Audioengine products may not be for sale in every retail outlet or even known by many consumers, but anyone who is looking for a pair of quality desktop speakers should give Audioengine a serious look – especially their A5+ speakers. I have owned the A5 speakers for some time, and when given a chance to try the upgraded A5+, I was curious to see what – if any – improvements were made.
Let’s get this out of the way: The A5+ speakers are not featherweights. They are (for desktop speakers) big, heavy and can be loud enough to introduce the neighbors to whatever unusual musical taste you may harbor. They are also big and powerful enough to double as a living-room speaker. But so what? Making powerful speakers is easy. However, making powerful speakers that are fun to listen to is quite another matter. That’s where Audioengine shines.
The A5+ is the successor to the wonderful A5, which has been a success for many years. It is the bigger brother to the Audioengine A2 speaker. However, the A5+ dwarfs the A2 in every respect: size, weight and audio. Here are some specs:
- 150 watts peak power
- Dual class AB monolithic amps
- 5″ Kevlar woofers, 20mm silk tweeters
- 10.75″ H x 7″ W x 7.75″ D
- Left speaker: 15.4 lbs
- Right speaker: 9.6 lbs
The reason the left speaker weighs quite a bit more is because it houses both amps and sports an attached heat sink on the back which helps the speaker’s electronics run more efficiently and stay cooler.
The front of the A5+ is almost identical to the original A5. There are no speaker covers, leaving the cones exposed, a look I prefer. It’s clean and aggressive. The cabinet comes in black, white, and a gorgeous bamboo wood (for an additional $70). Also on the front of the left speaker are a volume knob and an IR receiver for an included remote. Please don’t tell Audioengine this, but I lost the remote within 2 weeks of receiving the speakers. I haven’t a clue where it is. However, I don’t miss it at all and – think about it – is a remote really necessary for desktop speakers?
Also somewhat unnecessary – but it does show Audioengine’s attention to detail – are the drawstring cloth bags which protect the speakers during shipping and set-up. Once the speakers are in place, the bags usually go back in the box until needed again. Here’s a tip: Use the bags to keep headphones or other gear you carry around with you scratch-free while in your backpack. You’re welcome.
The rear of the A5+ left speaker has been revamped substantially. The bass ports are now thin slots at the top of each speaker as opposed to round ports, as on the original A5. AUX-in and powered USB ports have been moved from the top of the left speaker to the back. This new placement has a cleaner look, but is not nearly as convenient. Audioengine also removed a handy AC outlet at the rear of the speaker, which means that you no longer have an extra outlet. Welcome additions are analog RCA (binding post connector) inputs and an RCA output for a subwoofer, if desired. Audioengine also supplies the needed wiring for all connections. I like that.
The sound of the A5+ speakers can smack you – in a good way – when cranked up. I connected the A5+ to an Audioengine D1 digital audio convertor (DAC) and then connected the D1 to an iMac. The D1 DAC is almost a necessity when using any computer as the primary audio source, but especially an iMac, since it has terrible built-in audio output. A decent DAC can make all the difference.
Bass on the A5+ is gutsy and penetrating, just short of any added oomph a subwoofer can provide. A bass-heavy song, like Brian Eno’s “And Then So Clear” from the album, “Another Day on Earth,” can easily overpower a lesser speaker. The A5+ reproduced bass I could feel as well as well as hear with no distortion. Enya’s “Water Shows the Hidden Heart” is one of my go-to distortion test songs. At certain points in the song, many speakers will buzz unpleasantly. There was no buzz of any kind on the A5+ combined with the D1 DAC, even at loud volume – only clean audio.
The middle frequencies – which is where most vocals lie – were clean and intimate. Whether is was Bryan Ferry’s world-weary crooning, the tight, country harmonies of Sweden’s First Aid Kit or Amber Rubarth reworking the Louis Armstrong classic, “A Kiss to Build a Dream On,” the A5+ speakers placed all of them in the room with me. It was almost eerie.
The higher frequencies on other speakers can border on harsh when pushed too hard. Although this frequency range is the weakest link on the A5+ when compared to the mids and bass, there was no brittleness in the music. “Psychedelic Pill” from Neil Young is a good example of highs that can become easily distorted, but the A5+ kept the highs tamed.
At times, there was some clarity that seemed to be lacking. I attribute this more to whichever song was being played than the dominate strength of the bass and mids. But hey, the A5+ speakers were so much fun to audition, I really didn’t care. Whether it’s classic rock, folk, classical and even quiet ambient music, the A5+ speakers handle it all with unassuming ease.
So yeah, the Audioengine A5+ speakers may not be the clearest sounding desktop speakers I’ve heard – the B&W MM-1 speakers take that crown. But the MM-1s can’t compete against the audacious power of the A5+ speakers. These giants will blow away just about any desktop available. There is something to be said for sheer mass. When you couple their size with power to match, all you want to do is pump up the volume and smile.