I occasionally have friends say to me, “Hey, you write for an audio magazine. How can I get a good hi-fi system without spending as much as you have?”
These are the folks who are perilously close to hopping in the car and heading to Best Buy or Target for a heavily promoted tabletop system — or worse. “There’s a better answer,” I tell them. “Check out this manufacturer’s website.”
That’s when I point them toward Audioengine, a cool company dedicated to bringing superior sound to the lifestyle crowd. Like the little engine that could, this outfit has figured out how to make intrepid products that more than pull their weight. For about what the average listener would pay for that big-box unit — which has a price/quality ratio heavily affected by its huge advertising budget — they can hop aboard the high-end train.
Audioengine’s latest product, the HD6 bookshelf speaker ($749 a pair), is its most amazing yet. I came away from a demo at T.H.E Show in Newport seriously impressed. If fact, I want a few pairs to put in my kitchen, office and bedroom.
The small (11.75” x 7.25” x 10”) monitors feature a built-in 50 watt-per-channel amplifier, wireless and digital inputs, a 24-bit DAC, a cloth grill and your choice of three handsome wood-veneer finishes (black, walnut and a stunning cherry). Audioengine didn’t skimp on the drivers, either: The HD6 sports a premium 5.5-inch Kevlar woofer and a 1-inch silk-dome tweeter.
Setup is simple. All you really need to start playing music is a source: an iPad or other digital device, a turntable and phono preamp, Apple TV, or even an old-school CD player. An antenna for streaming is included, as are cables and a remote. That’s a lot of tech. Still not convinced? You can try it all at home risk-free for 30 days.
When I arrived at Audioengine’s room, a representative was streaming “These Bones” by the Fairfield Four from his smartphone via Bluetooth. The sound was well-balanced, with the detailed but not edgy top end typical of silk domes, combined with a slightly forward midrange that served the voices well. There also was a surprising amount of bass for a speaker that specs out at 50 to 22,000 Hz. (You can add a matching S8 sub for $349 that will take you down to 27 Hz.)
I asked to hear Steely Dan’s “My Rival,” and a few keystrokes later the punchy drum-guitar-and-organ intro was filling the room. Donald Fagen’s voice came across with his trademark mix of sarcasm and irony, and the ghoulish laugh that floats up from the background near the end was nicely positioned in the generous soundstage.
In the realm of the high end, eight bills is about what you’d pay in tax on some cable for a he-man rig. The fact that Audioengine’s HD6 can give you a taste of audiophile sound for less than that, to me, makes these little jewels almost a giveaway. Whether you’re a casual listener or a hard-core enthusiast, you need a pair of Audioengines somewhere in your life. They’re that good.