I've made no secret of my love for Audioengine's Audioengine 5 powered speakers. That $349 system, although lacking an iPod dock and remote control, packs glorious sound quality (and volume) via two mid-sized, bookshelf speakers. So when the 5's smaller sibling, the Audioengine 2, arrived on my doorstep, I was anxious to see how this downsized version compared.
At the risk of revealing the climax of this review too early, I'll say that I was impressed--once I found a suitable spot for them. (I'll explain that somewhat cryptic remark after dealing with the speaker's specifications.)
The Audioengine 2's two speakers, available in glossy black or white, are each four inches wide, six inches tall, and just under 5.5 inches deep. The left speaker, which hosts a 15-Watt-per-channel (30 Watts peak) amplifier, weighs four pounds, one pound more than the right. Each hand-made cabinet is made of 18mm medium-density fiberboard (MDF), is video shielded, and houses a 2.75-inch Kevlar woofer and a 20mm silk-dome tweeter. At the bottom of each speaker you'll find a bass port slot.
The back of the left speaker includes two inputs: Input A comprises left and right RCA jacks; Input B features a 1/8-inch stereo minijack. You can connect your iPod, your computer, or any other audio source via either of these two inputs. If you connect two components--for example, an iPod dock and a computer--to the system, both sources will play through the speakers simultaneously.
Below the inputs are quality binding posts--no spring-loaded clips here--for connecting the included speaker wire to the right speaker. On the left speaker you'll also find an AC jack and the speakers' volume knob. It's a bit awkward to reach around the back to adjust the volume, but the knob is large enough so that you can easily find it by feel. The Audioengine 2 supports 110V to 240V AC via an auto-switching power supply. (Unlike the Audioengine 5, these smaller speakers don't sport an AC-power outlet on the back for connecting an AirPort Express Base Station--not surprising given how small the Audioengine 2's speakers are.) The 2 also includes a convenient circuit that puts the system's amplifier in a low-power sleep mode after 20 minutes without an audio signal.
Included in the box is an AC power supply; a two-meter, miniplug-to-miniplug audio cable; a 20cm miniplug-to-miniplug cable; a two-meter length of speaker wire to connect the two speakers; a couple drawstring bags for the cables and power supply; and two more drawstring bags for the speakers.
Audioengine offers a 30-day trial of the speakers. If you don't care for them you can return them for a full refund.
OK, let's get back to the cryptic remark I made earlier. Audioengine bills the A2 as "desktop speakers" but, quite frankly, they sound better off the desktop than on--at least to my ears. When I placed the speakers on either side of my computer monitor and sat at my usual distance from that monitor (about three feet away), I heard more bass than I wanted to when playing a wide variety of music. The little "poink" sound that Mac makes when you adjust the volume up and down lacked the definition I get from the system--a Monsoon sub/sat setup--that normally sits on my desk.
But when I pulled the Audioengine 2's speakers off my desk and listened to them from about six feet away--closer to a traditional hi-fi setup--I had something worth listening to. For such tiny speakers you get a nicely rounded bass, the top end is crisp without being shrill, and everything in between is present and accounted for. (Audioengine boasts a relatively flat frequency response of 65Hz to 22kHz.)
I then decided to test the system much the same way I listen the Audioengine 5: I placed the speakers on bookshelves on the other side of my office (about six feet apart and 12 feet away from my desk) and let them play though a few hours of music on an iPod connected via an iPod Universal Dock. In this setup, the Audioengine 2 sounded great. Although the overall output--bass and volume--didn't match that of the 2's larger sibling there was plenty of sound to fill the room without maxing the system out.
For $199, Audioengine offers a remarkably good-sounding set of speakers. But I think the company missed the mark by suggesting the desktop--or, as its often called, nearfield listening--as the target. To make these speakers shine, leave the desktop behind and mount them on the wall behind your desk or place them on a bookshelf --Christopher Breen