Published on March 10th, 2011 | by Greg0
Audioengine’s P4 and N22 Make Sweet Music Together
When it comes to audio gear, you have quite a few options. You can stick with the speakers built-in to your television set, and for some folks, that’s enough. But it’s similar to using your laptop to listen to music- it’s never really satisfactory. Serious home entertainment sets can cost thousands of dollars or more, weigh a lot, and scare just about anyone other than an audiophile with their complexity. In between the two options is the gray area that most of us live in- looking to spend a bit of money on a fairly small, reasonably-loud set of speakers that can handle movies and music with equal aplomb. Gamers have their own needs- directional audio is important, so headphones or a 5.1 surround sound system might be the best bet.
There are plenty of folks who are fine purchasing a 2.1 set from Logitech or Creative. They are easy to hook up and install, and cost between $100 and $200. And you get what you pay for- they will handle your basic needs. But if you have a bit more to spend, it can be harder to find the right system. That’s where the Audioengine P4 speakers and N22 amplifier come in. We’ve tested other speaker systems, but most of them are active, or self-powered, and can be connected simply through a headphone jack (or other inputs). There are advantages and disadvantages to either choice, but more serious systems tend to be passive, and thus require an external source like an amp or a subwoofer to provide the power. If you already have one, great, but Audioengine created one of the best desktop amps in it’s price range with the N22.
The P4s come as a pair, and are available in three color options- black, white, and bamboo, with the latter option adding quite a bit to the price but increasing the overall sound quality. For speaker geeks, these are magnetically shielded, front ported, with gold-plated binding posts, silk tweeters and Kevlar woofers. For everyone else, these look like pretty normal speakers, but are constructed of much better materials. These aren’t fiberboard, like many cheaper sets, but solid wood. And the build quality comes through clearly in the sound, as we’ll discuss shortly. They look sharp, feel hefty, but lack the cloth covers which some prefer but we didn’t miss.
Setting up the system is fairly easy- the N22 comes first, and it seems almost too simple at first. We were used to some extra options, like phasing, on our amps- but the N22 is straightforward. It offers both RCA and mini-jack inputs; no HDMI or optical unfortunately. A pair of outputs go to each channel, using regular speaker wire. Plug in the power adapter, and you’re all set. The only extra port on the back is USB, which is used only to power other devices like Audioengine’s wireless W1 system, and cannot be used as an audio input or output.
At first, we admit to being a bit disappointed by the punch of the set. We turned our settings to the max, and weren’t too worried about upsetting our neighbors- the system only produces about 22 watts. Most systems that we try put out 100 or more, and Audioengine’s own A5s put out 75. For computer speakers, the A5s seem like a better option, as they cost a bit less and are a bit less cabling work as well. The N22/P4 setup, though, offers some extra flexibility- especially for those trying to use higher-end headphones that may not come with their own amps. Underpowered sound can make a big difference, especially with really good earphones or monitors- if you’ve spent over $200 on your personal audio gear then definitely test out an amp and check out the difference. And the N22 is small- we liked the relatively tiny footprint, easy to put on a desk or area where you would not want a subwoofer shaking the shelves.
We also tried using the N22 and P4s as an rear set of channels to compliment our setup from Orb Audio, and here they shined. Most rear channels will rely on your receiver to draw power, and we liked the clarity provided when using these. This more than makes up for the relative lack of power, sound is gorgeous and rich, with strong mid-tones and even bass. We could max out the volume on the amp and still not hear any distortion, and for warmer tones (analog LPs, including some vinyl acoustic Dylan) we knew we were in love. Highs were crystalline, though on lower bitrate files we could hear a bit of sharpness that many lower-quality speakers cover, hide, or mask. One writer, used to talking about food, kept using words like “caramel”, “buttery”, “toffee”. For movies, the system was a bit less impressive- action films lacked some of the bass power in the explosions and car crashes. Voices, though, were great, and listening to dialogue was a pleasure.
The N22 amp might be a hard sell on its own, and had a couple of small flaws- lack of connectivity options or remote control, and a volume knob that was unhelpfully unmarked. The P4s are an easier recommendation by themselves, for those who already own a sub and are simply looking for solid, overall rounded sound. Together, though, they work like a charm- slightly too pricey for us to recommend them for computer users, perfect for the person looking for an attractive bookshelf system to round out a library full of great music. The Audioengine N22 runs $199, and the P4s are $249 for a pair, available directly from the manufacturer and widely online.