Audioengine 2 powered loudspeaker

In nearly 25 years, it's been rare that I've reviewed an exciting breakthrough product. The Audioengine 2 is such a product—not because it performs at an extraordinary level (though it does), and not because it's such an incredible value for money (though it is), but because it creates a new market, a new application for high-end audio, and a chance for audiophiles to enjoy music in ways they may have never considered before.

The Audioengine 2 is a powered bookshelf speaker—not a new type of product per se for the California-based company, which for years has sold the Audioengine 5 ($350/pair), a powered bookshelf speaker designed for larger rooms. Audioengine founders Brady Bargenquast and Don Evans came up with the idea for the 2 after becoming frustrated with the low quality of many computer speakers in the market. What he's done to create the 2—which is designed for use on desktops and in offices and bedrooms—is put the 5's silk-dome tweeter and a smaller woofer in a much smaller cabinet, for $199/pair.

Design
I look at the Audioengine 2's technical specifications and scratch my head. How can the company sell this speaker for $199/pair? All drivers, transformers, magnets, and wiring harnesses are custom-made to Audioengine's specs—they're not off-the-shelf parts. The 2 has a 20mm silk-dome tweeter with a neodymium magnet and a 2.75" woofer of Kevlar woven-glass aramid composite with a rubber surround. The 2 has a front port under the woofer and is shielded for video applications, and is rugged enough that Audioengine decided to dispense with a grille altogether.

The amplifier is a 15Wpc dual class-AB monolithic analog type, mounted vertically in the left speaker for maximum protection from mechanical shock. Audioengine claims that the amplifier's gapless-core toroidal transformer has a smaller radiated magnetic field, with the result being lower noise. The left speaker has dual RCA and miniplug inputs; each speaker has a pair of five-way binding posts for a single cable to connect the right speaker to the amp in the left.

The Audioengine 2 comes with accessories—two pairs of interconnects (miniplug) in lengths of 6.5' and 8", a 2m run of speaker cable, and an external power supply—all packaged in attractive cloth drawstring bags. The shipping box serves as a carrying case. The speaker is sold factory-direct, but also via a regular dealer network; it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee if purchased on-line. The speakers are available in glossy black or white. I found the colors equally sexy; the black reminded me of an attractive Wilson Audio or NHT design, and the white was a perfect match for my Apple iPod.

I reviewed the Audioengine 2 as I do all bookshelf speakers, using my Celestion Si stands loaded with sand and lead shot, and comparing it with several entry-level bookshelf speakers. Rather than the included wires, I used a pair of Monster Interlink Reference A interconnects and a single run of MIT's MITerminator 5 speaker cable. In addition to my CD and analog front-ends, I used an 80GB iPod loaded with Apple Lossless versions of CDs from my collection. But I had even more fun experimenting with the many different ways I used the Audioengine 2 to create a high-end audio experience in places I hadn't thought it possible before.

Sound
What can you expect from a speaker costing $199/pair, including amplifier, that you can hold in the palm of your hand? I tried to forget the Audioengine 2's size and price and just listen to the music.

First, in my affordable reference system, with every tune I played, I heard no noticeable coloration throughout the speaker's entire range; it was as neutral-sounding as any under-$1000 speaker I've heard. The highs were extended and detailed, and the Audioengine 2 was able to recreate room ambience and low-level dynamic articulation at levels of quality I'm used to hearing from far more expensive speakers.

What shocked me most about the Audioengines was how LARGE they sounded. All vocal recordings were completely devoid of coloration, and vocal images were holographically projected at lifelike size with all low-level phrase articulations intact. Mighty Sam McClain's delicate, guttural growl on Give It Up to Love (CD, JVC JVCXR-0012-2) was reproduced with the requisite chestiness, richness, and vibrancy. On the female end of the vocal spectrum, Sequentia's disc of Hildegard von Bingen's Canticles of Ecstasy (CD, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77320 2) caused me to note: "glorious, shimmering vocals, holographic in space, wide and deep hall sound of the Kln Cathedral."

The Audioengine's rich midrange capabilities induced me to mine my jazz-piano recordings. Tord Gustavsen's introspective, space-filled piano phrasings in The Ground (CD, ECM 1892) were as woody, rich, articulate, and involving as I've heard from any budget speaker. The 2s' retrieval of midrange ambience was amazing. I set my iPod to Shuffle Play and heard some crowd sounds in a familiar space. Without cheating, I accurately guessed that it was the beginning of "I'm So Glad," from Cream's Royal Albert Hall: London May 2-3-5-6 2005 (CD, Reprise 49416-2)—the very concert I'd attended in London.

How deep could the bass from such a small speaker possibly go? With the Audioengines on the Celestion Si stands—ie, not cheating by getting a little subjective midbass bump from placing the speakers on a desk or coffee table—I spent a good bit of time listening to solo acoustic jazz bass. There was not a thing missing, even in the instrument's middle-lower registers. I was riveted by bassist Peter Warren's infectious opening riff in my favorite Jack DeJohnette tune, "Zoot Suite," from Special Edition (CD, ECM 1892); the lower notes of that riff had slam, dynamics, and didn't lose a bit of power. Ditto for Ray Brown's solo in "I'm an Old Cowhand," from Sonny Rollins' Way Out West (CD, JVC VICJ-60088).

I wouldn't expect high-level blasts of bombastic bass from the Audioengines, however. My normal subjective criterion for a speaker that's not bass-shy is that it produce a convincing 55Hz with normal program material. I'll wager John Atkinson's measurements will reveal that the Audioengines miss that mark, but I never felt I needed a subwoofer to enjoy music through the 2s. Transient articulations shone: I analyzed in detail the interplay of bassist Chris Jones and drummer Mark Flynn on my jazz quartet Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2). Flynn's bass drum and snare technique was very easy to follow, and Jones' mid-bass rumbles thundered when required.

COMPANY INFO
Audioengine Corp.
(877) 853-4447
ARTICLE CONTENTS
Share | |
COMMENTS
MaChuz's picture

What kind of connection are you using for the ipod - simply through the headphone jack or is there a better way to connect to these speakers?

Lunatique's picture

This Stereophile review of the Audioengine A2's is very often referenced as the reason why many people bought the speakers, and it's easy to see why. The review is so enthusiastic that it almost reads like a passionate love letter, with the reviewer practically foaming at the mouth about how wonderful these speakers are.

For the most part, I agree with how good these speakers sound, but with one glaring exception. The review did not mention a word about the obviously excessive bloat of the bass at around 180Hz, which is about 6 dB too prominent and ruins the sonic signature. The bass bloat overshadows the rest of the frequency ranges and makes the speakers sound muddy and congested. 6 dB of bass bloat is not something you can just overlook--that is considered pretty severe coloration by the standards of audiophiles or pro audio. I for the life of me cannot understand why Robert J. Reina did not warn the readers about it--in fact, he vouched for how natural, accurate, and tight the bass was. So, either he has no idea what accurate/neutral/natural bass actually sounds like, or he chose not to talk about that flaw--either way, it makes me think twice about the credibility of Stereophile and its reviewers. 

racingpht's picture

I agreed with Lunatique. I have a chance to place Audioengine A2 and Focal Book XS side by side for a comparison. A2 had a lot of bass, in fact, the bass was more than Focal's, and it also goes deeper(louder at 45hz); which is amazing for a much smaller speaker. BUT, it sounds not as good. In fact, the mid range was pretty muddy, lack lots of details; I would suspect there's an echo-plugin enabled for the vocals on A2s. The high's better than the mids, but still, it offered A LOT less detail and clarity than the Book XS. I feel that A2 sounded like watching an old SDTV; and XS was something between an HDTV and opening a window.

This speaker in my hand is definitely not "no coloration". Is it sound natual, yes, but it's somewhat muddy, warm, and tube like. It's enjoyable, just so different from what the review said here.

Tim Lim's picture

The reviewer is comparing a low end product with the likes of Audio Research amplification. One wonders if that is the right approach.

mafreid's picture

I've been using my AEGO 2 for years.  The volume control is shot, often turning off the left channel.  I considered the AEGO M but, of course, these are no longer available in the US.  AE offered to send me an AEGO M (for $400) from UK which, they said, would work with a simple 220 to 120 volt converter.

Bottom line is that I need a decent, inexpensive powered speaker replacement to work with my iMac in a very small room. Best if they could be wall mounted and if they would have a separate input from my NAD CD player C 515BEE. (The AEGO 2 works with the NAD if I just unplug the subwoofer connection from the iMac) Choices seem to be Focal XS Book vs. Audioengine 2.  

I would appreciate any input.

Best,

Marv

X
Enter your Stereophile.com username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.
Loading