- Manufacturer & Model:
- Dayton Audio MK402
- $129 List, $69 your price
- 4" 2-way compact bookshelf speaker with good quality drivers, crossover, and enclosure. Perfect for background use, desktops, or small office systems. Needs a little EQ for optimal sound.
- This compact 4" 2-way bookshelf offers good sound in a small package. An unusual new 4" driver provides deep bass from this tiny speaker. The 3/4" dome tweeter offers clean, detailed, and refined highs not commonly found in speakers of this price point. The crossover is better than usual, but it's voicing leads to a lean bright balance with an otherwise smooth response. Easily improved with EQ or tone controls. This combines into an interesting high-value package worthy of your consideration.
The reason why Dayton Audio produced the MK series of speakers is simple: to fill the niche of a good sounding speaker offering a solid upgrade in performance over what is typically available in this price class. The trick for Dayton Audio is how well they executed this package. Does the MK402 provide a solid performance upgrade over what would otherwise be available in a soundbar or HTiB? If so, then that is why we should all be interested in the existence of the MK402. If Dayton Audio has done its job, we have a solid, sub-$100 speaker that we can recommend to all our budding audiophiles, to outfit our offices, our kitchens, or maybe even to use in our own home theaters. To know if Dayton Audio succeeded, let’s delve into the nuts and bolts of the speaker and ultimately how well it all came together.
The MK402 is part of a new product line from Dayton Audio that includes interesting new cabinet designs and very good speaker drivers in an unusually affordable package. Add to that a more sophisticated crossover than we often see in speakers of this price and we have something that looks really promising. Pulling the speaker out of the box we see a nice, durable black vinyl finish with an interesting beveled front baffle. It’s clear that attention was paid to the design of the speaker, as this bevel helps reduce cabinet edge diffraction and smooths the response of the speaker. The grille for the speaker is interesting because normally we see inexpensive plastic frames covered in thin cheap fabric. In this case, a half inch thick MDF frame is cut and shaped to match the beveled baffle and is covered with a surprisingly nice piece of knit speaker grille cloth. While it looks nice and feels substantial, for the best sound don’t use the grilles.
Moving on to the back of the speaker we see that this is a ported design with a small 3/4" port. Some will note that the port has been accused of being too small and that it chuffs too easily. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the woofer in this speaker is unique, and the port size was necessary to ensure that a low enough tuning was possible. Below the port is a very substantial set of binding posts. While commonplace on most good speakers, these are the best binding posts I’ve ever seen on a speaker under $100. In fact, when I was a young and budding audiophile buying my first pair of inexpensive speakers, likely for the same price as these, a horrible speaker connection known as the spring clip prevailed. I’m very thankful there are no spring clips here.
Moving to the internals of the MK402, Dayton Audio has developed two new drivers for use in the MK series and also made them available to the DIY crowd. The MK402 uses the new Dayton Audio TCP115-4 woofer. This new woofer is a 4” woofer with a large 4mm of Xmax, a fat surround for clean excursion, and an unusually low FS of 54hz. What this means is that the small 4” driver is capable of producing deeper bass than would be possible from other 4” drivers in a small enclosure. The compromise is in the sensitivity; this driver has a low 84db sensitivity at 1 watt/1m, and my own estimate based on 2.83 volts and 1 meter puts it closer to 80db in the finished speaker. What that means is that while this driver will produce deeper bass, it will require quite a bit more power than other 4” drivers and will not play as loud. The woofer appears to be of high quality and the measurement data for the driver shows nice behavior with a mild break up mode. Moving on to the tweeter, we find the new Dayton Audio TD20F-4 20mm silk dome tweeter. This tweeter has an exceptionally smooth response, good sensitivity and decent power handling, but being 20mm, will not extend quite as low as some 25mm domes. Having said that, the 2.5khz crossover frequency of this speaker is more than appropriate for this tweeter, so while it is smaller than the 25mm more commonly seen, it is not compromising the speaker in any meaningful way.
While the quality of the drivers is a critical part of the final sound possible with a speaker, it is for nothing if they don’t have a good crossover tying them together. Dayton Audio’s engineers chose a simple but effective crossover for the MK402, which helps give a smooth response while keeping costs down. The crossover is a 4-element design that takes advantage of the natural roll-off of the drivers to achieve steeper slopes. There is a single series inductor on the woofer, which makes it an electrical first order filter. The tweeter has a single electrolytic capacitor in series, a single resistor in series, and a small film capacitor that appears to be used to bypass the electrolytic capacitor. This would improve the sound of a series electrolytic capacitor by bypassing it at high frequencies and avoiding its parasitic losses. The tweeter also appears to have a first-order electrical crossover. When combined with the natural roll-off this is said to achieve 1st order and 2nd order crossover slopes respectively. The final crossover point is said to be around 2.5 kHz.
Many of these parts would not be out of place in a more expensive speaker, especially the drivers. There are signs of cost-cutting to be sure. The vinyl finish feels plasticky and doesn’t even pretend to be wood. There are some minor alignment issues with the front baffle. The crossover is simpler than is optimal. The need for such a low tuning in a small enclosure may have made a passive radiator a better option than the port. We can’t forget that this is a $69 speaker, so when looked at through that lens and comparing against the other options on the market, you really can’t fault the Dayton Audio MK402. In fact, it’s better than the other options looked at while reviewing this speaker. However, for all this discussion over what is under the hood, we really haven’t touched upon what ultimately matters: Did Dayton Audio succeed in providing a great sounding entry level speaker?
In evaluating the MK402, it made sense to set them up in a manner consistent with how the average buyer would use them, while also ensuring that they were given an opportunity to stretch their legs. Many buyers will simply place these on a bookshelf or desk surface, and while workable, that is less than optimal for any speaker. The MK402’s were set on a pair of stands in my office. I placed them roughly two feet from the wall and six feet apart. My listening position was a mere five feet from the speakers, just about optimal for the size and placement. Given the modest price of the speakers, high-ticket amplification would not have made sense. As such the majority of my listening took place using either a pioneer receiver rated for around 100 watts per channel or generic pocket-sized digital amplifier rated for around 10 watts per channel. The MK402 did overlap slightly with the NAD C368 also under review, so I also tried them with the NAD. Nobody would ever pair these speakers with this amplifier, but it was nice to see what such a quality set of electronics could do with these speakers. The source for all of my listening was Tidal HiFi and a handful of CDs. The room is a typically-sized office with a bookshelf between the speakers and a few acoustic treatments. The room has two 4” thick acoustic panels at the first reflection points and a handful of Vicoustic Wavewood hybrid diffusor/absorber panels. This setup proved to be optimal for the performance capability of these speakers.
Reviewing this speaker turned out to be a real challenge. It is clear why this speaker was created, but, over the course of my listening, it became less clear if this speaker really met its goal. Listening to this speaker could at times prove quite enjoyable. The MK402 often gave a good vision of high-end sound. The speaker impresses with good imaging, an overall smooth sound, and extended and authoritative bass. In some ways, the speaker was quite listenable. Both measurements and my ears told me this speaker had surprisingly good bass for a tiny bookshelf with a little 4” driver, extending down past 50hz. Yet there was no shaking the sense that this was a lean sounding speaker with a bright top end, although not harsh or completely unpleasant. Lean became the best word to describe its character. Bass was there, but the speaker didn’t sound as full as I would have liked. While the speaker is listenable without any kind of EQ, and when placed on a bookshelf likely works well as is, The sound was somewhat fatiguing and uninteresting. The review could have ended here, but there was no getting around the fact that it was showing signs of good sound. The potential was there, it just wasn’t realized. As it turns out, my aural perceptions of the smoothness of the speaker were right and simple rebalancing of the speaker was feasible using basic bass and treble tone controls. That is not true of most inexpensive speakers, which have a very uneven response which cannot be fixed with tone controls nor easily EQ’d. Since the response was so smooth, the application of either true EQ or basic tone adjustments made sense and I spent most of my time listening this way. For the reader, try the MK402 both ways, since many people may like the sound of the MK402 as is.
While I tried to spend most of my time listening to the speaker using tools most buyers would have access to, I did try two other options. First was to EQ the speaker using Equalizer APO 1.2 software. By looking at the free space measurements, PEQ filters can be generated that maximally flatten the response over the widest listening window. When EQ is applied above the Schroeder frequency of a room (fs), use of free space measurements is considered the only truly valid method. While you can use an average of the polar response, in this case, I made use of the individual measurements across the listening window and examined the EQ filters at each measurement point, giving greatest weight to those in the 40-degree listening window. This turned out to be smart, as applying the EQ that REW generated automatically to the on-axis response created some anomalies off-axis. What was most interesting was that this big improvement for EQ was mostly a change in tonal balance. Bass and treble tone controls could achieve much the same results. I would say that 80% of the difference heard was achievable with just the tone controls. As such, while you are welcome to go through the effort of trying to EQ the speaker flat, you may find the tone controls a much simpler yet effective solution.
I initially settled in with some White Stripes. Hand Springs sounded particularly nice with a well-organized soundstage, good authority to the kick drum, and a smooth tonal balance. Jack White’s guitar had all its amazing grit intact. Without any kind of bass boost or EQ, the kick drum lacked the appropriate kick or weight one would expect. All the sounds were there, just not as lively and dynamic as you might expect. Add that bit of bass boost and things sounded much better. Next up was Jeff Beck’s I put a Spell on You featuring Joss Stone. This is a great recent release by Jeff Beck, and Joss Stone’s lyrics are luscious. The MK402 did a great job capturing all of Stone’s soul and grit. Jeff Beck’s guitar playing was goosebump-inducing. It’s interesting that while the speaker’s tonal balance wasn’t to my liking, it was still more than capable of bringing musical enjoyment. It’s the goosebumps that matter most, not just the graphs.
That Jeff Beck song had me in the mood for some great guitar pieces, so next up was John Mayall’s The Sum of Something. Once again, I found myself getting goosebumps, the hair standing up on my arms as Mayall played his lead. This speaker’s fault proved to be one of omission; rather than adding things that were overly unpleasant, it just left out some of the scale you get with better speakers. The music was all there, the emotions were felt, and it wasn’t hard to shut off my brain and just listen. Next, up was Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven. For those who don’t know, this beautiful song was written by Eric Clapton as he dealt with the loss of his baby, who tragically fell out of their apartment window. This song is beautiful, emotional, and intense. Through cheap speakers, it typically sounds thin, congested, and indistinct. Through the MK402, it was easy to feel the emotions that Clapton was putting down, and nothing was lost in the performance other than a little bit at extremes. Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers by Jeff Beck is a great song and a great performance. Guitar sounded great through the MK402; Blues, and Rock it’s perfect companion. The biggest omission was, as mentioned, at the extremes. The average owner of this speaker would be perfectly happy with them if used in the right setup. Compared to more expensive speakers, the MK402 doesn’t play quite as loud and can sometimes sound a bit dynamically compressed. Bass heavy music tends to make the port noise obvious, especially at higher volume levels. While the soundstage was impressive for the price of the speaker, it nonetheless could not equal the best I have heard. The best speakers tend to completely disappear while presenting a soundstage that extends far beyond the boundary set by the speakers. With the MK402 the soundstage tended to hang between the speakers, and occasionally the speakers called a bit of attention to themselves, snapping the image to one side or the other. While I’ve heard better, I haven’t heard much better for the same price. The truth is that at this price point most speakers are terrible. The Dayton Audio MK402 did not impress me because it had great sound; more that it was impressive what was possible for under $100. It’s too bad that Dayton Audio chose to design the crossover as they did, the tonal balance is not desirable. Thankfully it is correctable, but I can only hope that Dayton Audio considers adjusting the crossover, so such adjustments are not needed.
The MK402 was measured on a stand to minimize reflections from room boundaries. The mic was one meter from the speaker and gated to remove the effect of floor bounce. This technique yields valid results above 200hz, but unfortunately slightly elevates the bass response below 200hz. The following measurement shows the polar response of the speaker but doesn’t fully capture the tonal balance of the speaker. Further, it was found that moving the microphone even a few degrees above or below the tweeter axis could shift the tonal balance to be even brighter.
Dayton Audio MK402 Axial response, Power response, and Directivity Index
As you can see in the measurements, the response is relatively flat and smooth but shows a bit of an upward high-frequency tilt. The polar map shows typical evidence of tweeter beaming above 10khz.
Dayton Audio MK402 Polar Map
Before discussing my EQ results, let’s look at the speaker’s distortion. For this plot, I used the stepped sinewave distortion method. This approach has the lowest possible noise floor. The speaker was playing at around 83db. Normally it would make sense to test the speaker at a higher volume, but the low sensitivity risked clipping the small amplifier used for testing purposes. 83db is still a loud volume and reflected an average level that was as loud or louder than my typical listening volume for this speaker. As such, the results should track the distortion levels heard during normal listening.
At all frequencies, the distortion remained below .6%, and above 2khz it was below .15% for second and third harmonics. This is an impressive performance for such an affordable speaker. The rise in 3rd harmonic distortion noted in the bass is evidence of the port chuffing. As the volume increased this distortion rose more drastically.
Here are the electrical impedance and phase. The impedance doesn't dip much below 4 ohms and the phase angle at low impedances is fairly benign. As such, this speaker needs an amplifier capable of handling a 4-ohm speaker but is otherwise an easy load.
Next, the in-room measurement of the MK402 before any EQ.
As can be seen, the response in the room shows a dip at 3.5khz and a rising HF response. This is all crossover related and not a result of the driver quality.
I applied EQ to the response of the speaker which made significant sound quality improvements. This EQ showed a much flatter response and better overall tonal balance.
The measurements for the MK402 are not flattering, but when considered at the price of the speaker, they are impressive nonetheless. They are impressive because the response is smooth, and the errors are easily correctable.
Some of you may be thinking that the effort I went to in order to EQ the speaker flat is beyond what you are willing or able to do. What is possible with simpler tools? A shelf filter such as a treble tone control works wonders. Here is an example looking at the on-axis response of the MK402 free space measurement a tone control applied at the -12 position.
The nice thing about using tone controls is that you can adjust to suit, so you don’t need to know anything about the speaker’s overall response, because a shelf filter doesn’t change the peaks and dips of the response, just its tilt. This made for a huge improvement in sound and is something most receivers and integrated amplifiers have.
The goal of this review-the goal of any review really-is to answer key questions about the product at hand. Who? The Dayton Audio MK402. What? A compact 4” two-way bookshelf speaker selling for a mere $69. Why? Because we need more and better options in the entry-level speaker line. The question then becomes, did Dayton Audio achieve this goal. Is this a better option than what else exists in the sub-$100 speaker range? When I first talked with Jill Chupka, Marketing Coordinator for Dayton Audio, I commented that the MK402 doesn’t need to be a giant killer to be a bargain. That is really the key. This is not the final word in high-fidelity audio, and it shouldn’t be expected to be the last word in high fidelity audio. No, I don’t prefer the tonal balance of this speaker, yet it still impresses. This speaker offers a compact and well-made package with better than expected drivers and a halfway decent crossover. Many will find it’s sound desirable, and further, the addition of some tweaking of your tone controls can turn this into a truly enjoyable speaker. For $69 there are few other speakers that offer the same potential as the MK402 and it is precisely that potential for why the MK402 is a recommended speaker.
Dayton Audio MK402 Specifications
- Design: 2-way vented bookshelf
- Woofer: 4” high-excursion driver with a treated-paper cone
- Tweeter: 3/4” soft dome
- Finish: Black vinyl
- Power handling: 40W RMS/80W max
- Impedance: 4 ohms
- Response: 60 Hz to 20,000 Hz
- Sensitivity: 84 dB 1W/1m
- Crossover: 2.5 kHz, 1st order low pass, 2nd order high pass
- Terminals: 5-way gold plated binding posts
- Port tuning: 50 Hz
- Dimensions: 9-1/2” H x 5-3/4” W x 6-5/8” D