 by 5.75 by 6.6 inches.
The top panel of the right MK402BT speaker has volume up/down buttons, a Mode button that switches between wired and Bluetooth operation, and a play/pause button for Bluetooth playback. You can also control volume from your phone. The right speaker's rear panel hosts a 3.5mm stereo analog input jack, and the speaker output connectors you'll use to hook up to the left speaker with the included 6.5 foot long cable. Please note, the speakers rear panels have bass ports so don't jam them right up against the wall, a couple of inches of clearance will do. If you're cramped for space feel free to put the two MK402BT speakers right alongside each other.
I'm not claiming the MK402BT will satisfy fussy audiophiles -- the sound has an edge that grates when the speakers are played at moderate or loud volume. That said, the MK402BT's sound quality improves when you turn off Bluetooth and go for a wired connection with my iPhone 6S. Yes, wired connections have a tendency to sound better than Bluetooth, and this was the case with the MK402BT.
With a wired connection, the MK402BT sound is on par with what I recall from my recent listening sessions with the passive (non-amplified) Dayton Audio MK402 speakers that sell for $69 a pair. If you don't care about Bluetooth and have an amplifier or receiver, the MK402 is a sweet little speaker for the money.
I set up the MK402BTs in my wife's studio, with the speakers in the corners of the 10-foot-wide room, so stereo separation was impressive. Listening to the "Isle of Dogs" film soundtrack with its pounding drums and percussion, the little MK402BTs belted out decent impact. With Yo La Tengo's new album "There's a Riot Going On," the sound mix emphasizes space and atmosphere; the MK402BTs let me hear all of that in ways that a single HomePod or Home Max cannot.
I mostly listened to the MK402BT via Bluetooth because that's how I imagine most people will use these speakers, and my main complaint was the treble isn't all that clear. Opting for the wired connection helps smooth out the treble a bit.
One minor annoyance: when you turn on the MK402BT speakers, they play an annoying sound effect, and as far as I can tell there's no way to stop it from doing that.
Still, for $98 Bluetooth speakers, the Dayton Audio MK402BT sounds like a really good deal to me.