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Dayton Audio MK402 review: Great stereo speakers for the price of sneakers

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Ever dream of owning a sports car? Who doesn't! But at the end of the day, any decent vehicle with four wheels and an engine will still "get you there." The same thing works for audio -- sure, we'd all love a $200,000-plus McIntosh system with monoblocks and story-tall speakers, but plenty of folks just want to hear Pandora or Spotify without doing the aural equivalent of squinting.

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Dayton Audio MK402

The Good

The Dayton Audio MK402s offer much more than the sticker price would have you believe: a revealing sound, tight bass and they don't look half-bad sitting on a shelf. The addition of proper binding posts helps make connecting to a stereo even easier. Nothing anywhere near this price offers a package so compelling.

The Bad

The fit and finish leave something to be desired. As expected from small speakers, they can't go very loud or provide much in the way of deep bass. And you'll need to supply the amp, of course.

The Bottom Line

At a street price of $69 for the pair, the Dayton Audio MK402s bookshelf speakers are supremely hard to beat

While your first choice might be a Bluetooth speaker or even a sound bar, the ultra-affordable Dayton Audio MK402 makes an excellent case for building a stereo system on a budget. These speakers may not look high-end, but more importantly, they don't sound low-end.

If you simply cannot afford to spend more than $100 on a pair of passive speakers, these Daytons should be high on your list of products to consider. The MK402s are yet another standout product from the company that brought you the Dayton Audio B652, Parts Express.

Design and features

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Parts Express has been building AV accessories and budget speakers since 1986. The $129 MSRP/$69 street price Dayton Audio MK402 is the company's newest speaker, and in relative terms it costs almost nothing, yet it offers features you won't see anywhere near the price.  

The speakers feature a 4-inch woofer mated with a 0.75-inch tweeter. The speaker has a relatively low 4 ohm impedance (most bookshelf speakers are 8 ohm), but we didn't have any issues driving them.

As you'd expect from a speaker with tiny drivers, the cabinets themselves are small: 9.5 inches high, 5.75 inches wide and 6.625 inches deep.  

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Budget speakers typically have cheap push-clip wire connectors that don't make tug-proof secure connections. But the MK402 has binding posts for banana or bare-wire connections. That's nice!

There's a bass port on the MK402's backside, so the speaker should be placed at least a few inches from the wall behind it for better low-end response.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

One thing we found disappointing, though not surprising at this price, was the general finish of the product. For instance, the vinyl wrap on both speakers had started to bubble on top, and while it's not really noticeable at a distance, it's just a little annoying. In addition, the speakers came with grills to protect the drivers but the pegs attaching them came out too easily. The speakers look and sound better without them, anyway.

Finally, for all of our listening tests we used a Sony STR-DN1080 AV receiver and an Oppo UDP-205 Blu-ray player.

Sound

Don't make assumptions about the Dayton Audio MK402's sound before you hear it. Yes, it's tiny, but in the smallish CNET listening room, even when perched on tall metal stands four feet away from the front wall, the MK402 sounded remarkably full range. Dayton claims just 60Hz bass for the MK402, which is respectably deep bass for a small speaker with a 4-inch woofer, but it's a very solid 60Hz bass. Not for a second did we feel a need to add a subwoofer when playing music. Sure, for a stereo home theater, adding a sub makes sense if you want to feel special effects, but for music or straight dramatic movies or TV the little speaker's bass output is more than adequate.

The MK402 sessions followed on the heels of our time with the Dayton Audio T652-AIR, a tower speaker with an Air Motion Transformer tweeter and dual 6.5-inch woofers. But even so, the MK402 wasn't overshadowed by its bigger brother. While the tower was more powerful, the MK402's tonal balance was smoother than the T652-AIR's. Warning: If you want to party, don't buy a little speaker with a 4-inch woofer!

Listening to the "She's Leaving Home" outtake from the newly remixed "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album, the MK402 did a fine job reproducing the strings accompanying the famous Beatles tune. Getting the sound of strings right isn't easy, especially for pint-size budget speakers, but the MK402's sweet tone was just right. Stereo imaging was respectably wide and floated free of the speakers locations in the room. We had to remind ourselves we were listening to a $69-per-pair speakers!

Thom Yorke's vocals on Radiohead's "A Moon Shaped Pool" album were especially natural, and when we turned up the heat with the Replacements album, "Don't Tell A Soul," the MK402s proved themselves credible rockers. They easily put the $400 Google Home Max speaker to shame; the Max sounded awfully mini next to the MK402s.

Should you buy them?

The MK402 is an ideal speaker for smaller rooms -- bedrooms, kitchen, dorm room, office and so on. The MK402 wins by not calling attention to its weaknesses. Pair it with the Dayton APA102 stereo integrated amplifier ($100 on Amazon) or the Yamaha R-S202 stereo receiver ($119 on Amazon)  and you're good to go. 

That said, if you can increase your budget to $129 for a pair of Pioneer SP-BS22LR bookshelf speakers (which are part of Pioneer's SP-PK52FS 5.1 system), we'd recommend them. They're bigger but they sound clearer, play louder with greater ease, and make more bass than the MK402.

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Dayton Audio MK402

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Sound 7Value 10