Bose Companion 2 III, Mackie CR3 and Edifier R1280T comparison review. What is the best budget speaker under 100 dollars/euro ?

Hi! I today's review, I will try to find an answer to a questions many of You may ask, "what is the best budget speaker at price around 100euro/dollars". To answer this question I gathered some of the most popular speakers on the market at this price point, namely Bose Companion 2III, Mackie CR3 and Edifier R1280T. Hopefully, at the and of this comparison, I will have for You a definite answer. Let the comparisons begin!


Let's star with presenting our contenders in alphabetical order. Bose Companion 2 III is a third generation of Bose Companion 2. Unlike two previous generation, it is all black this time and has mesh grill instead of aluminum one. Companion 2 III is a single full range driver design, that means in each cabinet there is only one driver (rather small, Bose does not specify how big, I guess it is around 2.5 - 3inch in diameter). This single driver has to cover all the frequency range from bass to high end, and this has some implications (good and bad) to the sound we are going to discuss later. To power two full range drivers, Bose has stereo amplifiers built in master cabinet, but again Bose does not say how much power they have. There are only two inputs that You can use to feed the analog signal to speakers, both 3.5mm jacks on the back of master speaker. On the front of master speaker we can find a volume control that also is used to power up the speakers and 3.5mm headphone jack to connect Your headphones. Size of Bose cabinets is easily the most compact here, so it will be easies to find space for them and to move them around. Build quality is OK, nothing spectacular, plastics looks rather shiny and only the mesh grill gives it a bit of premium look. Bose is a brand that makes products with premium vibe to them, but Companion 2 lacks this vibe completely which is a pity. Knocking on the enclosure (especially on the side walls) produce unpleasant, loud and hollow sound which is not very promising for the sound quality. Both speakers are connected with 2 meter cable that gives enough flexibility to place the speakers where You want. What is also worth mentioning is that there is no light indicator that gives You the idea if the power in speakers is on or not. Bose provides one 3.5mm jack to 3.5mm jack cable to connect Your devices




Next up is Edifier R1280T. Right off the bat, R1280T is on the opposite side of the size, looks and feature spectrum to Bose. Edifier is the biggest in this comparison, looks most grown up and domesticated (my girlfriend liked them the most) and has most generous feature set here. Unlike Bose, R1280T is made entirely of MDF and feel much more solid. Knocking on the enclosure reveals gives very assuring thud that promises very little cabinet resonances. Sides of the speaker are covered in vinyl that mimics wood and looks good to my surprise, as I did not have high expectations at this price point. Drivers on the front are protected by removable grills. They gives speakers nice clean look but also impact the sound a bit.




Drivers used here are 0.5inch tweeter and 4inch woofer. Drivers are powered by two channel amplifier with total power of 42 watts. On the front, next to drivers, is bass reflex port and (on the master speaker) a receiver for remote control that is included in the bundle. On the right side of master speaker we can find led power indicator and three recessed dials, one for volume control and two other for tone controls (one for bass and the other one for high frequencies). Edifier is the only speaker here that gives the user ability to shape the speaker tone and the only one with remote control. Plastic remote allows user to control the volume and to mute it completely and it is not much and a lot at the same time as two other contenders do not give You this ability at all. All the inputs (2 times stereo RCA) are placed on the back as is the power switch and connectors to connect the slave speaker (2.5m cable to connect them is provided). Edifier also adds two connection cables, one RCA to RCA and one 3.5mm jack to RCA.




And last but not least, Mackie CR3. In terms of physical size in the middle of the road between two other contenders. It is also a two way design, like Edifier, but in smaller than Edifiers enclosure, and its looks are a bit similar to Bose thanks to matt black finish. To spice looks up and make it more appealing to younger customer Mackie added green rings around the drivers. I do not like how they look, but it is just my opinion and You may find it cool. What is not cool, like in CR4 I tested some time ago, is the plastic front that is very vocal when You knock on it. It is not as vocal as in CR4, thanks to less surface, but still it feels cheap and affects the sound significantly. Except for the plastic front, the rest of the enclosure is made of MDF and feels sturdy enough. The fit and finish is also OK, on par, if not above, of what we find in Bose. Volume control knob, located on the front of the master speaker, is surrounded by green LED ring that lights up when the power is on. Mackie CR3 is the only one here that has foam pads included in the box that helps to decouple the speakers from the surface they are on. Those foam pads can also be used to elevate and angle the speakers to our liking. Big plus for Mackie for that.

Same as Edifier, Mackie CR3 is a two way design with stereo amplifier built in. Drivers used here, 1ich soft dome and 3inch plastic woofer, that are powered by 50 watts stereo amplifier, and that is the most power of all three speakers tested. To feed the signal to Mackie CR3, we can use either unbalanced RCA inputs on the back or 3.5mm aux in on the front, or balanced TRS inputs on the back (it is the only speaker here with balanced inputs, but it does not make any difference for me in this case). To send the signal from master speaker to slave speaker there is 2m signal cable provided. Also 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable and 3.5mm to RCA cable is provided to connect Your devices.

Sound Quality

Before I comment on how they sound i will start with describing how I tested them. For tests I used external monitor controller from Behringer, the Monitor 2 USB controller, that has USB DAC built in, and allows to switch between two pairs of monitors on the fly for the best comparison. Signal was fed via USB cable from my laptop to controller. For the test I always level match the speakers first and then I start listening switching and comparing, will say that all three speakers here have very little to no self noise, hiss or what ever You may call it, and if I wanted to be picky I would say that Mackie has the most of it (hiss to be exact, but it is inaudible without putting my ear next to the tweeter).




OK, now is the time to describe how they all sound and I will start at the bottom ;) Bass response is something that differentiates these speakers the most and there is only one winner in this department, Edifier. This may be due to the size of R1280T or it may be because of it's rigid construction, probably is both, but Edifier, as the only one here, has bass that I would call good. It is quite deep (around 60Hz, in my space, is where they reach audibly) toneful and detailed without too much of upper bass boost (there is some but not to the point of being distracting). Bose on the other hand has suprisingly deep bass for the size (65Hz is the audible limit) but it comes with LOTS of distortion and port chuffing even on normal listening levels. Mackie in my opinion is even worse than Bose because of one thing, upper bass boost, that makes everything sound boomy and hollow. This bass boost is audible with every kind of music I played and the worst was acoustical bass that was annoyingly boomy. Mackie, all though much bigger than Bose, has less reach down low with only about 70Hz of reach, but has less distortion doing so, which is nice I guess. When whe talk about bass response we also have to mention dynamic range and max volume capabilities of our contenders. Most dynamic speaker here is Edifier that can hit quite hard and give nice contrast between quiet and loud passages. Edifier also can play bay far the loudest without introducing much distortion. It is the only one here that can fill small to medium room with sound. Bose is far on the other side of the spectrum, starting to sound strained, flat and distorted when the volume goes anything beyond normal listening levels. Mackie seem to fall somewhere between those two, with quite flat dynamics and not much in terms of maximum volume capabilities (it can get louder than Bose, but it is far from Edifier), even though it is rated as most powerful by manufacturer.

Next up is midrange, and here things are more even, but not the same. Most balanced and neutral midrange I have found, again, in Edifier. It not perfect, to be honest, but from all three contenders here is the best. To describe Edifier's midrange, I will say, is a bit forward, clear and detailed, but a bit lifeless and not very 3D, congested You may say. There is also audible lack of presence in the midrange, cymbals, snares and guitar sounds seem a bit hollow, probably due to crossover point between the tweeter and the woofer. Edifier is not the best choice for acoustic music. Mackie's midrange has some nasal colorations and is impacted by upper bass boost but overall it is not bad, actually it has better presence than Edifier. The upper midrange in Mackie, all though a bit laid back, is nicely detailed and sweet sounding, which is the opposite of what Bose offers. Bose's midrange seem to be artificially boosted in upper ranges and nasal in lower ranges (probably due to resonating cabinets), but lack of crossover helps with clarity. I would say this is draw between Mackie and Edifier, with slight nod from me to Edifier for having midrange better balanced with the rest of the spectrum.




High end is where Mackie's 1inch dome gives it slight advantage over Edifier and, with BIG margin, over Bose. Bose's high end is more or less non existent, due to single driver that has to work from the boosted bass, through the boosted upper midrange up to high end, where it gives up very early, leaving listener with muffled and veiled facade of high end. Edifier is much closer to Mackie in treble quality, again it is nicely balanced with the rest of audio spectrum and quite detailed, but lacks the sweetness of Mackie's treble and is more grainy. I have to mention that Edifier's mesh grills impact the sound in high end and to some extent in upper midrange. When used without the grills, Edifier sounds more open than when the grills are on. The difference is not major but audible nonetheless. When we talk about midrange and high end, I have to mention about soundstageing. Soundstageing is where Bose finally has something to say. Thanks to single driver design, Bose throws big soundstage that reaches beyond speakers boundaries with strong central image and quite precise images. Edifier is not far behind with soundstage that is detailed but a bit more congested between the speakers. Mackie has almost as broad soundstage as Bose but lacks a bit of depth that both Bose and Edifier have. Overall, neither of these three speakers is perfect, they all have some problems, but it is Edifier that manages its flaws the best.

Below You can check out sound comparisons:

BOSE vs MACKIE

EDIFIER vs MACKIE

EDIFIER vs BOSE


Comparison

I have compared all three of our contenders with to other, more expensive and bigger speakers, namely Behringer 50USB and JBL LSR305. I will not comment on the comparisons with JBL, because this speaker is out of reach for all three of our contenders (not suprisingly so, considering the size and price differences). Comparisons with Behringer, that I quite liked in one of my recent review, was more interesting, especially in Edifier's case. To be honest, Edifier managed to come really close to 50USB in overall sound quality, which is impressive considering the difference in price (Behringer is almost 50% pricier). Either Edifier nor Behringer is perfect speaker though. Behringer, overall, is darker sounding speaker than Edifier, which seem to be better balanced sounding with more forward midrange. Edifier lacked just a bit of fine details in upper midrange and high end compared to Behringer. Both Edifier and Behringer have similarly extended bass response, but it is Edifier that feels like more dynamic speaker on normal listening levels. On the other hand Behringer can play louder that Edifier and will fill bigger spaces with sound. Behringer created a bit wider soundstage with more sense of depth. Behringer is also much better choice if You listen to a lot of acoustic music.
Bose has nothing on Behringer except for far more compact size and clarity of midrange. Also Mackie has very little to say when compared to Behringer but the differences are less evident compared to Bose.



Summary

As You probably already can say, I have clear winner of this comparison, and it is Edifier R1280T. It has the best overall sound quality, best build quality and most useful features. It is great solution for anyone looking for inexpensive desktop speaker, it can work great as a bedroom speaker and TV speaker, thanks to remote control, so if You look for the best speaker for up to 100 dollars/euro, this is it (as long as You do not listen to acoustic music exclusively). Other two contenders fall a bit short compared to Edifier. Bose is much more compact, so if You have very limited space or need speakers that You can take with You, than yeah, this may be speaker for You. Mackie sounds better that Bose but falls short compared to Edifier sound wise (mostly due to annoying, flat and boomy bass), feature wise and quality wise, so it is hard to recommend it either. Edifier R1280T wins and gets my recommendation. Cheers!



Final Score:

Edifier R1280T                 8/10

Mackie CR3                      7/10

Bose Companion 2 III      6.5/10




Edifier R1280T:
Pros:
- best bass response of the bunch
- good tonal balance between bass, midrange and high end
- good build quality and good looks
- remote control
- tone controls for bass and treble
- can play loud without sounding distorted

Cons:
- hollow midrange, not the best choice for acoustic music
- bigger than both competitors
- volume control on the side, power switch on the back


Mackie CR3:
Pros:
- good upper midrange and treble quality
- decent build quality
- balanced inputs
- front volume control and power switch

Cons:
- poor, boomy bass response
- recessed lower midrange smeared by boosted upper bass
- can't play loud, starts to sound boxy very early


Bose Companion 2 Series 3:
Pros:
- compact size
- good bass response cionsidering the small size of the drivers and cabinet
- expressive, forward midrange
- decent build quality

Cons:
- non existent high end
- bass distorts even on normal listetning levels
- midrange coloured by enclousere (honky)
- can't play loud at all

















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