Audioengine 5 (A5) Premium Powered Bookshelf Speakers Review
First, I would like to thank Brady from Audioengine for sending this unit to Modsynergy for review.
Since the release of the Audioengine 5 (A5) speakers, a slew of websites, magazines, and newspapers have published rave reviews on these versatile, powered bookshelf speakers that are meant to introduce the average consumer into high-end audio for a retail price of $350 (though found elsewhere online for about $325). They have designed the speakers to be used with a variety of input sources and listening environments. The A5 comes with a comprehensive selection of cable accessories and conveniently placed ports, making it easy to connect the speakers to most standard audio sources, especially Apple products. But most importantly, these speakers sound exceptional. Why are they exceptional? Read on, but first let’s open the box and see what’s inside.
Opening the Box
When I cut open the box and removed the two foam protective pads, I was confronted with two grayvelvet-like bags, each containing a speaker. I had never seen speakers packaged in such style. But as you’ll later read, the sonic qualities of these speakers justify their packaging. An additional small bag contained all the audio cables you’ll probably need while using this product. They’re listed below:
In addition, you receive a removable power cable and a helpful setup guide. (http://www.audioengineusa.com/downloads/A5%20Setup%20Guide.pdf) Now let’s review some of the A5’s important features:
Instead of repeating all of the A5s feature information, which can be found on Audioengine’s website, I’ll briefly note two notable features.
You can use the iPod, iPod Universal Dock, and Airport Express paired with iTunes with the A5—all with ease due to conveniently placed power ports and input jacks. There is an auxiliary power port in the back of the left speaker for an Airport Express and an extra 1/8” audio jack and powered USB on top. The included manual outlines all the proper setup features for each of these three configurations.
These speakers sound outstanding but some may find the bass inadequate for the type of audio they listen to, particularly the deep thunderous bass that some movie applications require. Luckily, there is a RCA lineout that you can connect to a subwoofer. Though Audioengine’sS8 subwoofer would probably pair best, you could connect it to any existing subwoofer with the RCA input.
The astute reader will notice that I use pens to angle the speakers at my ears. I did this as a substitute to elevation, which improves the soundstage and clarity of the audio.
I admit that the A5s don’t look like a conventional desktop setup—not many people hook up bookshelf speakers to their desktop, or for me, a laptop. As you can see from the picture, these speakers take most of my desk space. But the good thing is that these speakers don’t sound conventional. The A5s are not in the same class of audio as mass-marketed Logitech or Altec Lansing computer desktop speakers.
“This is what I’ve been missing all these years,” was my immediate reaction after I first listened to “I Changed the Rules” by Jazz pianist and vocalist Peter Cincotti. I was impressed with clarity and transparency of sound compared to other desktop speakers I have listened to. It’s as if I had been listening to speakers behind a curtain all these years. Audioengine lifted that curtain, allowing me to enjoy the fine textures and nuances captured by high-quality audio recordings.
Continuing on some other classic jazz standards, I noticed a few characteristics of the recordings that I had not noticed before. First, I could hear the fine textures of each instrument. The slightly raspy sound of the saxophones and the sizzles of the high-hat were much more convincing than other desktop speakers I have auditioned. Second, I was able to distinguish among the different microphone placements. In Miles Davis’ track “All Blues” I noticed that the drums had their microphones nearby, while the trumpets were recorded from a further distance, or perhaps some reverb was added to create that effect. Third, the separation between the saxophones, trumpets, and drums was distinct and I could visualize their placement if instrumentalists had been playing on stage. (Note that it’s important that you place these speakers at ear level, otherwise the soundstage will not be as realistic.) Maybe this analogy will help you understand how the clarity of the A5s compare to other desktop speakers you might have used. Imagine that you had been watching video on a standard definition TV all along, but you finally upgraded to HDTV. HD encoded video can be appreciated much more on a high resolution HDTV. The upgrade to the A5s provides a similar experience. The A5s are high-resolution speakers.
In addition to the impressive clarity, the bass from these two speakers was surprising given their bookshelf form factor and the lack of a separate subwoofer. You will not be able to hold an electronic dance party with body vibrating bass with only these bookshelf speakers, but you will be able to enjoy your favorite audio recordings and movies with the tight and punchy bass of these speakers. In Pixar’s Kung Fu Panda, the thumps of Po’s clumsy body hitting the floor and the thwacks of bamboos staffs are similar to movie theater experience, especially because these are tight bass effects is complemented with a clear mid- and upper-range. But as good as these speakers are they cannot substitute for a dedicated subwoofer that can produce exaggerated deep bass effects that characterizes movie effects frequently used nowadays.
Nonetheless, these speakers should have no problem producing the movie-theater volume in your living room. In my 15-by-15 foot, carpeted bedroom, I have not turned the volume dial more than half way. Turning it past that level would be put me at risk of having an irritated neighbor at my doorstep. At the highest volume level I can tolerate, there appears to be no tradeoff in clarity of sound.
With its generous accessory pack, high functionality, and the audio performance, I think the A5s justify their $350 retail price. You will find enjoyment in re-listening to all of your favorite recordings in high-resolution and on a convincing soundstage. Not lacking in volume or in punchy bass, you’ll be closer to experiencing movie theater audio in your own home, though those who desire house-shaking bass should buy a subwoofer. The A5s has made my introduction into high-end audio a pleasurable experience and for that reason, deserves an Editor's Choice Award!