A5+ Wireless Powered Speakers Review
An updated classic. Now with aptX HD Bluetooth!
Company & Product Overview
Audioengine desktop speakers and other computer audio products have made them an industry favorite. In fact, they boast some of the best reviewed and most popular products in their category.
One of the founders of Audioengine was a project manager at Apple, working on the iPod which was at the peak of its popularity at the time. The other founders hailed from Gibson Guitars, Alesis (which manufactures pro audio gear like keyboards), and Harmon/Kardon. The combined technical prowess of the founders meant Audioengine was destined to create products that have consistently raised the bar for audio performance in their price point.
Their first product was the A5, launched in 2005. At the time, there wasn’t anyone focusing on audiophile-grade computer speakers, so they saw an opportunity to carve out a niche in the market.
While they knew that the A5 would also be used as an iPod dock, their philosophy was to provide universal connectivity, not to chase trends. While other brands were building proprietary iPod cradles directly into their products, Audioengine opted instead for a simple mini jack input and a USB plug which could provide power to the iPod or any other MP3 player.
This turned out to be a good call, as the timeless look and high build quality has made it possible for many of their original customers to still enjoy their original A5 speakers today.
Next came the Audioengine A5+, which has been their best-selling product of all time and is a favorite of our customers, particularly those that are looking to pair them with a turntable to create a simple yet great sounding vinyl playback setup.
Today’s review, however, brings us full circle -- back to a focus on digital audio. Today, Audioengine releases the newest version of the A5, the A5+ Wireless!
Just like the A5 and the A5+ before it, the A5+ Wireless is a pair of all in one powered speakers. We will touch on some of the changes in the new model, but the biggest is the AptX HD Bluetooth functionality.
Design & Build Quality
When we look at the A5+ in comparison to the new Wireless version, it is obvious Audioengine did not want to make any changes to something that was already fantastic. The cabinet size is identical at about 11” high, by 9” deep, by 7” wide.
They have that classic Audioengine studio monitor look -- no grills. So if you have kids, be sure to put these up somewhere where they can’t be poked and prodded. The A5+ Wireless has a small volume knob on the front as well as the power indicator light on the left speaker, and also comes with a remote control as well. Like the A5+ they are available in three great finishes -- a satin black, hi-gloss white, and for a small upcharge, solid carbonized bamboo.
There was not much Audioengine could do to improve on the great build quality of the A5+. The cabinets are a high-quality MDF design with a rear slotted port. All of the connections are very solid, especially the speaker terminals. When you rap your knuckles on the cabinet (a great test of a good speaker cabinet by the way), you’ll be rewarded with a pretty solid thunk -- a true sign of a well made speaker enclosure.
The A5+ Wireless speakers would certainly be considered large for an average desk, but they should fit nicely on either side of your monitor and have a studio monitor look. The left speaker houses all of the electronics and includes two audio inputs (mini and RCA), a variable out for a subwoofer, an antenna for the Bluetooth connectivity, and a set of speaker connections to wire up the right speaker. Once the left speaker is all connected, you simply run speaker wire to the right speaker and you’re ready to enjoy your favorite music!
The A5+ Wireless look almost identical to the A5+. The primary difference is that while the A5+ had the tweeters slightly off-center, they are aligned directly down the middle of the A5+ Wireless. Let’s talk about why they may have made this change.
Features & Technology
We think that a mirror image design (with the tweeters off-center) can be very useful in speakers where it doesn’t matter which is left or right. This is because depending on the application, it can sound better to have the tweeters to the inside while in other situations the outside is better.
Being that Audioengine speakers are powered, the left speaker is always left and the right speaker is always right. In this application, we prefer having the tweeter symmetrical in the cabinet. While we already loved the A5+ as it was, this is a change that we approve of.
The A5+ Wireless are two-way powered speakers and feature a 3/4” silk dome tweeter with neodymium magnets. The woofer is a a 5” Kevlar design and includes advanced voice coils. We applaud Audioengine for opting to design their own drivers for all of their speakers, rather than just buying some generic off-the-shelf parts like many other vendors do. This contributes to their great and consistent sound. You can also tell the cabinets are very sold when you go to pick them up. Even the right, dummy speaker, which doesn’t have any electronics in it, weighs in right at 10 pounds!
When you go to pick up the left speaker, you’ll find it weighs over 15 pounds. This is mainly due to the power transformer Audioengine uses. In the world of very high-end amplifiers, you’ll find that most of them use what is called a toroidal transformer. This is a much more expensive type of transformer, but it has many performance advantages. It is pretty incredible to find this type of transformer in a modestly priced powered speaker! This great transformer gets another performance enhancement with special shock absorbing mounts, which keep the vibrations from woofer from affecting the sound.
Audioengine matches the woofer and tweeter with an analog dual-class A/B monolithic amp designed specifically for those drivers. Again, this is something we would expect to see in multi-thousand dollar amps. We love this type of technology as the designer of the amp knows exactly what kind of load their amp will be seeing. This allows for the amp to be fine-tuned to work perfectly with the woofer and tweeter in the A5+ Wireless. Opting for this type of amp instead of a digital amp proves just how much Audioengine cares about performance.
As we mentioned, the biggest change to the A5+ Wireless is in the Bluetooth 4.0 aptX HD wireless capability. Audioengine already knows a lot about making Bluetooth work well, as they’ve proven with their best-selling B1 Bluetooth adapter.
The A5+ Wireless also features a 24-bit DAC, which presents impressive low noise and low distortion characteristics that should provide a noticeable improvement over other Bluetooth devices. More on that when we get to performance.
We were lucky enough to get one of the very first production models of the A5+ Wireless off the line, thanks to our friends at Audioengine. We used it to test for this review. Upon hooking it up, the first thing we wanted to test was the Bluetooth range.
The A5+ Wireless was set up in the back of our Raleigh store on the main level, which is about 10,000 square feet. We were able to walk through two rooms, all the way to the front of the store, out the doors and halfway into the parking lot before we lost the signal! We tested it with both an Android and iOs device with the same spectacular results. Needless to say, we don’t think you’ll have any issue at all with Bluetooth dropouts.
With the speakers set up, it was time for our favorite part -- the sound!
We had just been playing around with the new Pro-ject Audio Pre Box S2 Digital, so we decided to use that for the first phase of our testing. We also decided to grab our demo pair of the A5+ and set them up side-by-side, just for fun!
Just like when we first tested the A5+, the A5+ Wireless needs some break-in. These did not have much time on them and we preferred the A5+ over them. We could tell they needed that break in time so we gave it to them. After about 24 hours of running in, we could not hear any difference at all between the two models. Why mess with a good thing!?
When you listen to the A5+ Wireless, you’ll get the sense that you are listening to a serious set of speakers. You won’t find any of that typical simulated bass boost that you find in lots of small speakers, trying to trick you into thinking you have real bass. The A5+ Wireless has deep and tuneful bass where you can actually hear the tonality of the bass guitar or other low-frequency instruments. We tested quite a few MQA tracks on Tidal through the Pre Box S2 Digital and were extremely impressed with the quality of the low end.
A real test of a great speaker is the ability to listen to it for a long time without getting tired. We feel this is even more important for desktop speakers as you may be using them day in and day out while you work. The A5+ Wireless has a very sweet and smooth top end, never edgy or bright, which makes them very musical.
If you go to the trouble to play around with their placement, they can produce some pretty astounding stereo imaging. They’re built for near-field listening, so we recommend creating an equilateral triangle between the speakers and your ears. If you do this correctly and close your eyes, you’ll be able to hear distinct placement of the instruments in space. The lead singer will usually be right in the middle with other voices and instruments spread right to left. It’s a great effect that high-performance speakers are known for.
Another factor that we like to test is rhythm and pacing. This is the emotional quality of a system that makes you start tapping your toes. A lot of speakers can sound great from top to bottom, but just not present the music in a way that makes you want to get up and dance. The A5+ Wireless excels in this regard. It’s easy to get lost in the music and spend hours searching through your favorite tracks to listen to.
If you like things loud, the A5+ Wireless can handle it. Many all-in-one desktop speakers will start to sound harsh when you push them hard. The A5+ Wireless can produce a pretty high volume for their size without sounding shrill. This is a testament to that great Class A/B amp and toroidal power transformer we talked about. It can really deliver the current when it’s called upon.
Audioengine essentially baked their B1 Bluetooth Adapter into the A5+ Wireless. While the Bluetooth connectivity is a great feature, it doesn’t sound as good as the wired connection. This is no surprise, as we’ve never heard a wireless connection that sounds better than wired. Overall, though, it sounds very good for Bluetooth and in many cases, such as parties, the convenience factor is really what you’re looking for. When you’re ready to sit down with some friends for a critical listening session, the A5+ Wireless excels there too.
The aptX Bluetooth HD functionality of the new A5+ Wireless is important to many people who enjoy streaming music from their mobile devices. This is a great new feature to add to the A5+ and Audioengine did it right.
When it comes to our overall thoughts on the speaker, our opinion hasn’t changed. We still rank the A5+ (in both it’s wireless and non-wireless variants) as one of the top values in audio. You can set them up at your desk, or use them as part of your first high-quality audio system. We are also seeing a large number of them being paired with a turntable for a great starter vinyl system. With the addition of Bluetooth, your friends can now send their favorite streaming music or music on their smartphone right your speakers.
Audioengine states that they want “to provide a high-end listening experience at affordable prices with high-quality products that are easy to use.” The new A5+ Wireless Speakers hit that mantra right on the head!
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
All In One Design
We love the fact you can place these down and start listening, with only a few simple cables to plug in.
The A5+ Wireless adds Bluetooth. In fact, it’s the longest range Bluetooth we have ever tested. You’ll never have to worry about your sound dropping out.
Custom Audio Throughout
Audioengine uses their own woofer and tweeter and a specially designed amplifier fo unbeatable musical output at a remarkably low price.