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Dayton Audio MK402 & MK442 Bookshelf Speaker Review Conclusion

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MK402 outdoor testing.jpg

The Dayton Audio MK402 and MK442 speakers were measured in free-air at a height of 7.5 feet at a 1-meter distance from the microphone, and the measurements were gated at an 8.5 millisecond delay. In this time window, some resolution is lost below 250 Hz and accuracy is completely lost below 110 Hz. Measurements have been smoothed at a 1/12 octave resolution.

MK402 response curves.jpg     MK442 Response Curves for Horizontal.jpg

Dayton Audio MK402 (left) and MK442 (right) response curves

One thing that is immediately discernible from our response curves above is the treble region above 5 kHz seems rather elevated with respect to the rest of the frequency band, at least for the MK402, and this explains the hot treble in our listening sessions. The tweeter seems to be a lot more sensitive than the woofer, despite padding from the resistor on the crossover. This is not surprising, since a 4” long-throw bass driver is inevitably going to be insensitive, and the light diaphragm of a ¾” dome tweeter could easily be very sensitive at high frequencies. It can be seen from the “Directivity Index” curve that the MK402 exhibits very little directionality until 9 kHz, meaning it is a very wide dispersion speaker until high treble frequencies. This speaker will have a less bright sound at off-axis angles, although it will still have some brightness since even the first reflections curve has quite a bit of heightened treble. The bass region and midrange region have a relatively neutral response for a speaker at this price point, although there is a slight depression just above the crossover region in the direct axis response, which is likely the result of the lower end of the tweeter’s response not quite matching up perfectly with the upper end of the woofer’s response. We can see from the ‘Listening Window’ curve that this dip is ameliorated at off-axis angles.

The MK442 is more even-keeled in its treble output. There is a dip around the 2 kHz area which is more pronounced in the curves that use more off-axis measurements, and this dip is primarily due to interference of the woofers canceling out each other’s output. This cancellation pattern is called lobing, and Audioholics has published multiple articles about this effect in center speakers such as Pros and Cons of Various Center Channel Designs, Vertical vs Horizontal Center Speaker Designs, and Center Channel Speaker Design Additional Considerations. The additional woofer does bring up the bass and midrange response relative to the tweeter’s output, so the treble is not as hot as with the MK402. The thoroughly different crossover likely has a role to play in this respect as well. The MK442 is more directional than the MK402, and certainly a large part of that will be due to the lobing effects.

For more information about the meaning of the curves in these graphs, please refer to our article Objective Loudspeaker Measurements to Predict Subjective Preferences.

 

MK402 horizontal 3D.jpg     MK442 horizontal 3D.jpg

Dayton Audio MK402 (left) and MK442 (right) Horizontal Responses +/- 100 degrees: 3D view

MK402 horizontal 2D.jpg     MK402 horizontal 2D.jpg

Dayton Audio MK402 (left) and MK442 (right) Horizontal Responses +/- 100 degrees: 2D view

The above graphs depict the MK402 and MK442’s lateral responses out to 100 degrees in ten-degree increments. In the MK402’s graphs, we get a better look at the tweeter’s heightened treble. If you want to tame the treble on these speakers without equalization, you need to listen to them at a pretty hard angle, and that still will not alleviate a hump at 7 to 8 kHz by a whole lot. It should be said that this all occurs at the tweeter-height. Above this height, things do change for the better, but we will discuss that when we get to the vertical behavior of the MK402.

Regarding the MK442, the effects of the lobing become very stark in these graphs. If you are off the horizontal axis by more than 10 degrees, a big null starts to form centered at 2 kHz from the woofers fighting against each other as their output falls out of phase with each other. Pretty much every horizontal center speaker with this woofer-tweeter-woofer design is going to have this issue, so don’t think this problem is particular to this speaker. Best listening is done within a 20-degree angle of its direct axis, but outside of that angle problems start to occur.

 MK402 Polar Map.jpg     MK442 Polar Map.jpg

Dayton Audio MK402 (left) and MK442 (right) Horizontal Responses +/- 100 degrees: Polar Map

A pair of MK442's used in a vertical orientation would make for a very nice two-channel system on a tight budget!

The above graphs show the same information that the preceding graphs do but depict it in a way that offers new insight regarding these speakers’ behavior. Instead of using individual raised lines to illustrate amplitude, these polar maps use color to portray amplitude and this allows the use of a purely angle/frequency axis perspective. The advantage of these graphs is they can let us see broader trends of the speaker’s behavior more easily. For example, we can see, when looking at the MK402’s polar map, that big blotch of red that resides in the high frequencies; that tells how much of that elevated high-frequency energy inhabits the speaker’s coverage, and it is a lot. We can see hot treble reach out to 70 degrees off axis from 7 to 10 kHz! So, we can see that a strong toe-in is not going to save the sound from high levels of treble, and it will mostly just reduce treble from roughly 13 kHz and above. Below the burst of treble, the energy is spread out relatively evenly, although we do see some waist-banding around 4 kHz. To really tame the MK402s, equalization is going to be needed.

The polar map of the MK442 also tells us a different side of the story of its horizontal dispersion. While there is a similar burst of high-frequency energy, it covers a larger range of treble and is also matched by similar amounts of energy in low frequencies, at least near direct-axis angles and so shouldn’t sound as bright, at least if the listener is sitting directly in front of the speaker. We also get a better look at how the output of the two woofers are colliding out of phase and thereby greatly reducing energy at off-axis angles. We can clearly see when the tweeter kicks in as the off-axis energy splays outward at about 3 kHz. 

MK402 vertical response.jpg     MK442 vertical response 3D.jpg

Dayton Audio MK402 (left) and MK442 (right) Vertical Responses +/- 100 degrees: 3D view 

The above graphs depict the MK402 and MK442’s frequency response behavior on their vertical axis, where zero degrees is directly in front of the tweeter, negative degree values are below the tweeter, and positive degree values are above the tweeter. The valleys that occur above and below the zero-degree axis on the MK402 are very common in conventional loudspeaker design. They are the result of the tweeter and woofer paying the same frequencies but out of phase, so they are not synchronous. They are usually only fully synchronous directly ahead of the speaker. The only speaker types that would be immune to these artifacts would be speakers that use either full range drivers or coaxial driver configurations. Uniformity (as in nice smooth response lines) in the horizontal dispersion is much more important than uniformity the vertical dispersion, so don’t let the rockiness of this vertical response graph be a troubling matter for you. The lesson here is try to listen to the MK402s with the tweeter level with your ears.

Let’s talk about the vertical dispersion of the MK442 and how much smoother that response is than its rugged horizontal response:

MK442 vertical response 2D.jpg

Dayton Audio MK442 Vertical Response +/- 100 degrees: 2D view 

The above graph looks at the vertical dispersion of the MK442 from a profile view to get a better sense of its amplitude response. The vertical response of the MK442 is much better than its horizontal response- but since the horizontal response is so much more important and consequential than the vertical response, what are we going to do? The solution, if possible, is to use it on its side, like so:

 MK422 upright.jpg

If possible, use the MK442 like this!

 

When you stand the MK442 on its side, it has fairly good behavior on the horizontal axis for that orientation; in fact, it has an overall much more neutral response on its side than the MK402 does standing upright. To get a better sense of this, take a look at its horizontal response in a polar map when it is standing upright:

MK442 Polar Map vertical.jpg 

Dayton Audio MK442 Horizontal Response when used on its side +/- 100 degrees: Polar Map

Aside from some waist-banding around 2 kHz, it has a nicely even dispersion of energy out to a 70 degree angle. It would still be a bit bright without equalization, but not nearly as much so as the MK402. The MK442 vertically oriented has a far more even coverage of sound over a wide area than the MK402 or itself when it is positioned horizontally. Within 30 degrees of its direct axis, we can see fairly strong coverage of acoustic energy, so those who use the MK442s in an upright orientation like this should have a full sound within a 60-degree angle in front of the speaker. That means there isn’t a small “sweet spot” with these speakers used in this orientation, and they should provide reasonably good sound over a large area. A pair of these used in a vertical orientation would make for a very nice two-channel system on a tight budget!

MK402 groundplane bass response.jpg 

Dayton Audio MK402 groundplane bass response 

The above graph shows the MK402’s low-frequency response that I captured using groundplane measurements (where the speaker and microphone are on the ground in a wide open area). The MK402 has a very good bass response when its size and price are considered. These legitimately dig down to 60 Hz and should even be able to provide decent 50 Hz output if used in a placement that gives it some boundary gain such as nearby a wall or on a desktop. The bass is relatively smooth too and doesn’t have a boosted response around port tuning like many budget speakers. This speaker will play bass notes evenly and clearly, and that has to be considered a minor miracle at this size and pricing. However, at higher drive levels, the 1” port of the MK402 do get overloaded and will go into audible turbulence (“chuffing”) on content that has very low frequencies. The same is likely true of the MK442 since it has a similarly-scaled port diameter for its two woofers instead of just one, although I did not hear any audible chuffing from the MK442 during my time with it. A subwoofer would be useful here to take a heavy load off the port and greatly reduce the potential for port chuffing.

MK402 Impedance.jpg      MK442 Impedance.jpg

Dayton Audio MK402 (left) and MK442 (right) Impedance and Phase Response

The above graphs show the electrical behavior of the MK402 and MK442 speakers. They are both spec’d by Dayton Audio to be 4-ohm speakers, and this is a fair rating, even though the impedance of both speakers never actually touches 4 ohms. They do spend much of the critical bandwidth regions around 5 ohms though. The MK402 is not a particularly heavy electrical load for amplifiers; although it does dip to 5 ohms in certain areas, it doesn’t do so at steep phase angles, so it shouldn’t be too hard on even inexpensive amplifiers or AV receivers. The MK442 is largely the same with one exception: it just about hits 4 ohms at a rather steep phase angle at 4 kHz. This might be a problem on cheap amplifiers if you are playing material with strong content in the 4 kHz region at loud volumes for extended periods of time. I think it isn’t likely to turn into a problem, except in cases where someone cranks a movie that is mixed very loudly for its entire duration (a movie like “Transformers” that runs on full blast all the time).

I measured the MK402s sensitivity at 79.75 dB for 2.83v at 1m. That is very low, and wattage does not go as far on these speakers as they do on larger speakers. It doesn’t matter as much when these are placed in the near-field, but, as mentioned before, these are not party speakers. Going back to our discussion in the design overview of these speakers, this is a matter of “Hofmann’s Iron Law” where there will always be a balance of low-frequency extension, sensitivity, and size. I don’t regard this as a bad trade though since the MK402s can still get loud enough for my tastes, and common sense should be used in selecting speakers for really loud applications, for which the MK402s need only a glance to know they are not a good fit. This low sensitivity measurement is not surprising, and I can’t really hold it against them since that bass and size isn’t possible without this compromise. I did not measure the MK442’s sensitivity but it isn’t going to be a whole lot more than the MK402’s.

MK402 woofer level response.jpg 

Dayton Audio MK402 Horizontal Responses taken at woofer height +/- 90 degrees: 2D view

There is one more thing I do want to mention before ending discussion of the performance analysis of the MK402 speakers. Users might get a smoother transitioned response to treble if they are listened to at a height just below the tweeter or just above the woofer, which is the response that the above graph shows (note the more gradual ramp-up to high-frequencies instead of the abrupt burst seen in the other measurements). It will still be a somewhat bright speaker without equalization, but that listening height could take some of the edge off, and it will also allow toe-in angles to reduce treble without depressing the midrange frequencies as much.

Conclusion

It is unreasonable to expect perfection at the price point of these speakers, so the question is how good are the Dayton Audio MK402 and MK442 with respect to their price? To answer that, let’s take a quick inventory of their strengths and weaknesses. Since I am the kind of guy who always likes to get the bad news first, let’s dive into their weaknesses. My first and foremost complaint is with their elevated treble response; these speakers are bright, the MK402 especially. However, while they are bright with respect to absolute neutrality, how does their particular brightness sound? On their behalf, I would say they don’t sound unnaturally bright right away, but higher frequencies are certainly more present on these speakers than most others, and they can be fatiguing to listen to after a while.

MK402 pair head on.jpg

 
I think the MK442s are one of the best value for affordable high-fidelity speakers on the market right now.

The good news is that the basic tone controls on modern receivers usually control treble at a frequency and slopes that just about matches the rise in treble on the MK402s. For example, on Yamaha receivers, their treble tone controls normally boost or cut treble by 6 dB around 3.5 kHz, and this is almost exactly the kind of slope and trim that would be needed to make the treble balanced with the rest of the frequency spectrum. For my own tastes, I find that a shelf filter starting at 4 kHz with 12 dB/octave slope and ending at 8 kHz makes the MK402s a very easy-going and pleasant speaker to listen to for long stretches. So, while the elevated treble is a problem, it is not an insurmountable problem, and it is not difficult to control at all with tools that are already available on most sound processors. And we have to keep in mind that most other $70/pair speakers are unlikely to have a perfect treble response as well, so while the MK402’s elevated treble is a flaw, it is not an unusual one at this price point.

As mentioned already, their sensitivity is pretty low, but that isn’t a gripe, since low sensitivity is inevitable with this kind of design, so it is more like a cautionary note for those buyers looking for speakers to pair with a low-wattage amplifier. Their low sensitivity combined with their modest power-handling means they aren’t suitable for applications that need wide-dynamic range such as dedicated home theater or concert-level head-banging. However, these are able to get loud enough for most people in small to medium sized rooms or especially for desktop setups.

That about sums up their wMK402 grille on and off.jpgeaknesses, so let’s talk about their strengths. First is, as has been mentioned, the excellent bass response for a bookshelf speaker of this size. They can get by without the assistance of a subwoofer for most kinds of music. They project a very full sound, which is quite a feat for small bookshelf speakers that cost $70 a pair. Once the highs have been tamed, which is easy enough to do with any equalizer or tone control, the resulting sound can be very good and of a relatively high-fidelity. In fact, they can be made to sound shockingly good with the application of some equalization, when the price is considered, and even more so with the MK442 which sound fairly balanced out of the box (when it is stood on its side).

Other strengths are a relatively nice appearance for the cost, and also a very manageable size, of course. The build quality is good for a speaker of its pricing; the woofer and tweeter are not bottom-of the-barrel parts, and they have actual crossover circuits unlike many sub-$100 speakers that only use a capacitor on the tweeter. This is even more true of the MK442 crossover which has to be the most substantial crossover circuit on any speaker anywhere near the same cost.

MK402 vs MK442

One irony I want to mention is that, in my opinion, the MK442s make a better left and right front speaker than the MK402, and the MK402 makes a better center speaker than the MK442, despite how Dayton Audio intends for either of them to be used. The MK442’s have a better balanced sound character out of the box, and they also have a more uniform dispersion pattern- when used in their side so that they are standing upright. When used in its intended orientation of laying down horizontally, lobing effects severely impact the horizontal dispersion so much so that the MK442 could only sound good when directly in front of it. That is pretty much the opposite of how a center speaker should behave, and I would list it as a weakness except every horizontal woofer-tweeter-woofer center speaker design will have the same problem. The MK402 would serve as a better center since it really does have wide dispersion and no lobing artifacts, and, what’s more, since it is not a very tall speaker, it is a bookshelf speaker that could potentially fit in the “entertainment center” shelf racks that center speakers are normally placed in. Since it is small, it can also be mounted unobtrusively above a television set if needed. Of course, the most optimal setup would be to use three MK442s all in a vertical orientation if possible.

MK402 and MK442.jpg

Bringing this all back to the question of how good are the MK402 and MK442 speakers for the cost, I will say very good. If you need inexpensive, small bookshelf speaker that actually have some bass, I don’t know of anything that can challenge these. These also work well for a nice surround sound system or stereo system for a small room. When the treble is toned down a bit with EQ, I will say the MK402s sound pretty good, regardless of their pricing, and the same is even more true of the MK442s when, as I have repeated, they are used on their side in a vertical orientation. In fact, in that type of placement, at $50 each, I think the MK442s are one of the best value for affordable high-fidelity speakers on the market right now. I normally use much more expensive speakers, and I could easily live with a pair of MK442s as my speakers for my bedroom or desktop PC.

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
MetricRating
Build QualityStarStarStarStar
AppearanceStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
ImagingStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStar
PerformanceStarStarStarStar
ValueStarStarStarStarStar
About the author:

James Larson is Audioholics' primary loudspeaker and subwoofer reviewer on account of his deep knowledge of loudspeaker functioning and performance and also his overall enthusiasm toward moving the state of audio science forward.

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Recent Forum Posts:

Jon AA posts on August 27, 2019 21:31
Well, I've got my son building me a new computer and I figured the new computer should have decent sound. So I ordered the DTA-2.1BT2 100W 2.1 Class D Bluetooth Amplifier + MK402X 4“ 2-Way Bookshelf Speaker Pair + The MKSX4 Four 4” Driver Low Profile Passive Subwoofer.

I started out planning to just get the MK402BTX speakers but like usual, I talked myself into spending more. I figured with the amp I'll have more power, sub output and a tone control and if I want to change speakers in the future I can use anything I want with it. The sub looks perfect to put on or under a desk somewhere and should really take a load off the little speakers and should improve the overall sound quite a bit vs. expecting desk sized speakers to have adequate bass.

Should be one heck of an upgrade compared with the tiny little computer speakers I've been using all these years. Thanks for the review on these, I don't think I would have chosen these otherwise.
Adam2434 posts on August 24, 2019 12:39
If my math is right, the 18V 2A power supply can only deliver 36 W. Assuming 90% amplifier efficiency, that would translate to 16.2 W/ch. Sound right?

Plugging 16.2 W/ch into this Peak SPL calculator, I get the numbers below at 15 feet and 3 feet. If all these numbers are pretty accurate, they confirm my observations that these speakers get plenty loud nearfield and loud enough for background music at 15 feet. When testing them in my garage, at about 15 feet away, they got as loud as I would want to play in the garage…any louder and I might bother the neighbors.

Net, these speakers make a nice sounding, inexpensive, compact system for background music in a garage.

Doing better for the money ($100),IMO, would require scoring deals on a used receiver and a good pair of used bookshelf speakers for $100 total. This is totally possible if you have the “eye” and patience - I have done it several times! In fact, I'm currently also playing with a $6 Onkyo TX-8211 50 W/ch receiver and a $70 pair of Polk RT35i in the garage. This system sounds “bigger” than the MK402BTX (because it is),but the MK402BTX hold their own at moderate levels.

Edit: for some reason, some spaces were lost after commas. Not sure if this is a common issue on this forum.

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Adam2434 posts on August 23, 2019 13:54
I'd be curious to know the actual max w/ch vs. distortion and SPL the powered MK402BTX can do.

The specs are attached, but it's hard to tell what they really mean. My best guess is that the internal amp provides 20 w/ch RMS at <0.7% THD+N.

A distortion vs. SPL level test would be cool (as well as a frequency response test to determine if the new crossover delivers).

I'll lend my pair to Audioholics for a test.

These little “Mighty Mites” will do moderate background and nearfield levels just fine.
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Adam2434 posts on July 30, 2019 07:46
After listening to the 402BTX some more last night, I think they may still have a bit of an elevated treble response, but not to an annoying or harsh level. Lively top end is how I would characterize them. For me personally, I would rather have bit of liveliness over dullness.
Adam2434 posts on July 29, 2019 19:08
Many of you may know that there is now an “X” version of the 402 and 402BT with a refined crossover per Parts Express:

“The built-in crossover creates a non-fatiguing, enjoyable listening experience. It features a 3.3 kHz, 3rd order high-pass, 2nd order low-pass The 7-component crossover uses asymmetrical slopes to help blend the two drivers in a more musical way. The crossover now has a flatter treble response that delivers a smoother high-end.”

I wonder how the X version would measure, and whether they have eliminated the elevated treble of the original versions.

I'm playing around with a pair of the 402BTX just for kicks. I'm fairly impressed with the sound quality for $100. I have been using a Chromecast Audio with FLAC files and Spotify Premium. I plan to gift them to one of my kids after I give them a rundown.
- Pretty balanced and engaging sound.
- Decent bass within the limitations of a small speaker with a 4“ woofer.
- Can hit moderate levels cleanly with the built-in amp.
- Sound much better than the typical $100 bluetooth speaker.

Nitpicks:
- Ports chuff and whistle when the volume is pushed with bass-heavy content. I'm talking stuff like Chris Stapleton's last 2 albums, not rap.
- Grill emblems are crooked on both speakers.
- Grills impact sound negatively.
- One of the crossover screws was stripped.
- Would like aptX and AAC bluetooth codecs, but that would add some cost.

I think a larger powered version (perhaps the 442 or a 5.25” woofer version) with more power, 1 or 2 (better) optical inputs, remote control, and aptX/AAC bluetooth for around $150-200/pr would be cool, as these speakers and drivers are a good budget platform to build from.
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