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6 Best Bookshelf Speakers for Under $100/Pair

By James Larson
6 Best Budget Bookshelf Speakers Under $100/Pair

6 Best Budget Bookshelf Speakers Under $100/Pair

Summary

  • Product Name: MK402, MK442, MP-65RT, T15, B452-AIR, C452-AIR
  • Manufacturer: Dayton Audio, Monoprice, Polk
  • Review Date: July 23, 2018 00:00
  • MSRP: $69/pr - Dayton Audio MK402, $50/ea - Dayton Audio MK442, $50/pr - MonoPrice MP-65RT, $100/pr - Polk Audio T15, $45/pr - Dayton Audio B452-AIR, $35 ea - Dayton Audio C452-AIR
  • First Impression: Gotta Have It!

Dayton Audio MK402

  • Frequency Response:    60 Hz to 20,000 Hz
  • Dimensions (HxDxW):    9-1/2" x 6-5/8" x 5-3/4"
  • Weight:    5 lbs.
  • Impedance:    4 ohms
  • Sensitivity:    84 dB 1W/1m
  • Power Handling:    40W RMS/80W max
  • Woofer:    4” Treated Paper
  • Tweeter:    3/4" soft dome

Dayton Audio MK442

  • Frequency Response:    60-20,000 Hz
  • Dimensions (HxDxW):    5.75" x 6.6" x 15"
  • Weight:    8.7 lbs.
  • Impedance:    4 ohms
  • Sensitivity:    86 dB 1W/1m
  • Power Handling:   80W RMS/160W max
  • Woofer:    4” (x2) Treated paper
  • Tweeter:   3/4" soft dome

Monoprice MP-65RT

  • Frequency Response:    60 Hz to 20,000 Hz
  • Dimensions (HxDxW):    11.8”x6.7”x7.6”
  • Weight:    5.5 lbs.
  • Impedance:    6 ohms
  • Sensitivity:    87 dB @ 1w/1m
  • Power Handling:    30W RMS/60W max
  • Woofer:    6.5” Polypropylene
  • Tweeter:    4" x 0.76" ribbon Ribbon tweeter

Polk Audio T15

  • Frequency Response:    (+/-3dB) 65 Hz → 20 kHz
  • Dimensions (HxDxW):    10.6”x 7.25”x 6.5”
  • Weight:    8.25 lbs
  • Impedance:    8 ohms
  • Sensitivity:    89 dB (1w/1m)
  • Power Handling:    20 watts → 100 watts
  • Woofer:    5.25” polymer composite
  • Tweeter:   0.75" silk/polymer composite dome

Dayton Audio B452-AIR

  • Frequency Response:    85 Hz to 20,000 Hz
  • Dimensions (HxDxW):    9.5" x 5.7" x 5.5"
  • Weight:    4 lbs.
  • Impedance:    8 ohms
  • Sensitivity:    84 dB 1W/1m
  • Power Handling:   30 watts RMS/60 watts max
  • Woofer:    4.5” polypropylene
  • Tweeter:    1" AMT

Dayton Audio C452-AIR

  • Frequency Response:    85 Hz to 20,000 Hz
  • Dimensions (HxDxW):    5.5" x 5.7" x 15.75"
  • Weight:    7 lbs.
  • Impedance:    6 ohms
  • Sensitivity:    86 dB 1W/1m
  • Power Handling:    60 watts RMS / 120 watts max
  • Woofer:    4.5” (x2) polypropylene
  • Tweeter:   1" AMT

Executive Overview

Here at Audioholics, we recently completed a string of reviews of loudspeakers in an unusually low price-range:$45 to $100 a pair. This was done with two thoughts in mind; first, that there may be some folks who want a good sounding system but who might be on a very tight budget, and second, that there may be some low-budget gems out there that can really compete with more expensive speakers in some fashion. So we surveyed the market and choose a handful of speakers that we felt had potential to exceed their modest price points. The speakers that we settled on were the Dayton Audio MK402 and MK442, Monoprice MP-65RT, Polk Audio T15, Dayton Audio B452-AIR and C452-AIR. The designs of each of these suggested some merit or usefulness that could make them a great low-budget alternative in low-cost sound systems.

For those who are shopping for speakers in this price point and trying to decide which one is right for them, let’s take a quick glance at the advantages that each  brings to the table in the order that we reviewed them.

Dayton Audio MK402 and MK442

MSRP: $69/pair (MK402), $50/ea MK442 | Buy Now

The Dayton Audio MK402 and MK442 are Dayton Audio’s attempt to make something low-cost yet much higher fidelity than their classic, super-cheap B562 bookshelf speakers. The MK speakers have a far superior build quality than the B562 series: decent drivers, a real crossover, a solid cabinet, and actual binding posts instead of spring-clips. Where the B562 were Dayton Audio’s attempt to make a functional bookshelf speaker for as inexpensively as possible, the MK speakers seem to be Dayton Audio’s attempt to make a really good bookshelf speaker for as inexpensively as possible. In this, they have succeeded, especially with the MK442 speakers. While I liked the MK402 speakers, their sound quality potential is largely fulfilled after some equalization or tone control adjustment. The MK442s, on the other hand, sounded terrific right out of the box. As we stated in the MK402/MK442 review, where Dayton Audio is mostly intending for the MK442s to be used as a center speaker, they really shine as a left and right pair when turned on their sides (vertical orientation).

MK402 pair.jpg   MK442 duo.jpg

Dayton Audio MK402 (left pic) ; MK442 (right pic)

Due to its small size and surprisingly deep bass extension, the MK402 is a good choice for a desktop PC speaker, or a small hi-fi speaker system for a small room or office, especially if no subwoofer will be used since it can legitimately dig down to 60 Hz. I have to admit to liking the MK442 quite a bit more. If the extra height is permitted, I recommend a pair of MK442s situated in an upright orientation. It has greater dynamic range, a more natural sound out of the box, higher power-handling, and carries the acoustic advantages of an MTM design. A pair of upright MK442s would make for a very nice two-channel system. so for those who want a straightforward stereo speaker pair on a tight budget, this is where I would be looking.

MP Ribbon.jpg

Monoprice MP-65RT

Monoprice MP-65RT

MSRP: $45/pair | Buy Now

For those who want a two-channel system on a very tight budget, I would be looking at the Monoprice MP-65RT, at $50/pair. While their big selling point is the planar tweeter, the real star of the show is the woofer for having such well-controlled high-frequency behavior in the absence of any low-pass filter. This is exactly what one would hope to see in an ultra-low cost speaker where the lack of a true crossover circuit is a given. The treble runs a bit hot, but it happens at such a high frequency that it is not very bothersome. The MP-65RT produced an amazingly vivid soundstage considering its price. The MP-65RT speakers would be a great entry point into good sound for those who want a starter system for two-channel music. They would also be a great choice for those who want much better sound from their TV sets without spending a lot of money. They are clear and detailed, and they surprised me by how good such a modest design and construction could sound.

T15 pair.jpg

Polk Audio T15

Polk Audio T15

MSRP: $100/pair ($70/pair on sale) | Buy Now

The Polk Audio T15 was a peculiar speaker to review at first, but when you come to understand its likely usage, its design makes sense. The T15 is made to be mounted at elevated or lowered placements with respect to the listener, so it was designed to cope with non-ideal placement. This makes it great for a surround speaker on a budget since surround speakers tend to be mounted at higher elevations than front stage speakers. Many bookshelf speakers do not work as well as surround speakers unless they are angled to be aimed at the listener, but the T15 was made to be positioned at a level angle, making it a lot easier to wall-mount for optimal positioning. Furthermore, the T15 has an unusually wide dynamic range for such an inexpensive bookshelf speaker, and, in our round-up, is easily the go-to speaker for those who like their music loud. If you are putting together a surround sound system in a large room on a small budget, these speakers are easily my first choice, especially in the capacity of surround channel speakers. They may be small and cheap, but they still pack a punch!

B452 w C452.jpg

Dayton Audio B52-Air (left pic) and C52-Air (right pic)

Dayton Audio B452-Air and C452-Air

MSRP: $45/pair (B452-Air), $34.88/ea (C452-Air) | Buy Now

If your budget is tight, and your available space to place a speaker is tighter, consider the Dayton Audio B452-AIR and C452-AIR speakers. These are relatively small and inexpensive bookshelf and center speakers that still manage to project a natural and easy sound. For a measly $80, you can have a reasonably good sounding front-stage speaker setup of a left, right, and center speakers, and these are very likely the least expensive speakers in the world that utilizes AMT tweeters. They would also be a good choice for an affordable desktop sound system. They are a bit bass-shy, so a subwoofer is needed to fill in the low-end, but the high-end is crisp, detailed, and extraordinarily clear. These are a great alternative to HTiB (Home-Theater-in-a-Box) speakers for a similar cost and likely better sound. With keyhole hangers on the rear, they are very easy to wall-mount, and their low-end response would benefit from the boundary loading of that kind of placement as well. What’s more, the B452-AIR speakers have an extremely benign electrical load that could work well with any amplifier.

Conclusion

One thing this series of reviews has taught us is that when the budget gets low, the priorities of the engineers for what a loudspeaker should do becomes more stark since the design trade-offs become more severe. How much should be invested in the crossover circuit? How much should be invested in the drivers? Or the cabinet? Designers have to carefully weigh the benefits of investing in any one of these areas since they are operating on such a slim components budget. However, because the engineering trade-offs become so sharp, designers have to focus on just getting a few key area right, and this gives each speaker its own strength, so the individual advantages and disadvantages that each of these speakers have is more clear. That isn’t quite the case at higher price points where the differences between the same class of speakers is not as distinct.

The bottom line here is that just because you don’t have a lot of money to invest in a sound system doesn’t mean you can’t have good sound. Buyers just have to decide on what aspect of sound quality and setup is most important to them, although that is true of speaker systems of any price range. While none of these speakers are flawless, they all accomplish what they set out to do through resourceful engineering. With some care and a little bit of homework, a very nice audio setup can be had for an extremely modest sum- friends and acquaintances with far more expensive systems may even become jealous when they hear it!

Speaker Dayton Audio MK402 Dayton Audio MK442 MonoPrice MP-65RT Polk Audio T15 Dayton Audio B452-AIR Dayton Audio C452-AIR
Price $69/pair $50 each $50/pair $100/pair $45/pair $35 each
Frequency Response 60 Hz to 20,000 Hz 60-20,000 Hz 60 Hz to 20,000 Hz (+/-3dB) 65 Hz → 20 kHz 85 Hz to 20,000 Hz 85 Hz to 20,000 Hz
Dimensions (HxDxW) 9-1/2" x 6-5/8" x 5-3/4" 5.75" x 6.6" x 15" 11.8”x6.7”x7.6” 10.6”x 7.25”x 6.5” 9.5" x 5.7" x 5.5" 5.5" x 5.7" x 15.75"
Weight 5 lbs. 8.7 lbs. 5.5 lbs. 8.25 lbs 4 lbs. 7 lbs.
Impedance 4 ohms 4 ohms 6 ohms 8 ohms 8 ohms 6 ohms
Sensitivity 84 dB 1W/1m 86 dB 1W/1m 87 dB @ 1w/1m 89 dB (1w/1m) 84 dB 1W/1m 86 dB 1W/1m
Power Handling 40W RMS/80W max 80W RMS/160W max 30W RMS/60W max 20 watts → 100 watts 30 watts RMS/60 watts max 60 watts RMS / 120 watts max
Woofer 4” Treated Paper 4” (x2) Treated paper 6.5” Polypropylene 5.25” polymer composite 4.5” polypropylene 4.5” (x2) polypropylene
Tweeter 3/4" soft dome 3/4" soft dome 4" x 0.76" ribbon Ribbon tweeter 0.75" silk/polymer composite dome 1" AMT 1" AMT

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Recent Forum Posts:

zieglj01 posts on August 17, 2018 16:17
theJman, post: 1263864, member: 57583
Inexpensive speaker are certainly not all just some scam marketing ploy to dupe the “chumps” out of their money. That type of generalization comes across as pretty narrow minded and dismissive. The category of products has some surprisingly good offerings and of late it seems a lot of them are intended to give people options without sacrificing sound quality to the degree price might suggest. Not costing a mortgage payment doesn't instantly make them disposable, but it does make them affordable to those who don't have a lot of money to spend on audio.

Your purchase decision around what will have replacement part 2 decades from now is certainly in the minority, a likely reason why you have a hard time finding products with that design in mind. A quality speaker may last 20 years with proper care but the vast majority of people will have moved on well before they get that far in a products lifecycle.
And I even like the JungleRoc speakers – and they have a real crossover in them which includes impedance compensation, and are made from mdf and not chip-cardboard like wood, and are mirror image designed. Things have change from some of them designs from the old days.
https://www.ebay.com/itm/5-2-Way-Bookshelf-Speaker-Pair-200W-JungleRoc-Audio-Vidsonix-Compare-199-NEW/350402685120?epid=1941788015&hash=item5195a0a8c0:g:6iwAAOSwrLZbZhSd
theJman posts on August 17, 2018 14:22
Inexpensive speaker are certainly not all just some scam marketing ploy to dupe the “chumps” out of their money. That type of generalization comes across as pretty narrow minded and dismissive. The category of products has some surprisingly good offerings and of late it seems a lot of them are intended to give people options without sacrificing sound quality to the degree price might suggest. Not costing a mortgage payment doesn't instantly make them disposable, but it does make them affordable to those who don't have a lot of money to spend on audio.

Your purchase decision around what will have replacement part 2 decades from now is certainly in the minority, a likely reason why you have a hard time finding products with that design in mind. A quality speaker may last 20 years with proper care but the vast majority of people will have moved on well before they get that far in a products lifecycle.
MrBoat posts on August 04, 2018 12:51
The most troubling part of these so-called surprise values is, the underlying truth of, all of these things being. . . disposable.

I try hard to buy things that are at least serviceable for life, or have a service life of 20 years with care. When I bought the LSR305's, it irked me to think I would likely not be able to find new replacement parts on down the road so, I kind of held my nose a bit when I bought them. Half of why I chose main speakers using Eminence parts thinking, at the very least, I could likely send them in for rebuild or buy a rebuild kit in the future. This also has me choosing speakers with rubber or treated fabric surrounds over foam, these days.

So yeah, there is a lot more to consider over the cheapest performance vs. the money. These so-called bargains are nothing more than tactics designed by the ad/sales/bank industries to keep the lesser classes ‘gotta have it now’ chumps credit cards hot too. This should be discouraged and young people taught true value for the long term.
Sonty posts on August 03, 2018 00:36
I live in Mumbai, India. Of the Six Speakers mentioned in the Article, only Polk T-15 is available in India. I am a long time fan of Polk Speakers, and I am using them as my Windows Desktop Computer Speakers with a dedicated Amp. As you have rightly pointed out, they do have a Wide Dynamic Range and pack a real Punch ! They look gorgeous, particularly the projecting protective Grill. They are indeed Awesome for the asking Price.
gfmucci posts on August 02, 2018 21:51
In the $100 price range, but powered, the Klipsch Prologic trio (two satellites and a woof) is an excellent sounding set.
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