HD3 Premium Desktop Speaker System Review
A new standard for desktop speakers
Company & Product Overview
Audioengine is one of the most popular names in audio right now, having built a reputation over the last 11 years for building fantastic speakers that provide an incredible value. Their founders have a great pedigree, having spent time at some of the best names in the audio and consumer electronics industry, including Apple, Alesis, Gibson Guitar, and Harman/Kardon. Audioengine has developed a line of products that are incredibly easy to set up while delivering performance that rivals speakers costing 2-3 times the price.
In 2016, they released a flagship product, the HD6, which represented a bit of a departure from their focus on desktop computer speakers. The HD6 is a true full-range speaker and is best appreciated on speaker stands or bookshelves where you can sit further away than the typical 2-3 ft we all sit from our computer speakers. The HD6 is beautifully finished tons of options for connectivity built in.
The HD3, which we will be reviewing today, takes many of the great features of the HD6 and shrinks it down into a compact pair of speakers that are perfect for desktop listening.
Design & Build Quality
Like the HD6, the HD3 comes in a choice of three beautiful finishes, walnut, cherry, or black. The model we tested was in walnut and was really beautiful. They all come with a black grill that attaches magnetically to the front. The grill doesn’t cover the speaker from top to bottom, leaving a little room for a brushed metal plate across the front. The left speaker has a volume/off control knob, headphone input, and Bluetooth pairing button. The HD3 has a slot loaded front firing port, which means you can place them just about anywhere.
Size wise they are just slightly larger than the famous Audioengine A2+, standing 7 ¼” tall compared to the 6” of the A2+ with the width (4 1/8”) and depth (5 ¾”) very similar to the A2+.
The HD3 is a two-way powered speaker system with 2.75” Kevlar woofer and ¾” silk dome tweeters. The HD3 uses a cast basket which provides more rigidity than the stamped basket featured in the A2+. The amp for the HD3 is built in, so all you need is a source to get music playing. As you’ll see, there are no shortages of possibilities there!
Connectivity is an area where the HD3 really shines. They come with a heavy gauge 2-meter speaker cable used to connect the left powered speaker to the right. The cable used is a big step up from that included with the A2+. It’s much larger gauge and comes pre-terminated with gold plated banana plugs. This makes hookup a snap and eliminates any chance of stray wires touching at the speaker terminals. Should you wish to use your own cable, the connections accept either banana plugs or bare wire and are far more solid than you normally find on speakers in this price range.
The back panel of the left speaker has several connection options. There is a left/right set of RCA audio inputs, a mini plug audio input (with a nice gold plated audio cable included), a micro USB input for connection from a computer (basic cable included), and a Bluetooth antenna. You’ll also find a set of audio outputs should you wish to connect a sub, and a new feature for Audioengine, a bass reducing toggle switch. Finally, there is the locking connection for the external power supply.
Pairing for Bluetooth works great and the HD3 will even remember 6 different Bluetooth connections.
Audioengine recommends about 40-50 hours of break in time, so while they were playing we tested out the Bluetooth range. This is no “you have to stay in the room” Bluetooth connection. Using an iPhone we were able to stay connected up to about 50 feet away, even through multiple walls -- very impressive!
We really like the design theory of a powered speaker. If the designer is choosing to build a powered speaker because they care about the sound (not to cut costs), the outcome can be fantastic. They know all of the electrical characteristics the amp will need to contend with since the only thing it will ever be connected to are the drivers that are built into that particular speaker. This lets them design the amp to perfectly match the speakers. It saves money and if done right, results in great sound. As with many Audioengine speakers, the HD3 is self-powered. We were surprised to see how well the built in amp could push them. It easily filled up a reasonably sized room with sound, though we preferred the sound up close. Though they certainly will work as a bookshelf speaker, it seems
they were designed to really excel where they will likely be most used -- as a great set of desktop speakers.
Our experience with Audioengine means we are starting to get to a point where we can predict how an Audioengine speaker will sound. They tend not to over-emphasize any frequencies. Everything is smooth and flat in the range they cover. This means you can sit at your desk and listen to them for hours on end without the fatigue you sometimes get from lower quality speakers.
The bass switch is a really interesting feature. It cuts off the deep bass if you are going to use a subwoofer with them. This has the advantage of removing the deep bass demands from the woofer, which actually opens up the midrange. It’s really easy to hear, if you switch bass cut on, during some complex music with vocals you’ll notice the vocals to be clearer. Couple these with an Audioengine sub (or your own) and you have a great full-range system.
If you are going to use them on a wooden desk, we do highly recommend the $29 DS1 stands as an add-on. Anytime you put a speaker on a big, flat, resonant surface, the sound can become colored by the resonances. The DS1 stands eliminate this and also aims the drivers up towards your ears for a better listening experience.
The HD3 apparently has the same DAC (digital audio converter) built in as their great D1 DAC. This is one of our favorite DAC’s for the money and it was not surprising that we got our best sound while using the USB output from our computer, which then had the built in DAC turning the digital stream into music. Ripped CD’s sounded great too, as did Tidal in HiFi (CD quality) streaming mode.
If you like listening to music at your desk, we highly recommend the HD3. All you need are the speakers (and we recommend the stands). For private listening, the headphone amp will also drive even the highest demand headphones on the market.
When you couple the better DAC, better woofer basket, and slightly larger cabinet, these are definitely a substantial improvement over the A2+ for just another $150. Add in the fact that you get Bluetooth and a headphone amp and it’s a no brainer to upgrade to these over the A2+ if it’s within your budget.
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
Great choice of inputs and outputs
With Bluetooth, two analog inputs, and USB for computer connection, you have all the bases covered for connectivity without needing any external boxes (unless you need a phono stage for a turntable). Add to this a great little headphone amp and subwoofer out, and you have a wonderful feature set.
Built-In D1 DAC
We really like the stand alone Audioengine D1 DAC. When using Bluetooth or USB in, you will take advantage of this DAC. We found when we used the D1 in combination with other Audioengine speakers, it greatly improved their sound. The fact that it’s built into the HD3 is a serious perk.
Cast Woofer Basket
These little guys can put out an amazing amount of bass energy for their compact size. The cast basket helps keep the bass tight without getting too bloated when you push them harder. Amazing for the money!