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Speakers

Dayton's skinny tower speaker delivers heavyweight sound, for $228 per pair

The Dayton Audio MK442T isn't very big, but it manages to rustle up a surprisingly rich sound.

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The Dayton Audio MK442T tower

Dayton Audio

Looking at the Dayton Audio MK442T, you might not expect much; it's just a skinny 38-inch-tall tower speaker, yawn. OK, peel away the grilles and take a gander at its two beefy 4-inch drivers and 0.75-inch silk dome tweeter: They look a cut above what you might expect to see on a budget tower. Impedance is rated at 4 ohms.

What you can't see is that the MK442T is a "transmission line" design that increases the speaker's bass output capabilities over more common sealed or ported speakers. The insides of this type of speaker cabinet are more complex than the typical tower, and I've never before seen or reviewed a transmission line design that sells for just $228 per pair.

Intrigued, first I played Wilco's A.M. album and the MK442Ts sounded OK, but nothing special. Nevertheless I persisted, and fiddling around with placement yielded substantial improvements in imaging and tonal balance. Wilco's alt-country tunes started to wake up and rock.

I used a Sonos Amp for all of my listening tests and coaxed a much sweeter and fuller balance by bringing the MK442Ts out into the room, and pushing them closer together to around 5 feet apart. Of course rooms' acoustics all vary, so experimentation should be in order with any new speaker.

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The MK442T (left) and Elac B6.2 (right)

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

As I continued to listen, the MK442Ts stature grew. It not only makes a fair amount of bass -- definition was quite good with Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures album. The music's heavy reverberation and massive rhythms made me sit up and take notice; these speakers can rock with surefooted authority. The $300-per-pair ELAC Debut B6.2 bookshelf speakers sounded a lot smaller. The B6.2 countered with clearer treble than the MK442Ts.

With Jeff Tweedy's new solo album, Warm, vocals were more full-bodied and natural over the MK442T, and the B6.2s pushed the vocals back in the soundstage, so they sounded recessed. The MK442T's softer treble rendered harsh or aggressively compressed music more listenable.

At this point it's worth mentioning that since the MK442Ts are floor-standing speakers there's no need to buy stands of the sort most bookshelf speakers require for best sound quality.

Transmission line designs like the MK442T are known for their articulate bass, and indeed the attack and power of the big bass drums on the Isle of Dogs soundtrack were well served by these speakers. Considering their petite footprints, bass impact is excellent. Of course, much bigger speakers with 6-inch or larger woofers will outshine the MK442T's low-end performance. Size still matters.

The Dayton Audio MK442T is a cannily designed budget tower speaker, ideal for up-and-coming audiophiles. That said, it's pretty forgiving of less than stellar recordings. It will click for music and two-channel home theater systems.