The original A5 was a runaway hit for Audioengine, so the new A5+ speakers have big shoes to fill. How are they? Two words: Shockingly good. We show you why and how, along with a close look at Audioengine’s no-fuss, near-universal, wireless audio adapters, the most effective cable replacements we’ve encountered.
|Product|| Audioengine A5+ speaker system & |
Wireless Audio Adapter W1 set
|MSP||$399/pair; $99 |
The first Audioengine product was the A5, released in 2005. This well-engineered,
compact, powered speaker pair quickly earned many accolades from reviewers,
and firmly established Audioengine as a player in the consumer audio scene of
the new millenia.
By the time SPCR got around to examining audio gear, the A5 had been reviewed
so well and so widely that Audioengine preferred to send us a sample pair of
their second powered speakers, the tiny A2. We
reviewed it favorably back in 2008; it was an excellent product. In October
2011, Audioengine announced a follow-up to the A5: The A5+, which retains the
size, look and shape of the original, and adds customer-requested upgrades and
features, the most visible of which is a wireless remote for power and volume
The A5+ size and shape is a near-classic <1′ tall monitor, in the tradition
of the Rogers LS3/5A and the Linn Kan (if anyone remembers these things)…
and hundreds of small box speakers that have appeared in the markets over the
past 40 years since mini-speakers became popular. Unlike those classics of yore,
the A5+ has a built-in electronics, requiring AC power but no external amplifiers.
Its look is modern, eschewing any type of speaker grill and traditional wood
veneers alike. The cones of the drivers are exposed, while black, white and
carbonized bamboo are the finish options. In all three cosmetic options, the
A5+ is fairly pleasing to the eye.
Full specifications are provided on the manufacturer’s
product page. There’s really no need to repeat them here, but these details
seem noteworthy to me:
Overall, it’s a promising package for $399.
UNPACKING THE A5+
The Audioengine A5+ came double-boxed, with a reasonably tough plain brown
outer carton. The inner box features typical retail graphics and text.
The speakers are well-protected with closed-cell foam end caps as well as soft
Well protected for shipping.
LISTENING & USE IMPRESSIONS
In an Audio-only HiFi
The Audioengine A5+ speakers were hooked into my main audio-only system.
No exotic cables are used, but the interconnects are high silver content wire
with good quality phono plugs. Speaker cables are Linn multistrand dipole (about
12 gauge) terminated with banana plugs.
The Benchmark DAC1 is a well recognized, top performing D/A converter. The
NHT 2.9 speakers and Linn amplifier are older and probably nowhere near "real
high end", but the system still sounds excellent, capable of convincing
musical realism at fairly high volume. The room is quite large and lively, 30′
x 13′ with an 8′ ceiling — a living room that extends into the dining area.
The NHT 2.9 speakers are about 7′ apart, 1.5′ in front of a wall that is mostly
sliding glass doors to the front deck, and the listening area is about 10′ in
front of the speakers.
The Audioengine A5+ were connected via 8′ long, high silver-content RCA coax
leads from the output of the Benchmark DAC1 D/A converter. The A5+ speakers
were placed atop the NHT 2.9 speakers (which puts them slightly high for a seated
listener), over 2′ out away from the glass wall behind them. The provided 16
gauge zip cord was used initially, but it was too short and hung between the
two speakers like a sloppy clothesline, so it got replaced quickly with longer
audiophile quality solid-core speaker cable.
A quick look at the hookups on the back of the left speaker. The right
pair has just one pair of 5-way binding posts, which are decent quality,
The remote control is handy, especially for someone who is assembling a minimalist
system around the A5+ speakers (just add any signal source). For my purposes,
I set the A5+ volume at full, and simply used the remote control of the Squeezebox,
which has access to the program material as well as volume. I did use the A5+
remote to put the speaker into sleep mode when not in use, which saves getting
up and going to the back of the left speaker to turn the power switch off.
A small sampling of the tunes and albums (most available through Amazon)
used to assess the A5+:
The sound of the Audioengine A5+ from the very first notes was open,
warm, detailed and smooth. This was apparent at first listen
without any warmup or break in. The positive initial impression was strengthened
over time as the power to the speakers was left on continuously for about a
week, playing music as often as possible at volumes both low and high. By the
end of the week, I was confident that any break-in was done. There was little
sense of much change during this period. If pressed, I might point to greater
air in the spatial imaging and increased authority in the bass.
That bass, by the way, is one of the truly impressive aspects of this system:
It has surprising depth and impact, and it is distinctive, detailed and well-balanced.
It easily lets you hear differences between similar instruments or styles of
play, even at fairly high volume, and in both complex as well as simple arrangements.
It’s very impressive for speakers this small. Visitors assumed the big NHT 2.9
speakers were playing, and invariably took double takes when told it was just
the small speakers actually producing the sound.
The rest of the frequency spectrum is well integrated with that bottom end,
with excellent clarity and extension. Singing voices figure highly in my favorite
music, and the A5+ reproduces them extremely well. Ditto all kinds of percussive
sounds, from the shimmer of cymbals to tomtoms, or the attack of piano notes.
Imaging and spatial ambiance is well projected, with a big soundstage between,
behind and in front of the speakers.
The system can play quite loudly without strain in this large room, with peaks
well above 90 dB from 3 meters away, which is approaching 100 dB at the standard
one meter distance. (Measured using our high
resolution audio measurement system.) This is probably loud enough for most
of us, short of an all-out rocking party.
Over a couple more weeks of listening, I experimented with positioning, and
the A5+ speakers ended up a bit closer to the wall (~16"): the imaging
got slightly less dramatic, but the overall tonal balance improved, with the
bass retaining their proper weight to higher volumes.
2.9: Good as the A5+ bass is, it cannot match the much larger NHT speakers’
10" bass drivers, driven by the 100W/ch Linn amplifier. Weight, impact
and overall realism of the bass as well as ambient recording space was better
on the NHTs, as was the clarity at higher volumes. The imaging of the A5+ was
somewhat better on less complex material, and the midband was similarly detailed.
Extension of the high end was similarly good on both speakers, but the overall
"air" was a touch better on the A5+. In complex music, the A5+ fell
behind, especially as the volume rose. Overall, it’s an amazing performance
considering the cost and size differences.
These passive speakers are even smaller than the Audioengine A5+, and by
themselves without a subwoofer, the MilleniaOne’s weaker bass response is immediately
noticeable, and the slightly warmer overall presentation of the A5+ is better
balanced. The A5+ cannot match the imaging, transparent quickness, high end
extension, and sheer resolution of the MilleniaOne speakers, however. Add the
matching MilleniaSub to the MilleniaOne, and there really is no contest, though
the margin of the win is nowhere near the price difference: $399 for the A5+
versus $2,500 — $1,800 for the MilleniaSub/One speakers plus ~$700 for
a used Linn AV5105 amplifier.
A2: The little brother of the family is a neat mini, but the
new A5+ stomps all over it in just about every way. It presents a much bigger
window to the music and delivers it far more authoritatively. The A5+ is a serious
contender for an audio enthusiast on a budget; the A2, in comparison, is a compromise
in most ways. If you have the room for them, spend the extra $200 on the A5+.
LISTENING IMPRESSIONS (continued)
In a Home Theater AV Setup
Wall-mounted Samsung 59" TV in media room, flanked by Audioengine
A5+ on dual AV stand. The center speaker is an Audioengine A2, turned
on only with video sources, and turned off during testing.
An Anthem MRX 500
7-channel AV receiver and a Samsung 59" plasma TV reside in my small 10′
x 12′ media room. Sources include a Shaw HD PVR (for cable programming), a home-built
HTPC running Windows 7 and XBMC 11.0, and a Samsung Bluray player. Most of the
video material is 720p and 1080p files ripped from Bluray and stored on a home
server on the gigabit wired network. Normally, a pair of home-made 2-way transmission
line tower speakers with Focal 7" mid/bass and 1" dome drivers are
used with one Audioengine A2 speaker (passive right one) for the center channel.
The towers were removed from the room for this review.
The simplest way to inject the A5+ speakers into the existing system was to
connect them via RCA coax cables to the preamp outputs of the Anthem MRX 500
receiver. The speakers were placed atop the low (16" tall) equipment cabinets
under/in-front of the TV. No effort was made to decouple the speakers from the
hollow core wood panel of the cabinet top; I figured the speakers should be used as intended, with that damped pad already adhered to its bottom. The Audioengine A2 center speaker was left in place, but generally not used for this review.
There were no real surprises: The Audioengine A5+ speakers sounded great with
the very first movie I tried, The Adjustment Bureau from 2011. Even without
the center speaker, the vocals came through with great clarity and intelligibility,
while both music and sound effects had excellent impact. , I’d expected the
speakers to have more oomph in this smaller room, and the expectation was borne
out, but I did not expect the prodigious amount of bass that the A5+ delivered
in this room. This was decidedly different than in the living room, where the
A5+ bass was quite nicely balanced.
After a couple of weeks in the media system, the hefty bass quality was well
confirmed with lots of video programs as well as music. It was fun to have with
lots of movies, but part of me knew the effect was exaggerated overkill, and
it was less suitable with some music. I decided to run the ARC (Anthem
Room Correction PDF) program through the MRX 500 receiver, which would conveniently provide a frequency response test of the A5+ speakers in that system/room, and see/hear how the room equalization might change the already excellent but sometimes bass-heavy sound I was getting.
Frequency response of Audioengine A5+ speakers in small media room, as
is, and after equalization with ARC.
The ARC results showed the A5+ did indeed have boosted bass in this room/system,
as much as 5~6 dB over the midband (400~1,000 Hz) level. Curiously, I had not
heard much of the effect of the apparent dip at roughly 100~300 Hz. I had no
quibble with the rest of the ARC results, it pretty much confirms what I was
hearing: Smooth response to beyond 10 kHz, with fairly rapid falloff beyond.
The 10~20 kHz drop in response explains one of the major differences between
the A5+ and the Paradigm MilleniaOne: The latter extends flat out to 20 kHz
and beyond. See the ARC results for the Millenia speakers below.
ARC results on the MilleniaOne/Sub 3.1 system in the same room, with Anthem
MRX 300 receiver (from Paradigm
Did the ARC correction improve the sonic performance of the A5+? Well, mostly,
but as mentioned, the uncorrected performance of the A5+ was very good:
In the main audio only room/system, the balance of the A5+ was so right that there was no point dragging the Anthem receiver out there for the ARC treatment.
Atop a Desktop, Flanking a Monitor
The promotional photo at the start of this article shows the A5+ in such a
setup, and some people do listen to music, watch online videos and play games
at their computer desk, so this can be considered a fairly standard application these days. It does not rank high in my priorities. Such a near-field position makes for a pretty unnatural sonic experience and I just don’t have much time for playing game. Still, it was tried.
The sound, fed from a high quality Asus
Essence STX card in my desktop PC, was excellent, which is no surprise given the experience in previous settings. As with other speakers, the mechanical
coupling of the A5+ to the desktop itself caused bass resonances, which could be off-putting. This effect is probably worse with the A5+ than with other small speakers I’ve tried in the past simply because there is a lot more bass output.
It’s too bad that Audioengine neglected to send me a
set of their angled desktop stands, which are supposed to help mitigate
the problem. (Too bad, too, that I didn’t pursue them for a set.)
Power Consumption: A quick check was done with our AC power meter, which
confirmed (within 10%) Audioengine’s spec of 10W in idle, 6W in mute, and 4W
in sleep. There’s really no way to get maximum power readings; the demands of
audio are too dynamic for any of our power meters to do justice. Suffice it
to say I’d be surprised if the long term power draw of the A5+ exceeded 20W
in any normal usage.
Remote Control: I did mention how handy it is earlier, and here’s a
photo of the little thing.
Audioengine A5+ remote: Handy and functional.
AUDIOENGINE WIRELESS AUDIO ADAPTER W1
A pair of small, high quality speakers with a built-in amplifier has many uses,
since it isn’t hampered by the need for an external amplifier with a cable running
to each speaker. With the USB power port and the stereo mini-jack input built
into the back of the A5+, you don’t even need a dock for your portable MP3 player
to share the music with everyone else in the room.
You still need some kind of cable to run the signal from the source and the
A5+ speakers, and if the source is less portable than a personal MP3 player,
then that cable can be a nuisance. A common challenge with home theater sound
systems, for example, is running the cables from the central receiver to five,
six or seven speakers in the room. If you’re building the room from scratch
or seriously remodeling, then those unsightly cables can be run right into
the walls, with discreetly placed jacks on the walls as needed. But in the typical
setup, the AV system is not built in, it’s an add-on, and those unsightly cables
have very low WAF. Even with the A5+, a pair of long RCA cables or a single
long mini-plug cable (not recommended for sound quality) is needed to get the
signal to it.
Enter Audioengine’s Wireless Audio Adapter. The samples I have are of the first
model, W1 (or AW1). They come as a sender/receiver pair with some accessories,
as shown in the photo below. What this innocuous pair of gadgets do is to eliminate
the need for any cables between the Audioengine A5+ speakers and any audio electronic
signal source up to 100 feet away.
Audioengine W1 (AW1) Premium Wireless Audio Adapter set is composed of
USB powered radio sender and receiver, two stereo mini-plug cords, a mini-plug
to RCA female Y-adapter, and a USB power supply.
Extensive technical details are provided on the W1
product information pages, but here’s a summary of the most salient points:
1. AW1 provides CD-quality HD stereo sound with no reduction in audio quality.
2. It’s plug-n-play, connects in seconds, with no software to download or
install. It works with any audio gear, with or without a computer, and plays
all music formats from any media player, without batteries.
3. Interference-free audio quality is preserved while sharing the RF spectrum
with other common wireless transmission technologies such as WLAN, Bluetooth,
microwave ovens, cordless telephones, and others. Latency is <20ms and
signal-to-noise ratio is 91 dB.
4. The AW1 consists of 2 parts: 1) The "Sender" transmits
audio from your computer through USB audio or from any product with 3.5mm
mini-jack or RCA audio outputs. 2) the "Receiver" connects
audio to any product with mini-jack or RCA analog audio inputs. Hop feature
works with up to 8 receivers or daisy-chain up to 8 Sender/Receiver pairs
5. Power for the Sender and Receiver is provided from either a USB computer
port, the included AC power adapter, or from any other USB AC charger (such
as an iPod charger, for example). Another USB power source is the Audioengine
A5 (or A5+) powered speakers, equipped with a ComboPort(r) USB charger on
top of the left speaker.
6. Uncompressed PCM audio is transmitted in the very-crowded 2.4GHz range,
but with a closed protocol specifically designed for audio. The key features
that make AW1 better than most wireless systems currently on the market are
the ease of setup, fixed low latency, audio quality, lack of dropouts, and
high interference tolerance.
For many folks stumbling though the myriad of confusing audio products in this
new digital age, the Audioengine Wireless Audio Adapter could be a godsend.
FIRST TEST: PC to A5+ Speakers
The W1 transmitter was plugged into a USB port in the HTPC computer. As promised,
there was no setup, the device simply got recognized by Windows 7 as a USB Composite
Device in about 10 seconds.
The W1 receiver was plugged into the USB power port on the back of the A5+
speaker. A mini-plug cable was run from the jack on the W1 to the input in the
A5+. All other inputs to the speaker was disconnected. The distance between
the sender and receiver was only a meter, but this was just a first test.
Audioengine W1 sender plugged into USB port on computer.
A song was selected on the computer… and without any drama, it began playing
via the A5+ speakers. The sound quality was very good; I could not detect any
obvious change from the sound via the RCA phono leads that I’d been using for
Several varied tunes later, I switched back to the wired connection and listened
to the same music. Differences were subtle, a slight softening and coarsening
of the sound, but I would not consider it serious, not in this hour-long first
take. I can confidently say the fidelity is good enough for most people who
choose to use the W1 (for convenience or because hard wire is not an option).
Other factors, such as speaker positioning or the quality of the original recording,
are likely to impact the sound far more than the W1 adapters.
The A5+ speakers were then moved into the living room, and set up atop the
big NHT 2.9 speakers. Now, there was a wall and about 15′ between sender and
receiver. Again, there was excellent sound. I tried using my mobile phone and
a cordless phone, walking all around the two parts of the W1 while the music
was playing… and heard no interruptions or degradation. Obviously, the WI
would work fine for sending signals to a subwoofer, or self powered rear or
side speakers in my media room. A <20ms delay would hardly be noticed in
this application. This began to feel like a revelation.
SECOND TEST: Squeezebox Touch to A5+ Speakers
The Squeezebox Touch in the main audio system is hard-wired to the gigabit
network. A USB port on the Touch is meant to be used as an input source for
external USB storage devices. There is a DIY
method to modify this port to make it a digital output for a USB DAC, but
I haven’t made such a modification. This means the Audioengine W1 sender can
be powered by the Touch USB port, but it then needs to be wired via its mini-plug
input to the analog output of the Touch. I tried the headphone output first,
and did not get any signal; there may have been an impedance or level mismatch.
I then tried a mini-plug to phono Y-adapter into the Touch phono output jacks,
and this worked.
The A5+ speakers were in the TV room still, and the Touch was on the opposite
side of the house, about 35′ away, with an interior wall between them. There
was no degradation or interference in the signal.
I then tried switching the Squeezebox Touch to its 802.11g adapter, to access
the wifi network via the router (and repeater) working downstairs. This did
not work well. With the W1 sender plugged right into the Touch, there was too
much RF interference. The music stuttered too often to be usable. There’s some
question about whether it was the Squeezebox losing connection with the router
or the W1 sender losing connection with the receiver; the former seemed to be
the bigger issue.
Later, with the Squeezebox back on the wired gigabit network, the A5+ speakers
were moved to the sun deck at the back of the house, plugged into an outdoor
wall AC outlet and placed on a picnic table. The W1 receiver was still plugged
in the A5+ speaker.
The distance was now around 60′ — it’s a Vancouver Special, a relatively
narrow, long house — and there was also a wall and a set of french doors
between the sender and the receiver. I was surprised that the signal played
without any degradation. I spent part of the sunny afternoon experimenting with
positioning the A5+ on the deck for best sound. Projecting the music outdoors,
they need a solid wall fairly close behind them for bass reinforcement. At one
point, I placed the left A5+ speaker about 10′ from the french doors, which
put another exterior wall between sender and receiver. This exceeded the range
of the W1 adapters, and the sound did get a bit intermittent again. So the limit
here was about 70′ + interior wall + exterior wall. Not bad at all! My impression
was that as long as the range was not exceeded, the sound quality remained the
same, regardless of distance.
The Audioengine A5+ represent an uncommonly good value in today’s fractured
consumer audio marketplace, and a bonafide entry-level high end product. The
integration of all the various components in the A5+ is outstanding, especially
at the $399 asking price. Some of the most challenging engineering tasks involve
optimizing and balancing multiple objectives within many limitations. The A5+
is a perfect example of such a challenge well met. There are very few products
I’ve encountered which balance price, performance, functionality, convenience
and size with such aplomb.
Used with an MP3 player, the A5+ with its wireless remote makes an instant,
compact, high quality audio system that is all many apartment dwellers seek.
Connect it to a PC with a high quality sound card, and a collection of CD quality
(or better) music files, and you move straight into an entry level audiophile
system. Place a HDTV between them, with a Bluray player and/or a PC, and you
get instant home theater. Use them as an extension to your main sound system
to expand the music into other parts of the house, a task that’s made so much
simpler by the Audioengine Wireless Audio Adapters.
Considered purely for its sonic qualities, the A5+ plays well above its league.
Its slightly warm quality, good transparency, excellent imaging, amazing bass
and big volume capacity are enough to compete against pricier, bigger speakers
with and without built in amplifiers. The icing on the cake is its versatility
and relative indifference to placement to deliver this performance. A prima
donna the A5+ is not.
The Audioengine Wireless Audio Adapter set is also a great addition
for the modern music lover. Again, versatility, functionality and simplicity
are key: It works with very little fuss to send an audio signal from one component
to just about any other, within its 100′ range. About the only quibble I have
is that a couple of very short cables should also be included; there’s no need
for one used on an A5+ to be more than a few inches long. I also wonder how
the dongle (the actual device dongles from its USB plug) will stand the test of time and abuse. Unfortunately, the W1 set has just been discontinued, to be replaced with the W3, coming next month, in May 2012. Audioengine says, "The main difference between W3 and the now-retired W1 is that while the W1 can only ‘hop’ between multiple receivers, the W3 can transmit to up to 3 receivers simultaneously. In addition, the W3 provides greater resistance to
interference from other Wi-Fi devices."
Our thanks to Audioengine for the A5+ and Wireless Audio Adapter samples
Audioengine A5+ and Wireless Audio Adapter receive the SPCR
Editor’s Choice Award
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