Those of you who know me also realize that i am an easy target for loudspeaker manufacturers. "So how many loudspeakers do you own Steven?" asks my dad, a man with at least two pairs of loudspeakers per room! "Well dad," i say, "you see it is like this..." and the conversation continues with all types of rationalization and justification for the over 10 pair, um, make that 15 pairs if we count the in-wall speakers, and the speakers attached to the walls, and the outdoor speakers, and.... "Why no dear, there are no newly acquired speakers in our home. You see i was just saying to the readers that.... What honey? Oh, am going to sell that pair soon, i swear."
All loudspeakers are not created equal. Trust me here. A simple rule of thumb for Yours Truly is that no metal dome tweeters are allowed. Why? Because my ears seem to generally find metal highs and upper harmonics offensive. Oh sure there have been advances in metal dome tweeter technology over the past few decades, but find myself preferring silk soft domes time and again. It is a personal preference. Be that as it may, guess it is time to get on with my review of the Audioengine 5 powered monitor loudspeakers.
So these guys, it's always guys, feel they can build a better (insert audio products here). You know the type. They love music and tried different things. These are the same guys who leave stores unhappy because they did not find the 'new best thing since sliced bread' to be to their liking. Many of us have been there and done that, but how many of us have done something about it?
First up is the Internet, being the consumer powerhouse with billions of dollars in sales and climbing. According to one source, the United States market for things like iPod speakers has grown about 50 percent in the past year or so and is set to exceed $300 million at wholesale and could reach a staggering $500 million this year! This, ye ol' Internet, is where Audioengine sells their hand-built speakers at factory-direct prices. The Audioengine 5 is a mere $350 per pair and that includes shipping within the contiguous Unites States! On that note, it was a good friend on the Internet with great ears who tipped me off to the Audioengine 5. Thanks dude!
Because of these two unhappy guys named Brady and Dave of Audioengine did not like the usual off the shelf parts, they go about having custom bits made to their specs. Sweet! Their Website says, "The Audioengine team sits in a listening room for hours on end methodically listening through everything from Bach to AC/DC. They settle in on a Bob Marley song and Brady gets a big grin on his face. It’s early October and they’ve just finished fine-tuning their first speaker system under the Audioengine name. Dave says the tuning is the hardest part, but admits that finishing up the cosmetic details before production will be the big challenge over the next few weeks." So these guys listen to classical, rock, and reggae as a way to truly produce a well-rounded design.
Said in good humor to my lovely life partner, "See, it is those two guys! Blame Brady and Dave for this new pair of white loudspeaker on my office desk! i had absolutely nothing to do with it, i swear!" No way she was believing that. My partner has seen me at audio shows and so my proverbial goose was cooked long ago.
Anyway, Brady and Dave have about 36 years within the audio industry and they feel they can offer a product better than those other guys. Loyal readers of Enjoy the Music.com® know that in the past few months we have reviewed over seven monitor loudspeakers. Steven Stone's excellent Nearfield articles is where you can find those, because if i had seven pairs of loudspeakers show up at the door... It is bad enough that weekly visits from UPS, FedEx, and DHL with esoteric car parts made of Unobtanium for the racetrack arrive at our door.
An advantage of the Audioengine 5 is that it is iPod-friendly with a built-in charger. While the speakers do have USB for powering the iPod, those two evil guys Brady and Dave felt that the Apple dock is very impressive DAC and it made no sense to reinvent the wheel by adding DAC capabilities. Besides, we have various audiophile companies who offer amazing tubed and/or solid-state DACs.
Did i mention the three pairs of loudspeakers i have secretly hidden away in the attic? So what is it about the Audioengine 5 loudspeaker that have me personally reviewing them? Because i gave into temptation and was not delivered away from evil. It is EVIL i tell you! In all seriousness, wanted to personally review these as i digged the deign, like soft dome tweeters, the midrange/woofer looks impressive, and it would be easy to integrate within my desktop audio/video editing computer-based system.
Movie Editor Pro 11
Speaking of my desktop editing system, the folks at Magix sent me a copy of their Movie Edit Pro 11 software ($60). Will avoid the staggering array of video capability, as we are audiophiles, though videophiles will delight in the diversity of video tweaking and effects. Audiophiles can rejoice as this software can import a plethora of formats, upsample, downsample, handle multiple tracks, output multi-channel sound, etc. You can also add effects, equalization, reverb, delay, widen or narrow the stereo effect, customize noise reduction.... Once you have mastered your audio it can be burned to CD, DVD (and includes proper DVD navigation), plus HD-DVD! You heard that right, audiophiles can now produce HD-DVDs of their music! Will leave all the technical specs out of this as Magix is constantly upgrading the software (free download). Bottom line, of all the consumer software i have used over the years Magix Movie Edit Pro 11 offers more editing choice, DVD menus, import/export and burning capabilities than any other. For a paltry $60 this software is stunning and very reasonably priced considering the mega-buck resources.
Audioengine 5 Technical Details
Unless you have been living under a rock, new versions of small monitor loudspeakers for computers and home offices are available everywhere from your local office supply hut, computer stores, and too many other places to mention. What makes the Audioengine 5 special is their ease of use, integration, and of course sound quality that we will get to later. Brady and Dave over at Audioengine design and/or manufacture their drivers, crossovers, amplifiers, power supplies, and cabinets. This includes the amplifier's toroidal transformers and extruded aluminum heatsinks. Being studio conscience, the cabinet was finely-tuned for best sound like those employed by producers and engineers for the flattest frequency response. The studio guys call these nearfield monitors, hence Steven Stone's articles being titled The Nearfield.
Being audiophiles too, Brady and Dave employed the usual fare of ferrofluid cooling for the 20mm silk dome tweeters and Neodymium magnets as they are a tried and true method for superior sound quality. For midrange and bass, a 5-inch Kevlar woven glass aramid composite unit was the choice due to extreme lightweight and high strength. This design allows for fast signal response and low distortion. As for the power feeding the drivers, each channel enjoys a conservatively rated 45 watt solid-state (75 watts peak). Remember how i mentioned the custom parts and transformer is particular. The reason is the power supply has a large affect on sound quality, especially low frequency production. Audioengine uses a gapless core toroidal transformers said to provide a tighter radiated magnetic field, thereby directly translating to lower noise. Audioengine claims they are also lighter than standard, lower-cost "EI" transformers and generate less heat.
The cabinet is very solid and positioning them is easy. Each cabinet is magnetically shielded, which means you can place it by a TV screen and not worry about getting that 60's psychedelic coloring anomaly. Audioengine 5's cabinet was designed and built to minimize unwanted distortion-causing resonances. Solid 1-inch thick high-resin MDF walls are fortified with extensive internal bracing. The cabinet's edges are nicely rounded while the front features special attention to the tweeter dispersion. The rear of the cabinet holds all the power and input/output goodies, plus a port that helps to extend bass response. Pictured here is the left channel speaker, as the right only needs the speaker wire inputs and has the same rounded black port. Audioengine provides plenty of hookup wire in various configurations including 1/8-inch phono, stereo RCA, USB (for iPod power) and of course loudspeaker cable and a power chord.
Listen & Be Amazed!
Holy Mobile Fidelity and Classic Records these babies are smooth! But before i get ahead of myself, like all loudspeakers you must take care about positioning these to achieve the best from them. While the Audioengine 5 are not finicky, you know how us recording engineer and audiophile-types are. The drivers must be very well matched as i was able to separate them and angle them and no matter what the imaging was quite impressive. Of course a smidge this way, a touch that way, and things became a bit more focused and the front soundscape became deeper. Wow we audiophiles are picky, picky, picky!
My choice was to sit them on my audio/video production, computer-based system's table. My ears are about two inches above the tweeter's axis, as any higher and the lower midrange became a bit boxy and any lower and the bass thinned out. Final setup included the loudspeakers being at my fave 60-degree angle in front of me and toe-in, the amount of the front speaker pointed towards the listening position, being about 30 degrees.
As usual i take loudspeakers, and any component for that matter, though proper use and almost abuse with rock, rap, bass music, jazz, and classical music including pipe organ. Hey, it is my job to make sure of my findings and it is akin to reviewing a Ferrari... but only driving it in a parking lot. You need a proper racetrack if you want to open her up and see what she can do. The good news is that tonally, and with proper positioning of the cabinets, the sound is very balanced. Frankly, i am surprised at just how clean and deep things like bass drums and pipe organ and reproduced.
Billie Idol's Vital Idol [Chrysalis VIK 41620] has just the right amount of thumping and high frequency balance, with a PRAT (pace, rhythm and timing) that makes me want to dance. My guess is that someone at Audioengine paid careful attention to driver and phase alignment in the design stage. All bass is not the same as "White Wedding" has deeper bass than "Flesh For Fantasy" and this is clearly audible. My fear was that these speakers might turn out to provide deep bass at the expense of accuracy. Fortunately i was wrong and the speakers sounded right. Too many other small monitor loudspeakers produce that lame one note thump thump thump bass. These babies are definitely not one note wonders.
Instead of going through disc after disc, please allow me to use my secret weapon. Years ago the Auto Sound Challenge Association (IASCA) partnered with various recording labels to make a test CD far better than those provided by many others who claim to provide such things. IASCA's 1995 disc includes the usual test tones, phase, right/left channel identification, soundscape tests, etc. It also has electronic music from various labels and extremely well recorded acoustic music from critically-acclaimed recording label Sheffield Labs. So let me break it down real quick for you.
Of course right/left are correct and phase is spot on. Besides a touch of dynamic compression and wishing for a teeny tiny bit more of upper frequency extension, there really is nothing offensive to report. In fact what impresses me the most is the all-day listenability of the Audioengine 5. Some of the music on the 1995 IASCA CD calls for very upfront and deep bass below 30Hz. Usually this is where minimonitors choke and cough, with drivers bottoming out (if they do not smoke and blow up). Add to that, the stress resulting for high amounts of deep bass usually cause amplification to run out of juice, which can easily cause massive amounts of upper frequency breakup due to amplifier clipping. At loud, but not stupid, volume levels the Audioengine 5 have been the best performing powered speakers system in my home that did not go into a seizure from such deep bass (ab)use. Only during track 30 titled "Killer Quad Remix" [The Best Of Newtown Vol. 1] did i sense some bottoming out at about 30Hz during the extremely loud low frequency sweep. To be fair, this bottoming out never happened during 'normal' music replay including other basshead tracks. Remember, i did mention how a reviewer needs to (ab)use things.
Another track on this CD, "Just Ahead" by Pat Coil [Sheffield 10034] had just about the right amount of drum snap and electric bass guitar drive. The jazz song "Corner Pocket" by Harry James [Sheffield 10003] is a wonderful sounding track with that big band swing. The solo trumpet had a very good rasp, and trombone grunt, as the saxophone section cruised along nicely. And this brings us to harmonics. All in all the Audioengine 5 is an overachiever and delivers sound quality that belies the small $349 price. This in not the kind of vintage 300B tube amplified rose-color glasses harmonics. We are talking about recording studio accuracy folks. If someone told me the Audioengine 5 were $1,500 i would have believed them! So i sit here enjoying Harry James and my toes are tapping. Perhaps that kinda says it all?
Before i wind down this review, decided to change songs and am now playing Prokofiev's "Dance Of The Nights" [Sheffield 10043]. Allow me to step back and say i have heard the Russian Symphony play this at the amazing hall in Gainesville, Florida, where my butt was firmly planted in premo seating 10 rows back and dead center. The song has excellent drive and that depressing (to me) Russian to and fro sound. Here is where harmonics and shades of dynamics at virtually all frequencies are played out. As mentioned earlier, perhaps a touch more dynamics would bring these speakers to the ultimate bliss, but make no mistake they are very impressive. Resolution is remarkable as each section within the orchestra and intertwining texture is very audible.
Last up is vocals and here i chose The Chordettes "Mr. Sandman" [Ace CDCHD 934]. This classic recording is rendered with the appropriate smooth sound. For male vocals i am playing it safe as it were and used John Lee Hooker "No Substitute" from The Healer [Mobile Fidelity UDCD 567. On the right system you get this amazing sense of air and space that floats about the room. Ok, perhaps the 'air' is exaggerated, though that is what they were going for and exactly what these little speakers produced. John Lee Hooker's voice also sounded deep and soulful, as it should. As he strummed his guitar it had a wonderful full-boded sound.
Small Is Beautiful
Summing it all up, these are very accurate studio monitors speakers at very reasonable pricing. There is so much junk out there that it is hard for the iPod and/or computer audio music lover to make sense of it all. Last time i visited my local mainstream electronics store all they had were decent brand names that offer loudspeaker systems with half-effort that sound like rubbish. You know the brands that sound like Nose, Lactic Antsing, etc. Here we have Audioengine 5's that are in a totally different league far above those, yet at a mere $349. If you truly love music and have already invested in a good iPod or computer soundcard, why on Earth would you settle for lightweight plastic cabinet drek? Step up to the plate and find out what recording engineers with decades of experience can design. As always, in the end what really matters is that you...
Type: 2.0 bookshelf-style, powered speaker system
Tweeter: 20mm silk dome tweeters with neodymium magnets
Midrange/Woofer: 5" Kevlar woofers with advanced voice coils
Power Output: 45 Watt RMS per channel (70 Watt peak)
Amplifier Type: Dual Class AB monolithic
Signal-To-Noise: >95dB (typical A-weighted)
THD: <0.05% at all power settings
Frequency response: 60Hz to 22kHz (+/-1.5dB)
Input Impedance: 10K ohms unbalanced
Inputs: two 1/8" stereo mini-jack
Outputs: USB Type A (power charging only)
Protection: Output current limiting, thermal over-temperature, power on/off transient protection, replaceable external main fuse
Included Accessories: AC power cable, 1/8" audio cable at 2 meters, 1/8" audio cables at 20cm, 1/8" to RCA "Y" cable, USB power extender cable, 3.75 meters of 16-guage loudspeaker wire, and 2 high-density foam protectors/sonic isolation pads.
Main Voltages: 115/230V 50/60Hz switchable
Dimensions: 10 x 7 x 7.75 (HxWxD in inches)
Weight: 6.4Kg/14lbs (left), 4Kg/9lbs (right)
Warranty: 3 years parts and labor, 30-day free in-home audition
Price: $349 including free shipping within the continental USA