The Audioengine A2 desktop speakers have been on “the scene” as long as the iPhone has been in existence. Though the iPhone has seen many iterations (and features, like a headphone jack) come and go, the Audioengine in my memory hasn’t changed much since it’s fall of 2007 release. What is new for the Audioengine A2+ Wireless is the addition of Bluetooth aptX.
What remains the same, and thankfully so, are the many features of the original A2 design that initially made it a hit, and kept the A2 platform in the conversation about desktop audio solutions for over a decade. It’s worth noting that Audioengine still opts to use an all-analog, 15-Watt per channel (30-Watt peak) Class A/B amplifier in the A2+ design, where just about all other self-powered speakers in this category settle for small, cool-running digital amplifiers. These digital amps can sound good-enough but just don’t have the “magic sauce” that true analog Class A/B amplifier designs bring to the table.
Also remaining are the .75-inch silk dome tweeters and 2.75-inch aramid (see Kevlar™) woofers, and front exiting transmission line (slot) ports. It’s the combination of these fast moving, light-weight, and rigid woofers in concert with the slot ports that allow the small enclosure to play well below the A2+ visually predicted frequency range. Audioengine doesn’t use any “bass enhancing” circuits to artificially add bass, so what you hear with the A2+ is all-real and astonishingly deep with the right placement.
On the front of the Matte Black (also available in Gloss Red and Gloss White) painted Audioengine A2+ Wireless speakers sent in for review is well, nothing. Nothing other than the requisite speaker drivers and the subtle wave-guides that surround them. The look of the front baffles of these speakers are identical, and clean. A nice feature for those with a propensity towards OCD tendencies. Around the back of the (Right) speaker, a single input-pair of gold plated five-way binding posts that will accept banana plugs, spades, or bare wire. The (Left) has a single output-pair of the same gold plated five-way binding posts, along with all of the inputs (power and signal) and controls. The volume knob on the (Left) speaker has two functions, volume being the obvious one, but also as the mains power switch which can be denoted by tactile click of the volume knob. Because of this combination of volume and power, I decided that my best philosophy of use was to leave the speakers in the ON position and set to a volume that best suited my listening needs (75%), all while adjusting volume at the source level.
Analog inputs (and outputs) on the rear of the (Left) speaker begin with two sets of RCA’s one for input signals from line-level sources, and the output line-level for use with anything your imagination can surmise, but my guess is for a subwoofer. However in my review, I never found the need for one. Also included is an alternate analog input via 3.5mm (1/8th) mini-jack.
Digital inputs begin with the newly added Bluetooth aptX (and pairing button), along with the mini-USB digital input that was added back in 2013. The inclusion of a built-in Qualcomm CSR8670 Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) capable of 16-bit/48kHz in the Audioengine 2+ allows users to bypass a computer’s headphone output and send music directly through USB (or now Bluetooth) for improved sound.
Unboxing and setting up of the Audioengine A2+ was rather straightforward. The speakers were packed in cloth speaker bags, along with a cloth bag for all the included cables. Cables included a ground-free power-supply-cable-combo (12ft), solder-tipped (bare) speaker wire (16ft), a 3.5mm audio cable (5ft), mini-USB cable (5ft). Also included, a quick-start guide set of notable setup instructions and safety warnings, along with a complete brochure of Audioengine’s product line.
As for setup, I first decided to let the speakers break-in for the recommended 4-5 hours at moderate levels before settling in for serious listening. My initial placement was in a small listening room, placed on speaker stands about 7ft apart, with a listening position equalling 7ft from the front baffles of the speakers. For the remainder of my listening sessions, I found the desktop placement to be where I experienced the best results.
First up was the in-room placement on speaker stands. With the front baffles starting out at 24-inches from the back-wall, bass was just too far gone for this placement to be worthwhile. Once I moved the speakers back to around 12” from the back-wall, and moved my listening position accordingly, bass improved remarkably. These speakers do benefit from wall reinforcement when it comes to bass. Though improved, I found the in-room position to leave much in terms of serious listening to be desired. As environmental sounds sources, the Audioengine A2+ work well to integrate into my living space’s decor. Never calling any visual attention to themselves, and succeeding at presenting a clean sound for passive in-room listening.
For the rest of my listening, I felt it best to move to a speaker placement where I assume most users will have intended to use them, at a desktop and in the near-field. As for inputs, it worked well to compare them to one-another. First up to bat was the 3.5mm analog input, sourcing FLAC files from an iPod Classic. This input responded as I expected with only the slightest noise creeping in from the iPod itself when the iPod was connected to a charging base. When the iPod was running solely on battery power, the noise issue was resolved. I swapped cables, and used the iPod again with the RCA line-level inputs and noticed the volume on the two inputs to be the same. Which leads to one gripe I have. The input level of the analog inputs is rather low by comparison to the Bluetooth and USB DAC inputs. But that’s only a nit-pick.
Moving on to the Bluetooth and USB DAC inputs yielded really fun and great sounding results. The Bluetooth aptX module did have a good range, even when the connected mobile device was located in another room. Using the USB DAC offered up a cleaner and complete picture of what this speaker system could do. Albeit the performance of the Bluetooth input was eerily close to the USB input. The Bluetooth feature shines on the new A2+ as it’s almost indistinguishable from the wired USB input. Given the option, I had no qualms about switching back-and-forth between USB and Bluetooth for convenience, and found some of my best listening happening with both.
As far as comparisons go, I had the much larger Kanto YU6 on hand which feature 5.25-inch woofers, 1-inch tweeters, large rear ports, and 50-Watts per channel of Class-D amplifier power. At first you would think this would be an unfair fight, but this duel takes place in an arena of near-field. In-room, the larger Kanto YU6 trounce the smaller A2+, but up close and personal the A2+ provides cleaner and more taught bass, though not as universally deep. The treble and midrange of the A2+ are more balanced for near-field monitoring, and less edgy at the top end. Furthermore the use of Class-A/B amplifiers in the A2+ deliver a near-field presentation that is quite and dark, whereas the Kanto YU6’s Class-D amplifier produces audible noise that cannot be overlooked or ignored. All of this equating to a win for the A2+ in most desktop environments.
Bass on the Audioengine A2+ Wireless speakers are powerful, fast, and dig deep for their diminutive desktop friendly size. Treble and midrange are in nearly a perfect balance, and tonally reach into what I call neutral territory. Extension and power is clean and free of distortion as I go up the volume scale, and with my full intention of exposing faults, I find none. I can’t state it enough, but I really did push these A2+ hard, and with evermore complex material I pushed their way, at no point did I feel they were strained, grained, or wincing. The kick and impact of the little A2+ speakers is quite astonishing. The use of Class A/B amplifiers is apparent as their operation yields a dark and noise-free background, requisite for nearfield listening. The transmission line (slot) ports exhibit no audible chuffing, and the woofers no evidence of cone break-up. Overall the Audioengine A2+ Wireless are still king of the hill in their category, and with the addition of Bluetooth add a jewel to their crown. Highly recommended.
by Eric Franklin Shook