Dayton B652-AIR: Dirt-cheap speakers aren't supposed to sound like this

The Audiophiliac checks out Dayton's B652-AIR, and thinks cheap speakers never sounded this good!

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read

Dayton B652-AIR (left), B652 (right) Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Back in 2010 I reported that the Dayton B652 speakers set a new sound quality benchmark for budget speakers, under $50 per pair. The B652 quickly became my go-to choice for wannabe audiophiles or anyone seeking the best-sounding speakers for the lowest possible price.

So when I heard Dayton was about to release a new version of the speaker, the B652-AIR, I immediately requested a pair. In fit and finish it's similar to the original B652: the lightweight medium-density fiberboard cabinet is finished in matte black vinyl, and there's a removable black cloth grille. As cheap speakers go the B652-AIR is a looker. It's a sealed (non-ported) speaker, so it's a bit less sensitive to the ill effects of placement near walls or corners. Spring-clip speaker wire connectors are located on the rear panel.

This bookshelf speaker measures 11.8 inches high (299mm), and it has a 6.5-inch (165mm) polypropylene woofer -- that's a good deal larger than you'll find in most budget speakers. And instead of a dome tweeter, the B652-AIR boasts a high-tech air motion transformer tweeter. This flat, 1-inch (24.4mm) square tweeter promises clearer, lower-distortion sound than dome tweeters can manage. The speaker's impedance is rated at 6 ohms, so the B652-AIR is compatible with receivers that support 4- to 8-ohm speakers. The B652-AIR doesn't replace the B652, the two models will coexist in the Dayton lineup.

What does it sound like? Clear and clean, with no obvious raw edges or harshness, and certainly not like a cheap speaker. I used my inexpensive Emotiva Mini-X a-100 integrated amplifier (2 x 60 watts) for all of my listening tests. The B652-AIR's dynamic punch is remarkable, and the sound is nicely balanced, not overly bassy or bright. In my large room bass went down to around 65Hz, which is decent enough for a speaker of this size. If you crave deeper bass buy bigger speakers, or add one of Dayton Audio's budget subwoofers.

Next, I pulled out my original B652s, which I haven't played for a while, so I wasn't really sure what to expect from them. Switching back and forth between the two speakers nothing immediately jumped out about the B652-AIR's sound; it didn't stomp on the original B652. The new speaker isn't brighter or tonally different than the B652. Still, recordings with a lot of drums and percussion did sound clearer over the B652-AIR. Not by a huge amount, but the difference was there.

Rocking out with Nine Inch Nails' "Hesitation Marks" album, the sound of each instrument was more distinct. Is the B652-AIR worth paying a little extra for? I'd vote yes, but the original B652 isn't going away, it will remain in production.

My admiration for the B652-AIR is based on its sound quality given that it's a very inexpensive speaker. The Pioneer SP-BS22-LR bookshelf speaker is better in every way -- bass, dynamics, clarity, treble -- you name it, but it's roughly double the price of the B652-AIR. Both B652 models can play fairly loud, but sound best at softer, more moderate volumes; the SP-BS22 handles volume better. If you can afford the difference go for the SP-BS22-LR.

The B652-AIR's US price is $59.80 per pair; the B652-AIR will be available in the UK and Australia soon, but prices have yet to be finalized. The original B652 will remain in the line: the current US price is $39.80 per pair, which converts to about £25 or AU$45.