Audioengine has created a masterpiece with the compact, yet mind-blowing Audioengine 5 speaker system. The A5′s work with just about every audio source available with a 1/8″ output (or 1/8″ adapter). I’ve tested them with my iPods, MacBook, iMac, Airport Express, external CD player and even directly connected to my electric blues guitar! Everything sounds awesome.
After nearly 30 days and nights of testing these speakers with all styles of music and in different physical environments, I find myself totally sold and now fully dependent on the quality audio they produce. No other speakers sound quite right. The Audioengine 5 speakers may be right for you, too.
Features and Design
Audioengine 5 Features:
- iPod power charger port
- 2 audio inputs
- Built-in power amplifier, no receiver/amp needed
- Power outlet for Airport Express
- Front panel volume control
- Custom 5″ Kevlar woofer for super low end
- 1″ silk dome tweeter for smooth highs
- Built-in subwoofer ports for awesome bass
- Hand-built and tuned cabinets w/high-gloss furniture-grade finish
- Magnetically shielded for placement near video monitors
- 3 year transferable warranty
- All cables included
The A5 speaker design looks like the sleek, funky love-child of some high-end Bose speakers and an Imperial Storm Trooper, or maybe one of those fembots from Bjork’s video “All is Full of Love“. They’re so shiny, they look slippery or wet. The contrasting matte black tweeter and woofer create a pleasing aesthetic vibe.
The functional design is simplistic – there’s only a volume knob on the front. On the back, there’s only an on/off switch, speaker connectors and A/C outlet for attaching an iPod charger or an Airport Express for wireless connectivity. The built-in amp puts out 45W RMS and 70W peak per channel; impressive for an amp of this physical size. What’s even more impressive is that there is no large heatsink protruding from the back of these speakers. If you are worried about the speaker amp overheating, there is a fail-safe switch that will power the speakers down automatically if they get too hot. The Audioengine 5 comes with a 5-inch Kevlar woofer and a 20mm silk dome tweeter with neodymium magnets; so make sure you break them in to get the best sound.
For me, one of the most important factors in selecting new speakers is whether or not they give me an enhanced perspective on music I currently listen to. Over the years as new audio products have been released, I have been treated to the wonders of previously hidden or muddled vocals or instruments in my favorite tunes. There’s nothing quite as refreshing as discovering that your favorite music has entirely new dimensions and content when played on greatly improved equipment. What a pleasure to hear new guitar riff, a heretofore unknown cello or even the very inhale and exhale of the artist as he or she belts out an emotionally stirring song. That’s what audio is all about. Audioengine seems to understand this quite well.
If you want speakers that are easy to set up, easier to use and still sound awesome, the A5′s will satisfy you. In fact, they may open your ears to a new level of audio quality.
The Apple iPod nano Plugged into the Audioengine 5 USB Port
The back of the Audioengine 5 speakers (with Airport Express plugged in)
Setup and Use
Upon opening the box, I was immensely pleased to see each speaker comes in a protective, reusable, draw-string bag. Very classy. That little extra touch makes me believe that Audioengine really cares about the quality of their product and the end-user experience. My overall expectations were raised. The AC power cable, speaker cable, USB extension cable, RCA-to-1/8″ Y adapter, and two lengths of 1/8″ audio cable were all included in the box. I was (and still remain) amazed that all these items were included with the A5 speakers. I’m so used to megalithic corporations that rarely, if ever, provide any accessories with higher end products. Score 1 for Audioengine!
Setting up the Audioengine 5 speakers was really simple. After placing the speakers on my desk, I connected the speaker wire, plugged in the power cord and flipped the “on” switch. A cerulean blue power light appeared on the front of the left (main) speaker. Nice.
Audioengine states that their goal is “… to bring you the sound as it was originally mixed in the studio.” That’s a bold statement – one I would caution most companies from making. It beckons tests from people like me who demand empirical evidence instead of lofty claims.
Apple iPod Plugged into the Line-In Connector
Direct from Computer
I plugged the included 2-meter audio cable to my iMac and opened iTunes. Within seconds, the room was filled with the warmth of Jack Johnson’s voice. I played around with the iTunes equalizer until I had a custom setting that was absolutely perfect for my office, my ears and my taste in music.
I turned the volume up a bit, looking for the point where distortion would ruin the experience. Thankfully, I haven’t reached that point. The A5 speakers played rock-solid. I cranked up Fink’s “Wohin du gehst” and MC Solaar’s “T’Inquiete” – each with equally prevalent base, mids and treble. On the A5′s, both songs sounded like I was in a recording studio. My desk shook with each beat. I could feel the bass vibrating cleanly in the center of my chest. It was a fully physical experience at that point – something one does not get from average computer speakers.
I used a stereo Y adapter to push audio from my iMac to my favorite JBL speakers and to the A5 set at the same time. With the same tunes playing (this time France D’Amour’s “Que des mots” and BT’s “Somnambulist”), I switched from JBL to A5 back and forth to see how the sounds compared. Again, the A5′s delivered sound that shook me physically and emotionally – at any volume level. Even at low volume (for late night work sessions) the A5 speakers delivered clean, undiminished audio quality. I’ve loved having my JBL speakers, but unfortunately they sound entirely apologetic and limp compared to the A5′s. So sorry, JBL.
Setting up the A5 speakers to play music wirelessly is pretty simple, though it can be a little daunting if your tech-confidence is not very high. Granted, the most complex part of this wireless setup has nothing to do with the speakers – its iTunes. As for the A5′s, just plug in the Airport Express base station to the back of the left A5 speaker using the built in A/C outlet. The power indicator on the Airport Express turns on. Run the included 10-inch audio cable from the audio port in the Airport Express to the “Audio In” port on the back of the left A5 speaker. That’s it. Hardware is set up.
Install any necessary software from the Airport Express if not already done. Set up the Airport Express to work on your wireless network by following the tips provided by Apple’s Support docs, like this one. Once set up, from within iTunes select to play music though the Airport Express or “Multiple Speakers” – through your hard-wired speakers connected to your computer AND through the A5′s wirelessly in a remote location. If you select multiple speakers, there will be a short delay in playing music while the Airport Express and iTunes synchronize the audio output to play without audio overlap.
The Apple AirPort Express Plugged into the AC Connector
A5 and iPod
Using the A5 speakers with an iPod (or any other digital audio player) is easy. With or without an iPod dock, plug the included male-male audio cable into the iPod and the A5 speaker. There’s even an audio jack on the top of the A5 speaker, making two audio input jacks total. With the iPod properly connected to the A5, turn it on and start listening. You may need to adjust the audio levels and EQ settings on the iPod – sometimes the sound levels can be a bit surprising.
An Apple iPod using the Line-in Connector
A5 and External Audio
The A5 speakers will work with any other audio source, so long as it uses an audio cable with a 1/8″ plug – or as long as there’s a 1/8″ adapter available. As I mentioned before, I used the A5 speaker with my electric blues guitar. I plugged the 1/4″ audio cable into my guitar and attached a 1/4″ to 1/8″ adapter for the other end of the guitar cable. I plugged the 1/8″ end into the rear audio-in jack on the A5. The guitar was amp’d – instantly. No hum, no static; just good clean sound. Loud too, according to my wife and neighbor.
The A5 speakers can also be hooked up to record players (kids – find out what record players are by going to Wikipedia), televisions with RCA out, cable boxes, etc. One could probably go so far as to hook up the A5′s to an 8-track system, XBOX/Playstation or even a PDA. Again, any audio source that can be converted to 1/8″ audio cable.
Good for Computing
The A5 speaker system is magnetically shielded, which means they can be placed near CRT and LCD monitors alike with no hum or whine, and no negative effect to the monitor. This is particularly good for audio and video experts who want to use the A5 speakers in A/V production.
A5 and iPod Charging
The left speaker also offers a USB port, which means you can plug in your iPod’s USB charging cable to keep your iPod charged while connected to the A5′s. Another added bonus.
The woofers in the Audioengine 5 speakers are made of Kevlar, which has a much greater strength-to-weight ratio than steel. The speaker cabinets are 1″ thick MDF underneath the sexy white exterior. Like I said, they’re solid.
The Audioengine 5 Kevlar 5-inch Woofer
Plenty of Confidence to Spare
Audio quality is a very subjective matter, much like musical styles – what sounds amazing to one person may sound crummy to another. This subjective nature is why some people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on sound systems, and why some people fall in love with their $349 systems. It’s all a matter of what you hear and how it affects you physically and emotionally. Audioengine is so confident in the sound quality of their A5 speakers that they offer a 30-day money back satisfaction guarantee and a 3-year transferable warranty. Some people find that sort of self-confidence annoying. I find it refreshing.
Uber-riche Audiophile Caveat
Although the Audioengine 5 speakers sound awesome, they are not ultra-top-of-the-line speakers like the “X-1 Grand SLAMM Series II” speakers which can be found for about $75,000 per pair. Let’s be real! The A5′s are very high quality, amazing bang-for-the-buck speakers intended for computer, MP3 player, and home theater use. They far surpass other high-end speakers in the same price market.
The Audioengine 5 speakers simply rock. When properly set up, the A5′s provide crisp, powerful, life-like audio. The A5 speakers can be used with countless audio devices. They’re small, sexy and compact. They’re easy to use and don’t take up much space. Unless you’re mega-rich and absolutely must shop for speakers that cost more than many sports cars, the Audioengine 5 speakers should be a great purchase for you.
The holiday season is coming in a few months. Make sure these are on someone’s gift list – especially yours. If you’re impatient (like me), skip the holiday wait and get these speakers now.
- Easy setup
- Solid, tight sound
- Excellent materials & construction
- All necessary parts & cables included
- $349 price tag a bit high for some