Audioengine 2+ Powered Desktop Speakers
AT A GLANCE
Inviting, carefully tailored sonics
USB computer input
Controls in back
Our audio editor’s favorite budget desktop (and TV) speakers have gotten more convenient thanks to the addition of a PC-friendly USB input, making them an even better value.
Decidely careful voicing is part of Audioengine’s magic. These multimedia-friendly speakers have an unmistakably rolled-off lower treble that keeps digital nasties on the run. But these speakers also earn their audiophile street cred with a seductive midrange, presumably the result of the combination of solid and inert fiberboard enclosures, Class AB amplifiers, high-quality silk-dome tweeters, and tough Kevlar-cone woofers. [Ed note: Our frequency response measurements, conducted after Mark's subjective evaluation, revealed a noticeable trough in the upper mid/lower treble range, which would contribute strongly to the laid back sonic character found in the 2+. See "Test Bench."—RS]
As soon as you take them out of their soft drawstring bags, you know you’re handling a quality product. The 2+ is similar in most respects to the original Audioengine 2 that I reviewed back in 2007. The gloss finish has given way to a matte finish, a more suitable choice if you’re distracted by reflections, though each speaker still has a thick rubber pad covering most of its bottom surface. In addition to the USB input, the 2+ back panel has a newly added variable stereo analog RCA output, which joins the stereo analog RCA and mini-jack inputs. There are also gold-nut binding posts to connect the left speaker, which contains the amplifier, to the right speaker. The speaker terminals, power supply, and accessory cables are all upgraded over the original A2; and a quarter-inch threaded insert has been added for wall mounting.
The volume knob is on back, which I continue to find inconvenient, but most users will probably set it once, then rely on the volume controls in their computer software, smartphones, and other devices. Setting it all the way up isn’t necessarily the right move—it may leave the other volume controls too close to their bottom limits to allow enough wiggle room. I got best results with all controls (A2+, OS, software) at mid-point and used the PC’s keyboard-based volume control for fine-tuning.
Setup is pretty easy. Connect the speakers to one another, then plug in up to three signal sources (one USB, two analog) and the power brick. The power switch is a click-stop on the volume knob. Your computer will recognize the A2+ as a USB device without any user driver installation. Windows users may need to go into the control panel to select the A2+ as the default audio device. Then you might want to fool around with sampling rates. In my Lenovo Win 7 multimedia PC, the operating system showed three data rates—32, 44.1, and 48 kilohertz—all with 16 bits. I chose the top setting. MP3s played in the Windows Media Player without any further assistance. In my FLAC player, Foobar 2000, it was necessary to pick the A2+ from the list of output devices (it showed up as both WASAPI and DS).
Normally I wouldn’t want King Crimson’s monster math metal playing less than 2 feet from my face. But the live material fromThe Road to Red, ripped from CD in Apple Lossless, became easy listening (in sound if not in genre). Even the psycho violin solo that concludes “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part II” (Asbury Park version) was gentle on the tympanic membranes. At the opposite extreme, Madeleine Peyroux’s The Blue Room (in downsampled 44.1/24 FLAC via HDtracks) sounded as midrange-rich and creamy as it does through my reference home theater system. I’d been afraid that two polite entities—the speakers and the album—might be too many, but the speakers didn’t seem to unduly dumb down the recording’s modest presence-region activity.
The VoxBox Edition of Chopin Piano Works (MP3, 141 tracks, 11 hours, $2.99 on Amazon) showed a musically adept balance, with midbass weight that made the piano seem full and warm. My computer speakers are 28 inches from the wall, so the speakers’ strong upper bass response didn’t become unduly swollen. The landmark recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, with Carlos Kleiber conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, was played directly from CD on PC. The overall balance was concert-hall-like, and sounded especially good from my desk chair, though the rolloff was more pronounced from my armchair several feet away.
That brings up an important subject. Let me stress what these speakers are good at: They are great for close-up computer listening and for TV sound. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that you can listen to debased audio sources at higher levels than you’re used to. But for foreground listening away from your desk, especially with high-rez audio formats and recordings, their lower treble reticence may become too much of a good thing. The Audioengines did not excavate every morsel of detail from the orchestral recording; nor did I expect them to. They are just not designed to be used that way.
But they are especially suitable as TV speakers for casual listening. I’ve spent the past six years listening to Saturday Night Live—in other words, pretty decent original recordings shoehorned through Dolby Digital soundtracks on broadcast and cable channels—and I’m constantly amazed at how good the musical guests sound. I can turn them up loud and hear the rhythm sections in good proportion to the vocals and instruments. If your flat-panel TV has been torturing you, and you don’t want to add a full home theater rig to, say, a bedroom installation, these Audioengines may be a solution.
This product does have one other potential drawback. There are no grilles to protect the exposed drivers from little fingers and paws. The Kevlar woofer cones might survive an assault, but the silk-dome tweeter is probably easier to damage (I say probably because I wouldn’t damage the review samples by experimenting).
For those who haven’t got kids or pets, any version of the Audioengine 2 is a sensational product—and the addition of USB input for just fifty bucks extra makes a great value even better. I continue to use my old A2s as TV speakers and can’t imagine life without them. Warmly and perpetually recommended.
Audioengine products are available on the company’s Website as well as numerous other online and brick-and-mortar retailers.
Audio editor Mark Fleischmann is also the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater (quietriverpress.com).