I always have to use that word twice. File it under the category of "dad jokes."
I'm sitting here listening to the latest C60Crew upload, KK's "Egyptian Reggae," and it reminded me that I haven't yet reviewed my most recent stereo acquisition, the Audioengine S8 subwoofer. I've had it for a few months.
I have not one but two complete stereos in storage in the basement and the barn. One is a "vintage" system based on fabulous old Japanese direct-drive turntable, a warm-as-wool Shure cartridge, and an antique Accuphase integrated. (Accuphase, if you don't know it, is the apotheosis of the mass-market Japanese "silver face" boxes of the 1970s, the high-water era of home stereo. Apropriately, the new Accuphase components are all gold-face. New Accuphase components will run between $5,000 and $15,000 per box—which is reasonable considering the build quality. "Apotheosis" means "elevated to divine status," and you don't elevate to the divine on the cheap. At least where Accuphase is concerned you're paying for something real, rather than status-smoke and the fine mist of reviewers' spittle. Mine, as I say, is very old, and thus was not expensive.) The other one features custom-built speakers and a Mcintosh preamp with a built-in equalizer. Whee. Who says I don't have fun with stereo stereo?
But, like a former view camera photographer who now shoots 1", my desktop system is now the main music system in the house. Oddly perhaps, for a hobbyist as quirky and unregenerate as me 'umble self, it's also possibly the best and most satisfying system I've had.
By the way, to see the track list for the Egyptian Reggae mix, click on the hamburger stack at the lower right. Tracks aren't listed until they play.
As I've discussed before, my system consists of Channel D's PureMusic v.3 server software replacing the driver in iTunes (I don't always activate PureMusic), a Halide HD DAC, and Audioengine A5+ speakers on either side of the computer. About the Halide, Tony at SoundBsessive says, "Many digital sources, especially in the [Halide's] price bracket, tend to make their main selling point details retrieval, especially by emphasising treble rendition, often ending up with a slightly lifeless, analytical and body-less frequency response. The DAC HD takes on a different approach, it’s a very warm, analogue sounding DAC. The treble with the DAC HD has a natural roll off, eliminating any sense of 'digititis.'" I like warm. Child of the '70s—you know, Marantz receivers, British speakers, Spendor, Celestion, B&W, Mission, Wharfedale, Tannoy. Names to conjure with.
About the speakers—best bargain ever. Ever. Audioengine has since gone slightly upmarket, with a somewhat larger, more deluxe top-of-the-line speaker, the beautiful HD6—almost twice the price but still stupid cheap in the audiophile Universe, especially considering the built-in Class A/B amplifier and Bluetooth. Just plug them in anywhere and send them music via Bluetooth from any device you care to. They are getting glowing reviews almost everywhere. And they are truly handsome (check the link).
To the subwoofer. I've seldom loved any subwoofer. Most of them are like putting a thick pad under a rug, or bad tires on a good car. During my extremely brief career as a part-time audio salesman, long ago, in the early '90s, we sold, like the proverbial hotcakes, a subwoofer called the Muse Model 18, which for a long time was the only one of its species I'd ever heard that I actually liked. It had removable cards to tailor the frequency response to specific brands and models of mains speakers. In his review of the Model 18, Robert Harley wrote:
Most subwoofer systems I've heard have been plagued by a familiar litany of sonic horrors: poor integration between subwoofer and main speakers, boom, bloat, tubbiness, slowness, excessive LF output, and an overall presentation that constantly reminds the listener he is hearing a big cone moving. To me, subwoofers often sound detached from the music, providing an accompanying thump that bears little relationship to the sound from the main speakers. Rather than revealing the music's harmonic underpinnings, subwoofers often obscure them in a thick morass of featureless boom. In addition, adding a subwoofer often destroys the qualities of the main speakers that made you buy them in the first place—just to name a few of my observations.
Other than that, I like subwoofers.
(He liked the Muse Model 18, which is why they flew out of the door of our shop. In those days, sales were driven by reviews.)
I also actually like the little Audioengine S8. Why? Maybe because the A5+ speakers do need some foundation? Maybe because my standards are lower for a desktop computer system? Maybe because it's actually good? Maybe some combination of those. It's a wee little unserious thing that doesn't cost much at all. Defining terms: "wee"—it's an 11 and a half inch cube. "Doesn't cost much"—$349, which is very low for a decent component of this type, where "decent" means somewhere on the spectrum from listenable to enjoyable. The Muse Model 18 was a 25" cube and I believe we were selling it for $2,500 in the early '90s. I'm not saying they're equivalent, but the Muse was considered competitive in price back then. Not so much in size.
Here's the Audioengine S8 subwoofer under my desk. I thought it sounded better with the port aimed toward the wall, which as an added bonus placed the controls facing outward. That turned out to be not an advantage because I never change the settings. Occasionally I come upon a track that could do with more or less bass, but I'm too old to get on my hands and knees and wade through all the dog hair just to tweak the woofer for one track.
The S8 was easy to set up. It comes with all the cords 'n' cables you'll need, and clear setup instructions. To answer the obvious question about it: yes, the volume control on the left speaker also controls the volume of the subwoofer.
Maybe it's my little room, maybe it's the position under the desk, maybe it's that I was always partial to the semi-headphone-effect of small mini-monitors and nearfield listening, but the sound is just terrific. The little setup sounds wonderful, lush and lovely and spacious and dimensional.
It might not be hi-fi, or high end, but...it's music.
If you have Audioengine speakers, I'd say you just have to get an S8, it's that simple.
Here's the track list for KK's "Egyptian Reggae" mix at Mixcloud:
1. The Modern Lovers: "Egyptian Reggae"
2. Quicksilver Messenger Service: "Which Do You Love"
3. R.E.M.: "Laughing"
4. The Bats: "Never Said Goodbye"
5. The Velvet Underground: "There She Goes Again"
6. Julia P. Hersheimer: "Where Are You Going To"
7. Quarks: "Loch im Tag"
8. The Beatles: "A Day In The Life"
9. Juana Molina: "Eras"
10. Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians: "A Globe Of Frogs"
11. Shivkumar Sharma: "Raga Janasammohini: Teen Taal"
12. DJ Prime Cuts
13. Scotty: "Draw Your Brakes"
I can hardly take the DJ Prime Cuts track—Superdeejay KK likes to do that, just get in your face about how bourgeois your taste is, usually with just one track—but the whole rest of the mix is great. Check it out. Are you hearin' the bass?
"Open Mike" is Sunday's off-topic offering from Yr. Hmbl. Ed.
ADDENDUM: Turns out KK knew he would lose me ("and others") with the DJ Prime Cuts thing and that's why he put it near the end. :-) Trouble with that is, I love "Draw Your Brakes"! —MJ
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
GRJ: "I love the KK mixes on MixCloud and always wonder where he's going from one track to the next as each mix unfolds. Just listened to 'Egyptian Reggae' while developing some film. The internet is grand if you know where to look."
Dave Kerr: "Back in the early '80s I moved up from low-fi to better fi, starting with an Audible Illusions tube preamp plugged into an Electron Kinetics Eagle 2 amp (does anyone know John Iverson's whereabouts?); VPI turntable, Sequel II speakers, Magnum Dynalab tuner, yada, yada. Y'know what? Despite the digital revolution, this rig still sounds good to these old ears. Oh yeah, I still use film...and shoot pool."
Mike replies: Good question! If anyone does know John Iverson's whereabouts, there's a cold case squad that wants to hear from them.
John Gordon Iverson, the designer of your amp, disappeared under mysterious circumstances from Lake Havasu City, Nevada, twenty-five years ago, and has never been heard from since. There was an article in The Absolute Sound called "The Strange Life and Bizarre Disappearance of John Iverson" that you might be able to find online. There are all sorts of conspiracy theories, most having to do with his strained relations with the FBI and his unwillingness to share his inventions with the government. Bottom line is that no one knows what happened to him, only that he disappeared, his body was never found, and his disappearance has never been explained.
BH: "Just want to say that I purchased the A5+ speakers a year or two ago based on your recommendation and I've been very happy with them. I simply send the music from my phone to an Airport Express that I line directly into the speakers. Incredibly simple, and sounds great to my non-audiophile ears."
Mike Potter (partial comment): "Audiophiles makes camera lust seem tame. :-) "
Mike replies: Got that right. The only upside is the unintentional humor, as in the review of a $30,000 amp that mused about the possible sonic advantages of all the empty space inside the amp's excessively large case.
Alan Carmody: "A very inexpensive alternative for computer speakers is M-Audio's AV40 speakers, which sound way better than they have any right to at their price. I've tried quite a few of these computer monitors in the price range below the Audioengines, and the M-Audios stand out quite easily. For some, the studio monitor sound is a bit clinical, but others love the detail revealed. About $180 for the pair, and a handy volume control knob right on the monitor."
Phil Gyford: "I bought some AudioEngine A2+'s recently, after remembering your recommendation of the A5+'s a while back, so thanks for that. The A5's take up more space than I'm prepared to give speakers on my desk, but the A2's are manageable. They sound great, and I'll remain happy with them so long as I never hear any A5's!"
Mike replies: Nothing wrong with that. The A2 was what ignited the Audioengine success story. They're tiny but very good, wildly better than the speakers in a computer. If you have more space under your desk than on top of it, I suspect the A2's would benefit from the S8 woofer even more than the A5's do.
Steve Smith: "I work as a live sound engineer. I would just like to say (in a Crocodile Dundee style) 'That's not a subwoofer....'"
Mike replies: True dat. It's a woofer. Many of the lenses called "macro" aren't macro, either, they're just close-focusing lenses. I'm stuck with the accepted terminology because it's what's accepted....
Andrew: "I wanted some music at the office on the cheap, so I bought AudioEngine A2+ speakers and the D1 DAC, with Blue Jeans cable connecting the two. It's a fantastic set-up that I wouldn't have thought to put together without your endorsement. Thanks a million."
Steve Duffy: "The Bats! Mike you are a champion, I grew up on concerts by these guys and more from the local scene (well before the Internet mind you). Look out for material by the Clean from the same era or the Puddle more recently if you are looking for more. "
Mike replies: KK turned his fans on to the Bats, and the Clean as well. I think I have "Daddy's Highway" in my collection.