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Can Cheap Speakers Satisfy?

If you had asked me that question last week, I would have answered with a resounding, "no." Then I saw this ad in a MicroCenter sale flyer advertising the MidiLand MLi-460 3-piece speakers for $12.95. For $12.95 Iíll try anything! Founded in 1990, this company appears to sell to OEMs more than retail; however, I suspect that their retail sales are rising rapidly if they can keep up in this killer price vs. performance market.

Description & Specs

This is a three piece, two-way design that incorporates a 4" subwoofer with two 3" full-range satellites. The sub is rated at 15 watts, while the satellites are rated at 4 watts each. All enclosures are plastic and all controls and connectors are on the rear of the sub. An AC output wall wart is used rather than a built in power supply. The small "dot" you see on the bottom front of the sub is a green led that illuminates when the unit is turned on.

These Things Actually Work!

Using Milli Vanilli as my bass testing CD, I achieved a whopping 100-decibel peak output at a distance of two feet. Volume wise, this is only 10 dB less than the Altec Lansing ACS-48s reviewed recently. The bass quality and quantity, although substantial for a 4" woofer, was no competition for the 48s though. But, one canít compare a $100 speaker setup to a $13 one.

What struck me odd was that, after several hours of high volume listening (not just Milli Vanilli), I didnít develop a severe case of listening fatigue. Listening fatigue can be identified as that overwhelming sensation that you must leave the area that is producing the offending sound(s). Most speakers in the sub-$20 category sound so incredibly bad, that I sometimes ponder why they are even manufactured. The MLi-460s do not fall into that category.

Two knobs protrude from the sub enclosure. The volume control turns the set on in addition to controlling the volume of the sub and the satellites. The sub knob becomes a relative control. Past speakersí sub controls arenít independent of the satellite volume and that is also a very welcome feature, especially in this price class.

MidiLandís specs also claim the rather ubiquitous 20Hz-20KHz frequency response. I wish that a tolerance would have been suggested, such as "plus or minus 6dB," or something similar. Having listened to professional high end speakers in the $100k category and having those "gold plated" jobs struggle with anything below 30Hz, I can confidently say that the 460s donít come close to 20Hz for a low end. More like 70Hz.

Kudos for the strained 4" sub though, because it can crank out 100dB of low frequencies, so you could almost feel realistic bass. But, Iím entirely too critical of these marvelously cheap boxes. The operative word here is cheap.

How To Obtain The Most BAM For Your Buck

The sub, really just a stressed out woofer, needs all the help it can get. Proper placement can significantly enhance the bass output both from the driver and the port. If practical, place the sub unit near the intersection of three walls. Corner positioning technically gives an 18dB boost in the almighty bass area. Since the 3-wall solution isnít an option even for me, I put my box on the floor, where two surfaces meet. This technically gives a 12dB boost in low frequencies. Lastly, if you canít locate your floor without the aid of a shovel, try squashing the little boomer against the wall-any wall. This only gives a paltry 6dB of theoretical boost, but itís better than near-field monitoring (free air).

Conclusion & Suggested Uses

I nabbed these for an old, pieced together, Pentium 120MHz bomb. That and when my wife was relegated to using that POJ (piece of junk), she complained of the lack of speakers. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I glanced at the MicroCenter $12.95 ad. Any old system that you simply donít want to spend more than $20 on speakers deserve these 460s. College dorm rooms could be accommodating too, as these shouldnít provoke touchy, close quartered neighbors to wrath. Unless you crank Ďem purposefully all the way up, then be prepared to suddenly become unpopular. Solution: invite the whole floor over for a frag fest. MicroCenterís price was a once in a lifetime loss-leader type, donít expect to grab these for anything less than a twenty spot. Overall, Iíd unhesitatingly recommend these boxes to anyone looking to spend less than twenty-five bucks (US, of course).

William Yaple
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