|Audioengine AP4 BookShelf Speakers Review|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers|
|Written by Todd Whitesel|
|Thursday, 24 September 2009|
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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.”
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.
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.