With inexpensive active and wireless loudspeakers taking a substantial piece of the pie, high-end audio manufacturers face a somewhat daunting future. To remain relevant in the face of changing consumer behavior, there needs to be a carrot for the next generation of audiophiles. Affordability has to be the thought process to entice younger listeners; aside from the availability of one-box systems that encourage consumers to stick with passive loudspeakers. While many high-end brands continue to release cost-no-object loudspeakers that appeal to the 1% of music listeners who can afford them, there is another movement led by brands like Micca who are making waves with their $130 Micca Audio RB42 bookshelf loudspeaker.
Bookshelf loudspeakers are all the rage right now as consumers shift away from multi-box stereo systems and large floor-standing loudspeakers, and within that broad category there is a lot competition in the sub-$300 segment that is generating a lot of attention. The trickle-down effect is in full swing as brands such as Paradigm, PSB, Pioneer, ELAC, and Polk Audio have introduced very inexpensive, yet high performance loudspeakers that have redefined what you can purchase at entry-level prices.
Decades of research and development, in-house driver manufacturing, and overseas assembly have made it financially viable for some of these brands to offer products that compete with more expensive products and still turn a profit; the higher volume of sales making that possible.
Micca Audio is a Chinese manufacturer of both passive and active loudspeaker products; the upstart brand also offers power amplifiers, digital media players, and other accessories. Chinese audio brands receive scant attention from the audiophile press, but with affordable products like the Micca Audio RB42, that is already starting to change.
What We Like:
It’s very difficult to manufacture an inexpensive loudspeaker without making some compromises, and it’s unrealistic to expect world-class performance out of a pair that retail for $130. That being said, the Micca Audio RB42 raise the bar for inexpensive loudspeakers in a few areas that should place them high on your list if assembling a dorm or desktop audio system. Not to mention how much fun they are to listen to.
We’ve heard more than a few entry-level speakers with a tilted top end that sounded engaging out of the box, but after some extended listening were too forward or bright sounding. If you spend hours a day at your desk working, with a pair of bookshelf loudspeakers providing background listening, you’re probably better served with a loudspeaker with a more neutral or warmish tonal balance and presentation. The RB42 utilize a .75-inch silk dome tweeter that isn’t the last word in airiness, but its slightly reserved nature will never cause listening fatigue. There is a smoothness to the sound that allows you to play them slightly louder and still hear the detail present.
When you crank the RB42 with bass-heavy music, its 4-inch paper-coated midrange driver/woofer doesn’t bottom out leaving you holding the bag, only to wonder what happened to all of the music below 80Hz. The RB42 deliver tight, articulate, and punchy bass that makes them sound significantly larger than they really are.
Listening to Aphex Twin’s “To Cure A Weakling Child,” exposed just how much punch and low extension the RB42 are capable of. A 4-inch driver can only move so much air, but the Micca never failed to deliver enough low-end response to make the electronic track sound anemic.
Another strong plus was the overall level of midrange resolution and transparency; the RB42 don’t thrust vocals into your lap, but there was a noticeable absence of coloration that you might expect to hear from a $130 loudspeaker. Neutral they are not. Sam Cooke, Sia, Amy Winehouse, and Sufjan Stevens all came across with a respectable level of fullness that made their distinctive singing styles stand apart.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the outstanding build quality of these loudspeakers at the price point. Micca’s overall level of fit and finish on these two-way loudspeakers is not the norm; the laminate dark veneer looks quite sleek, and we really like the rounded edges of the ¾-inch MDF cabinet.
When you spend only $130 on a pair of loudspeakers, your expectations are generally lower – but that went out the window when I cued up “Workout” from Hank Mobley’s Workout via Tidal (MQA-encoded). Mobley’s tenor sax cut through the somewhat humid air that can invade my listening room when I leave the window open to catch whatever onshore breeze exists that day living so close to the ocean on the Jersey Shore.
The RB42 didn’t create a wall of sound similar to the Klipsch RP600M loudspeakers that preceded them (review this month), or deliver the same level of top end bite that make the Klipsch sound more like live music, but there was a strong pulse there for $130, and that I didn’t expect. Not at all.
Micca’s quoted sensitivity for the RB42; [email protected]/1M, with an impedance range of 4-8 ohms, is pretty accurate based on our tests with a number of amplifiers. Depending on the size of your listening space, or even your desktop, the RB42 need power. Our base minimum with these loudspeakers would be 50-watts per channel into 8 ohms and preferably closer to 100-watts per channel.
When we set-up the RB42 on our desktop (placed on Iso-Acoustic desktop stands), there was a noticeable difference with electronic, heavy metal, pop, and orchestral music when we switched between the 45-watt Croft Acoustics Phono Integrated, and the Anthem MRX-520 AVR that puts out more than 100-watts into 8 ohms. The Croft was more musical sounding, but the Anthem had a firmer grasp on the bottom end and could drive the RB42 to much higher listening levels.
We really like the RB42 as desktop loudspeakers, but their ability to image and recreate soundstage depth and width demands a solid pair of loudspeaker stands. We experimented with both 24-28 inch stands and found that they made a substantial difference. The RB42 are also rear ported and should be pulled at least 12” from any wall behind them. If you have the room, pulling these speakers 2-3’ out into the room makes for an interesting experience; although you will be sacrificing low-end response in the process.
Do they need a subwoofer? Maybe.
Adding a quality subwoofer to the RB42; something like the sealed SVS SB-1000 which retails for $500 takes the overall system price to $630 (plus stands) and we would be hard pressed to come up with another full-range speaker/subwoofer combination near that price point that compares.
College students, people who work at home, and listeners with smaller listening spaces need to give these bookshelf loudspeakers some serious consideration.
The Micca Audio RB42 were a real surprise. They face some stiff competition from PSB, Paradigm, and ELAC within the entry-level category – yet they never failed to impress us with their low-end response, punchy midrange, and smooth top end. As long as you drive them with a robust amplifier, and give them some space to open up, they are one of the easiest recommendations that we can make for someone on a budget looking for a quality pair of loudspeakers. Highly recommended.
Video Review: Micca Audio RB42 Bookshelf Loudspeakers
Type: passive bookshelf speaker
Drivers: 0.75″ silk dome tweeter; 4″ coated paper, rubber surround woofer
Frequency Response: 50Hz-20kHz
Impedance: 4-8 ohms
Dimensions: 8.7” (H) x 4.9” (W) x 7.9” (D)