Three under fifty - shootout test - Part II

Lonpoo LP42, Fenton SHFB55B, McGrey BSS-265, three speakers around 50€...and the winner is...

[Three under fifty]
From left to right: Lonpoo LP42, Fenton SHFB55B, McGrey BSS-265
[Italian version here]

Products: Fenton SHFB55B, Lonpoo LP42, McGrey BSS-265 - bookshelf loudspeakers
Manufacturers: Fenton/Skytronic, Lonpoo, McGrey
Approx. price: around 50€/pair, depending on sites, offers and local shipping costs
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Reviewed: March, 2020

In Part I I've introduced the contenders in this shootout test, namely the Lonpoo LP42, the Fenton SHFB55B and the McGrey BSS-265 loudspeakers. Now, let's discover which one performs best.

Let me put this straight: my best bet, before connecting the speakers to my system, was on the McGrey BSS-265, because of their larger cabinet and woofers (16cm/6.5"). Hence, I was expecting the best bass range, both for depth and impact, the best control on transients (because of the acoustic suspension) and the best dynamic performance. And I was wrong. Dead wrong. The best speaker of the lot is, and not by a small margin, the Lonpoo LP-42. It clearly outperforms the contenders in each and every area. Despite being the smallest one, with the smallest woofer, this loudspeaker is simply amazing and puts the other contenders into shame.

First of all, it has a neutral tonal balance, with a clarity you would NEVER expect from a 50€/$ loudspeaker. It clearly outperforms my previous reference in this price range, the Scythe KroCraft. The sound is precise, transparent and, most of all, incredibly dynamic and fast. The McGrey BSS-265, my best bet, appears slow, muffled, confused, in comparison. Ok, if you listen to the McGrey without a direct comparison with the Lonpoo you might also find it surprisingly good for the price. And it is, actually! But the the Lonpoo raises the ante, and not by a small amount.

And now the biggest surprise: the bass range! I was expecting the small woofer of the LP-42 to be humiliated by the 6.5" unit of the McGrey. Well, it has not been the case. Quite the contrary: the bass range of the McGrey has good presence and impact, but lacks articulation. It delivers just a boring one-key bass note. For sure, the highly resonant cabinet adds colouration to the sound the woofer tries to reproduce. And colouration equals distortion. And distortion equals confusion. This means that the cabinet has a resonant frequency that adds itself to the signal, making the sound less faithful than it should be. The lack of articulation is another by-product of cabinet resonance.

Not so the Lonpoo! Clearly, the small cabinet and the small woofer have physical limits that can't be overcome, but when it works within its “comfort zone”, it is truly magic. And the bass is much more extended and powerful than you might expect, especially if you place the speakers closer to the rear wall. In a completely free standing installation, bass lacks weight and extension. You might think the same applies to the McGrey as well. Surprisingly, no! In a classical freestanding position the bass is as described: one-key note, confused, blurred. Place the speakers close to the rear wall and things get even worse. The level of confusion increases while overall impact and depth do not improve. Hence, the comparison between these two speakers has been performed placing them in their respective best sounding positions (freestanding for the McGrey and close to the rear wall for the Lonpoo).

Moving up to analyze the mid and high range and the Lonpoo literally shine: low level of distortion, clear voices, refined treble and, most of all, harmonic richness in spades. And this is exactly another parameter where they outperform the McGrey. Harmonic richness depends mainly on the quality of the tweeter. The comparison between these two units is simply unfair. The silk dome tweeter of the Lonpoo belongs to another league, definitely. Don't think the McGrey tweeter does something wrong, it just doesn't perform as one might expect in a truly audiophile environment. Oh yes, it is well extended, it has a low level of distortion, but it lacks that spark of finesse that we really need to call a sound “audiophile”. It definitely lacks harmonic richness.

All these mentioned aspects clearly affect soundstaging performance as well. Indeed, the Lonpoo outperform the McGrey in this area, too. And it is amazing to see that even such inexpensive loudspeakers can create a reasonable 3D image. The Lonpoo, of course, benefit from the small and solid cabinet, which is almost free from resonances. Hence the virtual stage, though not huge, is stable and possesses a good focus on instruments and singers. Not so the McGrey, which create a flat, thin, blurred stereophonic image.

In the macrodynamics department, the Lonpoo perform very well, until the small woofers reach the end of their “travel”. With heavy bass tracks, be careful with the listening level and turn the volume down immediately after the first signs of compression/distortion. Within their limits, the sound is agile, quick and even punchy. Conversely, the McGrey sound slow - which is surprising considering it is an acoustic suspension! - and generally lazy and boring, especially with rock tracks.

Summarizing I admit that - despite my expectations - I haven't been able to find an area where the McGrey perform better than the Lonpoo. These are vastly superior and succeed to deliver a sound that I'd dare to call audiophile.

You might have noticed I haven't still written a word about the Fenton/Skytronic loudspeaker. The reason is that these speakers fail to deliver a sound that can be classified as HiFi. The difference with the other two contenders is simply HUGE. While I could easily live with a pair of McGreys in a secondary system, I couldn't tolerate the sound of the Fentons not even for five minutes. Their sound is thin, one-dimensional, metallic and even distorted. For 50€ it could be tolerable, only if - for the same money - you don't know you can get something better. And both the Scythe, the Lonpoo and the McGrey are vastly superior. Period.

These three speakers, when compared to my reference in the budget class, namely the Elac Debut B5, a 250€/$ bookshelf that performs like a 1000€/$ loudspeaker, have a smaller sound, with less bass, impact and articulation.

[Lonpoo LP42 e Elac Debut B5]
From left to right: Lonpoo LP42, Elac Debut B5

Some advice/tweaking

All these speakers benefit from a long period of break-in. Do not judge their sound right out of the box! They get better after 20 hours of listening at high SPL. Place the Lonpoo close to the rear wall (even 50 cm are enough, feel free to experiment) and the McGrey on a stand, far from nearby walls. Place the Fenton inside their box and seal completely with duct tape :-)

And now for some tweaking: the Lonpoo are extremely well made, it is hard to find an area where they can be improved. A better high quality filtering cap on the tweeter might help, though. And maybe some internal reinforcement for the cabinet.
The McGrey - in my opinion, will greatly benefit from a heavy modification of the cabinet: damping sheets inside, perhaps even some cross-bracing. A rewiring with better cables might help and, of course, do not forget the better filtering cap. Nothing to do with the Fenton: the problem is not the cabinet, but the quality of the drivers, hence there's nothing you can do.

As for amplifiers: these speakers can handle lots of power, despite their price and their size. Their sensitivity is average (85-87 dB/w/m) so even a 20 watter amp can be a reasonable partner, in a small room.

Conclusions

Looking for a sub-100€/$ complete HiFi system that can deliver a reasonable, even surprising, audiophile sound? Buy a pair of Lonpoo LP-42 and a 30€/$ Nobsound TPA3116 amplifier, hook up your laptop or smartphone and you're done. At this price you can purchase a modest Bluetooth active loudspeaker that performs nowhere near this small audiophile combo. This kind of quality, for this ridiculously low price, was unbelievable just a couple of years ago. Now there are no longer excuses for not having a decent HiFi system: such a set up is extremely small and portable, sounds unbelievably well and costs almost nothing. This is the real essence of progress.

DISCLAIMER. TNT-Audio is a 100% independent magazine that neither accepts advertising from companies nor requires readers to register or pay for subscriptions. After publication of reviews, the authors do not retain samples other than on long-term loan for further evaluation or comparison with later-received gear. Hence, all contents are written free of any “editorial” or “advertising” influence, and all reviews in this publication, positive or negative, reflect the independent opinions of their respective authors. TNT-Audio will publish all manufacturer responses, subject to the reviewer's right to reply in turn.

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© Copyright 2020 Lucio Cadeddu - direttore@tnt-audio.com - www.tnt-audio.com