Audioengine have a solid reputation as one of the goto brands for entry-level (read: affordable) hifi hardware. It’s not hard to see why: a tidy range of passive loudspeakers, amplifiers and Bluetooth/USB DACs all aimed at budgets that have both feet firmly planted on terra firma.
Better still are Audioengine’s powered offerings; speakers where the usually external amplifier is housed inside one box – the master – and hands off the slave channel’s signal via speaker wire (supplied)
At DAR HQ, a pair of the A5+ and a Chord Mojo ensure a top-notch TV watching experience in the bedroom; the resulting sound quality is light years ahead of anything I could wrestle from the LG flat panel’s comparatively weedy transducers.
Does the mainstream continue to underestimate the detrimental effect of poor sound quality on the visual experience? I reckon so. Harder to Netflix/YouTube/Hulu when straining to make out mumbled dialogue.
But it doesn’t have to stop there. The A5+ frees us from the pain of listening to Spotify through laptop speakers or Apple Music running on an Apple TV but outputting via a US$300 TV’s in-built speakers. Marketing departments ensure that the average TV’s build budget first goes to the screen, feature set and UI.
Sound quality often comes in as an afterthought with specified drivers being <$0.50 parts. “Anyone serious about sound is routing HDMI into a receiver and passive speakers”, they reason.
But if surround sound isn’t on your shopping list, why not skip out on the receiver and run Toslink out of the TV and into a pair of powered speakers? For that we need an outboard DAC. In that case, why not build D/A conversion directly into the speakers alongside the amplification circuitry?
Presumably this, or thinking like it, provided the genesis for Audioengine’s latest powered loudspeaker model, the HD6.
We caught its first public outing at RMAF last October. US$749 gets us a pair of powereds that include 2 x analogue inputs for turntablists and a DAC that can be hardwired to any Toslink-compatible source or fed wirelessly via aptX Bluetooth.
The HD6 is a complete audio system in a box that joins the dots between the whackier world of audiophillia and mainstream consumer electronics outlets like Best Buy (US), Dixons (UK) or Harvey Norman (Aus).
In my review of the HD6 last November, I framed the Audioengines as an affordable solution for real people. Real people like my friend Michelle who doesn’t attend audio shows but doesn’t like what she sees and hears at the big box retailers.
Back then, Michelle had just moved into a one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn and needed some sweet sounds to help turn it into a home.
Most generously, Audioengine responded approvingly to my suggestion of a follow-up piece and Michelle took delivery of a pair of HD6 in Walnut finish at the end of January.
“They are on books right now but I’m going to get stands. Oh – and you can let your readers know that no one has stolen them in do-or-die Brooklyn.” Consider it done.
The sound? “Awesome. Really, truly awesome”. The HD6 might not impress listeners weaned on Magicos or Wilsons but they mean the world to someone whose previous non-headphone listening came by way of a smartphone and laptop speakers.
Michelle shot some video of the HD6 in action in her apartment. Note the broad cross-section of musical styles:
Also notice how Michelle (thus far) uses Bluetooth and only Bluetooth to play music?
So too does Sydneysider Yolanda Beattie. The same powered Audioengine speaker model (in Cherry finish) replaced her pair of Harmon Kardon Soundsticks (+ sub) at the start of December 2015.
Readers that follow will recall Beattie as the gender equality expert called on by DAR for professional commentary on gender issues in audio land (i.e. the patronising nonsense that is ‘WAF’).
WAF didn’t come up when I interviewed Beattie about her four months with the HD6 but she did talk about their aesthetic qualities.
What stands tall in the video below is her love for artists like Caribou, The War On Drugs, Led Zeppelin, The XX, Hot Chip, David Bowie, Prince and Fleetwood Mac; that she predominantly listens via Pandora on her iPhone, which is wirelessly lassoed to the speakers via Bluetooth; and, most tellingly of all, that her daily post-work ritual now starts with an hour or two of music listening with her four-year old daughter who knows exactly where the volume control is located.
See/hear Yolanda enthuse about the HD6 here:
Yolanda does not once complain about Bluetooth’s minor qualitative shortcomings. Like Michelle, she presumably find its convenience too compelling.
Only the most furrowed-browed of audiophiles would claim inconvenience in and of itself as a badge of honour but many audiophiles still hear the lossy protocol’s weaknesses when run through high end systems and when compared to lossless connections.
Listeners like Michelle allow Bluetooth’s convenience to override any possible audible shortcomings.
Besides, the numerous steps up the qualitative ladder afforded by the HD6’s hardware easily outnumber the single step down of Bluetooth. An Apple TV is a mere US$99 away if/when either mainstreamer feels the need for an upgrade.
Audioengine loudspeakers shouldn’t be seen in the same category as other Bluetooth speakers. Proper stereo separation comes built into their design. As do high quality drivers and D/A conversion. You can’t say that about a UE Boom or a Beats Pill.
Ironically, charged with compiling a system through separate DAC, amplifier and passive loudspeakers would likely see Michelle and Yolanda baulk at (what they would see as) the ultimate inconvenience. Audioengine make it easy to get up and at ‘em with great sound at home without the oft-steep learning curve and research demanded by separates.
Choice is often the biggest barrier to entry to those curious about better sound. Audioengine’s HD6 see the customer taken care of in a single hit – no mess, no fuss. Hard to ask for more than that.
Further information: Audioengine