Place the Micca RB42 Reference speaker in the hands of experienced audiophiles and they’ll never guess its price. I didn’t come close, but they’re $130 a pair on Amazon, and the RB42 feels like at least double that. Better still, it sounds right.
I couldn’t get over how much bass the RB42 makes from its steel-framed 4-inch paper cone woofer, which is paired with a 0.75-inch silk dome tweeter. Impedance is rated at 4 to 8 ohms. There are 0.75-inch-thick MDF panels on all sides of the cabinet; the RB42 really does look and feel like a much more expensive design. The rounded cabinet, magnetically attached cloth grilles and sturdy speaker cable binding posts are a cut above what you get from most comparably priced designs. Did I mention how small it is? The RB42 is a tiny critter, just 8.7×4.9×7.9 inches small.
Cheap speakers are getting really good
Mandolinist Chris Thile and pianist Brad Mehdau’s eponymous album was full of life. I feared the RB42s might stifle dynamics, but the acoustic music was set free by these pint-size wonders. Thile’s vocal on I Cover The Waterfront sounded remarkably lifelike, and the RB42s took me there.
Arcade Fire’s Reflektor album is aggressively bright on a lot of speakers, but the RB42 made the sound mix palatable. Again and again the RB42’s low-end prowess defied expectations of what’s possible from such a small and affordable speaker.
German prog rock pioneers Can lit up the RB42s; their Future Days album’s heavy percussion and bass was full, even when I pulled the speakers away from the wall. Soundstage depth was impressive.
Feeling confident about the RB42’s capabilities, I pitted it against a much larger but less expensive speaker, the Dayton B652 Air ($65 a pair). The RB42 put up a good fight, but the B652 Air was a much clearer-sounding speaker. Not as rich as the RB42, but the B652 Air’s bass-midrange-treble balance was smoother.
I also compared the RB42 with a set of Pioneer SP-BS22-LR speakers ($96 a pair), which have been a longstanding Audiophiliac budget champ. The SP-BS22-LR’s sound balance was lighter, cooler and less rich over all. There’s a softness to the sound of the RB42 that some might hear as a blurring of detail compared with the SP-BS22-LR or B652 Air speakers. Still, I loved the way the RB42 added body to the sound of vocals. Then again the larger SP-BS22-LR reproduced dynamics with greater impact — the RB42 couldn’t keep up.
With Holly Cole’s Temptation album, the SP-BS22-LR’s sound was very forward and immediate, while the RB42’s was softer and more distant. Treble sparkle was lacking, but the SP-BS22-LR was too bright on this recording, while the RB42’s sweeter demeanor made it easier to listen to.
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.