Part of what make the P4 so effective, though, is its tonal purity. To appreciate what I mean, listen for the distinctive sound of a cowbell and then the lingering shimmer of a high-pitched cymbal to ring out, about one minute into the track. A few seconds later, note the seductive, reedy sound of a sax as it enters the mix, contributing a new solo voice to the ensemble. The effect is not unlike hearing the sonic equivalent of a master chef adding spices and flavorings until the mix becomes almost unbelievably rich and exotic. These kinds of vivid, believable tonal colors, which are a real strength of the P4s, do much to pull you into the music and to hold your attention.
Interestingly, and I think very importantly, the P4 doesn’t necessarily require well-made recordings (such as “Tumbao No. 5”) to be enjoyable. To prove this point, I put on a favorite track from way back in my teenage years; namely, “Strange Brew” from Cream’s Disraeli Gears [Polydor, remastered reissue]. Realistically, this is a recording made decades ago on not terribly sophisticated equipment, and even with Polydor’s remastering efforts it still would not qualify as being audiophile-grade by any stretch of the imagination. Even so, the P4s managed to accentuate the positive while not making the tracks rough edges (of which there are more than a few) sound painfully harsh. In particularly, the P4s did a good job with the Jack Bruce’s lithe, syncopated bass lines, even though a plainly overdriven, old school bass amplifier is carrying the sound of Bruce’s bass. Similar, the P4’s did a beautiful job of capturing the wailing/singing qualities of Eric Clapton’s solo electric guitar lines, while contrasting those qualities against the hard, sharp, choppy-sounding bark of Clapton’s occasional strummed accent chords. My point here is that, even when recordings are far from perfect, the P4s enable you to wade through the occasional raw spots and rough edges to find and to savor the soul of the music.
Unlike finicky speakers that demand a steady diet of audiophile recordings in order to work their magic, the P4 instead invites you to choose your own music, because it can provide serious musical enjoyment even—and perhaps especially—under less than ideal circumstances. The cool part is that the P4 is revealing enough to show you what makes great recordings great, and yet forgiving enough to enable you to find enjoyment in records that are, frankly, quite imperfect—a quality music lovers (note that I did not say “audiophiles”) will appreciate more and more in the P4 as time goes on.
Consider this compact bookshelf speaker if: you want a well-built, right-sized desktop speaker whose overall tonal balance and voicing represents a truly artful blend of strengths and cleverly calculated compromises. By this I mean that the speaker sounds detailed yet not edgy, full-bodied yet not “sugar-coated” or lugubrious, and offers good mid-bass (and upper bass) punch and vitality without sounding boomy or colored. You can spend more on small desktop speakers, but once you hear the P4 you may not feel the need to do so.
Look elsewhere if: you require a self-amplified speaker (in which case other Audioengine models will better suit your needs), or if you are looking for speakers that push the “resolution envelope” even harder that this one does. But as the old adage goes, “be careful what you ask for, because you may get it.” True, you can find small speakers that do more, but they’ll typically cost a lot more and may even give you “too much of some good thing.”
Ratings (compared to similarly-priced bookshelf speakers):