Before I start this review of Audioengine’s A5 speakers, I want to admit that while I’m critical about audio quality, I’m not quite an “audiophile.” I appreciate good, clear, rich audio, and I can hear details in music that some people seem to miss. I also like a wide range of music – basically everything, except for Celtic music (apologies to Fiona Richie). I appreciate good speakers and headphones. Over the years I’ve owned a lot of audio equipment – and a lot of it failed to live up to my expectations.

About a year ago I was searching for a very high quality set of powered speakers for my Mac mini-based entertainment system, and I kept reading about these A5 speakers, manufactured by a company I’d never heard of called Audioengine. Statements like “I have heard many iPod/MP3 player systems, but this is by far the best one yet” kept popping up. Google “Audioengine A5 review” to see what I mean.

This was back before Small Dog Electronics carried the A5’s. So, based on the amazing reviews, I took a leap of faith and purchased a set of the $349 speakers, without ever hearing them.

A few details about the speakers: they come as a set (a left speaker and right speaker, 70W peak per channel) with a built in 45W amp. Because the amp is built-in, you won’t need a receiver (making them ideal for pairing with the Mac mini). The A5’s are fairly compact, and are quite sleek. Mine are glossy white, which was the only color available when I bought them. They are now available in a nice matte black, which I prefer – though the white has a clean modern aesthetic. They are hand-built of “furniture-grade” materials.

Each speaker features a 5-inch woofer and a 20mm tweeter with neodymium magnets. They put out plenty of rich thumping bass, but you can attach a woofer if you want to truly rattle your teeth. I find that the built-in woofer handles hip hop, reggae, and even dub just fine.

On the front of the left speakers is a simple volume knob. On the top of the left speaker, there is USB port for charging an iPod or other MP3 player, and a 1/8” audio-in port. On the back of the right speaker is another 1/8 audio input, along with power outlet for an Airport Express (very cool).

The A5’s also come with an incredible array of cables – almost anything you’d ever need to connect them to any audio device: three different 1/8” audio cables, 1/8” to RCA “Y” cable, USB power extender cable, 12.3ft speaker wire (to connect the pair). The cables come in a drawstring cable bag, along with a pair of high-density foam protectors/sonic isolation pads.

They are very easy to set up – connect them with the speaker cable, plug ‘em in, connect an iPod, Airport Express, computer, DVD player, TV – or pretty much anything that puts out audio – and that’s it.

In our house, we often use the A5’s with an Airport Express. The Airport Express plugs right into the back of the speakers, making it very easy to stream music from our several computers to the A5’s in the living room. The Mac mini is typically plugged into the second 1/8” port on top of the A5’s, though we occasionally plug an iPod directly into them.

The A5’s are magnetically shielded for placement near video monitors, or plasma or LCD televisions. The cable connected to my TV introduced an annoying ground-hum to my system, which I was able to remove with a simple audio transformer from Radio Shack.

So, how do they sound? Incredible. They’re the best all-around audio value that I know of. Like many higher-end speakers, they need a couple weeks to break in. Also, they are good enough to reveal the limits of compression on highly compressed (or badly compressed) audio. But the A5’s were specifically built and tuned for playing back digital files (such as MP3’s and AAC’s) and somehow make them sound far better than they otherwise should. They’re only a pair of speakers, so you won’t get support sound – but surround sound is not always needed. I use them in the living room in my condo, where a surround sound system would be complicated overkill.

Downsides to the A5’s: no digital audio input. I’d love to see this in the next gen A5’s – indeed, I’d pay $50 more for that feature. Also, the A5’s don’t come with an iPod dock – you’ll have to get one, or plug your iPod into the A5’s with the included 1/8” cables. In my experience, it’s best to use an iPod dock with any speakers, so you can take advantage of the iPod dock’s balanced line out, which seems superior to the iPods headphone port.

Finally, a common question – how do the A5’s compare to the Apple Hi Fi? Well, besides having the same price ($349) they are quite different. The Hi Fi is portable, and can even be powered by batteries. The A5’s aren’t designed to be portable. It’s a fair trade though – you loose portability, but gain true stereo separation with the two speakers. Both sound good. The Hi Fi’s have a built-in iPod dock and a separate digital line in on the back. The A5’s have the USB charging port, two 1/8” ports, and, of course, the AC outlet for the Airport Express.

For my situation, the A5 was the obvious choice. After more than a year of constant use, I am still very happy with them. When I move and upgrade my primary sound system to a high-end surround sound system, I’ll keep the A5’s for a truly killer office sound system.

We’re offering the A5’s with three day express shipping by clicking here.

The Audioengine A5’s come with a 3 year transferrable warranty and more cables than you’ll likely need.

Now I want to listen to some good music!

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