Audioengine 2 powered loudspeaker Page 2
Now for the fun part
I took the wife and kids on our first long-distance car vacation, to visit family and friends in upstate New York and Canada and to check out Niagara Falls. Without her knowledge, I stuck the Audioengine 2s into my National Public Radio tote bag, where they fit very nicely among all my iPod connectors, Monster Interlink Reference A interconnects, and MITerminator 5 speaker wire. I shoved the bag in the car, and my wife never knew I'd packed it till she heard me playing it the next day.
After breakfast, I unpacked the speakers, spread them out on a coffee table in the hotel room, and listened to Stravinsky's The Song of the Nightingale, with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony (CD, RCA B0006PVJVC), while viewing the Falls in the background. Here was the speaker's greatest strength: It was possible for me to travel and take my stereo with me wherever, previously, I thought I'd be restricted to headphones.
Next stop was a visit with my cousin Phil, who's retired to the Thousand Islands, in Canada. Phil is a bit of a home-entertainment nut. He has a 5.1-channel surround system in his living room, with in-wall speakers and a projection screen, as well as outdoor speakers and a subwoofer in a shed, to provide music to his boat dock on the river. Even his Kubota diesel pickup truck (sort of a Hummer golf cart) has a CD sound system. However, we spent most of the time listening to music from my iPod through the Audioengine 2s, which sat atop his wet bar in the living room. Phil looked concerned. "How much do these cost? How can I get a pair?"
This summer I hosted a barbeque the night before my Century ride with my bike-fanatic friends. My wife's nephew also attended (actually, he cooked). Instead of my usual procedure of setting up, in my son's bedroom window, a pair of NHT or Nola bookshelf speakers—connected to the Speaker B output of my Creek Destiny integrated amp via a 50' run of Black Orpheus speaker cable—and blasting them out into the yard of my 1/3-acre property, I plunked the Audioengine 2s and iPod on a folding table about 20' from the picnic table. One classical-music–loving friend said, "I can't believe how many crappy outdoor speakers and boom boxes I've been forced to listen to at barbecues." His teenage daughter will be getting a pair of Audioengines for her birthday.
The following week, at a barbecue at my nephew's house, I listened to his iPod on his docking-station stereo, marketed by a large, well-publicized audio manufacturer who shall remain nameless. I looked at the source of the sound, then at my nephew. His face told me he wasn't enjoying the sound nearly as much as he'd enjoyed the Audioengines the week before. "How much did this thing cost?" I asked? "$300!" he said, and angrily stomped away.
I bring my own music and wine to any family event whose host I can't trust to provide good varieties of both. This lets me play the part of the selfish antisocial bastard quite nicely. At a recent in-laws function (I love my wife's family, but don't have much in common with a large subset of them), I grabbed my bottle of dry Lambrusco red, set up the Audioengine 2s and the iPod on a folding table behind me, and reveled in Giles and George Martin's mixing capabilities on the Beatles' Love (CD, Apple 3 79808 2), smiling and nodding to my wife's relatives as I ignored everything they said. I was awakened from my stupor when one of them handed me her credit card. "No, I'm not a dealer for these speakers; you'll have to go to their website."
Of course, I got the best results at home, with a high-quality line-level input. However, during my road trip, I visited a friend who's a fan of Attention Screen. I wanted to play him an experimental recording JA had made of the quartet plus two saxophonists, but my friend had recently moved, and his CD player was still packed away. We plugged his Sony Discman into the Audioengine via the Sony's headphone output—not the purest approach, but with judicious setting of the two volume controls, I was able to precisely discern JA's microphone placements.
Although the Audioengine 2 is designed for small rooms and desktops, I had no problem getting dramatic, room-filling sound in my regular listening room—and even a reasonable volume outdoors. Audioengine does caution, however, that the 2s aren't designed to be blasted into large spaces, and that doing so can compromise their performance and cause distortion. I tell you this because I listened to three samples of the Audioengine 2. I tested the upper volume limit of the first pair by playing some aggressive big-band recordings outdoors. The next day, when I resumed listening indoors, I noted that the bass was distorting at fairly low volume levels, which it hadn't done before. JA and I postulated that I'd damaged the woofers the day before. Audioengine said this was impossible, as the speakers are stress-tested to withstand considerable abuse. I sent the 2s back to Audioengine, who then reported that they were working fine. All were confused.
The second pair I listened to worked fine the first day. On the second, I got no music out of either speaker; just a regular, continuous popping sound. This pair, too, went back to Audioengine; and the company also reported that they could find nothing defective with the speaker.
The third pair worked flawlessly; these are the ones JA measured.
When working properly, the three review pairs produced identical sound. Given Audioengine's liberal return policy and three-year warranty, my experiences with the 2s don't make me hesitate a bit in recommending them to you.
I compared the Audioengine 2 ($199/pair) to the Infinity Primus 150 ($198/pair) and the Paradigm Atom v.3 ($189/pair).1 The latter two speakers, now discontinued, are both more expensive than the Audioengine 2 in that neither includes an amplifier, but they were the least expensive designs I had on hand.
The Infinity Primus 150 had more extended and detailed high frequencies than the Audioengine 2, and a somewhat richer lower-midrange balance. The Infinity's bass extended deeper than the Audioengine's, and its high-level dynamic performance was superior. However, the volume of the Infinity's cabinet is nearly five times that of the Audioengine's. All in all, the performance gap between the speakers was less than I'd anticipated.
The Paradigm Atom v.3 had a much richer midrange than the Audioengine 2, and its high-frequency extension and resolution of detail were superior to the Audioengine's, but not the Infinity's. The Paradigm's high frequencies also had a bit sweeter balance on top. I found the Atom v.3's bass extension and high-level balance somewhere between the those of the Audioengine and the Infinity.
I have never been more impressed with or more stunned by a component I've reviewed for Stereophile than I was with the Audioengine 2. The level of sound quality produced by this uncolored, detailed, articulate, and dynamic speaker, in all situations, was beyond reproach, and its ratio of value to cost borders on the criminal. It extended my enjoyment of music into a new realm of portability that I hadn't before thought possible. I can't think of a single reason why every reader of this magazine should not go out right now and buy a pair of Audioengine 2s. I couldn't decide which finish I liked better, the white or the black. I bought a pair of each.
Footnote 1: I reviewed the Paradigm Atom v.3 in the September 2002 Stereophile (Vol.25 No.9); Wes Phillips reviewed the v.5 in September 2007. I will be comparing the two versions in a future Follow-Up.