For the past several years, I’ve had my eye on a company called Audioengine. They had not moved up on my radar until recently as their products seemed too inexpensive to be very good... Well shame on me!
After hearing just how good the $149 Audioquest Dragonfly was, I started thinking, “hmm, maybe that inexpensive Audioengine stuff might be worth a test after all.” When one of my old friends left Tidal to go work for Audioengine, I knew the stars were aligning and that I should give them a try.
The most popular Audioengine products are their powered speakers. Up until recently, they had two models the A5+ and A2+. There is a new HD6 is just starting to ship. I decided to test the A5+ and their D1 USB DAC.
To put things in perspective, the A5+ is $399 a pair and the D1 is $169. The D1 is even capable of 24/192! So this little system has everything you need for music for under $600 or about $100 more than the new Sonos PLAY:5 all in one speaker. The Audioengine A5+ comes in three beautiful finishes -- black, white, and bamboo.
Testing the A5+ Powers Speakers and D1 USB DAC
The A5+ is a pair of powered speakers. These speakers are fairly small at around 11” high, 7” wide and about 9” deep, but they fit pretty well on my desktop. They have two audio inputs (mini and RCA), a variable out for a subwoofer, and one speaker has a USB jack to supply power and a set of speaker connections to wire up the other speakers. They are also mirror imaged with the tweeter having a left and right dispersion-tuned mount.
The tweeter is a silk dome with a 5” Kevlar woofer. Audioengine makes the drivers themselves rather than buying something off the shelf. The cabinets are very well made out of MDF and are quite heavy for their small size.
The amp is totally their design and uses a toroidal transformer, which is quite astounding, considering their price. One thing that I love about powered speakers is that the designer can perfectly fine tune the amp to the speaker drivers. Since they know this is the only speakers it will ever connect to, it gives the designer a lot more leeway to make it work perfectly with just a single speaker system. They even mount the amp on a special shock-mounted system to reduce vibrations when you get them going.
While I could have connected them up to just the analog out of my desktop PC, I decided to use the D1 USB DAC. This is a simple little DAC with both analog outs and a mini headphone jack. I simply connected a USB out of my computer to the D1 and ran an analog cable from the D1 to the RCA audio input on the speaker.
Once I got everything connected, I opened up Tidal and proceeded to start playing some of my favorite tunes. Quick sidebar -- I am getting a bit hooked on Tidal. If you aren’t familiar with it, Tidal is a CD quality streaming service that has a ton of music on it. I’ve been having fun making playlists of various music types. This weekend, my wife and I were having a blast putting together (now don’t laugh) a disco playlist. Anyhow, back to our Audioengine gear!
At first, I was not very impressed at all, but the type of audio that was bothering my ears is what I typically experience with a brand new speaker and amp that has not had time to break in. I decided to give them a chance, put Tidal on a long loop and left them alone for about 24 hours.
So on Saturday afternoon, I went back up to see what 24 hours of burn in had done. To put it simply, this is both the least expensive system I have ever had on my desk for computer audio and by far the best sounding! It simply makes listening a ton of fun!
A Great Entry Point for Audio Appreciation
I think the big difference between these and everything I’ve tested in the past is the fact that the A5+ speakers are actually a real set of speakers. The sound is very well-balanced without the perceived bass bump that I hear in a lot of smaller desktop speakers. Instead of the typical “one-note bass,”, these guys have tuneful bass. The highs are silky smooth (no pun intended, considering the silk dome tweeter) and they have great stereo imaging.
But the big thing that grabbed my attention was their sense of rhythm and pacing. Many speaker systems give you great tonal quality but lose that sense of rhythm that a live performance has. I think it is easier if you know what you are doing to accomplish this with a powered speaker as you can design it as a system. When a system gets this right, you just want to keep listening!
As my wife and I kept compiling our playlist, we were both grinning rocking out to some old tunes that brought back long lost memories. And rock out these little guys do! Most desktop systems shut down if you try to drive them hard. The A5+ will play incredibly loud yet holds everything together as you push them. They are just super impressive for the money.
Audioengine's goal is "to provide a high-end listening experience at affordable prices with easy to use, high-quality products." These little speakers achieve just that. Whether you’re an audio enthusiast looking for a desktop solution, or you’re just starting to get into higher performance listening, the Audioengine A5+ powered speakers are a great solution.
I was having so much fun with the playlist and these little jewels, 3 hours of time passed before I even knew it!
If you want to get creative, there are a ton of ways to enjoy the A5+ speakers. Audioengine makes some great sounding Bluetooth adaptors so you can stream from your device to the speakers.
Since I took home our demo models to test, I am very reluctant as I close out this blog to pack them back up and bring them back. I do plan to now test the smaller A2+ and as soon as we get in some of the HD6 speakers, I will also give them a whirl.
My only regret is that we did not pay enough attention to this great little company sooner. Their products (at least so far) are outstanding for the money and are sure to put a smile on your face!