As mentioned above, the $25 Lepai LP-2020A+ stereo integrated amplifier seemed like a logical partner for this B652 review. It's a 20-watt-per-channel amplifier, so I was curious to see how loud the speaker could play in the large CNET listening room with the little amp. Sound quality was very listenable, and stereo imaging was realistic on Neil Young's excellent-sounding "Live at Massey Hall 1971" CD. The clarity of Young's vocals and guitar was up to snuff. Encouraged by what I heard, I turned up something more demanding, The Dirtbombs' raucous "Party Store" CD, and the B652s' sound held up nicely. This recording has a lot of bass, and the B652s' deft control of the bass was impressive.
To put the sound in context, I compared the B652 with another pair of budget bookshelf speakers, the aforementioned Sony SS-B1000s. These $69-per-pair speakers are a bit smaller than the B652s, but they had more prominent though less well-defined bass. Dynamic impact was scaled back and the treble was muffled and less clear than the B652s'. The Sonys sound acceptable for budget speakers, but the B652s are definitely a step up on the performance scale -- and the Daytons are about $20 cheaper.
Continuing the evaluation, I connected the B652s to an Onkyo TX-NR616 receiver, and the speakers sounded more refined and clearer than they did with the LP2020A+. Even so, highly demanding action movies like "House of Flying Daggers" revealed the limitations of the B652 as a home theater speaker (when used without a subwoofer). The martial-arts fight scenes, like the one in the bamboo forest, made heavy demands, so the B652s compressed the soundtrack's wide dynamic swings, and when the volume was turned up high the sound was slightly distorted. Less action-oriented fare, like the TV series "Lost," sounded perfectly fine. Adding a subwoofer to the system would significantly ease the demands on the B652s, and they would then be up to the task of playing "House of Flying Daggers" or any other movie at fairly loud levels.
To that end, if you'd prefer a 5.1-channel home theater, add Dayton's CCS-33B three-way center-channel speaker that runs $64.99 ($49.77 on Amazon) and the $99 Dayton SUB-80 8-inch, 80-watt powered subwoofer. So a complete Dayton home theater speaker system goes for around $240, and while that's still affordable, less expensive options are available (consider the Monoprice 8247 that sells for $84!).
Speakers from Aperion Audio, Boston Acoustics, and Definitive Technology sound significantly clearer, but they're all a lot more expensive than the B652s. For example, Aperion's Intimus 5B bookshelf speaker (with a 5-inch woofer) sells factory-direct for $185 each.
Dayton Audio's B652 bookshelf speakers are a remarkable value. I would be just as impressed with these speakers if they sold for $150 a pair; at $44.50 from Amazon (plus shipping) the B652s are an incredible bargain, and easy to recommend to anyone who wants solid stereo sound. You won't find a better-sounding speaker pair in the sub-$50 range.