The Monoprice MBS-650 are the best-sounding ultrabudget bookshelf speakers and the $32-per-pair pricing makes it easier to put up with the generic styling.
Monoprice is best known for selling affordable, high-quality cables, but the company also has a history of selling surprisingly good home audio speakers that are more-than-inspired by other models on the market.
The Monoprice MBS-650 falls right into that tradition, with a design that's similar to Dayton Audio's cult favorite B652 speakers and sound quality that trumps its ultrabudget speaker rivals. The price can't be beat, either. They're just $32 for the pair, plus shipping, or you can get them straight from Amazon for $50. The only major faults come on the design side, as they're not particularly stylish and the speaker connectors on the back don't grip wires as tightly as they should. And sure, these speakers don't measure up to more expensive bookshelf speakers like Pioneer's SP-BS22-LR ($130), but we didn't expect them to at a fraction of the cost.
The main takeaway is the Monoprice MBS-650's remarkable performance boosts it to the top of the less-than-$60 bookshelf speaker class. If you're looking for cheap speakers where style doesn't count, go for the Monoprice MBS-650.
While some speakers strive to be beautiful, the Monoprice MBS-650 makes almost no effort in the looks department. It's about as generic as black box speakers get, with a matte vinyl finish and a removable cloth grille. It's somewhat sizeable as a bookshelf speaker, coming in a 11.9 inches high, 8.1 inches wide, and 6.4 inches deep, and each speaker weighs 7.2 pounds. That might not seem like much, but it towers over the similarly-priced Micca MB42 .
Around back, you'll find there are more compromises than just looks. Specifically, the weak spring clip wire connectors, which don't grip bare wire-ends very strongly. It means they're more susceptible to the speaker wire slipping out, especially if you find yourself moving the speakers regularly. The rear panel has a small keyhole wall mount and a bass port.
Behind the speaker grille, you'll find a 6.5-inch polypropylene woofer and a 0.5-inch dome tweeter. Power handling is specified at 80 watts, but you can safely use the MBS-650 with 100+ watt per channel receivers.
We auditioned the MBS-650s placed on metal floor stands, with the speakers well out into the room, four feet from the wall behind them. The speaker's rear bass port means they'll sound best with at least 6 inches of clearance from the rear wall. We used two different integrated stereo amplifiers, a Dayton Audio DTA-120, and Peachtree Decco65 for all of our listening tests.
We instantly recognized the MBS-650 as a more than competent performer, far beyond what you might expect from a speaker as inexpensive as this. There's nothing about the sound that betrays its entry-level status, there are no glaring faults or irritations.
It helps that the MBS-650 has an large 6.5-inch woofer for a speaker in its price class, which is the exact same size as the woofer in Dayton Audio's comparably priced B652 speaker. It's clear that the MBS-650 was "inspired" by the B652 -- the two speakers are almost the exact same size and look.
Comparing them head-to-head, the sound seemed very similar at first, but as we listened to a wide variety of music, differences emerged. The MBS-650's sound has more midrange body and warmth, and the treble is more refined and clear. It's not a day-and-night difference, but the more we listened the more we appreciated the MBS-650's superiority.
Beck's vocals and string orchestration on his new "Morning Phase" album sounded more natural on the MBS-650, while the B652 coarsened the sound. With acoustic jazz CDs the performance gap between the two speakers was even more apparent. Instruments sounded more like themselves on the MBS-650. As for rock music we'd still give the nod to the MBS-650, but the differences were harder to detect.
We also compared the smaller Micca MB42 speakers and the MBS-650 had a clear edge. Surprisingly, given their size, the two speakers produced a similar amount of bass, but the MB42 midrange sounded thinner and more recessed than the MBS-650. With the volume pushed up for rock music, the MB42 sounded harsher than the MBS-650. After backing the volume down to a more moderate level, the MBS-650's midrange sounded more present and natural, while the MB42 thinned out the sound of vocals to a very noticeable degree. The MBS-650 is easily the better sounding speaker, although the MB42 looks a lot nicer.
To finish up, we compared the MBS-650 with Pioneer's SP-BS22-LR bookshelf speakers ($130/pair), and this time the differences were even more significant. The SP-BS22-LRs dynamics kick harder and overall clarity surpasses the MBS-650. If you can afford the Pioneer SP-BS22-LRs they're well worth the difference in price over the MBS-650.
The Monoprice MBS-650 offer a whole lot of value at this selling price, especially when it outperforms its slightly more expensive ultrabudget rivals. We wish the speaker connectors were better and the styling had a little more charm, but you can't expect perfection from a $32 speaker.