Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Audioengine A2 Review

Audioengine A2 Review

Thanks to Advanced Headphones for the sample (AMP3’s sister site)

First Impressions: Well F me, these things are tiny. I knew they were small but it’s not until now it becomes apparent how small. It’s even more apparent next to their siblings. Given what I’ve read of their bass response I must say I’m concerned. Packaging was nice and what not but seems a little over kill for something so small, also slightly saddened by the external power supply. Erm, where is the volume control? No, that can’t be it, that dial on the back, no surely not. Who puts the volume control on the back? Oh that’s going to tick me off, I can tell.

First listen, which is right after hearing the A5+, okay its clear there is rather less low end but I like it. Actually I really like it. I really had fears about a giant mid bass hump but no. Okay a bit but I can live fine with it. God the mids sound so open in comparison. Can I be liking the little, half the price one more after only 10 minutes?

Set up: Computer to FiiO E9 and E7 combo feeding the line out into the A2.

Lows: Let’s not beat about the bush. These have little teeny drivers and we have all see the video on youtube that knocks the cards down with the bass. I must confess I expected these to be crap. I expected they had been tuned to squeeze stupid levels of mid bass out the poor little driver and I expected the ensuing chavtastic sound to grate on my nerves. I expected I would hate it. The reality is they don’t do that at all. Sure there is a bit of a hump but these pretty much just accept small means they move less air and will produce less bass. I love it. I love the honesty of it and it runs out I love how it sounds. These have just enough punch and expansion to let you know all that’s going on, for the most part. On “Your Father and I” they do begin to show what they can and can’t do but they cope just soooooooo much better than I thought they would. There was another song that escapes me now that they did rather just fail at as the lows were too low which I think is a good thing. Better to not try than mangle everything in the process and still fail. The bass does became a bit limited in tonal variance; it always feels a touch monotone. Clearly it can’t give you a bass dominant sound but the bass keeps up remarkably well. It’s rather fast too, unsurprising given the driver size but it’s about as fast a low end as you could hope for. Think quality and well manneredness rather than abundance though. While they spit out a good amount for the size these are not bass monsters, that said I have no desire to hook up a sub. I will offer the caveat that these I think are more primarily desktop speakers. If you want them to give up room filling scale then I could see a good case for adding a sub. Especially if you’re in an American size living room, here in the UK its less of an issue in the shoe boxes we live in.

Mids: Looking at other reviews of these I see much comment that they are coarse or grainy, I think I would sooner say they were a little dry. Sure this makes for a slightly more raspy sound but in this case it also makes for a much more open sound. They feel so much more open and expressive than the 5. What’s more, I can hear them! They are so clear and present no matter what else is going on the vocals still cut through everything. Love it, love it, love it. Okay I’m maybe loosing objectivity here but these are friggin’ awesome. This is about the most fun you’re ever going to ever have with a 2 inch anything. They do especially well with female vocals rather than a male, they just deal with higher better than lower frequencies. It’s not like they can’t do male, Mr Johnson still comes through beautifully but I could possibly argue he sounds a touch light. These do favour the dry vocal over the liquid but only a little bit. However it is probably more than many are used to. The Head-Fi crowd has more experience with balance than does the sort who has only ever heard the sort of Sony, Phillips or JVC HiFi’s they flog in the likes of Comet. They tend to have a very thick, heavy liquid set of vocals so this in comparison will seem very dry.

Quantity wise these have an almost Etymotic like balance mids are clear and centre stage but ever so slightly in the shadow of the treble. There is no way vocals’ are getting lost behind anything though.

Highs: If there was anywhere that coarseness could be an accusation thrown at it it’s here. There treble like that on the 5 its all about its crispy edge than it is about true accuracy or dealing well with delicate detail and shimmer. Okay so they went for a bit of a fun sound and let’s be honest, their target market won’t have the ears that I have. (If they did Beats wouldn’t sell anything) so yeah, crispy energetic enthusiasm. I feel that given its similarity to the 5 I should be bashing it a little but the mids are so much more prominent the highs don’t stick out so. They are as gritty and lacking in utter refinement but these are cheap little things. They do a stonkingly good job. The detail is pretty great if edgy. These aren’t really meant for detailed critical listening, they just happen to be about good enough that you can sit at your computer while you work and do so. It’s not perfect but it’s really good.

Soundstage: Coming right from the 5 these instantly sound small. They are small. They do sound bigger than you would expect though for their size. These cannot do room filling with scale and authority but I don’t think they are meant to. These being sat on my desk at arm’s length and they fill my horizon with ease. They can go loud of course, too loud. Loud to the point it just sounds stupid and ridiculous. It never takes on that room filling presence, maybe it would do so with a sub attached. Frankly I feel that’s not really what these are meant for, if they had a remote control for the volume then maybe.

Dynamics: These can rise and fall rather well for something so small but they don’t have the vast range that the 5 has. These want more to kept within a power range as when you ask them to go too loud they just sound loud and can be a touch impolite. These do a most impressive effort but they are still very small and I do somewhat feel the need to work the volume dial. They do make up for it somewhat with their terrific sense of enthusiasm. They like their siblings can run with the energy of a Jack Russell which thankfully are of a size you can either let them or reign them in with ease. Oodles of fun.

Power: Well not so much power, these little babies can’t move that much air and never take on the drama and presence as only can something the same size as you. These just don’t have that sort of power; they can do volume and loudness but not true power. As I said before these I feel are desktop speakers and they perform that role superbly. They are not going to fill Westminster Abbey.

Aesthetics: Okay so they are in white and I can’t say I’m loving that. The only other white things I have have all been relegated to the kitchen (why I ever bought white speakers and a white computer I don’t know.) Other than that, what’s not to love. The things are tiny, I mean friggin’ tiny. They seem to have a different gloss to the 5’s and the edges are less rounded. They seem if anything whiter than the 5. If they weren’t so white they would basically melt away on my desk.

Build and Durability: These feel very solid and to the eye seem very well finished. Much like the 5 the only think I feel in can raise as an issue is the lack of grills but Audioengine say you don’t need one. The woofer is Kevlar so you probably don’t “need” one but personally I’d just feel happier with one. Still I’ve never heard of anyone breaking them so it’s probably not really an issue. I’d just feel more comfortable.

Value: Excellent. Not only do I love how these sound they are so small yet so impressive sounding. As a pair of desktop speakers these, to many, are probably thought of as very expensive, you know the £20 creative things buying segment. Or if you’re spending it’s so you can get a big ass sub to make games roar and explode. That is not what these are, these are serious proper grown up speakers. These are impressively good and mature sounding, they just happen to belong either side of a computer. These are for people who want something good and desk space demands it must be small. That they don’t need an amp taking up yet more desk space is just icing on the cake. These are stunning value in that situation. Just be sure that’s what you’re after. These can go loud and they can rail enthusiastically and throw down at party time if that’s what you want. If you want the room shaking bass that the 5 or things with a sub offer then that’s not really the A2. The A2 can go wild but it really deserves to offered more beautiful things.

Conclusion: I really like these. I really honestly expected not to given what I had read of them, oh and the card video on YouTube. I thought oh god they are going to be so chavtastic they will drive me insane. They can go there if you want to EQ the hell out of them but naturally these are quite beautifully tuned. As I sit here with Tori Amos’s new album (which btw music industry, should not have been cheaper for me to buy from the US and ship halfway round the planet than to buy it in the UK) and those familiar with the woman will now what to expect. Her a piano and lots of rising and falling. Everything sounds fantastic, so clear such great separation that these have been nothing but a pleasure to hear. Everything I’ve heard on them I have pretty much loved. From the slow and mellow to the youthful exuberance of the Busted CD I recently bought (don’t ask) and that’s a fantastic versatility. I honestly think I could have these as the only speakers in the room and I’d be happy with them. Okay maybe I would need a sub to give them greater scale, maybe. These are just so versatile and accomplished at everything I’m super impressed. I don’t want to give these back.

These are however what they are and they are small. These are desktop speakers. If nothing else than the sodding volume control being hidden on the back means you’re meant to use your source, i.e. computer to do so. These aren’t going to be used as your HiFi it would just be an awkward pain in the behind. I’m not saying you couldn’t just that you won’t buy them with that intention. You’ll buy them for your desk. Now in that role they excel, they offer a real grown up taste of quality and by god I like it.

I just really wish it had a remote and volume control on the front.

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