Audioengine has built an enviable reputation for their high quality yet reasonably priced audio components, from their DACs to powered speakers. The recently released Audioengine A5+ Wireless Speaker proves that it's easy to have great sound without cables, at an affordable price.
There are plenty of choices in powered desktop speakers these days. The latest crop of speaker’s feature internal amplifiers, high-resolution Digital to Analog Converters, multiple inputs, and different finishes, driver types and size.
Physically the A5+ is a solid unit, beautifully finished, and the A5+ will look at home in any environment. Our unit was High Gloss White Paint, with a choice of Bamboo, and Satin Black Paint. At some additional cost, the Bamboo finish provides the visual warmth of wood, ideal for a home setting. The speakers measure 10.75-inch x 7-inch, and the depth varies between 9-inches for the powered side and 7.75-inches for the non-powered side. The left speaker weighs 15.4 lbs., and the right speaker is 9.6 lbs. There isn't a rattle in sight. The cabinets are constructed of 1/2-inch thick MDF board. The finish on our unit was flawless, and the units feel tough as nails. The Bamboo finish matches the feel of their excellent B2 system, which is to say, very homey.
There is no grill or cloth cover hiding the drivers, which gives them a modern audio studio look. Personally I'm always a bit wary around speaker components that can be easily damaged, because I can be a klutz. The gold standard for me in terms of protecting components were the old Advent/2 speakers, which had a white resin case, and a integrated metal grill. In a White Paper at the time, Advent said that the metal grill design enhanced the audio, and the speaker was designed around it. Most of the time, speaker grills don't offer any actual protection, it's for either dust or aesthetics, or both. The downside is that our cats love speaker grills, turning floor level speakers into very expensive scratching posts. So perhaps not having a potential scratching post is actually safer. We keep our speakers covered as a result!
The higher priced Audioengine HD6 speakers do come with detachable speaker grills, along with a 5-inch woofer in the A5+ versus 5.5-inch in the HD6, as well as an optical input to allow a purely digital signal path with a higher sampling rate. In theory aptX-HD has minimal loss and compression, the presumption is that it's still not a clean a signal path as a direct connection would be. This might be an audiophile myth, however, and the improvement over the older aptX standard is significant. In use, the audio never seems like a compromise, so perhaps we have reached the time where $53,999.99 Nordost Speaker Cables are no longer a necessity for deep pocket audiophiles. All hail the era of great sounding wireless!
No matter the choice of input; analog of wireless, the sound signature is warm, with a solid tight bass that isn't boomy. For such a small speaker, it is able to go surprisingly low, and the low bass registers are true and convincing. The high end reproduced transients quickly and effortlessly; cymbals shimmered in the air, instead of blurring them, a fault common to many entry level designs.
You can use a subwoofer by using the RCA outputs, an option that we found made them more effective when used as a home theater system. None of the soundbars we have tested came close to the A5+. But with so much LFE content designed to shake the floorboards, in general, using a sub is a better approach than pushing a small bookshelf speaker to bass levels it wasn't designed for. We didn't have an Audioengine sub to test with, so can't speak to an acutal comparision.
To test the speakers with a no compromise high-quality source, we attached our Oppo UDP-205 using its analog stereo outputs directly into the analog inputs on the A5+, and in our opinion that's when the speakers really blossomed, with an impressively smooth high-end and an increased soundstage. We played back high-resolution audio from Chesky Records from a Seagate NAS Pro via a gigabit Ethernet network. When we compared the same tracks using the UDP-205's superb analog output, to Bluetooth, there seemed to us a subtle difference, but we can't swear by it, a testament to aptX-HD and the A5+ DAC and amplifier design. What was impressive is how close aptX-HD was to a direct analog connection.
For wireless operation, the Bluetooth 5.0 audio receiver supports aptX-HD, aptX, AAC, & SBC, and we found the rated wireless operation range of up to 100ft an accurate guide. Bluetooth doesn't like walls, so a clear line of sight works best.
The Bluetooth implementation is first-rate, and every phone, computer, and tablet we tried quickly connected. We wish every Bluetooth device worked this seamlessly. There is a small Bluetooth antenna on the back of the primary speaker, as well as the amplifiers, electronics, RCA inputs, and power input. To test Bluetooth on the Mac OS, we used Apple's little known, and difficult to find app, “Bluetooth Explorer” to force our MacBook Pro to use aptX-HD. With that codec in use, the audio quality was impressive, and you can't beat the convenience!
The speaker jacks are heavy duty, gold-plated, and the speakers come with a pair of nicely made 13-ft. long speaker cables that attach securely to the speakers and outputs. It ships with a set of 6.5 ft. RCA audio cables, and a 6.5 ft. RCA to Mini-jack cable. It also includes a solid aluminum remote control, so the A5+ are ready right out-of-the-box for wireless and analog operation without the need for additional purchases.
The front of the primary speaker sports a volume knob, and a small blue LED to indicate power. The Dual Class AB monolithic amplifiers are rated at 150W peak power total (50W RMS / 75W peak per channel). The speaker drivers are 5-inch Kevlar woofers with advanced voice coils, 3/4-inch silk dome tweeters with neodymium magnets. An example of the high-quality construction and engineering is the use of a gapless core Torroidal power transformer for better performance and a lower noise floor.
The Digital to Analog duties are handled by the well-regarded AKM AK4396 chipset. In this implementation it is capable of working with files up to 24 bits/96 kHz, so the vast majority of high-resolution music can be easily handled without fuss. Using the new Qobuz streaming service, we were able to play everything on the site through the A5+. With the Qobuz service you can access content with a browser, but the best solution is to use their dedicated application. The content on Qobuz is often available up to 24 bit/192 kHz, with no MQA encoding, so it's an ideal match for the A5+.
Tidal Masters offer a similiar service, typically 24 bit/96 kHz. For MQA to work correctly, it really requires hardware that can unfold encoded files. There are some browser workarounds, but hardware is the best solution. While audiophiles muse and argue about MQA, it's refreshing that Qobuz opted for a non-MQA encoded stream. With all the hype about MQA, the explosion of MQA devices has yet to occur. We find the non-encoded, universally accepted approach adopted by Qobuz, a better fit for us.
In all cases, the playback of Qobuz's 24-bit/96 kHz stream was stable and consistent, and the music burst forth from the A5+ speakers with startling clarity.
We tried the Qobuz app on phones, Mac laptops, PC's, and Mac desktops, and it worked well. One problem we had initially, was that despite everything being set up properly for Bluetooth, we couldn't hear the music. The culprit was that the Qobuz application has its own audio output option, and once I set it to the A5+, all was well with the world.
Using Qobuz, we put the speakers and the new service to the test. We cranked up the newly remastered Beatle's White Album, the newly remastered Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet, David Bowie's Low and Heroes, and for good measure, one of our favorites that deserve a modern remix and remastering, the blues masterpiece, Muddy Water's Hard Again,with Johnny Winter tearing holes in the stratosphere. The clarity of tracks like Revolution, and Rocky Raccoon shined with the lack of a veil that earlier mastering’s didn't quite clean. Beggars Banquet is one of our favorite Stones' albums, and the new version keeps the grunge, but now the acoustic guitar on tracks like, just shine. Low and Heroes are now considered two of Bowie's finest albums, but when they came out, the reviews; especially for mainstream Bowie fans weren't always so supportive.
The A5+ handled the heavily processed synthesized audio tracks with all the bass and punch they deserve. Always Crashing at the Same Speed, combines as many eclectic elements and studio and production effects, and is typical of the album's overall vibe, and once again, the speed and punch of the A5+ was a firm reminder of just how good the new versions are, and when compared to a much larger system from Emotiva featuring their excellent T2 tower speakers, the much smaller A5+ held their own, an impressive feat.
To get a sense of the A5+ with a true high-resolution recording, we listened to David Chesky's Rap Symphony 2.0, a new 2018 release that combines Chesky's love of jazz, urban, rap, and more into a potent brew of contemporary musical mastery. Unlike the remastered albums of yore, we agree with Dr. Mark Waldrip, who insists that only a recording made at high-resolution, and kept in the same high-resolution digital domain from recording, post, and finally delivery to listeners should have the High-Resolution badge invoked, and Chesky helped to pioneer such recordings.
Accordingly, to really judge a high-resolution audio system, the true test will be a recording of this nature. David Chesky is a multi-faceted composer, conductor, and performer, and his work often buzzes with energy and inventiveness, all of which are bolstered by superb recording techniques. Once again, the A5+ acquitted the tracks with aplomb. The energy and responsiveness required by Rap Symphony 2.0 proved a good match for the speed and depth of the A5+ Class AB amplifiers.
We recommend the Audiophile A5+ Wireless Speakers without reservation. From a dorm room, to the elegant décor of contemporary decorating, they will fit in beautifully. For the musician, they can easily double as small, accurate, and powerful studio monitors. For the modern music lover, accustomed to Bluetooth audio in their cars, in the gym, on the track, and avoiding lectures in school, the A5+ will feel right at home, with solid and understated musicality that reproduce just about any music genre with ease. In short, these are great speakers.
Just in time for the holidays, Audioengine is having a Black Friday/Cyber Monday, 20% Off Sale. So, don't miss out!
Harris Fogel & Nancy Burlan, posted 11/20/2018
For more information on the Audioengine A5+ Wireless Speaker visit: https://audioengineusa.com
For more information on Qobuz visit: www.qobuz.com
For more information on Chesky Records visit: http://www.chesky.com