For years now, I’ve been recommending the $399 Audioengine A5 as really great, budget-conscious desktop speakers. A few months ago, Audioengine launched the HD6 as a step up from the A5+. Today, we’ll see if the HD6 are worth nearly double the price of the the A5 and how they fair amongst other speakers in the $750 price range.
Fit and Finish Looks are nice, but do they suffice?
Audioengine sent me the HD6 back in January and have been patiently waiting on a review. The reason I waited until now is that speakers sounded nice out of the box, but they’ve really matured as they’ve been broken in. The speakers come very well packaged and wrapped in a very pretty custom microfiber bags that I’m pretty sure I’ll never use again, and all of the cables you could ever need come included as well.
The speakers themselves look breathtakingly gorgeous. Audioengine has opted in for a vintage stereo vibe and it works fantastically. The speakers are available in black, cherry, and walnut (which are the ones you see here). Now, unfortunately, they’re not actually solid wood; they’re MDF covered in a wood veneer. Regardless, the veneer is amongst the most convincing I’ve seen and they really do look like real wood. The speakers come with flat black mesh speaker grills which I leave on because they compliment the sexy retro vibe; however, they’re also magnetic which is really nice because you can leave them off if you’d like and there aren’t any random holes where the speaker grill pins would be.
The left speaker is where all of the action is located. On the back, you have your I/O—amongst which is—optical in, RCA in, RCA out, and your Bluetooth antenna and pairing button. There are also pins to connect the left channel to the right speaker with banana plugs that are included. There’s also a massive heat sink to help cool the internal class A/B amplifier which powers both speakers.
On the front of the device, you get a volume control knob which you can push in to mute the signal, and there is also a status LED along with an IR receiver for the included aluminum remote.
All-in-all, the fit and finish is absolutely top notch. Sure, you don’t really buy speakers for the way they look, but its nice to see that Audioengine made looks a priority.
Sound A price too high for performance too low
Enough with the ascetics, let’s get down to brass tacks; the sound.
Each speaker features a 5.5” woofer and a 1” silk tweeter and the sound quality varies drastically based on the source. Audioengine markets the HD6 as Bluetooth capable speakers, and while they are, you’d never want to use Bluetooth, because, quite frankly, it sounds terrible. Even though it’s the latest and greatest aptX Bluetooth, with alleged “CD” quality bit-rate, it sounds really poor and using these great speakers as a Bluetooth device is a dis-service to the performance they can truly offer. It’s semi-convenient being able to pair to them if you’re watching a quick video on your phone, but Bluetooth should be the exception, not the rule.
Unlike the Audioengine A5, I can’t easily recommend you buy the HD6 without doing your research.
I first plugged the HD6 into my now-discontinued $99 Schiit Modi DAC and was pleased by the massive improvements over Bluetooth; though, once I plugged in my $800 Resonessence Labs Concero HD DAC, the speakers sounded even better. I, along with others, were able to identify which DAC was being used in a blind A/B test with 100% accuracy. The Concero HD provided much better transparency, instrument separation, soundstage, and punchier yet less sibilant trebles—so that’s good and bad. The good news is that speakers are good enough to benefit from ultra-high end DACs but the bad news is that unless you have an ultra-high-end DAC, you’re not pulling 100% performance out of these puppies. Regardless, the speakers themselves sound nice with any DAC. The low end is surprisingly punchy and most won’t find the need for a subwoofer, instrument separation is good and vocals are well-presented; though, there is a definite mid-bass bias. Even as a mid-head, I found them a little too overwhelming and a lot of the cymbals, tambourines, and snare drums never fully developed as the trebles were suppressed behind the punchy mid-bass. When I removed the mesh grilles, the trebles improved slightly, but not enough to dissolve my disappointment.
Anyone that knows speaker placement knows that the way they’re setup on my desk is NOT ideal and I did test them in much better conditions at my home; however, the HD6 aren’t as sensitive to placement as other speakers and sound good in sub-optimal conditions.
The question is, are these speakers worth $750? I’m not convinced. Unlike the Audioengine A5, I can’t easily recommend you buy the HD6 without doing your research; they’re just not the best speaker in this price range. My Event 20/20 are $50 cheaper for a pair and sound markedly better than the HD6—like a lot better—at everything. If you’re absolutely sold on Bluetooth and the pretty faux wood finish, the HD6 are not a terrible buy, but they’re pretty embarrassing when compared to speakers and studio monitors in the same price range. Performance needs to improve or the price needs to drop to around $500 before I can recommend them with ease.