Monoprice MBS-650 (8250) vs. Dayton Audio B652 Speaker

For years, the Dayton Audio B652 had gone unchallenged for the title of "world's best garage speaker" — the only ultra-cheap speaker you can actually stand to listen to. But a new and even cheaper contender arrived to take up the challenge: the Monoprice MBS-650 (the company also sells it under product ID 8250).

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Garage Speaker Death Match

The Monoprice MBS-650 (8250) bookshelf speaker system
The Monoprice MBS-650 (8250) speaker shown with and without grilles. Brent Butterworth

On the surface, both sets of stereo speakers look almost alike. Each has a 6.5-inch polypropylene-cone woofer, a small tweeter (5/8-inch in the Dayton, 1/2-inch in the Monoprice), and a black, vinyl-wrapped enclosure about 1 foot high. Both have the simplest possible crossover circuit — just a single capacitor in series with the tweeter to keep it from blowing (crossover shown in the last image of this article).

There are some differences, though. The Dayton's tweeter is made of aluminum, while the Monoprice's appears to be made of polypropylene. The former has a sealed-box design, while the latter features a rear port.

To some, the battle for "best garage speaker" is roughly analogous to two feral hogs fighting over a week-old armadillo carcass. Regardless, you'll need a garage speaker someday. And if you're also an audio enthusiast, you'll always demand the best speaker for your money no matter the amount you plan on spending.

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Features and Setup

Rear side of the Monoprice MBS-650 (8250) bookshelf speaker system
Rear side of the Monoprice MBS-650 (8250) bookshelf speaker system. Brent Butterworth

• 6.5-inch poly cone woofer
• 0.5-inch poly dome tweeter
• Spring-clip speaker cable binding posts
• Dimensions 11.9 x 8.1 x 6.4 in / 302 x 206 x 163 mm (hwd)
• Weight 7.2 lbs./3.6 kg

There isn't much to get excited about here, being that the Monoprice MSB-650 is just a cheap bookshelf speaker. Although the MBS-650 does have a little keyhole mount in the back that would allow it to hang from a wall, we recommend not using it. Doing so will block the rear port and change the overall sound of the speaker. But considering how inexpensive this speaker is, it's only capable of so much sound quality. So if you really need to, you can go ahead and block the port.

Testing started by breaking in the MBS-650 stereo speakers with 10 hours of pink noise. Then, each MBS-650 was placed atop a 28-inch-high, kitty-litter-filled metal speaker stand — far better treatment than it usually gets, we're sure — and connected to a Denon A/V receiver. We noticed right away that the speakers sounded quite good with the grilles off (grilles can dull the treble slightly), so we left them that way for the rest of the testing.

Interestingly, the Monoprice MBS-650 looks better with its grille off than the Dayton Audio B652 does. The former has a plastic trim ring around its woofer, while the latter's woofer is ringed with a foam gasket.

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Side by side comparison of the Monoprice MBS-650 (8250) and Dayton Audio B652 bookshelf speakers
Dayton Audio B652 speaker (left) and Monoprice MBS-650 speaker (right). Brent Butterworth

We kicked off the audition of the Monoprice MBS-650 casually; we needed to set up some kind of speakers to watch "The Double" on Amazon Instant Video, and the Monoprices proved quite convenient.

Not that we were really serious about evaluating the speaker that night, but we did notice how easy it was to enjoy the sound and get into the movie without being distracted by the MBS-650's performance. The sound overall was pretty good, with the only readily apparent flaw being a "boxy" coloration — it sounded like the voices were bouncing around in the speaker enclosure a bit, even though it had some poly fiber stuffing inside.

We heard the same tonal coloration when playing Holly Cole's version of "Train Song," from our 10 favorite stereo test tracks. But overall, the sound was still really good for only $30 — at least as good as we've heard from any speaker included in many home-theater-in-a-box systems. Cole's voice sounded reasonably smooth overall, with just a little trace of raspiness in the upper midrange/lower treble of her voice (around 2 kHz or so). The deep bass notes that start the tune sounded remarkably clear and undistorted. Not super-tight, and not very strong in the lowest notes, but a long ways from boomy and undefined. The stereo imaging is actually amazing for the price. We were able to clearly make out each of the track's individual percussion instruments in virtual space between the speakers.

We were shocked to hear that the recording of James Taylor's "Shower the People" from "Live at the Beacon Theatre" — one of the toughest vocal reproduction tests we've found – sounded quite good, with no trace of bloating in the bottom of Taylor's voice. There was just a touch of sibilance, but even a lot of $1,000/pair speakers can sound sibilant on this track.

The treble of the Monoprice MBS-650 was somewhat coarse-sounding, though. On the Holly Cole track, the shakers/maracas sounded more like plastic boxes filled with BBs than like real instruments. The upper two octaves of treble, from 5 to 20 kHz, seemed a little lacking, which reduced the sense of space and "air."

When we amped up with Toto's "Rosanna," we did notice that the MBS-650 develops a blaring sound when it gets loud; the woofer seemed to start compressing before the tweeter did. Although the bass also thinned out a lot when we cranked up Mötley Crüe's "Kickstart My Heart," we were able to get the MBS-650 up to 103 dBC at 1 meter with no readily audible distortion.

So how does the MBS-650 compare to the Dayton Audio B652? The B652 has a bigger, more enveloping sound. However, to us it sounded coarser in the upper midrange and treble, giving voices an unwelcome edginess. And the Dayton Audio B652 simply wasn't as pleasant to listen to.

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Frequency response of the Monoprice MBS-650 (8250) bookshelf speakers
Frequency response of the Monoprice MBS-650 (8250) bookshelf speakers. Brent Butterworth

Frequency response
On-axis: ±4.3 dB from 106 Hz to 20 kHz
Average: ±3.7 dB from 106 Hz to 20 kHz

Minimum 7.4 ohms/350 Hz/-1°, nominal 9 ohms

Sensitivity (2.83 volts/1 meter, anechoic)
87.7 dB

We measured the frequency response of the MBS-650 using a quasi-anechoic technique, with the speaker atop a 2-meter-high stand and the measurement microphone at 1 meter away, using the gating function on a Clio 10 FW audio analyzer to eliminate the acoustical effects of surrounding objects. Bass response was measured by close-miking the woofer and port, scaling the port response and summing it with the woofer response, then splicing the result to the quasi-anechoic curves at 215 Hz. The blue trace in the chart above shows the frequency response on-axis; the green trace shows the average of responses at 0, ±15, and ±30 degrees horizontally. Results were smoothed to 1/12th octave.

This is a reasonably smooth frequency response measurement for such an inexpensive speaker, especially one with nothing more than a single capacitor as the crossover. The mids are smooth except for a mild, broad bump centered at 1.3 kHz, and there's a slight increase in energy between 3.5 and 7.5 kHz – both potentially the source of the roughness we sometimes heard in vocals. Off-axis response is very good, with only a gradual roll-off of treble as you move to 30 degrees off-axis.

This measurement was taken without the grille. The grille has only a slight effect, mainly reducing output between 3 and 5.5 kHz by an average of about -2 dB.

Impedance and sensitivity are both high, so any amp with at least 10 watts or so per channel should be able to drive this speaker to fairly high levels with no problem.

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Measurements vs. Dayton B652

Frequency response of the Monoprice MBS-650 (8250) and Dayton Audio B652 bookshelf speakers
Monoprice MBS-650 (blue trace) vs. Dayton B652 (red trace). Brent Butterworth

Here's the measurement you really wanted to see: the Monoprice MBS-650 (blue trace) vs. the Dayton Audio B652 (red trace), both measured at 0 degrees on-axis. Note how similar the two responses look, although the Monoprice's response is a little smoother and the Dayton B652 has a substantially deeper bass response, with a -3 dB point of 77 Hz vs. 106 Hz for the Monoprice.

Sure, the bass response measurements don't look quite as expected given the B652's sealed enclosure and the MBS-650's ported enclosure. When we saw this, we checked the settings on the Clio, repeated the bass measurements, and then confirmed them with ground plane measurements. Everything's correct.

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Final Take

Audio driver unit of the Monoprice MBS-650 (8250) bookshelf speaker
Showing the crossover of the Monoprice MBS-650. Brent Butterworth

For us, the Monoprice wins because it sounds smoother in the treble. Some might like the Dayton B652 better for its deeper bass response and more vivid sound. But if you're looking for sonic refinement — or at least the closest you'll get to that for $30 — the Monoprice MBS-650 will be better worth your money.