The Best Cheap Bookshelf Speakers That You’ve Never Heard Of
It’s no industry secret that some of the most popular speakers in the world are made or assembled in China. How many Chinese speakers can you find at your local Best Buy? The answer is none. Asia has a rich and distinguished history of creating some of the world’s best-sounding audio components so it should surprise no one that an upstart brand like Micca Electronics is having a very difficult time keeping its products in stock. The RB42 bookshelf speakers ($130), for example, are the real deal. And if you visit Amazon at just the right time, you may get lucky and see that the Micca RB42s are “in stock.”
The Good: To say that the RB42 don’t sound like $130 speakers would be an understatement. After some substantial burn-in, it becomes rather evident that these diminutive 2-way loudspeakers are extremely capable if paired with the right amplifier and set up properly. There is no question that these compete with loudspeaker rivals that are more expensive, but just how far does your budget stretch to get the most out of them.
The construction quality on the RB42 would be impressive if they sold for $400, making one raise an eyebrow considering that they sell for $130. Micca may have cut corners in other places, but the curved 3/4-inch thick MDF cabinet wrapped in a laminate dark wood veneer isn’t one of them. The RB42 are solidly built loudspeakers that look great as well.
If you’re expecting subterranean bass response out of a pair of 4-inch paper coated midrange/woofers, you’re not getting the point of these loudspeakers. The RB42 deliver a tight, solid bass response that will impress anyone; adding a subwoofer would certainly make sense with these loudspeakers but it’s not mandatory.
The silk dome tweeter sounds very smooth with above average top end extension; when driven very hard with less than stellar recordings, the RB42 never exhibited a level of brightness that we would normally associate with entry-level loudspeakers. The midrange resolution is outstanding; the absence of obvious colorations made vocal reproduction one of the best parts of its sonic signature.
Who It’s For: If you’re limited to under $200, the RB42 are clearly one of the best sounding bookshelf loudspeakers on the market. They work well on a desktop, credenza or set-up on a pair of high-quality speaker stands. College students can drive the hell out of them with a suitable amplifier, and they work well in almost every environment.
Watch Out For: Power. The RB42s need a lot of power to sound their best. We drove them with a number of different power amplifiers from Schiit Audio, Anthem, and NAD, would suggest that 80-100 watts is a good starting point. The bass response, in particular, can sound slightly anemic if your amplifier is not up to the task.
The RB42 image superbly well, recreating a rather deep soundstage, but that only became evident when placed on 24-28-inch loudspeaker stands and pulled 2-to-3-feet from the wall. The rear ported loudspeakers certainly benefit from some boundary reinforcement, but placed too close to the wall, the bass started to overload the corners and lost its solidity.
Alternatives: As much as we love the RB42, they do face some stiff competition from the PSB Alpha P3 ($199), Paradigm Monitor SE Atom ($298), and the ELAC Debut 2.0 B5.2 ($200). The Monitor SE Atom are more than double the price of the RB42, but they justify the difference based on the sense of scale and higher levels of resolution and transparency. The PSB and ELAC have a much harder time in our opinion making that same case; the PSB sound lightweight in the bass department compared to the RB42, and the ELAC can sound somewhat strident when pushed. The silk dome tweeter of the RB42 is more laid back sounding; the overall tonal balance is not as forward sounding which might appeal to listeners over the long haul.
Verdict: The RB42 bookshelf speakers sell out online very quickly and it’s easy to understand why. The construction quality is superb for an entry-level loudspeaker below $150, and there is a lot to like about the bass response, midrange resolution, and long-term listenability of the product. The biggest caveat is the low sensitivity, which required me to use amplification that was 10x the price of the loudspeakers. In a small room or office with 40-50 watts, most people won’t think they are missing out on anything, but having heard the RB42 play with some of the best affordable high-end amplifiers available, we know better. For under $150, the Micca RB42 are remarkably good.
What Others Are Saying:
• “The Micca RB42 Reference is mighty impressive, but the Dayton Audio B652 Air and Pioneer SP-BS22-LR speakers are less expensive and clearer-sounding speakers. The RB42’s superior build quality, richer sound balance and smaller size might tilt the balance for some buyers.” — Steve Guttenberg, CNET
Type: passive bookshelf speaker
Drivers: 0.75″ silk dome tweeter; 4″ coated paper, rubber surround woofer
Frequency Response: 50Hz-20kHz
Impedance: 4-8 ohms
Micca Electronics provided this product for review.
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