Audioengine 2 Amplified Speaker System
Is less of a good thing better? You're about to find out as Audioengine returns to these webpages with a smaller version of the previously reviewed Audioengine 5 powered speaker system. The new Audioengine 2 scales down the formidably chunky form factor of its larger sibling into something that won't dwarf your video monitor or earn dirty looks from boss or spouse.
The original Audioengine 5 is 10 inches tall, with 5-inch woofers and 50 watts per channel. The newer and smaller Audioengine 2 is 6.25 inches tall, with 2.75-inch woofers and 15 watts per channel. It weighs about a third as much as the original. Tweeters are still silk domes, woofers are still Kevlar. Two high-gloss finishes are available, black (A2-B) and white (A2-W). The original A5 is also now sold in black. At $199, the new product costs $150 less than the old. For more details see comparative spec sheet.
Neither of the Audioengines has an iPod dock. The company says there are many good ones and it didn't want to add to the cost of the product by including something not all users would need. But you're free to connect one of the two inputs to a dock--I recommend the excellent DLO Homedock.
Soft fabric bags give the Audioengine-unpacking process a ceremonial flourish. They're grey, versus Aperion's purple. Even the AC brick is bagged. Also in the package are two gold-tipped mini-plug cables, a 39-inch one for your PC and a 22-inch one for your music player.
Enclosures are wood-based, not plastic. Large soft rubber pads cushion the bottom of each speaker to reduce resonance. As before, the back of the left speaker has two inputs, mini-jack and RCA-type. There you'll also find the power jack and a pair of terminals for the high-level connection to the right speaker. Audioengine supplies a six-foot pair of 18-gauge zip cords with soldered tips though you're free to attach longer, shorter, or better cable to the gold-nut binding posts. A shiny metal volume knob behind the left speaker is the only control. Unlike the A5, the A2 has no power switch--when plugged in, it is either on or in auto-standby. The A2 lacks the A5's blue LED (and good riddance).
I set up the A2 (or A2-B, to be precise) in two places, using a SanDisk Sansa player as signal source. In my kitchen, the speakers operated close together, half a foot from the wall. Not for the first time, this position provided more bass loading than the product needed. Unlike the A5, the A2 has no port in the rear, but it still delivered plenty of bass, inevitably emphasizing the upper frequencies over the lower ones. This gave the rhythm section a tubby quality on "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" from Richard Thompson's Sweet Warrior. In Antony Michaelson's recording of the Mozart K622 Clarinet Concerto in G with the Michelangelo Chamber Orchestra, the solo clarinet broke free of the dark-toned orchestra and soared without getting too toppy even at a fairly high volume. Keith Jarrett's piano in the "Tokyo" segment of Sun Bear Concerts was limpid and pure as a mountain stream.
After some time in the kitchen, the system moved to the secondary desk in my home-office. This put a few more feet between the speakers for better stereo separation, placed them a good two feet out from the wall, and put some absorptive/diffusive elements behind them (like an open window and a then-silent air conditioner). More or less freed from wall interaction, the bass clicked into something more proportional. No more tubbiness, except around my tummy, unfortunately. The satin-smoothness remained and prospered. It's safe to say the A2 is forgiving enough to tolerate MP3s and mediocre PC soundcards, though innately musical enough to strut better signal sources when available.
I ran the speakers with the volume knob maxed out, controlling volume in the player. The system achieved a moderate listening level with the SanDisk running at half of its potential, which would correspond to maybe two-thirds of an iPod's potential now that Apple has altered the software to prevent stupid people from deafening themselves with their earbuds. You can still reset the iPod to operate at a higher volume.
Audioengine has made an appealing product even more suitable for multimedia and gaming use. The A2 is also musical enough to compete with the better all-in-one compact systems. Unless you've just got to have the iPod dock, these little speakers will satisfy.
Price: $199 from Audioengine and other online retailers.
Mark Fleischmann is the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater and tastemaster of Happy Pig's Hot 100 New York Restaurants.