If you're looking at buying big, separate speakers, it makes sense to invest in floorstanders. They don't need stands and they pump out more bass and sound more powerful than bookshelf versions. We quite liked Dayton Audio's smaller B452-AIR and B652-AIR speakers, so we were hopeful the floorstanding version, reviewed here, was an even better value.
When you hear the word "floorstander" you might think "towering monster of bass," but the T652-AIR isn't that. It's really short, just over 2 feet tall. At just $140 for a pair (!) it costs less than many bookshelf speakers, and there's a surprising amount of insight to their sound. Try playing them loud, however, and they end up sounding forced.
The T652 is a good deal -- where else can you find speakers this big for so little? -- but we still prefer the more refined, and much cheaper, MK402 bookshelf speaker, which adds up to an even better value.
Appearances aren't everything
Like the standard T652, the upgraded Dayton Audio T652-AIR is the shortest "tower" speaker we've tested: it's just 30 inches high. So it's less visually imposing than most floorstanding speakers, or even a small bookshelf speaker on a tall stand. The T652-AIR's stealthy presence (and low price) notwithstanding, closer inspection reveals its fit and finish are entirely respectable.
The speaker comes with an Air Motion Transformer tweeter (which gives the speaker part of its name) plus twin 6.5-inch polypropylene woofers. There's a bass port near the bottom of the front baffle, so while you can get away with putting the speaker up against a wall, it will sound better when placed 6 or more inches away. For better isolation from the floor, the speaker comes with integrated, nonmarking rubber feet. The company recommends an amplifier between 90 and 150 watts for a nominal impedance of 6 ohms and says the speaker will reach down to 45Hz.
Though not unexpected at this price, the spring clip wire connectors are worth a gripe. We much prefer binding posts -- such as those included on the MK402 -- for their more secure grip on speaker wires.
In order to test the T652-AIR, we hooked a pair up to a Sony STR-DN1080 AV receiver and an Oppo UDP-205 Blu-ray player. At low to medium volume the T652-AIR's pleated ribbon tweeter's tone is rather sweet, with no edge or brightness to its sound.
Our initial concern revolved around the speaker's height. Since the T652-AIR is so short, a seated listener's ears are 18 or more inches higher than its tweeters. Would that affect the speaker's treble balance?
To test it we played our receiver's whooshing speaker setup tones and listened for any difference in the sound as we moved from sitting to standing. The good news is there was little to no tonal shift. When we slouched down really low the sound became more direct, and at times uncomfortably strident, but we doubt anybody would listen from that low. There's a reason the tweeters don't point directly at your ears!
For actual music we started with Max Richter's semiambient "From Sleep" album. The ethereal soundstage of piano, synthesizer, strings and soprano voice floated like a cloud and spread from wall to wall in the CNET listening room. The music's tonal balance was commendably rich and full, qualities we don't expect from inexpensive minitower speakers.
Each T652-AIR has two 6.5-inch woofers, so with David Byrne and St. Vincent's "Love This Giant" album, the speakers energized the smallish CNET listening room, up to a point. At medium-loud volume the T652-AIRs happily pounded out the beats, but pushed louder, the speakers didn't handle playback all that well. It sounded harsh. Easing back on the volume restored their composure. Less bassy music eased the load and the T652-AIRs played louder without distress.
Settling in with the T652-AIRs with less strenuous tunes, we very much liked what we heard. There was zero listening fatigue, and their easygoing nature was at its best with acoustic music.
We next set up the T652-AIRs with the small Dayton Audio MK402 bookshelf speakers configured in a 4.0 home theater system and played "Blade Runner 2049." The four Dayton speakers were good together, and produced a cohesive sound environment, but the Blu-ray's low bass effects and intense dynamic swings cried out for a subwoofer. We're guessing the Dayton Sub-1000 10-inch powered sub ($119) would be a good place to start. As for a center channel, Dayton's C452-AIR ($33) is a no-brainer.
Back in stereo with the White Stripes' "Under Blackpool Lights" concert DVD, we compared the T652-AIRs with Pioneer's SP-BS22-LR bookshelf speakers ($129 a pair). No surprise, the larger T652-AIRs' bass trumped the SP-BS22-LRs', but those smaller speakers handled power better than the towers, so they played louder with greater ease. The SP-BS22-LRs are also brighter, more detailed sounding speakers. Both speakers have limitations as far as power and dynamics are concerned, and both benefit from being paired with a sub for home theater applications.
Should you buy them?
As a pair of floorstanders, the Dayton Audios tick most of the boxes: they're crazy cheap and they offer better bass than the company's bookshelf. The only real downside is that you can't play them that loudly. Still, played within its comfort zone the T652-AIRs' relaxed sound draws you in. For $125 a pair they're a superb bargain.