Regular readers know I am a fan of Edifier active speakers and those from sister brand Airpulse. Edifier recently introduced their first passive speaker which appeared on paper to offer a lot for your money. A MDF enclosure, two-way driver configuration with a real crossover, oval front port and removable grilles for £80 per pair. Could they possibly be any good? Let’s dive straight in.
Thankfully the packaging is nothing special (I begrudge seeing budget wasted on something that usually gets thrown away) though they are packed well in polystyrene, individually bagged with a foam material covering the real wood veneered side panels. You get a small instruction manual in the box and a pair of speaker cables of approximately 6 feet (2 metres) in length.
The small bookshelf enclosures are nicely finished with a laminate finish to the top, front, rear and base, the latter with preinstalled foam feet. The sides are finished in a real wood veneer, nicely curved top and bottom for a pleasing overall aesthetic worthy of speakers many times the cost.
Branding is subtle with an edifier logo at the bottom of the grille and another behind the grille on the front panel, visible when the grille is removed. The grilles themselves are plastic-framed and cloth-covered, with an array of triangular, trapezoidal and circular holes. They’re even centrally braced for added rigidity, and are held by small plastic pegs and rubber mounts.
Behind the grilles are a two-way driver array including a 4 inch (116 mm) woofer and 0.75 inch (19 mm) silk dome tweeter. The woofer cone is a coated paper construction with strengthening ribs to minimise cone breakup at high volume. The drivers are positioned closely together To accommodate the small size of the front baffle, but this does also have advantages in time alignment between the two.
Many budget speakers simply place a capacitor in series with the tweeter to act as a rudimentary crossover. While this primitive solution works it is far from optimal and leaves the woofer to handle full-range audio, creating a point where the two drivers are inevitably competing 2 reproduce the same frequencies with different sonic and loading characteristics. The P12s however use a true crossover with a 1.5 kHz crossover point, which steers clear of the 2-4kHz frequencies where our ears are most sensitive to the driver transition.
The P12 crossover comprises a substantial inductor and capacitors too, nicely mounted to a printed circuit board in the back of the cabinet. The internal cabling is of excellent quality and there is even some material in the cabinet to dampen resonance which is often omitted in cheaper speakers. The cabinets are braced at the edges too which increases structural rigidity and further helps to minimise resonance. The construction belies the price tag and is something only achievable by far-eastern manufacturing if the company wants to make a profit.
The rear of the speakers include spring terminals for wire connection. These are my only minor gripe; 4 mm banana terminals or screw terminals are much preferred as the spring clips are limited in the thickness of wire they can accept. I believe Edifier’s P17 which is a very similar speaker includes 4 mm screw terminals. That said these are of perfectly acceptable quality. The included cables are pre-stripped at both ends and even tinned with solder, and perfectly cut to fit the terminals. They are more than good enough to handle as much power as these speakers could take.
Speaking of power, the speakers are rated between 20 watts nominal and 100 watts maximum with a nominal 6 ohm impedance. They’re rated at an approximate SPL (sound pressure level) of 79dB at 1 metre with 1 watt of power though a reference frequency is not given. Realistically any quality amp can be used to drive them, even one exceeding the maximum power rating. Attempting to match amplifier power to a speaker’s power ratings is a pointless endeavour that catches out as many old-timers as it does beginners.
They are a relatively difficult load given their intended use with smaller amplifiers or as the rear channels in a home theatre system. Low-power amplifiers will happily drive them, though you’ll want something with a bit of ‘oomf’ if you intend to play at sustained high volume especially in a two-channel setup. Frequency response is 55Hz – 20kHz though no measurement reference is given and there are no theoretical limits imposed by the crossover.
Back to the back for a moment. The speakers include inbuilt wall mounts via a screw hook on the terminal plate. A small plastic piece further down acts as a foot to keep the speaker sitting straight on a wall, and also routes the cable straight down the back of the speaker. It makes for a neat installation and is a nice design detail that is often missed.
I would have auditioned the P12s with my reference system but I couldn’t find a cable in my Arsenal with a thin enough conductor to fit the spring terminals of the speakers, yet with a thick enough conductor (or fitted banana plugs) to securely fit the terminals of the amplifier. My stock of spare banana plugs appears to have gone on a journey to an unknown location. No matter though as stashed away at the back of a cupboard was a Yamaha CRX-N560D. This micro CD receiver is now a relic of the past which seems an odd thing to say about a model that was still current on its purchase in 2013. This internet-connected receiver proceeded Yamaha’s transition to the excellent MusicCast platform when their networking functionality was based on a Broadcom MCU and was frankly rough around the edges.
I connected the receiver to the P12s using the included cables. Listening material was a real mixture; CD via the Yamaha’s internal CD player, streamed content from Apple Music via AirPlay and various stations on DAB radio. The Yamaha’s vTuner internet radio implementation no-longer works. The same is true for Spotify even with the latest available firmware.
DLNA streaming does work, however, so I was able to stream a few files from a Synology NAS on the network. I also connected my reference phono stage to the auxiliary inputs to spin some vinyl through the system. Unfortunately the unpredictability in availability of digital services is an issue applicable to any modern streaming system or standalone streamer. These devices rely so heavily on connected services that it is not uncommon to see functions become unavailable as servers are switched off. At least some of the localised networking features still work and the CD player and amplifier of this unit are both excellent.
I later connected the P12s to a Technics SA-GX100L stereo receiver. This was bottom of the line at the beginning of the ‘90s and is based on a hybrid STK amplifier module, which sounds a lot better than its flimsy plastic facade and jigsaw puzzle internal layout would indicate. Nevertheless once fully refurbished it demonstrated excellent performance and got the best from the P12s from a range of sources including its inbuilt FM tuner, digital streams (via a Cambridge CXN V2) and vinyl.
Before analysing the P12s in detail it is necessary to set some expectations. These are small speakers even by bookshelf standards. Given the size of their cabinets and their 4 inch bass drivers they cannot be expected to rattle windows, knock things from shelves or produce groundbreaking levels of bass. Small drivers can certainly be made to sound much larger than they are, and that is somewhat evident here. But in truly great small-driver loudspeakers (the Tannoy DC4T being just one example) the enclosure is larger, and the speaker not built to the price constraints of the P12.
That said the P12s are far more capable than their suggested use as a rear-channel in a home theatre would suggest. I used them exclusively as main speakers in a stereo playback system. Their low(ish) sensitivity means that you don’t get the same level of low-end impact at lower volumes that you do if you turn them up. Detail through the midband and into the top end remains fairly consistent though, and as you raise the volume the speakers demonstrate that they are capable of producing more than enough low end to satisfy the demands of most contemporary music. Lovers of hiphop, drum n’ bass or those who like a lot of bass will need a subwoofer, but those who leave their tone controls flat and prefer balance and detail will find these a pleasant listen even if it is a little lightweight at times.
Stereo imaging is excellent in width and depth, limited only in height by the constraints of the enclosure. The speakers aren’t particularly directional as their high frequency unit lacks any kind of waveguide, so the listening ‘sweet spot’ is large at the expense of some positional detail; the location of musicians within a live recording for example. These details are still there, but can’t be pinpointed with the accuracy of other speakers.
You might look at these and think they resemble the kind of speaker you’d get with an (admittedly upmarket) all-in-one bookshelf system, common through the ‘90s and into the start of the millennium. There are a few important difference however. Those typically lacked a proper crossover, had cheap chipboard cabinets and equally economical drivers. The P12s are a genuine hi-fi loudspeaker at a bargain price.
Not so long ago major retailers could sell you a very good set of budget separates and speakers, usually from an own-brand range well under the £200 mark. Unfortunately those days are gone and it is now almost impossible to find a decent new name brand amplifier for less than £100, let alone a pair of quality speakers or a source component. The entry price for hi-fi is rising, and prices of components on the second-hand market are also rising as demand grows and those that have survived become more scarce. This in turn leads those new to the hobby into the trap of the atrocious all-in-one systems or (gasp) the suitcase style turntables from the likes of Crosley, GPO et al which not only sound awful by any standard but will destroy treasured vinyl and will break beyond repair within months, or a year or 2 if you’re lucky. This isn’t me being snobbish, it’s fact.
The Edifier P12s prove that there are still some genuine bargains to be found in new hi-fi. Paired perhaps with some second-hand components or some new budget kit, they will give excellent performance as a means to get your foot on the ladder, or as a system that can simply be enjoyed without the temptation to constantly tweak and upgrade as is so often the case when one becomes an audiophile. Listening to them is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and for that they earn a well-deserved recommendation.
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