It's amazing what you can get for a couple of hundred quid these days. The build quality of bookshelf speakers towards the low end of the hi-fi market is remarkable compared to what it was even a decade ago, and many of these cut-price heroes benefit from the trickle down technology their manufacturers have invested in for their high-end models. Powered by even a half-decent amp they'll deliver a marked improvement on anything you're likely to hear from powered PC speakers, serving as the perfect introduction to hi-fi sound.
Price: £175 More info: AudioEngine Size: 140x232x165mm Weight: 2.75kg Drivers: 4in bass/mid Kevlar driver, 1in silk dome tweeter Frequency response: 58Hz-22Khz Impedance: 4-8 ohms Power handling: 10-125W per channel Sensitivity: 88dB Finish: Black, white, bamboo
More commonly known for their powered speakers aimed at the computer market, US firm AudioEngine has now broken into hi-fi with the P4 as its first passive speaker.
The P4 a diminutive two-way model measuring just 40x232x165mm, available in black, white or a special bamboo finish for a premium price. That slit along the bottom is actually a bass port, and its internally braced MDF cabinet feels very solid, if comparatively lightweight. There's a rubberised pad on the bottom for improved grip and a little bit of isolation, plus screw holes for bracket mounting on the bottom and the back. It doesn't come with a protective grille though, so they're best placed out of the reach of little fingers.
AudioEngine hasn't stinted on component quality, including a magnetically shielded 4in bass/mid Kevlar driver, 1in silk dome tweeter and a single pair of gold-plated binding posts, which seems like a pretty good deal for the cheapest model in this test. The drivers are magnetically shielded so there shouldn't be any picture problems if you place them next to a TV or computer monitor.
In truth, the bass response isn't quite up there with the others in this test, sounding distinctly on the thin side - they could probably benefit from the addition of Audioengine's S8 powered subwoofer. And at the other end of the dynamic scale the treble has a tendency to get a bit too excitable, sounding slightly harsh on occasion. While the midrange is clean and clear, the limits at either end of the spectrum can't be ignored, so while it's compact and convenient, and an improvement on its powered brethren, it trails the field for overall sound quality.
Very compact, quality components, crisp, clean midrange Minus points
Bass isn't very convincing, treble can be a little harsh
Price: £250 More info: Dali Size: 260x146x211mm Weight: 3.1kg Drivers: 4.5in wood fibre cone bass/mid driver, 1.1in soft textile dome tweeter Frequency response: 51Hz-27kHz Impedance: 8 ohms Power handling: 40-100W Sensitivity: 84dB Finish: Black, white or light walnut vinyl
Dali Lektor 1
The baby of Danish manufacturer Dali's Lektor range is a beautifully compact two-way design that manages a surprising amount of punch for one so small. Complementing their small footprint, they're very forgiving of room positioning - always a plus with compact speakers like this used in rooms where space tends to be at a premium.
There are a pair of front-mounted bass ports which sit between the 4.5in wood fibre bass/mid driver and the 1.1in soft textile dome tweeter. Around the back is a single pair of angled binding posts and an eyelet for hanging the speaker on a wall.
The sound, particularly the midrange, is beautifully refined and enviably detailed without ever showing any signs of strain. The intricate kora patterns of Toumani Diabate's final collaboration with Malian guitar legend Ali Farka Toure are beautifully rendered with every click of his lightning-fast fingernails clearly audible. The high end is deliciously sweet without resorting to harshness or ever seeming to be constrained.
The fact that they're small means you're not going to get the same low-end heft as you can from bigger speakers, but even so they certainly punch well above their weight in this department, delivering a tightly controlled low end with no small amount of punch. Timing and control will only take you so far though, and the bass performance is lightweight compared to the added grunt of two other models in this test.
Superb midrange clarity, stylish, compact Minus points
Light on bass, most expensive on test