Active loudspeakers are hot, once the preserve of studio monitoring, speakers with built in amplifiers can be found across the board from Bluetooth boxes through soundbars to serious hi-fi. A brand that has been nibbling away at the affordable end of the audio market is Audioengine, an American company who’s direct approach at the Munich High End show made an impression of this reviewer at least.
The HD6 is a traditional looking active speaker in a dark cherry, walnut or black finished enclosure. One of the pair is fully passive, containing a crossover, a 5.5 inch woofer with a Kevlar cone and aluminium basket and a one inch tweeter with a silk dome. On the back are the loudspeaker connectors and a slot shaped reflex port. The other half of the pair has a volume control on the baffle and a white LED, combined with an infrared sensor for the remote control. On the back are cooling fins for two class AB amplifiers, a Bluetooth antenna with pairing button, a 3.5mm audio input, Toslink input, analogue in/out over RCA, speaker terminals for the passive unit, on/off switch, voltage selector and of course a mains power input.
The amplifiers are specified to deliver 50 Watts each continuous power and the RCA output supplies signal for an active subwoofer. Internally it has an AKM AK4396 DAC chip for handling signals up to 24 bit/192kHz. The Bluetooth receiver supports aptX, AAC and SBC. Audioengine emphasizes that their speakers are not made out of a handful OEM parts, but are developed and built in-house. Some parts on the HD6 are sold as stand-alone products, like the Bluetooth receiver and the upsampling DAC. Which means that Audioengine is able to supply the market with clever and affordable products. The use of class AB amplifiers and passive crossovers is striking, most of these systems use class D amps for each driver and an electronic crossover. I like the use of class AB in this case.
All you need to listen to the speakers is an iPhone or a Bluesound Node 2 digital server, the Node can operate over Toslink or analogue over the RCA inputs. One long Toslink cable makes it easy to choose which way to go. There is no input switch, the inputs switch to active channels, this can be nasty when you connect a TV decoder that outputs a stream of zeros on standby and locks the input. You need to fully turn off sources or disconnect them. Using the Node I play The Retrospect Trio performing sonatas by Henry Purcell. Which is maybe not the music Audioengine had in mind for this product, however any loudspeaker should be capable of reproducing a violin, cello and harpsichord in a decent way. The HD6 performs above expectations, this chamber music is lively and shows how dynamic the speakers are, and there’s more than enough power on board to play loud. The HD6 is not the most neutral system I’ve had at home, they colour the sound, but in a pretty sense. The tuning seems typically American, with an emphasis on the bass and this hides the sharper tones coming from a violin, even the harpsichord tingles less than I am used to. On the other hand this tuning works a bit like a loudness button making sure you enjoy a full spectrum sound at low volume levels. You won’t get tired listening to the HD6 and you can play music all day without boredom. The study or bedroom are the first places that spring to mind for these loudspeakers. Or use them with a flat-screen to avoid the horrible built-in speakers, the HD6 will be an amazing improvement.
I use ‘Avratz’ by Infected Mushroom to push the Audioengines to the limit and like the fact that the speakers seem to disappear from the room, the lower notes are fine but I would prefer a more neutral balance. Peaks in sound level over 100dB measured 2.5 meters away from the speakers are no problem for the HD6. Where ‘You Better Hide’ with Heidi Happy and Yello often tortures your ears on inexpensive loudspeakers systems the HD6 does a good job and I can play songs from The Expert really loud. Music is all over the room, from wall to wall and floor to ceiling with more than enough depth too. Adjusting toe-in changes the depth, but the sound stage is always somewhere between the speakers, never in your face. Beyoncé, Katy Perry and other tracks that I chose to see if contemporary pop would break out of the speakers sounds flat and far from dynamic, but the HD6 makes it listenable even for me. I prefer some Ray Charles or Frank Sinatra. It takes the ‘Fever’ duet with Charles and Natalie Cole to find out where Audioengine has cut costs to come up such a competitive price. They don’t deliver all the small details, much refinement or absolute neutrality. You will need to spend much more money if that’s your goal, but such speakers are not always as much pleasure to listen too as the HD6. Every loudspeaker is a compromise and choices need to be made. That said I play Frank Sinatra and his ‘Close To You’ shows exactly why Sinatra was so special to many of us.
In Munich most of the Audioengine products did not appeal to my audiophile heart. Only the HD6 looked interesting enough for me and I do not regret I asked for a review pair. The HD6 has proved to be a very complete product with which you need only a digital or analogue source to enjoy music. Or enjoy movies and TV series, and play your music without having to turn up the volume to get a full spectrum. Want it really loud? The HD6 will deliver as long as the room is not too big. With people listening to streaming services more and more I see a growing market for this sort of active system. They offer far better sound quality than most of the ‘plastic containers’ sold to the wider market. And a pair of HD6 won’t take much more space. The appearance might be classic but the technique inside is modern and compact. The electronics reduce the number of cables and boxes like amplifiers, the HD6 is a complete system, including all necessary cables and a remote control. All you need are stands if you want improved sound compared with placing them on book shelves. A die-hard audiophile might turn his nose up at the HD6 and spend a lot more money on his system, I will be happy when most people realise that you can enjoy music in a pretty good quality with a pair of these affordable speakers.
Speaker type: Powered speaker system featuring wireless and digital optical inputs
Power output: 50W RMS per channel
Inputs: 3.5mm mini-jack, RCA L/R, digital optical (SPDIF,) Bluetooth aptX
Outputs: Variable line-out w/2.0V RMS max output, 47ohm output impedance
Input voltages: 115/240V, 50/60Hz manually-switchable
Amplifier type: Class A/B monolithic
Drivers: 5.5" Kevlar woofer, 1" silk dome tweeter
Signal to noise ratio: >95dB (typical A-weighted)
Distortion THD+N: <0.05% at all power settings
Frequency response: 50Hz-22kHz ±1.5dB
Analogue input impedance: 48Kohms unbalanced (mini-jack and RCA inputs)
Protection: Output current limiting, thermal over-temperature, power on/off transient protection, replaceable external main fuse
Internal DAC: AKM AK4396
Input bit depth: 24-bits upsampled
Input data rate: up to 192kHz
Bluetooth receiver type: Bluetooth 4.0 audio
Supported codecs: aptX, AAC, SBC
Wireless operation range: Up to 100ft (30m) typical
Input data rate: Determined by Bluetooth
Wireless latency: ~30 milliseconds (ms)
Speaker dimensions (HxWxD): 300 x 185 x 250mm
Weight: left 8kg, right 5.5kg
Power consumption: Idle: 10W, Mute: 6W, Sleep: 4W