Those familiar with my previous reviews of Audioengine's products, including their HD6 Premium Powered Speaker System and the D2 24-Bit Wireless DAC are aware that Audioengine manufactures and sells excellent audiophile grade products for very reasonable prices. And those familiar with my previous reviews of high-end gear know that I use some rather nice high-end equipment in the main system in my dedicated listening room, and another smaller system in a common space of our home. The fact that I use a pair of Audioengine HD6 speakers in my bedroom flanking our flat-screen TV should convince at least some that Audioengine products can more than satisfy some very choosy audiophiles, including yours truly.
Simply calling the Audioengine A5+ a "wireless speaker" is not nearly enough information to properly describe these speakers. Of course, the raison d'ętre of the A5+ wireless speaker is its "high-fidelity advanced Bluetooth with aptX HD with a 24-bit upsampling DAC (AKM AK4396)". This type happens to be the older generation of Bluetooth connectivity. Although, to be honest, when I heard the term "wireless" in the name of the speaker I assumed that the A5+ would either have no wires connecting the two speakers, or they were battery operated.
Nevertheless, my rather long audition of these speakers has shown that it enables these shielded speakers to be, if not the main speakers in one's set-up, at the very least the perfect speakers that anyone, audiophile or not, can use to construct a small system, or a second system to augment their larger main system. This is because besides Bluetooth connectivity, the Audioengine A5+ has RCA and mini-jack inputs, so a listener can connect sources that might range from, for example, a smart phone with its output cable, or even the interconnects of a phono preamplifier. There is also a preamp audio output if one wishes to connect a subwoofer.
These two-way, remote controlled powered speakers use a Class A/B 50-Watt power amplifier that uses a toroidal transformer. They have a 5" Kevlar woofer and a 0.75" silk-dome tweeter with a neodymium magnet, and they're housed in a 0.5" thick MDF cabinet that is available in three finishes, black satin, hi-gloss white, and solid natural bamboo. The speakers come with all the wires one will need to set them up, including speaker cables to connect the two cabinets, an interconnect with a stereo mini-plug on each end to hook up a device such as a smart phone, and a power cable that connects to the left speaker that has heat sinks on its rear, indicating that it is the cabinet that contains a power amp. To start listening to music all one needs to do after unboxing the A5+ is connect a speaker cable from one cabinet to the other, connect the power cable and a source or two, and then power up. That's it.
I used the A5+ the same way as I did with the HD6 powered speakers, although there was no real reason to use its Bluetooth connectivity. The A5+ are a bit smaller than the feature laden HD6 Premiums, which also has drivers that are a bit larger than the A5+. Still, it was amazing that the A5+ had much of the same sonic character of the HD6 Premiums – for such a small speaker they were very neutral sounding, and for having such a small cabinet their bass was powerful and went surprisingly deep. There was a slightly elevated mid-bass, as the midrange sounded a bit "scooped out", which wasn't such a bad thing as it gave these speakers a sound that much bigger than they looked. For a speaker that starts at $499, I have no problem calling the A5+ wireless speakers "high-end".
And if one can live without its Bluetooth connectivity, Audioengine still makes the original A5+, which has been renamed the A5+ Classic, which starts at $399. Calling the A5+ a high-end speaker is due to their treble response, which performs at a level of other speakers of this size that are comparably priced, and many that are priced higher. The tweeters of the A5+ wireless speakers did not exhibit any disturbing qualities such as excessive sibilance, that is, as long as it wasn't the fault of the recording. This was because these speakers are quite transparent sounding. There was a bit of harshness in the lower-treble, but again, I think this might have been only because I was judging these speakers rather critically. The speakers I'm used to hearing cost much, much more than these small Audioengine self-powered units.
The thump of Jody Stephen's kick drum locked into Andy Hummel's bass guitar, aided by the recording techniques that were used for many early 70s recordings, as the common practices such as applying duct tape to cymbals, placing a pillow inside a kick drum with no front head. This approach eventually fell out of favor for more "modern" methods but was eventually used again by producers such as Rick Rubin as early as the mid-1980s and continued on into the next century by many other producers. I feel that these production tactics tightens the overall sound. Some don't like these production methods as much as I do. Perhaps I like them so much because of nostalgia, perhaps not, but I can hear the intensions of the musicians much better without any heavy overhang from the instruments or other "distracting" effects.
It was excellent how the A5+ was able let me here all of this so clearly. Also remarkable was that with such a small cabinet how much low-end was produced. I realize that the bass on these speakers don't go much lower than 50 Hz, but either Audioengine's designers purposely voiced these speakers with a mid-bass rise, or the speakers have a midrange that to some extent goes lower than the adjacent frequencies. There is also a slight rise in the treble, which gives these speakers a sound that is larger than life. Or this sound is a result of what happens when one properly engineers a small speaker, because the end result was a speaker that has a sound of a speaker with a much larger cabinet.
On the SACD of Big Star's best work, their album #1 Record, the upper frequencies were reproduced with a very convincing level of transparency and fun. In my medium-sized room, the pairing of Alex Chiton and David Bell's guitars filled the side of the room with their proto-alternative power-pop. The vocal duties shared by Chris Bell and Alex Chilton didn't necessarily enter the room but were rendered with an extremely natural timbre. Most of this was because the recording was made with such exactness, and the A5+s were simply letting me hear what was put onto tape back in the day. I was very surprised how well the Audioengine speakers sounded in this room, as I'm accustomed to a much pricier system that is built around either a pair of vacuum-tube monoblock amplifiers, or very powerful solid-state amps, that power speakers that cost nearly seven times as much as the A5+ wireless speakers.
While I was using the Audioengine speakers in this system I also connected an SVS SB-2000 subwoofer that I reviewed last spring, a subwoofer that's not too expensive, but good enough to win a Best Of 2018 Blue Note Award, and also a permanent place in my system. I am not at all familiar with the subwoofer that Audioengine offers but using this subwoofer with the A5+ was extremely enjoyable. It let these mini-monitors focus on what they do best, reproducing the midrange and treble frequencies, and for some reason all the positive traits of the speakers seemed to be magnified. If one has the space (and the money) I strongly suggest a subwoofer be used with the A5+ wireless speakers. Although, one of the beauties of these speakers is their small size, so it might be a bit pointless using one. And as you read, their bass response happens to be very satisfying. So no, I don't think a sub is mandatory, I spent most of the review period without one, and I didn't consider using one until the very end of this part of the review period – mostly because I was so happy with the speakers sound without it.
After using the A5+ wireless speakers in place of the speakers in my second system, I moved them to a few different rooms in the house. Don't laugh, but the best place I found for these speakers were in the kitchen, where they replaced a small Tivoli Audio Model One table radio on which we like to listen to either our local PBS affiliate WNYC which broadcasts out of New York City, or the eclectic, free-form powerhouse that is WFMU, located in nearby Jersey City, New Jersey. Thankfully, the A5+ wireless speaker's footprint is only about 7" by 8", so there was enough space on the countertop for the two cabinets.
To say that there was a difference in sound quality between the Tivoli radio and the Audioengine wireless speakers is laughable. Pairing an iPhone or an iPad to the Audioengine speakers to listen to the radio station's apps was super-simple. Better yet was streaming a higher resolution source than an internet radio app through the A5+ speakers, as these speakers were transparent enough to easily be able to take advantage of a source that has better sound quality. I'm a subscriber to TIDAL MQA HiFi, the advantage it has over many of the other popular streaming services is that it is available in this version which streams with a CD-quality 16-bit/44.1kHz signal.
The A5+ is truly a high-end component, as it was able to take advantage of the quality of the musical diet it was fed. I did spend plenty of time listening to the radio station's apps, because let's face it, I'm in the kitchen, and it's not like I was going to sit down and critically listen to any music while I was in there. But it was very nice to hear high quality music coming through these speakers when I was in there, that's for sure, especially when I was streaming music using TIDAL, with access to about every record I could imagine. As much of a kick as it was to have these killer sounding speakers in our kitchen (and until further notice, this is where these speakers are going to stay). I realize that most listeners aren't as lucky as I am, and doesn't have two high-end audio systems in their homes, so its more likely they will purchase these speakers to either build a system around them, or, as I did at first when I received them, to flank a computer screen. The fact that these speakers are wireless gives them a whole new set of applications, where one might not normally use high-end speakers of any type and might be reduced to using an inexpensive Bluetooth speaker.
Self-Powered, A.K.A. Active
Dimensions: 10.75″ x 7″ x 9″ (HxWxD)
Price: $499 (black or white finishes) and $569 in bamboo finish.