Thursday, March 20, 2008
Posted by Jason Dunn in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 06:30 AM
This is a Quick Look of AudioEngine's latest set of speakers the A2's. I've previously reviewed the "big brother" of these speakers, the A5's, and I was extremely impressed with them. Would these smaller speakers deliver the same calibre of sound as the bigger and more expensive A5's? The A5's are sold for $349 USD, while these A2's are sold for $199 USD - a significant difference. The A2 speakers, available in black or white, are designed to be desktop speakers, taking up much less space than the bigger A5 speakers, and also lack the cool functionality that the A5's have - namely the USB port and power plug. These are really just speakers, nothing fancy in terms of high-tech features. Are they worth the money? Read on.
Figure 2: Inside the box, you get the basics. One cable to connect one speaker to the other, the power cable that goes to the power brick (pictured below), and two 3.5mm jack cables - one short, one long.
Figure 3: The power brick isn't too big, but it's not too small either - about average in size.
Figure 4: I love that Audioengine goes to such lengths to protect the speakers from damage in shipping - and these fuzzy bags make you feel like you're unwrapping something precious.
Figure 5: Black. Glossy. Sexy. I like that the speakers are exposed and not hidden behind a grill - it gives them a sort of retro look. Think '80s boombox - the good-sounding kind.
Figure 6: The back of the A2's aren't hard to figure out. There's a master volume control - I set mine about 75% of maximum and with the computer's volume set to 50%, it's very loud. These speakers are small, but they can easily crank out volume to fill a medium-sized room. There are two inputs: one pair of RCA (white/red) inputs, and one 3.5mm input jack. Most PCs will output to the 3.5mm jack (commonly called a "headphone jack"), and many audio devices output to RCA (such as the Roku Soundbridge). It's easy enough to use a 3.5mm to RCA jack cable - I did this to connect a second PC to the speakers, but you'd use the same type of cable to connect an MP3 player. I'd prefer to see a cable like this included in the box.
Figure 7: The fact that the A2's are nice and small allow them to fit in places many other types of speakers would not. They're small enough to be taken outside for listening, or even travelling. Home theatre on a budget? They'd work great there as well.
But how do they sound? In a word, excellent. If a were a self-styled audiophile, this is the part of the article where I'd toss out terms like "sound stage" and "dynamic articulation", then name some obscure song by an obscure artist, all in an effort to make it seem like I know something you don't. Well, I'm no audiophile, but I am a 16-year vetren of playing bass guitar and singing a wide variety of musical styles - so I know what sounds good to me. I threw all sorts of music at the A2's - pop, rock, a capella, acoustic guitar solos, you name it. It all sounded excellent, although at first, because I was used to listening to music through the 5.1 Logitech system with a sub-woofer, I thought the A2's sounded a bit "quiet" without the pounding thump of a sub-woofer.
But just as with the A5 speakers, I started to listen to the bass rather than try to feel it. As the volume comes up on the A2's, you can really hear the bottom end - and the speakers thump along, moving air as they go. I thought I'd see how much bass they could really muster, so I put on Daft Punk's "Around the World" - see, a band you've heard of! The song intro is essentially a bass pass at a low frequency, purposefully quite muted, that cycles up to the full tone of the song. The A2's handled this beautifully - the bass was thick but not muddy, and have a warm thump that I could hear clearly. If anything, as I listened a variety of music, I could hear which songs were produced with an eye toward sonic clarity, and which were not. And speaking of clarity, as you crank up the A2's, they remain crisp and clear - no distortion that I could hear.
Want to get great-quality sound out of your Zune, iPod, or even your phone? Skip over those craptastic speaker docks (most of them suck) and buy a pair of these speakers. Sure, you'll have to power your audio player, but the sound quality kicked out by the A2's will blow away 99% of the speaker docks on the market. The A2's sound so much better than the Altec Lansing Zune dock I have it's embarrassing. I think it would be cool if AudioEngine created some sort of generic power dock for an MP3 player, something visually designed to go with the A2's.
The bottom line: to say that the AudioEngine A2's are a "good set of speakers" for $199 is insulting - they'd be a great set of speakers at double that price. The bottom line is that these speakers deliver superb sound, much better than anything I've heard - surpassed only in my experience by their big brother, the A5's. If you love music, and you listen to music quite often on your desktop PC, you owe it to yourself to pick up a set of A2's. These speakers earn my highest recommendation.
UPDATE, APRIL 24th, 2008: The guys at AudioEngine have a special offer for Digital Home Thoughts readers: if you use the coupon code DHT10 when purchasing their speakers, you'll save 10% off the price. Nice! This coupon doesn't expire, and can be used as often as you wish.
Jason Dunn owns and operates Thoughts Media Inc., a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys mobile devices, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, and his sometimes obedient dog.