From watching DVDs,
listening to MP3 music collections, or playing the latest video games, many
people are using their computers for a variety of multimedia applications
Add to that the
growing portable music player market, where almost everybody nowadays seems
to have an iPod an iPhone, a Zen, a Zune, or something tiny like a nano, and
it is easy to see why the active speaker market has been expanding in leaps
As of now there are
many units available with more hookups for portables and more designs that
accommodate surround sound cinema than ever before. That being said, while
we are willing to spend money on dedicated home theater rooms, most of us
want great sound on our desktops without spending a lot of money on bulky
plastic speakers or cheap plastic subwoofers that fit somewhere underneath a
desk - a place where one might stub his toe.
Back in 2006,
Audioengine impressed me greatly with their A5 multimedia speakers. Although
they were a little big for my desk, they really had clean balanced sound and
sported some really cool features for portable MP3 players. After reviewing
the speakers, I bought them for my personal use and I have been
completely satisfied ever since. Therefore, when Audioengine contacted me
about reviewing their latest model, the A2, I was intrigued in experiencing
In a nutshell, the
A2 was designed to retain the majority of the sound qualities of its big
brother the A5, minus some of the bulk and price. It doesn't feature the
extra AC plug-in or the USB charging port that was seen on the A5s, but their
appearance is very similar.
With smooth rounded corners, a quality gloss finish,
and controls placed on the back, the A2s look sleek, classy, and are compact
enough to fit on any office or home desk. The A2 is a two-way design
utilizing 2.75" Kevlar woofers and the same 20mm silk-dome neodymium
magnet tweeters that are used on the A5s.
The left speaker houses a dual class A/B
monolithic amplifier and provides the 15 watts RMS/channel power for both speakers. The A2s are about one third the size of the A5s, and each
speaker measures 4" wide by 6" tall by 5.24" deep.
Unlike many speakers
in this category, the A2s are crafted using 18mm thick MDF and have a
hand polished finish. There is a slotted port on the front of the speaker
that helps tune the bass response. There are two inputs on the back of the
left speaker: a 1/8" stereo mini-jack and a single RCA input. One can use
any sound source that works with these types of connections, and Audioengine
gives you a full set of cables included in the box. You'll be ready to go
right after you receive your order.
Setup and Listening
For this review, I
used my computer and an iPod as the main audio sources, and I auditioned
music and movies. This was an easy system to set up. It was a matter of
plugging in the power source and connecting the audio cable from my computer
to the input on the back of the unit. I found the best setup on my desk was
two and a half feet apart, toed inwards about 150. Most of my
listening was conducted in this near-field environment as I sat at my desk.
However, I also found the A2s performed well from further back, and they
provided my room with rich ambience.
Although these are
active speakers and one wouldn't expect to have a profound listening
experience at one's computer, the quality was high enough that listening at
my desk was very enjoyable. I'd say that what makes these speakers
stand out in their category is that they produce excellent clarity, rich
treble, and a balance that includes tight and punchy bass.
I started by
listening to a few various styles of music on the A2s to get a feel for
their tonal balance. In styles such as hip hop, bluegrass, rock and roll,
and jazz, the sound was consistently produced with a full-ranged response
that left me satisfied.
For example, on hip-hop artist Kanye West's album
Graduation, the A2s pumped
out sound that was full of tight punchy bass, smooth but forward midrange,
and crisp treble. Now I'm not saying the bass of these cuboid speakers are
going to shake your floors, but hearing a track like "Flashing Lights", which
features a rolling bass hit, it was hard to believe that the bass response
was produced without the use of a supplementary subwoofer.
Switching gears -
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have produced a new duo album called Raising
Sand, with elements of bluegrass, folk, and country rock. Here, the A2s
reproduced both performers' voices wonderfully with smooth and comforting
tones that had no sharp edges or nasally twangs. The speakers filled the room
with an ambience where the whispering lyrics from the vocalists were
delivered effortlessly and were chock full of texture and depth. Also, the
instruments were delivered with authority and they rested
comfortably in their own layers behind the vocals. This gave my desktop the
feeling of a soundstage; this is something you won't likely find happening
on most of the plastic speakers that crowd the active speaker market.
When I switched
gears again to view the movie Star Wars Episode II, the sound was full and
enveloping. Laser beams had a bite to them, and dialogue was exceptionally
clean. In the scene "The Jedi Council" at 1:06:48 - 1:09:45, the seismic
charges had a good midrange presence, and while I didn't expect the bass
output to give a lot of oomph to explosions and such, it did have a punchy
attack. The sound quality was high enough to get the adrenaline flowing.
The A2s are another
quality offering from the camp at Audioengine and which stand out amongst their
alternatives with refined sound and classy appearance. They deliver audio
cleanly with a full range sound, and whether enjoying some Miles Davis, watching
the new Transformers DVD, or just blasting away at enemies of a video game,
the A2s deliver in spades.
You would be hard pressed to find an active
speaker system that could give better sound quality for your portable player
or computer at this price and size. Given that Audioengine offers a 30 day
risk free trial and a three year warranty, there's little reason not to
experience these on your own.
- Adrian Wittenberg -