Audioengine is perhaps best known for its critically acclaimed, self-powered, desktop monitors, such as the mid-sized model A5 ($349/pair) and the smaller but—in its way—no less impressive model A2 ($199/pair). But the firm’s newest speaker, the P4 bookshelf speaker ($249-$325/pair, depending on finish) is a passive design. Why would a company that evidently specializes in self-powered speakers choose to add a passive model to its lineup? Audioengine supplies several answers in the following statement that can be found on the company’s website:
“The AP4 passive speakers are full-sounding bookshelf speakers in a satellite-sized package. The goal with AP4 was to design a small but powerful bookshelf speaker for people that already have surround receivers or amplifiers and are looking for the same Audioengine sound and quality in a passive loudspeaker.”
While this explanation certainly makes sense, I can think of a couple of other reasons for wanting to create, or to choose, the P4. One reason would be size, where the P4 neatly slots in the size gap between the very tiny model 2 and the considerably larger model 5. Another reason involves sheer sonic flexibility, where the P4 gives owners the freedom to mix and match amplifiers with the speaker to achieve subtle changes in overall system voicing characteristic to suite their personal listening tastes. A third reason involves superior placement flexibility, since the P4 lends itself equally well to wall-mount, stand-mount, or tabletop/bookshelf applications (by contrast, note that the rear panel of self-powered model A5 provides audio inputs, outputs, a power cord socket, and an on/off switch, which makes stand or wall-mounting a daunting proposition at best).
Put all of these factors together and the P4 stand as a compact speaker that offers the right sound and the right size for most desktop (or surround-sound) applications, and at the right price.
How best to power the P4? There are, of course, many different options, but the one Audioengine naturally hopes that listeners will consider is its own N22 Premium Desktop Audio Amplifier (covered by a separate review in this issue of Playback). For my listening tests, I drove the P4’s both with Audioengine’s N22 amp and with the also excellent NuForce Icon 2 DAC/amp.
As Audioengine promotional copy for the P4 proudly proclaims the speaker does indeed embody many of the core sonic qualities that together represent what might be termed the “Audioengine house sound.” Exactly what qualities are those? Allow me to provide a brief descriptive sketch.
First, I would say that the P4 offers a sound that is very revealing and detailed, yet that carefully refrains from pushing the outermost edges of the “resolution envelope” to a point that could become distracting, obnoxious, or even punishing. If you listen carefully to the P4 for extended periods of time, you may come away—as I did—with the sense that Audioengine’s engineers are to be thanked for in essence knowing when to say “when.” What I mean by this is that the little P4 treads that oh-so-fine line where it manages to reveal plenty of subtle inner detail in the music, yet stops just short of carving the edges of transient so sharply and fiercely that they could become painful (or could make less than ideal recordings sound simply dreadful).