Thursday, May 06, 2010

Audioengine P4 speaker review

A tiny little Monster

Unlike the most well known Audioengine speakers, the P4's are not self powered speakers. They are tiny, 9" high, 5-1/2" wide and 6-1/2" deep. They are two way and have a 4" Kevlar Mid/Woofer and 3/4" silk dome tweeter. That's tiny for "Real" speakers, large for computer speakers and about average for those "home theater in a box" speakers. Since they aren't self-powered it would seem their market is NOT computer speakers, but rather replacements for "home theater in a box" speakers, or stereo or home theater speakers for smaller rooms. You could get 4 of them and a subwoofer and have a nice surround sound system for small rooms. Unfortunately, you can't buy a single speaker to use as a center. So other than the above conjecture, your ideas are as good as mine as to what market they are selling to. They are available in Black, White and a very nice Bamboo finish.

The Test Setup
I am an anomally, a weirdo, a freekazoid, a wackjob, a "dork" (per Val) so I use small, "high end" mini monitors (Reference 3A Dulcet's) and a Denon AVR-3805 Receiver in my computer setup. For most people, that would seem, cough, cough, a wee bit excessive. The Dulcet's go for about $1799 new, the 3805 went for about $1200. Not exactly typical for a computer setup, but I LOVE my music, and spend a LOT of time on the computer, so hey, I'm a happy dork. 

The rest of the test setup is iTunes using music recorded as "wav" files (not MP3 or Apple "lossless") a Presonus Firestudio mobile Audio interface, and, if you must know, Jon Risch style 89259 speaker cables with WBT connectors.
So, I just unplugged the Dulcet's and plugged in the P4's and started listening. I did no measurements on these speakers.

Well, there is a lot of detail going on here. They sound very clear and natural. The silk dome tweeter is very nice, detailed, smooth and non-fatiguing. The 4" kevlar mid/woofer is also very good, detailed and smooth. The combination is excellent. While there seems to be a "detail" peak in the 4KHz range, most "audiophiles" like that, although clarinets and alto saxes could get a bit annoying with some recordings. Just a little bit too much upper/mid treble peakiness for me. It could just be the recordings themselves, though. Of course this is compared to much more expensive speakers, anyway. Compared to similar speakers? Yes, you can get "smoother" speakers, but in this price range, you will most likely lose something. For the most part Sax and strings were gorgeous. It may just be a slight crossover imperfection (most speakers have those, right?) or maybe something to do with the recessed tweeter. I assume the tweeter is recessed in a "horn like" fashion for better sensitivity rating, but dispersion and imaging would have improved with flush mounting. A 3/4" tweeter could have dispersed very well at a much higher frequency than the usual 1" tweeter which tends to "crash" dispersion wise at about 10KHz. Flush mounted, this tweeter with the nice rounded edges of the cabinet could have even better imaging. Of course, that's a pet peive of mine with todays speakers, that I tend to over emphasize. (see the "dork" reference above) Overall, the imaging was really, really good. Far better than most speakers anywhere nearr this price. 

The bass is very well defined and seems to get much lower than possible for speakers this size. I had assumed before that the Audioengine powered speakers did a lot of eq to get the bass response that they have, but perhaps it's just excellent speaker design? The bass output they do have is quite wonderful. They certainly seem relatively flat in the bass, no big 100-120Hz hump like you hear in most lesser speakers of this size and price. They also get down well under 100Hz with great effect and cleanliness, which is pretty rare for drivers this size. They are rated as 58Hz-22KHz, and that is quite believevable. The Caveat is that speakers this size cannot deliver low bass into any room that is not very small. As near field monitors you can hear their lower notes, but in a normal sized room, they quite simply can't properly "load the room". So, don't expect low frequency bass if you have anything but a small room. Sensitivity is 88dB (2.83v@1m) which is a little bit low, so they do take a bit of power to drive them. On the other hand, they are very small, so they get a bit compressed sounding if you push them too loud in "full range" speaker mode. String bass sounded extremely nice and believable without a sub woofer. In a larger room, I'd cross them over at 80Hz, to a nice sub, or even 100Hz, if you need higher volume levels. Of course, you can only get so loud with these "micro monitors" even with a big Sub. The drivers are not made for "concert" sound levels, and will dynamicly compress and get a bit strident if pushed too hard. If you need loud volumes, you need bigger speakers. If you have a large room, you should get bigger speakers. I did get the chance to listen to these with and without a subwoofer in a reasonably large room, and they sounded quite good. Cranking things up to extremes didn't work so well, they just couldn't get extremely loud, but at reasonable volumes, they will work quite well as fronts or rears.

At a $249 price, these speakers deliver a lot. Lots of other good brand name speakers deliver more loudness and more bass at this price, but very, very few deliver the intriguing mix of "high end" detail, and real, organic listenability that these offer. They are not speakers for AC/DC fans, but if you like to hear music that sounds as "real" as possible at reasonable levels in a smaller sized room, they are really quite good at that. Used as up close, "near field monitors" like in my setup, they are really very good. I already have way too many speakers in this place, but I don't see sending these back. The more I listen to them with different listening material, the more I like them. They were never on my "bucket list" like LS3/5A's or WATT/PUPPY's or other high end wonders, but they are a fun little speaker that sounds pretty amazing in the right way for me, "el dorko".

*Note: Ram Electronics is a Reseller for Audioengine speakers. The speakers were purchased after being returned rather than on loan for review. The author says he will cuss out anyone suggesting he is being impartial. But, then he's a wimp so don't worry about it... Have at it!

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