March 1, 2010
Audioengine P4 Loudspeakers
After Id reviewed Audioengines A2 multimedia speakers in July 2008, they were
named GoodSound!s Product of the Year for that year, and Ive lived
happily with them ever since. Audioengine packed fabulous nearfield sound into the
A2s dinky cabinet, and crammed a 15Wx2 amplifier into one of em in the
bargain -- no mean engineering feat. Their stunning fidelity and transparency makes
listening to Radio Paradise over my Mac Mini sheer rhapsodic joy. Well, OK, maybe a tad
short of absolute bliss -- but the A2s are really, really good. When my editor
suggested I take on a pair of Audioengines P4 speakers, I thought, "If
Audioengine could cram that kind of wallop into those little powered speakers, imagine
what they could do without having to create space for an amp."
The P4 ($249 USD per pair) is what weve come to
expect from Audioengine: petite. A 0.75" silk-dome tweeter and a 4" Kevlar-cone
midrange driver are packed into a front-ported box measuring 9"H x 5.5"W x
6.5"D and weighing but 6 pounds. Significantly, Audioengine has the drivers made to
its own specifications, rather than lifting them off another makers shelf. This
gives Audioengine the next-best control over product quality -- the best being, of course,
making their own drivers. The cabinets are made of sturdy, 0.75"-thick MDF and
finished in Satin Black (my review pair) or Hi-Gloss White -- or, for another $76/pair, a
very green, very cool Solid Carbonized Bamboo. A rear receptacle holds two very sturdy
five-way, gold-plated binding posts, and two 3/8" threaded inserts for wall mounting.
This receptacle is at the top of the rear panel -- an odd configuration, perhaps to
facilitate mounted applications. Regardless, the P4s fit and finish are exemplary --
this diminutive speaker is all heft and gravitas.
Like its powered brethren, the P4 does not come with a
grille. Audioengines website asserts that Kevlar drivers dont need protection,
and that may be so. Still, I have reservations about the vulnerability of a silk-dome
tweeter in an open office environment -- a concern especially germane to the A2.
I auditioned the P4s in two different environments and
applications -- first, a modest system in the living room consisting of a Harman/Kardon
Festival 60: an all-in-one 35Wpc system with a seven-disc CD changer, which we run with
PSB Image 2B speakers (an earlier version of the au courant Image B5). For an intimate
space, the Image 2Bs offer pristine clarity and appreciable bass -- a challenge to any
wannabe replacement. Unfortunately, midway through the review, the Festival 60 began to
have problems playing CDs. So I moved the P4s upstairs to the Man Cave, my dedicated music
room, where they were fed by an original Sunfire amplifier, an Audio by Van Alstine Omega
Star EC III preamplifier, and a Parasound C/DP 1000 CD player. In both systems I use
Kimber Kable 4VS speaker cables terminated with banana plugs.
Loudspeakers may devour power by the megawatt, but most
power amplifiers use only a tiny fraction of their output at any given time. The 35Wpc
Festival 60 played as loudly as we could want, either in the living room or in the
adjacent dining room. The Image 2Bs have a 1" dome tweeter and a 6" midrange
driver. Their gifts are gobs of midbass, a whistle-clean midrange, and an uncluttered
After Id broken in the Audioengines with blasts of
out-of-phase pink noise, into the downstairs system they went. Shock and awe? Not exactly,
but the P4s proved able replacements for the PSB Image 2Bs in the critical aspect of
reproducing the music we expected to hear with little or no coloration, distortion, or any
artifact that compromised the fidelity of the sound. Moving the P4s up to the Man Cave
changed only their environment, not their performance.
OK, there were qualifiers. First, while the midbass was
rendered with sumptuous generosity, it wasnt always as deeply reverberant as one
might want. For example, on the title track of Marti Joness Any Kind of Lie
(CD, RCA 2040-2-R), the menacing growl of Don Dixons double bass, as his bow slowly
scrapes back and forth, lost only a little depth through the P4s. Deep bass, however, was
MIA. The subterranean synth bass in "Orinoco Flow," from Enyas Watermark
(CD, Reprise 26774-2), stayed politely on the musics surface -- the 30Hz note that
concludes the bridge simply disappeared. That said, for nearfield listening I found the
P4s midbass accurate, complementary, and pretty much lacking any of the artifacts --
standing waves, boominess, and so on -- routinely associated with deep-bass reproduction.
This was true, albeit light, bass. Then again, any appreciable bass from a speaker
this teensy is a huge plus.
Second, the P4 got the midrange right. We audio reviewers
have field days with speakers that either shriek up the treble or poop out on bass.
Theres no such thing as the perfect speaker, so one can have a great time heaping
hefty loads of critical verbiage atop whatever compromises the designer had to make to
bring his baby in either within budget or within the range of human hearing. However, for
any designer, achieving midrange accuracy is noteworthy, regardless of where the extreme
treble and bass roost, and the P4s delivered the midrange in heaping, steaming platefuls
of aural satisfaction.
This was especially apparent with well-recorded acoustic
music. Vienna Tengs Dreaming Through the Noise (CD, Zoe 01143-1091-2) is
mostly recorded with a shifting acoustic ensemble. Tengs voice (more on this below)
on this recording is prominent by subtraction: she rarely breaks a soft whisper. The
accompaniment, therefore, must be just as quiet, as much a challenge for the recording
engineer as for the players. On "Transcontinental, 1:30 a.m.," Till Bronner
breathes his trumpet solo with effortless intimacy, as subdued and restrained as if
playing tableside in a dark café. So immediate was the sound through the P4s that I felt
as if I could hear his breath course through the valves. Similarly, Dina Maccabbees
viola solo in "Blue Caravan" resonated so deeply that I imagined I could hear
the notes developing in the body cavity before emerging bathed in wood and varnish. Stan
Getzs classic tenor-sax solo on "The Girl from Ipanema," from Getz/Gilberto
(CD, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UCDC 607), with its infectious swing and breathless
intensity, soared from the P4s with astonishing presence.
Perhaps the acid test for any speaker is the female voice,
and here the P4s etched an enviable pattern of uncolored accuracy. Vienna Tengs
diction in "Blue Caravan" approaches Ella Fitzgeralds in crisp,
crystalline precision -- dentals pop and explode, labials roll with gleeful abandon.
Similarly, Enyas superb vocal on "Evening Falls," also from Watermark,
streamed naturally, with no hint of chestiness or sibilance. Having the P4s around would
be excuse enough to haul out your collection of Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, and Aretha
Franklin records, to luxuriate in the honesty and depth of their singing.
Stereo effects were rendered with remarkable fidelity.
Stereo imaging, as one would expect with any modern speaker, was rock solid. Out-of-phase
information spread admirably beyond the speakers, and soundstaging was equally impressive.
In "Canned Music," from Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks Striking It Rich!
(CD, MCA MCAD-31187), Hickss voice was dead center, with Naomi Ruth Eisenbergs
to the left and Maryann Prices to the right -- none wavered a skosh, a paragon of
how ensemble vocals can occupy discrete spaces yet seamlessly mesh. The percussion bridge
in Acoustic Alchemys "Mr. Chow," from Red Dust & Spanish Lace
(CD, MCA MCAD-5816), floated high above the speakers -- exactly where it should. If I have
any quibble, it was that the soundstage depth was fairly shallow -- neither the Hicks nor
Acoustic Alchemy recordings, despite the dead-on placement of voices and instruments,
achieved the spatial depth that Ive heard from them through admittedly more
Finally, one might expect small speakers, with their
necessary focus on the midrange and treble, to not quite fade into the background.
Not so the P4s -- commensurate with their able stereo imaging and handling of out-of-phase
information, the P4s achieved a level of transparency Ive heard only in very
expensive speakers of this size. They didnt virtually "disappear," but
what I heard was music, with scant evidence that the amazing phalanx of sound was
emanating from two rather small black boxes. The placements of the voices in "Canned
Music" were testament to their soundstaging and lack of directionality. Yes,
Eisenbergs and Prices voices were to the left and right, respectively, but
Eisenbergs was placed slightly outside the left speaker, Prices slightly
outside the right. Lesser speakers have collapsed that distance, placing both singers between
With more recent recordings (alert readers will recognize
the graying pedigree of my time-honored reference recordings), such as Koops Koop
Islands (CD, Atlantic 237052-2), Tengs Dreaming Through the Noise, and
Snow Patrols A Hundred Million Suns (CD, Geffen B0012156-02), the sound was
more fully realized, with depth and cohesion. This may or may not be attributable to
modern engineering practices, which tend to compress and limit recordings as much as
possible. Regardless, when I played these recordings, there was no doubt that these
diminutive wonders could fill a room with sound.
See our Audioengine P4
photo gallery featuring the Carbonized Solid Bamboo finish.
A year ago, I reviewed the TEAC
DR-H300 DVD receiver for our companion site Home Theater & Sound. Its
a $400 combo of two-channel receiver (with subwoofer out) and DVD player that delivers a
marvel of audio and video options, and is designed for small spaces. I suggested that,
mated to the right bookshelf speaker, it would be perfect for the proverbial dorm room.
Well, here it is: The Audioengine P4 is the perfect
bookshelf speaker for space-challenged environments. With the right recording, it will
fill a substantial room with crystal-clear sound -- but in a small room where nearfield
listening is more the rule than the exception, the P4s are impressive. Ive suggested
above that theyre somewhat bass-shy, and there is where the beauty of mating them
with the DR-H300 comes in: Just connect a small subwoofer to the DR-H300s subwoofer
output and youll have the full spectrum of luscious, inviting, uncompromised sound
-- one that will fit into a small space and will make that small space feel as if
its a lot bigger.
Ill go out on a limb here: Audioengine has found a
unique, and perhaps a preferred, method for developing a speaker line. In an effort to
bring new life, not to mention fidelity, to new methods of listening to music, they began
with powered computer speakers, the A2 and somewhat larger A5, and a subwoofer, the AS8.
For instance, the A2s input will accommodate an iPod just as easily as it will a PC
input. Having cut their teeth on wrenching excellent sound from compromised enclosures --
several of their speaker models contain an amplifier -- theyve simply removed the
amp and built a traditional unpowered -- OK, passive -- speaker, and kicked
off their next generation of small, affordable products, which have sound that is simply
As I conclude this review, Im listening to Elliott
Smiths sublime XO (CD, DreamWorks SRMD-50048). Like the newer recordings
cited above, its filling the room with clear, uncompromised, unfettered sound. Is
the sound of the P4s as deeply realized as that of the PSB Image 2Bs? No -- but
considering their size and driver complement, the P4s come pretty darn close. Attentive
readers will know that Im a big fan of big surprises, and big sound from small
boxes. Like the A2, the P4 is a great speaker and an incredible value. Youre going
to have to spend a lot more -- a whole lot more -- to achieve the measures of sound
quality and packaging convenience afforded by the Audioengine P4.
. . . Kevin East
Audioengine P4 Loudspeakers
Price: $249 USD per pair in Satin Black or Hi-Gloss White, $325 per pair in Carbonized
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
Phone: (877) 853-4447