One of my audiophile pals, Dave King, e-mailed me the other day about his latest find, the Dayton B652 ($25 per pair). It didn't arrive in time for my Top 10 audio bargains blog the other day, or it would have surely been included.
I've known Dave for 20 years, and we've listened to a lot of hi-fis together, so I know he's got great ears. And he knows how to get my attention: "I'm certain I recently discovered the absolute diminishing returns point in hi-fi loudspeakers. They remind me a lot of Wharfedale Diamond speakers of yore, but the B652 has a 6.5-inch midwoofer instead of the Diamonds' 4.5-inch." The original Diamonds were a really big deal in the 1980s; they were easily the best budget speaker of the era, but even then they were more like $60 or $70 a pair. They were probably made in England, the Dayton B652 is built in China.
It's a mid-size, black vinyl-covered monitor speaker, 11.7 inches high, 7.1 inches wide, and 6.5 inches deep. The front baffle hosts a 6.5-inch polypropylene woofer and a 0.6-inch polycarbonate ferrofluid-cooled tweeter. Dave liked the fit and finish well enough, but he wasn't too happy with the Dayton B652's spring-clip wire connectors. I agree, clip connectors never have much grip on the wires, so they can fall out when you move the speakers. I've seen those things on $100 speakers, but on a $25 speaker you can't really complain about spring clips.
One of the Dayton B652's more interesting design features is its acoustic suspension (nonported woofer. I like that because acoustic suspension woofers tend to sound better than ported ones, and Dave was impressed by the Dayton B652's bass definition. The downside to acoustic suspension designs is the bass doesn't go as deep as ported woofers do. The Dayton B652's bass is reasonably flat to 70 hertz, and Dave likes to use subwoofers with most speakers anyway. When I pressed him on the matter he said he thought most folks would be well-satisfied with the Dayton B652's bass on its own.
How good is the Dayton B652? When Dave compared it to his PSB Image B25 speaker, the B652 was more musical. He put it this way: "Even though the B25s have better power handling, dynamic range, and bass extension, I still prefer listening to the Dayton B652. It has better tonal balance, detail, and reasonable transparency. The tweeter is quite good for a cheap speaker, and I think that may be the main thing here. Another part of it is the cabinet goes the route of lower mass, less storage of energy." See, I told you Dave's an audiophile, we use language like that to describe speaker designs.
Translation: Lightweight cabinets tend to make for a "lively," exciting sound, but when they go too far in that direction, the sound can turn harsh. This one mostly avoids that pitfall.
Dave's having a ball with the Dayton B652, and that must be a good sign. He's owned his fair share of very high-end speakers, and if he can enjoy a $25 speaker, that's good enough for me.