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Audioengine’s HD6 bring affordable audio to real people

  • Dear John. A little while back, my friend Michelle emailed me from her new Brooklyn home:

    “Finally sorted my new apartment here in Bed-Stuy and I need your advice: I’m looking for a simple hifi setup. Nothing too fancy and certainly nothing too expensive either. My budget is $1000 but I’d rather not go that high if I don’t have to.

    audioengine_hd6 - 10I know you usually deal with more expensive equipment but you probably already know that isn’t me at all. I want an amplifier and speakers that’ll let me play music from an iPhone (via Bluetooth for when my friends stop by) and an Apple TV. Do I need a DAC?. Oh – I might get a turntable down the line. Whatever you recommend will need to be compatible with that too.

    Attached are photos of the apartment as it looks now – a lot nicer than when you saw it in May (right?) – so speakers that fit with the lounge room’s aesthetic are preferable.”

    That final sentence, along with the photos, stopped my previous suggestion (NAD D 3020 amplifier driving Pioneer SP-BS22-LR passives) dead in its tracks. Sourcing loudspeaker cable might be second nature to die-hard audiophiles but not newcomers like Michelle. Besides, the collective aesthetic of the NAD and Pioneers lack feminine sensitivities.

    Like many mainstream consumers, our Brooklyn-based newcomer cares less for the how and the why and more for the what: “What does it look like?”; “What can I do with it?”; “What’s the sound quality like?”. Talking to her on the phone by way of follow up, Michelle wants something that “just works, looks good, sounds good”.

    Enter Audioengine, a company whose laser-guided focus on affordable audio sees them celebrating ten years in the business this very month. Inking that milestone comes formal announcement of their new flagship product: the HD6 loudspeaker, US$749/pair.

    A departure from Audioengine’s previously strong emphasis on clean lines and bold colours, the HD6 are available in satin black whilst my pair arrived in cherry but for Michelle’s lounge room we might opt for walnut. Each of the latter real-wood veneers come at no additional cost. Magnetically attachable grilles further one’s ability to customise these loudspeakers’ appearance. I prefer ’em naked.

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    On looks, these Audioengine’s certainly earn the manufacturer’s claimed status of ‘Premium’. Fit and finish is as good as – if not better than – any passive you’ll find at your local specialist hifi emporium. Think Krix or ProAc.

    There’s no need for an outboard amplifier here. Like the A5+ before them, these Audioengines are powered from within. Audiophiles with (snobbish) allergy to Class D will be pleased to learn that the HD6’s board run in Class A/B mode, hence the finned heatsink on the rear of the left box.

    Setup is a cinch. Connected to right speaker with the (supplied) 4m banana-plug-terminated speaker cable, the left speaker does all the work – amplification, volume control, input management and source selection via super-sleek aluminium wand – and is therefore the only speaker to see mains power hook-up.

    Copacetic aesthetics, set-up and tech talk out of the way, how do the HD6 suit our would-be newcomer on application? Audioengine have redeployed the circuitry from their own D2 DAC (here shorn of its USB input) in the left hand speaker. The aerial points to aptX Bluetooth connectivity which in turn puts smart device streaming (Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora etc.) at the top of the agenda.


    It isn’t just Bluetooth that rules outside of the audiophile niche. Gaming consoles, media streamers and TVs tells us that Toslink is the mainstream’s industry standard for digital audio connectivity. Any product coming to market with mainstream aspirations but without Toslink will see its appeal breadth stunted (at best) or doomed to failure (at worst).

    Audioengine are hep to this thinking.

    With their HD6 fully Toslink-compliant, our New Yorker can hook in her 3rd generation Apple TV (US$99) should Airplay streaming be required. It lends New Order’s Low Life smoother-sounding cymbals and better textured synth lines than Bluetooth alone, especially if/when Tidal Hifi is engaged; unlikely for Michelle at this stage but crossing the entry-level threshold with audio gear tends to drive the desire for more. The HD6 land with a complimentary 90-day Tidal Hifi subscription so that Audioengine customers can find out for themselves.

    Readers should be disabused of the notion that the HD6 are solely for desktop use. Aluminium-framed 5.5” mid/bass drivers accommodate proper room drive in small- to medium-sizes spaces. We witnessed as much at this year’s RMAF and back in Australia I find the newer model more capable with low-end gravitas and crisper up top than Audioengine’s previous TOTL model, the A5+, and noway near as pendulous with bass delivery as the Vanatoo Transparent One.

    Michelle’s Bed-Stuy lounge room looks as if it might offer Goldilocks dimensions to the HD6.

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    According to the press release, the HD6’s all-new silk-dome tweeter promises “smoother, more extended highs and incredible imaging”.

    In my own listening tests I noted nothing to counter this assertion. The HD6’s presentation is self-assured with top end detail and the artificial mid-bass hump, as favoured by some designers to rev up the suggestion of bass, is mercifully absent. Both qualities feed neatly into the HD6’s talents with creating a deep and well-specified image on the desktop.

    Michelle might not care for such considerations but she’ll certainly know it when the illusory presence of Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring materialises in her lounge room, even if the Audioengines are positioned on a sideboard or table.

    Moreover, our New Yorker will likely find the HD6 a superb articulator of the human voice when deployed on movie night. I know I did.

    That said, the HD6 don’t have the last ounce of refinement that can be extracted from the Andrew Jones-designed Pioneers. In the context of the HD6’s asking price and feature set, Convenient connectivity (with a capital C) and lower box count matter more to first timers.

    For bringing a turntable into play, two analogue inputs can be found on the rear of the left loudspeaker: a pair of RCAs and a 3.5mm socket (for which Audioengine thoughtfully supply a connection cable).

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    Hooking in a Pioneer PLX-1000 turntable fitted with a Dynavector 10×5 cartridge (as I did) might be too rich for Michelle’s wallet but it really shows what the little Audioengines are capable of on the vinyl front (end). With plenty of tweeter sizzle electrifying Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s Live Rust, the HD6 have enough pizzazz to bring even the most micro-dynamically restrained entry-level turntable to life. Here’s looking at you Pro-Ject Debut Carbon.

    However, of uppermost importance isn’t how the flagship Audioengine stack up in the audiophile world but the potential to move house-bound listeners from the world of UE Booms and Beats Pills to one of proper stereophony and to do so without the end user, in this case our Michelle, taking a hit to convenience (Bluetooth, Toslink) and/or aesthetics.

    The HD6 is a retro-styled system-in-a-box that just works…and one that sounds as good as it looks. It also reinforces this commentator’s prior assertion that the future of high(ish)-end audio, especially at the entry-level, rests on the shoulders of those who would push the envelope with active speaker solutions.

    And if Michelle circumvents Audioengine’s reseller network by purchasing direct from the manufacturer’s website she can avail herself of the HD6’s 30-day home trial. You cannot reasonably expect more for your money.

    Further information: Audioengine

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    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. If your friend is living in Bed-Stuy, I hope she has renter’s insurance. Lots of crime and break-ins.

      • When’s the last time you’ve been to Bed-Stuy? It obviously hasn’t been anytime recently, otherwise you wouldn’t be so grossly misinformed.

        • About six months ago.

          I used to live in a neighborhood in transition. The most extreme transition I encountered was the transition of my audio system from my condo and then my car to the local youts.

    2. Your friend knew about a DAC (or at least bothered to read up a bit) before asking you. I’m certain most people just assume digital data is being converted to sound via pixie dust inside their systems. Good on her.

      Personally, I’m not sure if I could ever recommend kitchen-sink type speakers to anyone, however attractive the price. Big fan of active speakers myself, but I’d rather have receiver, DAC and other digital components in a separate box, even if an extra cable or two were needed. A tad more future resistant, in my view, not to mention flexible.

      As always, thanks for sharing, John.

    3. I’m sure knowing her helps in the recommendation, but my first thought for $1,000 (US) was PS Audio Sprout and a pair of SVS Prime bookshelf speakers. This might pose a challenge for the AppleTV but since Bluetooth is built in, might not need it.

      A more cents-able approach would be for the system I’m hoping to get my grandson for his first ‘teenage’ birthday. An Onkyo A-9010 with optical, COAX, analog and phono inputs ($300), a pair of ELAC Debut 6 speakers ($280) and a U-Turn turntable ($180) which leaves enough change for some speaker wires and a decent Bluetooth module to tuck behind the amp (like Audioengine’s).

      • The Sprout lacks the all-critical Toslink input. Besides, active monitors keep the amp inside the speaker, thus minimising box count.

        • Yes, I had considered these points, which is why I mentioned the Onkyo.
          And as always, there are trade-offs to any set up, such as headphone listening, phono preamp, S/PDIF converter, yada yada…..

          The HD6 do LOOK nice, though.

    4. In light of the horror going on in France, it seems very narcissistic to worry about the audio system of a hipster living in a high crime neighborhood.

      • The events of last weekend were indeed horrific but does that mean this site should come to a standstill? Besides, how do you know Michelle is a hipster?

    5. John,
      Thanks for the positive review. You nailed it. There’s a lot of Michelle’s out there that need a simple solution. Many like her want a music system that sounds great better without the use of a rack of components and bunches of wires. Our strongest demographics suggest this strongly. Audioengine customers range mostly from 18-36, 45 male, 35% female.
      Since the HD6 has the optical section of the D2 DAC and B1 aptX Bluetooth receiver built in, you really don’t need anything other that the source(s) you use the most frequently. In that demographic, the smartphone is by far used the most.
      This goes along with a tag line we’re using these days. “Life is complicated. Listening to music shouldn’t be.
      They’re really good for zoned audio with Sonos via the 24 bit optical input. If you have an area that you want music to have depth, create a sound-stage and sound really nice, the HD6 will sound much better than the popular choice of an in-ceiling speakers. Another super simple hook-up.
      Thanks again for taking the time to get to know the HD6, what it does and more importantly, what niche it fills.

      • Got ’em on my desk now, David. Imaging and stage width is above average for such close proximity listening.

      • Great review. Thanks!

        Hoping you might consider my situation. We have a Sonos 1 in the kitchen/living room, and I’m looking to upgrade. Unfortunately, I’ve trained my lovely girlfriend to use her Sonos app for Spotify and Pandora. She loves the simplicity and I don’t think there is any going back for us. Besides, I view bluetooth as a step down from Sonos, since you’re streaming from your phone and therefore can’t make phone calls or watch youtube on your phone while the speakers play in the background. Whatever we get has to look good (yep, we’re hipsters).

        My thoughts:

        (1) Get the HD6 ($749) and the Sonos Connect ($349) – OMG $1100? I’m better off just buying another Sonos 1 ($199) and a Sonos sub ($699).
        (2) Get the Elac Andrew Jones Speakers ($280) and the Sonos Connect with Amp ($499), and buy the ELAC sub at some point in the future. Sounds good, mostly future proof, maybe not as nice looking, no DAC, no A/B amp.
        (3) Get the Audio Engine P4s refurbished ($260) and the Sonos Connect with Amp ($499). Looks good, maybe the speakers are a little dated when compared to the HD6s. The Sonos Connect with the amp keeps it flexible.

        Any thoughts on this one? I was hoping the HD6 would have a wifi-based app that’s comparable to Sonos.

    6. The Audioengines look so very elegant. I’m impressed and am glad you seem to think they sound as good as they look. They might have the same amps as the A5+, but the drivers are upgrades, and the DAC is certainly no slouch. If they sound like twice their price, they will be a typical Audioengine bargain. As long as they have RCA inputs, there will always be a path toward upgrades or new digital developments.

      And, *gosh* those Adams look like beasts.

    7. The tech specs show these use passive crossovers. Isn’t that against the whole point of having active speakers? We have been told actives are better because the amp powers a drive directly, and so can be optimised to the driver specs. What’s the point of an active with passive circuitry?

    8. So for sound quality matters only…meaning conscious listening to well recorded music…similarly priced adam audio speakers or the audioengines? Thanks!

    9. A bit odd that there’s no mention of the KEF X300A, which you reviewed before and thought highly of. Given the KEF’s dual DAC, dual amp setup I’d expect it to be still superior, and the price is almost identical…

      • The absence of KEF comparisons is largely down to them being out on load to a friend in need. On ultimate sound quality, I’d still give the nod to the X300, particularly with imaging when placed on a desktop and all-round bass weight. Ae’s more traditional aesthetics and Bluetooth connectivity make them a better choice for Michelle on application, however. Ditto the HD6’s front panel volume knob and remote control.

    10. John, I am very happy with the Audioengine 5+ in our den for casual listening. I bought them on your recommendation, I think. Now your fine review makes me want to move them to the desktop and try the HD6. Christmas approaches! Cheers.

    11. “the HD6 don’t have the last ounce of refinement that can be extracted from the Andrew Jones-designed Pioneers.”

      Less refined than $200 speakers – Wow!

      • That’s more a compliment to Andrew Jones than it is a criticism of Audioengine. Jones’ speakers are freaks of nature…but they’re not active and you can’t stream to ’em.

    12. Currently have a Sprout and the Andrew Jones speakers. I like the Sprout for it’s features and style (wife agrees) but PS Audio has admitted to adding a mid bass bump and it is not defeatable unless I use an external amp. It drives me nuts. For the longest time I thought it was the speakers, stands, room, etc. Thinking of trying the HD6’s with an Aries Mini. I know my wife would love even less clutter. Even thought about getting some ls50’s but I doubt the Sprout would do them justice.

    13. I have owned the AE A5+ and still own the AE2…….I also own a pair of Pioneer BS-22’s with a Quad Elite integrated (80w/pch) providing the gas…..I’m still trying to get how and why these Pioneers put me in a zone where I just can’t be bothered chasing another reasonably priced book shelf speaker. The biggest reason I’m curious about the HD6 is because they look so cool, I know that sound and appreciate the value and convenience of the built in power however,…….when JD commented the Pioneer’s are an INSANE value, it was the simple truth. A second hand NAD amp and a pair of BS-22’s can be had for chump change if “value” and quality of sound is really the issue.

    14. Active speakers have well documented advantages over passive/powered speakers in terms of audio quality. However, it’s not something my ears would ever successfully identify. Only requiring one power supply is more beneficial to me and I imagine most non-audiophiles. These speakers look lovely and, unlike some similarly priced rivals, they should hopefully be available in the UK. One thing your friend should note though – the new Apple TV will no have optical audio out but only HDMI.

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