Published on February 6th, 2012 | by David0
Audioengine A2: More Bang For Your Audio Buck
We're big audio guys here- we love mixing and matching DACs, amps, and speakers, searching for that perfect sound. Sometimes, though, you just need a simple, high-quality speaker system for a desktop, small room, or as a gift for someone a little less geeky. The Audioengine A2 is that speaker: the last one non-audiophiles will ever need to buy, and a great desktop speaker even for discerning sound geeks. We loved the last Audioengine setup we reviewed, and the A2 attempts to fit the company's great signature sound in a smaller, simpler package.
The best thing about powered speakers is how little setup they take: plug the right speaker into the left, the power cord into the wall, connect your computer, and you're done. These little boxes are solid wood with a smooth, matte finish, and look fantastic pretty much anywhere you put them. Fit and finish is impeccable: from the velvet bags the speakers come in to the solid, gleaming volume knob and speaker posts to the thoughtfully included RCA and 1/8″ cables, these speakers look and feel more expensive than their $200 price tag (and completely outclass the similarly priced Audyssey speakers we recently reviewed).
I still can't believe how big these sound for the size. No, they won't knock your socks off with 50 hz bass, but they sound full, balanced, and assertive, probably due to the solid MDF construction, thoughtful internal bracing, and lightweight woven kevlar drivers. Instrument separation is great, and the soundstage is reasonably wide. I could easily place the members of Gerry Mulligan's quartet in "Walking Shoes," and hear fingers slide over guitar strings in Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane over the Sea." Each speaker puts out 30 watts, more than enough to completely fill a room or small apartment (and annoy the neighbors). Even cranked all the way (the kevlar cones vibrating furiously), they were pleasantly distortion-free. I still like a subwoofer and full-sized surround speakers for movies (there are physical limits, but I use the A2′s for everything else.
The A2′s will sound decent from pretty much any source, but given the sound quality they are capable of, it is really worth putting a DAC (even a cheap one) between them and your computer. I noticed a drastic, all-around improvement in sound when I switched from my Mac's headphone port to my Nuforce uDAC, but even a generic $8 DAC from Amazon eliminated the laptop's ever-present hiss and cut a little sibilance from lower-bitrate tracks. It would be great if Audioengine included a USB or optical input, but it's hard to fault their value for the money.
My only real niggle with these speakers is the placement of the volume knob- it is on the back of the left-hand speaker, which can make reaching it a chore if your speakers are not within arm's reach. Of course, most people will run these from a computer (or DAC) with its own volume control, so you won't have to adjust the gain that often, but I like to be able to turn my speakers off before plugging and unplugging them to avoid the little pop they produce otherwise. The larger A5s have a knob on the front, but they're also about three times the size.
Unless you already have a fantastic desktop speaker setup, buy these. If your desktop real estate is limited and you compute in a room rather than a stadium, there's not a better use of $200.