Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Audioengine A5+ Review

Audioengine A5+ Review

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

First impressions: Okay, next to the A2 there things are friggin’ huge. Not sure I’m loving the in white look but if id paid money for them are you may or may not then you only get white if you want it. I’m not sure I’m loving the off centre tweeter, I know many do it but I just don’t like that. What I do like is the packaging, it’s a nice touch to have everything in little bags but as a friend pointed out “so why didn’t they put the plug in one too?” I suspect it’s because it’s a UK plug, not that it matters but why not it? All the cables and such are in there which is a very nice touch. I think an all in one solution should be just that and there is nothing worse than not having that cable you need when you buy a new toy.

First listening and its not really doing it for me. Granted these are literally fresh out of the box so nothing is definitive. However I’m not sure I like how these are tuned. Seeing as Audioengine suggested giving them 50 hours to open up I guess I’d better get started.

Set up: Computer to FiiO E9 and E7 combo feeding the line out into the A5+.

Lows: Hmm, not to my tastes. I really don’t know why these have been tuned how they have as it seem unnecessary to me, they have a big bombastic low end and frankly it gets in my way. It’s a big hump of punch and rambunctiousness that just constantly wants to go wild. It’s like a teenage dog (in dog years) that pretty much fully grow, yet has so much boundless enthusiasm that it cannot stop from pulling on the lead. It yearns to go run and play. It’s cute on a dog on a speaker it’s not. Granted I’m a bit of a boring old fart and I tend to prefer music that’s a little bit boring. I don’t want a party beast blasting out Lady whomever, Christina what’s her face or that Perrier woman. It loves to take pre-eminence and it shouldn’t. Frankly it really annoys me.

You’ll notice I haven’t said anything fit quality yet. Now given I dislike how it’s tuned and behaves, if I can set that aside the technical abilities of it are reasonable. There is little softness or bass bleed. It likes to hit hard and move quickly so that ability deserves praise but it’s not a flavour I want. I can’t help myself, but it’s just all party bass. Every song it plays its wants to do with party levels of exuberance and I’m sorry but for lots of music it’s just wrong.

Mids: Meh. They are good when you can hear them but they clearly are in third place in a 3 way race. Thos familiar with my stuff will know I love mids, I feel its where all the most important stuff takes place. Bands don’t stick the drummer at the front of the stage now do they? Vocals here are acceptably good and they never get entirely lost but they sit behind the lows and highs. I know many love a big V shaped sound signature but I cannot find the love for it. If I was back being 18, in Halls and wanting to party every night then hell yeah! That V shaped sound is just what you want. I know I shouldn’t be judging it as an audiophile product as it not but I am and it is hard to be utterly objective on such a subjective subject.

Tonally they a touch on the liquid and warm side. Male vocals in particular seem to get a little boost in the low end that they really should not. Nothing awful but shouldn’t be there. Girly vocals do better. Warmed and softened a touch, not so good though at airy and breathy stuff.

Highs: Crispy. Shimmer and shine these don’t do so well but they really aim more a sparkle and dazzle approach. The highs cut through crisply and cleanly and it gives a great dramatic impression. As I said previously with these speakers its party time all the time. Detail retrieval is pretty good but that crisp edge dominates and overshadows things in a way I don’t like. It feels like a stage magician; look over here not over there. Again there isn’t really anything I’m going to say is bad, these are just coloured to a point some things work well and some doesn’t. For the money I can’t fault their treble ability but as I’ve said with much else, if you can’t nail it then maybe you better to dial it down rather than make you short comings readily apparent.

Soundstage: Here they do rather well, the bigger a speaker the bigger it usually sounds. These are big enough to sound impressively room filling. These in that sense are proper stereo speakers rather than “desktop” speakers like their siblings are. If I was so inclined I’d have no problem with these being the rooms only audio outlet. Still they are rear ported so remember that means even though they may get called bookshelf speakers you cannot put them on a book shelf. They need at least 12 inches of air behind them.

Dynamics: These have no problems whatsoever in rising and falling with aplomb. In fact I’d say they thrive on it, they love soaring and roaring with the most dramatic sense of urgency. Is it fun? Oh hell yes. Do I like it? No. They like much of the rest of the sound of them are all energy and enthusiasm. That sort of thing does definitely have a place in the world but that place is not in my home. Still if you give these a bit of welly then they have a grand dynamic range.

Power: These are clearly built for American homes. These can go stupid loud with stupid ease. Actually not only can they go load, they yearn to. Like a greyhound that longs to given an open field and allowed to go for it. These have too much power bottled up inside them that it just constantly wants to burst forth and I find it somewhat annoying. I don’t want a greyhound I want a Jack Russell, happy to sleep all day on the sofa yet capable of incredible energy when it’s appropriate. These need a big space and if I’m honest, living in a detached house.

Aesthetics: Right off all I can comment on is the white ones. Now I don’t know anyone who actually has a home that these would look appropriate in, sure many way love the Apple esq white minimalism thing but who actually has that? Still if you want white that’s your business. I can’t deny the finish on them is very nice and visually I can see not the slightest imperfection anywhere. What’s nice is they don’t leave fingerprints so there should be no trouble maintaining their prettiness. Could be good for their potential student Hall’s life?

Build and Durability: Okay these are solid, weighty beasts, super solidly constructed. Their weight suggests you have an item of substance here. I cannot actually fault anything as a mistake of construction. However what gives me pause is the no grill up front. The FAQ on their site declares the woofers are hardy and tough, Kevlar don’t you know, so you don’t need one. Well maybe I don’t “need” one but I would rather it my choice. Otherwise it’s all great and I’m sure they will cope well with the rigors of student parties.

Value: Well it seems to me that these are often placed in the category of ipod dock rather than anything else. These really aren’t an ipod dock, for a start they have nowhere to put one, sure there is the usb charging socket so you could very cheaply use one. This is something more versatile. It’s a good set of computer speakers too, let’s face it there is no one in the western world who doesn’t have a computer, add this and boom you have an instant HiFi. A pretty much proper HiFi too, sure it’s aimed at a certain market but you could have this as your desktop speakers as much as you could have this as your full stereo. Add in a CD player and there you go, grown up HiFi. No reason why you couldn’t have it hooked into your TV’s audio out. All flat screen thin TV’s have god awful sound and these could be used to turn it into something very capable. Sure it’s not 5.1 but many don’t want the clutter or cables for that. That we have a super versatile little set up is undeniable. For that alone I’d be inclined to pick this over any dedicated ipod dock like the rCube or Zepplin. They have basically one use and no stereo separation. That these cost £288 to me seems rather a bit of a bargain. They are extremely versatile in the potential applications and have a power and ability that would shame any £300 stereo you’ll find on the high street. You could do much worse than buying a pair of these. Pretty damn good value if you ask me.

Oh and the included remote control is super handy.

Conclusion: So, I’ve just said how I think these are good value, would I buy one? No. Would I want one? No. I like a grown up, more sedate sound especially from a speaker and these just want to have party time. They are filled with energy, power and a boundless enthusiasm, screaming at you, goading you to crank the volume dial. I don’t want that. So there is no mistaking that these and I did not get along well and I found myself skipping songs left, right and centre because they just didn’t work for me. A friend who was round yesterday however found their sound to be just his cup of tea, he is so much more fun than I am, he goes out clubbing on a very regular basis where I go once a quarter if I truly must. I wanted the A5+ to be a grown up, mature sound that would be happy to anything I asked of it. A desktop speaker to let me sit and work with some Norah playing softly. No. These just can’t do that sort of music, they really rather have a bit of a vacancy in the midrange and what I hear constantly is the music not the vocals. I want the vocals. They also really don’t do slow, they just forever want to go faster, punchier more dynamasism, and more volume too.

No matter what I listened to I never felt like bursting into song and that’s not me. It’s what I like about speakers and these just frustrated and annoyed me. Frankly I wanted something grown up and these are 18 year olds. Party, party, party. If that sounds like a bit of something you’re interested in then you will probably love these and I do think they would make the perfect student system. It’s versatile, solid, dynamic and dramatically awesome in every sense. Just don’t ask it to do mellow and boring, it can’t.

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