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Speakers

This sweet little stereo system sounds better than it has any right to

The venerable Lepai LP-2020A+ amplifier paired with the new Dayton Audio B452 bookshelf speakers are a winning combination, says the Audiophiliac.

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The Lepai LP-2020A amplifier sitting atop the Dayton Audio B452 bookshelf speakers. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

As regular Audiophiliac readers know, I love writing about cost-no-object, high-end audio, but I also have a soft spot for dirt cheap, but decent sounding gear.

When I recently reviewed the new small bookshelf speaker from Dayton Audio, the B452 , I couldn't help but be knocked out by their sound. The 9.5 inch-tall critter has a 4.5-inch woofer and a 0.6-inch polycarbonate dome tweeter. Amazon is currently selling the B452 for $29.90 per pair, plus $8 for shipping.

The little speaker clicked with my Lepai LP-2020A+ stereo, 20-watt-per-channel amplifier. Since the amp weighs less than one pound, it's likely to slide around on your shelf whenever you touch it, but the cutouts in the metal flanges on the sides of the chassis can be used to secure the LP-2020A+ to a wood shelf. It's an effective, if low-tech solution to the amp's tendency to move around when you adjust the controls. When I last checked the LP-2020A+ was selling for $29.99 on Amazon, with free shipping for Prime customers.

Granted, the LP-2020A+ amp/B452 speaker combination isn't all that transparent or clear, it's short on detail, but come on, it's a cheap system. To put the sound in perspective, I'd much rather listen to a pair of B452s, or better yet the slightly larger Dayton B652 speakers ($40/pair) spread five or six feet apart and making more legitimate stereo sound than a $300 Bluetooth speaker . I had my iPod Classic hooked up to the LP-2020A+, but you could use your phone.

Listening to Cliff Martinez' bubbling synth-driven soundtrack album for "The Knick" TV series, the B462 and LP-2020+ sounded awfully good. The low bass tremors coming from the little speakers demonstrated they don't need a subwoofer to fill a small room -- the bass went down to the low 50-hertz range, and that's not bad!

Cranking AC/DC's new "Rock or Bust" album revealed the limitations of the B452s, so they sounded strained, but once I turned the volume down to a more moderate level the speakers regained their composure. At that point I swapped out the B452s for Dayton's bigger bookshelf speaker, the B652, and they handled hard rock with greater ease and sounded better overall. Encouraged, I went all the way and hooked up the mighty Dayton Audio T652 tower speakers ($118/pair), and they rocked a lot harder than the two smaller Dayton siblings. Size matters, so if you want to party do the right thing and get big speakers, and a bigger, more powerful amplifier, like the 100-watt-per-channel Lepai LP7498E ($99.90).

But if you can be satisfied with more moderate volume and prefer smaller rather than larger speakers, the Lepai LP-202A+/B452 combo is definitely worth considering.