Technology Tuesday: Audioengine A2 Powered Speakers

It continues to astound me how many ways there are to consume digital music and how they keep getting better and better. Many sites have music catalogs that continue to get deeper with drastically improved user interfaces, features that continue to grow and recommendation engines that seem to be able to crawl inside your head. Fortunately the overall audio quality continues to improve as well with better encoding and higher bit-rates. In addition, with such things as Google Music, iTunes cloud, Amazon Cloud Player or Subsonic making it easy to have your entire library playable with a simple click from any internet connected device – many people are now listening to more music through their computers than any other way. Yet without quality speakers, what’s the use?

I was knocked off my chair and blown away when listening to Audioengine’s A2 speakers the first time. With a rich, lush and impossibly bold and bass filled sound for the sub $200 price-point, the A2′s pushed a massively powerful sound that probably puts some people’s stereo system to shame. The build quality, striking good looks, compact size, easy connections and built in amplifiers make these really everything someone could possible be looking for in desktop or bookshelf speakers.

In a nutshell These powered speakers offer tremendous audio quality in a relatively small form factor. They offer two inputs with either traditional RCA or 1/8″ mini-jack that allow easy connections to just about any audio device including laptop, desktop, iPod, mobile phone, Sonos Zone player, game console or even a TV. The left speaker is the one with an integrated amp and offers a peak 30W of power per channel. The passive right speaker is connected with traditional speaker wire which comes with the speakers along with RCA and mini-jack audio cables.

Sound I’ve listened to many desktop speakers and there are many great deals out there that offer terrific sound without breaking the bank. I was thrilled earlier this year to find a pair of Altec-Lansing speakers with a good value proposition. Yet, for only a few dollars more, at $199, the A2′s offer far superior sound and an extraordinary value. Stunning clarity, room filling bass and beautiful tones make these speakers comparable to ones costing many times more. Unlike most speakers in this price-category, like the aforementioned Altec-Lansings or the Bose Companion series, Audioengine is able to produce this great sound without a subwoofer unit. (Of course, if you want to add a subwoofer, you certainly can). It is kind of a paradox as you look around for what is providing the large sound and thinking there must be a hidden speaker somewhere.

However, in addition to the great power and large sound, what makes the A2′s so impressive to me is how articulate and detailed they are. You can hear every little nuance in the music even with the ample bass. The great low-end is accomplished by the design of the speaker cabinets and the speaker ports creating clean, deep bass without the fake sounding circuits of other budget speakers.

If you can afford the desk or bookshelf space for these speakers that measure 6”(H) x 4”(W) x 5.25”(D) and can dispense with the ultra-portability that a single-speaker unit can, you’d be absolutely insane to fork over similar cash (or more!) for such speakers as the Big Jambox ($249) or Beats Beatbox ($499) for use with your computer.

The A2′s sounded great regardless what type of music I played or what source I used. I tried running some FLAC files on my computer through a portable DAC and the sound was simply stellar. I had equally pleasing results from  my phone’s headphone jack and a simple YouTube concert video. Hooking the A2′s to a TV next to my desk is where I think I will keep this pair. I can connect the TV’s RCA out and my computer’s line-out simultaneously without the need for a switch- so whatever is playing will be output through the speakers. As far as the TV, they provided crisp, clear and clean dialog and likely outperform many soundbars that cost a lot more.

[Rear Panel A2 Speaker]

Build and Design I love the speaker cabinets which are solid wood (well, actually MDF) and hand built with a nice finish and details in a choice of black or white. I haven’t seem the white option in person, but the black ones have an extremely high end look and feel. The woofer speaker cones are made from bullet-proof Kevlar which makes them super durable and eliminates the need for a speaker grill giving them a striking appearance. However, the smaller tweeters are made from silk and you’ll definitely need to be careful that those are not poked or damaged. All the connections and volume dial are on the rear of the left speaker and depending on preference can be positioned either straight up or on their side. The volume dial in the rear does allow for a nicer, cleaner physical design but if you prefer to use it verse volume controls from your playback device, it can be inconvenient.

A couple of things to consider The A2′s are the little cousin to another flagship set of speakers in the Audioengine line: The A5′s. Deciding between the two might be the only decision you need to make other than color choice when shopping for desktop or computer speakers. The A5′s are larger and cost about $100 more, but also offer much more volume and improved overall sound. The A2′s can provide absolutely everything you need for desktop listening and are just stunning for the price. However, if you want to use them to fill a much larger room and can afford the bump in price, the A5′s are certainly the way to go.

These speakers sound fantastic right out of the box, but like with any speaker, a little fiddling with placement and positioning can further improve sound quality. The speakers come with almost 7′ of speaker cable allowing you to position them in many different configurations. Additionally, optional speaker stands ($34) designed for the A2′s can help direct the tweeters at your ears and eliminate the sounds bouncing off your desk or shelves and distorting. I didn’t opt for the stands but did end up propping up the speakers with a make-shift wedge and it really added to my enjoyment.

Finally, one of the things that I really like in desktop speakers is a headphone output on one of the speakers. My desktop tower is in a grossly inconvenient location to access the headphone port. This is my only major gripe with the A2′s as there is no headphone out and it becomes difficult when I do want to use headphones.

[White A2's with optional speaker stands]

Bottom Line  It is hard, if not impossible to beat the A2′s for ease of use, value, sound, looks and overall performance. They really help your music sound great and can be used with mobile devices, computers or any other audio device. With integrated power and no subwoofer needed, there’s no amplifier or other connections to have to deal with. With a MSRP of $199, these are a great deal. However, shopping around and waiting for deals, you may be able to find these closer to $150, or even $129 in which case you’ve scored a tremendous deal.

Happy listening! I hope you enjoy these as much as I have!

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Audioengine A2

Amazon $199

Audioegine $199

(Audioengine A5) $299

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