Audioengine A5+ Speakers and Wireless Audio Adapter

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In an Audio-only HiFi

The Audioengine A5+ speakers were hooked into my main audio-only system.

  • The signal source is mostly CD or higher quality digital audio files (some 24/96) from my home network streamed via a SqueezeBox Touch.
  • The bit-perfect digital signal from the Squeezebox is converted to analog by a Benchmark DAC1 192-kHz 24-bit D/A audio converter via the coax S/PDIF connection.
  • The output of the Benchmark DAC1 feeds the AV5105 — a high quality 100 w/ch stereo power amplifier from Linn.
  • A pair of NHT 2.9, a fairly large (over 3 cu. ft.), 78-lb, 4-way speaker system one step down from the brand's then-top 3.3 model. Sold for $2,500/pr in its day, the NHT 2.9 has a claimed 26Hz-26kHz, ¬Ī3dB frequency range.

No exotic cables are used, but the interconnects are high silver content wire with good quality phono plugs. Speaker cables are Linn multistrand dipole (about 12 gauge) terminated with banana plugs.

The Benchmark DAC1 is a well recognized, top performing D/A converter. The NHT 2.9 speakers and Linn amplifier are older and probably nowhere near "real high end", but the system still sounds excellent, capable of convincing musical realism at fairly high volume. The room is quite large and lively, 30' x 13' with an 8' ceiling — a living room that extends into the dining area. The NHT 2.9 speakers are about 7' apart, 1.5' in front of a wall that is mostly sliding glass doors to the front deck, and the listening area is about 10' in front of the speakers.

The Audioengine A5+ were connected via 8' long, high silver-content RCA coax leads from the output of the Benchmark DAC1 D/A converter. The A5+ speakers were placed atop the NHT 2.9 speakers (which puts them slightly high for a seated listener), over 2' out away from the glass wall behind them. The provided 16 gauge zip cord was used initially, but it was too short and hung between the two speakers like a sloppy clothesline, so it got replaced quickly with longer audiophile quality solid-core speaker cable.

A quick look at the hookups on the back of the left speaker. The right pair has just one pair of 5-way binding posts, which are decent quality, btw.

The remote control is handy, especially for someone who is assembling a minimalist system around the A5+ speakers (just add any signal source). For my purposes, I set the A5+ volume at full, and simply used the remote control of the Squeezebox, which has access to the program material as well as volume. I did use the A5+ remote to put the speaker into sleep mode when not in use, which saves getting up and going to the back of the left speaker to turn the power switch off.

A small sampling of the tunes and albums (most available through Amazon) used to assess the A5+:

  • Woke Up This Morning by Alabama 3 - Exile On Coldharbour Lane
  • Dave's True Story - Sex Without Bodies
  • David Grisman & Martin Taylor - Tone Poems II
  • Water Is Wide by Indigo Girls, Jewel and Sarah McLachlan - Lilith Fair, Vol 1, CD2
  • Jeff Beck - Modern Guilt
  • Jeff Buckley - Grace
  • Johnny Cash - Unearthed
  • Some Kind of Wonderful by Joss Stone - Soul Sessions
  • Mary Coughlan - Tired & Emotional
  • Melody Gardot - My One And Only Thrill
  • Michael Bublé - It's Time
  • Miles Davies - Sketches of Spain
  • Mitsuko Uchida - The Mozart Sonatas
  • Norah Jones - Featuring Noah Jones
  • Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment - Bach, Brandenburg Concertos 1 - 6
  • Robert Plant and Allison Krauss - Raising Sand
  • Rosanne Cash - The List
  • Ry Cooder - Chavez Ravine
  • Toufic Faroukh - Drab Zeen
  • Treme - Season 1 Soundtrack

The sound of the Audioengine A5+ from the very first notes was open, warm, detailed and smooth. This was apparent at first listen without any warmup or break in. The positive initial impression was strengthened over time as the power to the speakers was left on continuously for about a week, playing music as often as possible at volumes both low and high. By the end of the week, I was confident that any break-in was done. There was little sense of much change during this period. If pressed, I might point to greater air in the spatial imaging and increased authority in the bass.

That bass, by the way, is one of the truly impressive aspects of this system: It has surprising depth and impact, and it is distinctive, detailed and well-balanced. It easily lets you hear differences between similar instruments or styles of play, even at fairly high volume, and in both complex as well as simple arrangements. It's very impressive for speakers this small. Visitors assumed the big NHT 2.9 speakers were playing, and invariably took double takes when told it was just the small speakers actually producing the sound.

The rest of the frequency spectrum is well integrated with that bottom end, with excellent clarity and extension. Singing voices figure highly in my favorite music, and the A5+ reproduces them extremely well. Ditto all kinds of percussive sounds, from the shimmer of cymbals to tomtoms, or the attack of piano notes. Imaging and spatial ambiance is well projected, with a big soundstage between, behind and in front of the speakers.

The system can play quite loudly without strain in this large room, with peaks well above 90 dB from 3 meters away, which is approaching 100 dB at the standard one meter distance. (Measured using our high resolution audio measurement system.) This is probably loud enough for most of us, short of an all-out rocking party.

Over a couple more weeks of listening, I experimented with positioning, and the A5+ speakers ended up a bit closer to the wall (~16"): the imaging got slightly less dramatic, but the overall tonal balance improved, with the bass retaining their proper weight to higher volumes.

Compared to...

NHT 2.9: Good as the A5+ bass is, it cannot match the much larger NHT speakers' 10" bass drivers, driven by the 100W/ch Linn amplifier. Weight, impact and overall realism of the bass as well as ambient recording space was better on the NHTs, as was the clarity at higher volumes. The imaging of the A5+ was somewhat better on less complex material, and the midband was similarly detailed. Extension of the high end was similarly good on both speakers, but the overall "air" was a touch better on the A5+. In complex music, the A5+ fell behind, especially as the volume rose. Overall, it's an amazing performance considering the cost and size differences.

Paradigm MilleniaOne: These passive speakers are even smaller than the Audioengine A5+, and by themselves without a subwoofer, the MilleniaOne's weaker bass response is immediately noticeable, and the slightly warmer overall presentation of the A5+ is better balanced. The A5+ cannot match the imaging, transparent quickness, high end extension, and sheer resolution of the MilleniaOne speakers, however. Add the matching MilleniaSub to the MilleniaOne, and there really is no contest, though the margin of the win is nowhere near the price difference: $399 for the A5+ versus $2,500 — $1,800 for the MilleniaSub/One speakers plus ~$700 for a used Linn AV5105 amplifier.

Audioengine A2: The little brother of the family is a neat mini, but the new A5+ stomps all over it in just about every way. It presents a much bigger window to the music and delivers it far more authoritatively. The A5+ is a serious contender for an audio enthusiast on a budget; the A2, in comparison, is a compromise in most ways. If you have the room for them, spend the extra $200 on the A5+.

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