Instead of choosing the perfect amplifier to go with the perfect loudspeaker, there still exists a market for stand-alone speakers that have their own amplification built in. These self-powered units, called "Active Speakers", have traditionally been sold as computer monitors.
With the recent surge in popularity of MP3 players, powered speakers also accommodate people who want to play their portable MP3 player's tunes on something other than ear buds or headphones. The Audioengine 5 bookshelf system, available from Audioengineusa for $349 is one such speaker system, and it was designed not only for portable music players but also for many other audio devices such as videogame systems or laptops streaming music wirelessly through Apple's Airport Express device.
The bottom line is that the system stands out as having exceptional performance and useful features. Especially now that consumers are watching DVDs on their computers, this is very important. Read on.
The Audioengine 5s are available in either a white finish or a semi-matte black finish which is said to help hide fingerprints and scratches.
The review sample I was sent was the white model, and it has a classy look with a semi-gloss piano finish and rounded edges all the way around. I liked the way the A5s look, and they match the visual style of the iPod. The A5s weigh 14 pounds and 9 pounds (the left speaker houses the amplifier) and measure 10" x 7" x 7.75".
Both speakers are magnetically shielded so as to prevent them from interfering with television or computer displays. The A5s are designed as bookshelf speakers, and they are big enough to be placed on speaker stands if need be. They also could fit on a desk and serve as computer monitors although they are definitely larger than most computer type speakers. Either way, they can be positioned according to the furniture needs or the needs to get a precise stereo image and that sets them apart from other stand-alone sound systems that were designed as a single piece.
Design and Features
The cabinet is a ported design and is made of 1" thick MDF, and it feels like it has very sturdy construction. The speakers utilize 5" Kevlar woofers and 20 mm silk dome tweeters with neodymium magnets. The housed amplifier is Class A/B with 45 watts RMS and 70 watts peak output per channel and a toroidal transformer. Audioengine isn't cutting the costs here in the least bit, and because of it, the A5s can push louder volumes while maintaining clean delivery.
The speaker that houses the amplifier has all the inputs and connections (see photo above). On the top of it there is a USB connection and a 1/8" stereo mini-jack for audio inputs. The type A USB connection is provided to charge USB devices such as portables like Apple's iPod.
On the back, there is an AC power jack, direct subwoofer outputs, an additional 1/8" stereo mini-jack, and speaker outputs that connect the other speaker. On the review sample, plastic clips were used to secure the speaker wiring in place, but on the current model that is available, five-way gold plated bindings posts have replaced the speaker clips and are used to ensure the best connection.
The powered AC jack on the back of the speaker could be used to power up other portable devices or A/V equipment, but it's ideally designed to be used with Apple's Airport Express wireless device which can stream music to the system from another location in the house using Apple's iTunes software. One would plug the Airport Express device into the AC Jack, plug the audio cable into the 1/8" audio input, and then establish a connection between the Airport Express and the computer with iTunes. From then on, one could create a play list in iTunes and have it stream to the speakers from a remote distance.
This system is very portable and is set up in only a manner of minutes. Using them together with the Airport Express device lets you move them to a different room in the house for remote listening, or set them up for a presentation with audio control from a laptop. It's very easy and definitely a useful feature.
I listened to the system in a near-field environment as it was on my computer desk, but also from farther away when it was set up in my living room. For inputs, I used a PC computer, an Xbox 360, and an Apple iPod.
I found the Audioengine 5s to have a balanced sound with natural mids, highs, and lows. I cranked the volume knob all the way to the max setting, and the speakers actually surprised me as to how loud they could play. The system had no problem in filling my large living room with plenty of volume. Not only this, but the sound also remained clean even at its loudest volumes.
With modern pop music such as Gnarls Barkley's St Elsewhere CD, the A5s provided warm vocals with plenty of presence and crisp detail. The bass sounded melodic with accurate attack, and the ambiance material, such as violins and guitars, had quick transient response with good clarity. On the track titled "Transformer", there is a very deep TR808 type bass note, and the initial attack could be heard but the 5" woofer could do little to sustain the very deep frequency. When I switched gears to a mellow disc such as David Gilmour's On an Island, imaging was very good, and separation of instruments was top notch. Guitars sounded very clear, and the tone was very natural, not too shrill or nasal.
Overall, I think this system really delivers when it comes to sound quality. My only gripe, if I could come up with one, is that the bass doesn't go near as low as a system that includes a subwoofer (but that is not the intention of a desktop speaker system like this). However, I will say that the bass was smooth, delivered cleanly, and was definitely punchy. The good news is that the newest version of the Audioengine 5 speaker system has subwoofer outputs, so it now has the potential to deliver deep bass.
If you would like to treat yourself to self-powered speakers that give portable MP3 devices, computers, or miscellaneous audio sources, high quality lifelike sound, the Audioengine 5 system fits the bill. With ample volume, balanced sound, versatile setup options, and a 30 day money-back guarantee (shipping not included), there is little reason not to put them on your short list.
- Adrian Wittenberg -