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Audioengine AP4 BookShelf Speakers Review  Print E-mail
Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Thursday, 24 September 2009
Article Index
Audioengine AP4 BookShelf Speakers Review 
Listening

Listening

The AP4s reminded me of a line from an old 7 Up commercial, “Crisp and clean, with no caffeine.” Bright highs and uncluttered midrange are two of the speaker's greatest strengths. They have a gracious soundstage belying their tiny size, and voices are well presented, too. Where the AP4s shine brightest is on vocal and instrumental music that isn't over driven by amplifiers – think very loud rock, metal and beyond. Feed the AP4s anything else and they'll reveal more than such a diminutive speaker has a right to.

One of my fondest musical discoveries was the superb songwriting featured in the 2007 movie Once. Like many others, it was my introduction to Glen Hansard and co-star Marketa Irglova. I recall watching the film and being blown away by the music. Now a soundtrack owner, I listened in rapture as Hansard and Irglova sang the powerfully sad “Lies.” There's a moment where the piano barely registers on any system I've heard, but the AP4s presented it without issue. The open-tuned guitars on the rollicking singalong “Gold” were also nicely in the mix, sounding like guitars.

Jack Johnson's vocals on 2008's Sleep Through The Static were excellent. The AP4s are capable of what I call “correcting the pace and space,” something that many good speakers do. Until you've heard a recording at its proper pace, made so by giving each voice and instrument in the mix its correct place in the sound stage. Tunes such as “Hope” and “Monsoon” sounded very good through the AP4s.

As well, I liked their handling of Richard Hawley's musings on Coles Corner. This recording is loaded with atmosphere, and Hawley's Englishman-meets-Leonard Cohen drawl is fascinating on tracks such as “Just Like The Rain” and “Born Under A Bad Sign.”

What can you expect on the low end from a 4-inch woofer? More than you'd think. One track I've been using lately to judge bass response and delivery is Bruce Cockburn's instrumental “Rise And Fall.” It's a mesmerizing piece of slow acoustic jazz that showcases the Canadian's dazzling guitar playing and some Jaco Pastorious-like bass from George Koller. The recording is intimate, and it feels like you're in the room as Cockburn's fingers slide across the strings and Koller glides across the bass.

AP4 closup

My biggest “Wow” moment came on an early Saturday morning. I was puttering about in the kitchen, when my wife decided to play Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' Raising Sand album. As I walked into the living room, where the AP4s were setup, the disc began and as the opening percussion of “Rich Woman” began I thought I was hearing some strange power surge, but it was the cymbals coming through the speakers with startling clarity and snap.

Where the AP4s fall a bit is on recordings with lots of guitar distortion or feedback. Listening to Peter Frampton's instrumental take on Soundgarden's “Black Hole Sun,” from Fingerprints, was one such instance. Frampton stays true to the original vibe, with a nasty guitar tone and even throwing in some talk-box at the song's closing. What I heard was congestion and boxy, as if all that was happening wasn't allowed out. There was a sense of containment that made it unpleasant to listen to.

Conversely, there was no such unpleasantness on Leslie West's Guitarded. This ill-named album features the guitar-slinger paired with rock luminaries including Ian Gillan, Gregg Allman and Joe Lynn Turner. West turns in a particularly strong performance on the live “Theme From An Imaginary Western,” a tune made famous when West was in Mountain. Written by Jack Bruce, “Theme..” is, arguably, West's finest moment, with two jaw-dropping solos and some of the most stinging and lyrical playing in the last five decades. This amped-up version is a monster, and though I would have liked to hear more of Randy Coven's bass, it was still firmly in the mix and didn't disappoint through the Audioengine's.

I wondered how the AP4s would react to a very dry and very loud recording of a very fast band. I grabbed Anthrax's Anthrology: No Hit Wonders (1985-1991), a double-disc of remastered tracks from the New York thrash legends. To my surprise, the AP4s handled the manic music better than the Frampton. The remasters are still dry as the Mojave Desert, but on “Time,” the rumbling bass of Frank Bello was very present, even as the twin-guitar attack of Scott Ian and Danny Spitz and Charlie Benante's wild drumming bashed about. Again, vocal presence was impressive: Joey Belladonna sounding up front and in stereo. It's not that the speakers couldn't handle the pace of the music, it's that I found the sound fatiguing after some time.

Jive Mother Mary is a trio out of Alamance County, North Carolina, whose sound hearkens back to the 1970s and bands such as Led Zeppelin, Whitesnake and Aerosmith. The mix of sleazy rock (“Bedroom Eyes” and “Fever”) along with trippy grooves (“Another New Never” and “Catalina”) are sure to win this band many converts as word gets out. Where the AP4s choked on “Black Hole Sun,” they sprung to life on the Stones-esque “Move On Home,” with a gritty Sticky Fingers-era riff channeled nearly 40 years on and sunny “Catalina.”

Final Thoughts

There's a lot to like about the AP4s. These mighty mites excel at reproducing voices and instruments in space. The soundstage is open and there's a palpable sense of decay on certain recordings. Though the AP4s handled about everything I through at them, I would not recommend them if your tastes are primarily heavy metal or you plan on cranking hard rock for hours at a time. Motorhead and Metallica fans should look elsewhere, but if your musical diet is of the lighter variety, you'll have many delicious experiences with the AP4s – the little 'Engines that could and can and do.

 

Company Note

Audioengine offers a 30-day, no-risk audition on all their speakers, including the AP4s, and a 3-year warranty covers all online store purchases.

Model Audioengine AP4 Passive Bookshelf Speakers
Impedance 4-ohm





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