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Speakers

This pint-size $168 audio system packs a wallop

Dayton Audio’s surprisingly affordable system dishes out very decent sound quality.

Dayton Audio's $30 per pair B652 speaker has long been one of my favorite budget speakers, so now I'm pleased to report Dayton's new DTA-2.1BT integrated amplifier is also a honey. Firstly because it sounds nice, secondly because its all-metal chassis is so darned small -- just 1.4 by 5.25 by 5.2 inches -- and best of all the DTA-2.1BT sells for just $99. Paired with Dayton's also-new $69 per pair MK402 speakers, the sound is a pure delight.

The Dayton Audio DTA-2.1BT amplifier.

Dayton Audio

You might assume as I did the DTA-2.1BT is a two-channel stereo amp, but it's actually a three-channel component. The third ".1" channel is a subwoofer output designed for use with "passive," not powered subwoofers. That's fine, but passive subs are pretty rare, and since I didn't have one at the CNET office, I couldn't test the DTA-2.1BT with a sub.

If you want, you could connect this amplifier's dedicated output to a powered subwoofer's speaker level input, but you can also just connect the sub in parallel from an amp's Left and Right outputs as described here. As useless features go, the DTA-2.1BT's subwoofer output is right up there.

Otherwise this $99 Class D amp is well appointed, it's rated at 50 watts a channel for 4 ohm rated speakers; 25 watts per channel for 8 ohm speakers; 100 watts for 4 ohm subs and 50 watts for 8 ohm subs. There's a single knob tone control for bass and treble adjustments, and two sets of stereo analog inputs, RCA and 3.5mm inputs, but no digital inputs. You also get binding post speaker wire connectors for all three amp channels. Bluetooth compatibility is listed as A2DP with AVRCP.

The nicely finished all metal chassis has a quality feel, there's a large outboard power supply and the DTA-2.1BT comes with a five year warranty. One thing's missing, a remote control.

The Dayton Audio MK402 speakers.

Dayton Audio

Meanwhile, the Dayton MK402 speaker sports a 4-inch paper cone woofer and a .75 inch dome tweeter; impedance is rated at 4 ohms. Its measurements of 9.5 by 5.75 by 6.6 inches mean it's a very small speaker (a full CNET review of the speaker is in the works).

The Dayton combo sounded powerful, clear and nicely balanced. The little speakers can't make deep bass, but I never felt the MK402's low end was lacking. The system played fairly loud without strain, imaging was spacious, all in all it's a sweet sounding system with used with a wired connection to an Oppo BDP-203 Blu-ray player. As for Bluetooth from my iPhone 6S, clarity took a hit but the sound was still fine.

To see what the DTA-2.1BT amp could do with a bigger speaker, I popped on a set of Elac Debut B6 speakers ($280 a pair). The Elacs outshined the MK402's sound in every way, but then again the Debut B6 is four times as expensive as the MK402. I did confirm the DTA-2.1BT was up to the job of driving the Debut B6, and its sound quality is shockingly good for the money.

The Dayton Audio DTA-2.1BT amplifier rear panel.

Dayton Audio

Methinks the Dayton DTA-2.1BT and MK402 speakers, for $168 would be a terrific starter system for kids, or maybe a bedroom or kitchen system that'll blow away any dopey $300 Bluetooth speaker. Nowadays it's easy to get really decent wired sound for not a lot of money, and the Dayton DTA-2.1BT and MK402 are proof positive of that.

Then again, if you can swap out the MK402s for the $129 pair of Pioneer SP-BS22LR bookshelf speakers, I'd recommend going for them. They are bigger while sounding clearer, play louder with greater ease and make more bass than the MK402.

In the end I came away with great respect for the DTA-2.1BT, it really is a sweetheart.