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Dayton Audio B652 review: Dayton Audio B652

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You probably haven't heard of Dayton Audio, but the company is a leading supplier of "raw" loudspeaker drivers and speaker-building accessories for hobbyists. Dayton also sells a line of stereo and home theater speakers, like the B652 bookshelf speakers reviewed here, which are popular with budget-minded audiophiles. The sound is crisp, and bass quality and quantity are truly exceptional for a beer-budget speaker. Construction quality isn't lavish, but there's nothing about the B652s' appearance that screams shoddy (it has a $51.99 per pair MSRP, online pricing is closer to $45). If this speaker retailed for two or three times as much it would still qualify as a budget champ, and the B652 would still be a remarkable value.

Dayton Audio B652
8.3

Dayton Audio B652

The Good

The <b>Dayton Audio B652</b> bookshelf speakers sound great and are available for under $50.

The Bad

The Daytons aren't the most attractive speakers you'll see. The spring-clip connectors don't securely grip the speaker wire, so an inadvertent tug might yank it out.

The Bottom Line

The Dayton Audio B652 speakers are the best-sounding stereo speakers you can buy for under $50.

Design and features

To be clear, the Dayton B652s are passive speakers (not self-powered models). That means you'll need to provide an amplifier, such as an AV receiver, to get sound. But bargain hunters can rest easy: pair them with the $25 Lepai LP-2020A+ stereo integrated amplifier, and you've got yourself a quality mini stereo system for less than $75. And, unlike a similarly priced iPod speaker dock or Bluetooth speaker, using separate speakers means you can deliver true stereo separation, with speakers at each side of the room.

This medium-size bookshelf speaker can be placed on a speaker stand, within a cabinet, or even in an actual bookcase. The second and third options are possible because the B652 doesn't have a rear (or front) bass port, so the speaker can be placed up against a wall, but as with most speakers, it will sound best placed a foot or two away from a wall. The matte-black vinyl cabinet's front baffle is covered by a removable black cloth grille, which is neatly mounted on a fiberboard frame. The B652 measures a trim 11.75 inches tall by 7.2 inches wide by 6.5 inches deep; the pair of speakers weighs 14 pounds in their shipping box.

The grilles are removable. Sarah Tew/CNET

For an inexpensive speaker, the B652 boasts an unusually large 6.5-inch polypropylene cone woofer. That's augmented by a ferrofluid-cooled 5/8-inch polycarbonate dome tweeter. The speaker's impedance is rated at 8 ohms. There's a metal keyhole slot to facilitate easy wall-mounting, and you get a set of plastic spring-clip wire connectors. Unfortunately, the connectors don't provide a secure grip on the wires, so an inadvertent tug might yank the wire out of place.

Our only qualm about the design of the Dayton B652s is an aesthetic one. It's not that they're ugly, it's just that the competing bargain speakers, the $69 Sony SS-B1000 speakers, are more attractive. Yes, they're also black boxes, but the SS-B1000s just looked a bit better.

Performance

In our tests, the B652s' sound was balanced and clear. For speakers of their size, bass is full and definition is decent; there's no overt thickening or bloat. I doubt most buyers will feel the need to add a subwoofer to their Dayton music systems.

As mentioned above, the $25 Lepai LP-2020A+ stereo integrated amplifier seemed like a logical partner for this B652 review. It's a 20-watt-per-channel amplifier, so I was curious to see how loud the speaker could play in the large CNET listening room with the little amp. Sound quality was very listenable, and stereo imaging was realistic on Neil Young's excellent-sounding "Live at Massey Hall 1971" CD. The clarity of Young's vocals and guitar was up to snuff. Encouraged by what I heard, I turned up something more demanding, The Dirtbombs' raucous "Party Store" CD, and the B652s' sound held up nicely. This recording has a lot of bass, and the B652s' deft control of the bass was impressive.

The B652s seen from the rear and the side. Sarah Tew/CNET

To put the sound in context, I compared the B652 with another pair of budget bookshelf speakers, the aforementioned Sony SS-B1000s. These $69-per-pair speakers are a bit smaller than the B652s, but they had more prominent though less well-defined bass. Dynamic impact was scaled back and the treble was muffled and less clear than the B652s'. The Sonys sound acceptable for budget speakers, but the B652s are definitely a step up on the performance scale -- and the Daytons are about $20 cheaper.

Continuing the evaluation, I connected the B652s to an Onkyo TX-NR616 receiver, and the speakers sounded more refined and clearer than they did with the LP2020A+. Even so, highly demanding action movies like "House of Flying Daggers" revealed the limitations of the B652 as a home theater speaker (when used without a subwoofer). The martial-arts fight scenes, like the one in the bamboo forest, made heavy demands, so the B652s compressed the soundtrack's wide dynamic swings, and when the volume was turned up high the sound was slightly distorted. Less action-oriented fare, like the TV series "Lost," sounded perfectly fine. Adding a subwoofer to the system would significantly ease the demands on the B652s, and they would then be up to the task of playing "House of Flying Daggers" or any other movie at fairly loud levels.

To that end, if you'd prefer a 5.1-channel home theater, add Dayton's CCS-33B three-way center-channel speaker that runs $64.99 ($49.77 on Amazon) and the $99 Dayton SUB-80 8-inch, 80-watt powered subwoofer. So a complete Dayton home theater speaker system goes for around $240, and while that's still affordable, less expensive options are available (consider the Monoprice 8247 that sells for $84!).

Speakers from Aperion Audio, Boston Acoustics, and Definitive Technology sound significantly clearer, but they're all a lot more expensive than the B652s. For example, Aperion's Intimus 5B bookshelf speaker (with a 5-inch woofer) sells factory-direct for $185 each.

Conclusion

Dayton Audio's B652 bookshelf speakers are a remarkable value. I would be just as impressed with these speakers if they sold for $150 a pair; at $44.50 from Amazon (plus shipping) the B652s are an incredible bargain, and easy to recommend to anyone who wants solid stereo sound. You won't find a better-sounding speaker pair in the sub-$50 range.

Dayton Audio B652
8.3

Dayton Audio B652

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 8Value 10