Audioengine B2 Review (Page 3 of 4)

Page 3 - Subjective Audio Analysis

The V-MODA XS is always a good reference for listener's ear calibration.

Reviewing audio devices require extensively trained ears and lots of experience. Even for audiophiles, it may prove challenging at times to obtain an accurate evaluation of a product without a thoroughly familiar product to use as a simultaneous reference. While I am not going to even try to claim that I am the only trustworthy or best reviewer for sound, it is fact that most computer review sites have editors that are insufficiently trained in reviewing audio equipment. Give them practically anything and all you will read about goes along the line of "good bass, nice midrange, awesome treble, really clear sound, 10/10". While there are many knowledgeable audio reviewers at various respected online media outlets, these are by far the minority.

As I have mentioned in my past audio reviews, there are really no true objective measurements for speaker sound quality. As the reviewer, however, I will put it through a series of subjective tests to try to come up with the most objective rating possible (Yes, it is quite a paradox haha). The tests were conducted primarily with the Apple iPhone 6 and Dell Venue 8 Pro connected wirelessly using Bluetooth. Since this is a digital transmission, the source hardware will not affect sound quality, so their results have been combined together. For comparisons against the Audioengine A2+, I connected both of them to the Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD (Creative CA20K2 DSP/APU, National Semiconductor LME49720NA OpAmp, JRC NJM4580 signal buffers, Cirrus Logic CS4382A DAC, Nichon MUSE ES capacitors) to make things fair. After over 50 hours of break-in time (Well above typically required period), we put the Audioengine B2 to the tests. All tracks are uncompressed CDs, FLAC, or LAME encoded MP3s at 192kbps or higher.

Being essentially two Audioengine A2+ speakers glued together, you would expect me to simply copy and paste the entire audio analysis section from my previous review here, and call it a day. Being as lazy as any person out there, I sort of did that. However, despite having very similar hardware, there was quite a bit of stuff that were not the same.

To start off today's auditioning results, the obvious difference between the Audioengine A2+ and the B2 is its imaging and soundstaging characteristics. In the A2+ review, I have asserted the sound is imaged precisely to the center. The B2 is quite literally in the center when configured in a standard listening position, so it makes this category a bit unnecessary to discuss. That said, while the B2 carries forward almost identical treble performance as the A2+ -- more on this later -- the soundstage is as narrow as it can get. The A2+ was brilliant in this area; the B2 simply leaves a lot to be desired. Listening to them in an alternating manner will quash any debate about the contribution of soundstaging to the overall listening experience. This is clearly a physical limitation, as "duct taping" two A2+ together and placing both of them in the middle will kill off any soundstage ever imagined from the drawing board. Sometimes, we do have to abide to natural law. There is very little depth and direction to the music playing; the only thing I can perceive is a change in volume.

Interestingly, repackaging the A2+ not only changes the soundstaging characteristics, but to some extent, other acoustical properties as well. Initially, I was quite confused by my own results, considering the hardware is almost the same. In my opinion, this is probably due to two factors. First is the cabinet. Having two separate enclosures will sound different than one, despite being built out of the same 18mm thick, high resin reinforced MDF cabinets. Second is the perception of sound, which I will get to in just a moment. Before we talk more about my auditioning results, let me clarify on some expectations. The fact is, these are compact speakers with a 2.75" woofer and 0.75" tweeter. If you want bass, you will need big drivers to move lots of air. There is simply no way around physics. I did a frequency sweep on these speakers, and while there is response as low as 40Hz, it is barely audible. You will not hear much until 80Hz. Generally speaking, it really drops off below 120Hz. The Audioengine B2 has no subwoofer output, but being a portable speaker and all, this is about as it good as it gets. As I have mentioned on the previous page, I do not believe it is common for people will lug around a subwoofer on the go. I mean, you could do that, but until SVS or HSU starts making portable subwoofers, this is just arguing for the sake of arguing.

With these expectations in mind, let us go over the big three: Bass, midrange, and treble. The bass is very similar to the A2+: Light. I dare say it -- it is weak. Even if it was there, it lacks punch. The A2+ was slightly smoother in this area, but it has two independent cabinets, which provides a huge advantage over vibration control. As I have just said, there is no way around physics, and I am very happy the way Audioengine's engineers tuned the B2. Sometimes, for speaker manufacturers to try to hide limitations of their design, they will overdrive certain frequencies, resulting in disastrous effects. Audioengine did not attempt make those 2.75" woofers work harder than it should in the bass area, which is excellent. For the little amount of bass you do get, it is smooth, defined, round and fairly articulate. At the end of the day, the B2 will not shake your room, nor should you expect them to.

In the A2+ review, I have said it "really shines through in its midrange and treble performance, which is what they are really designed to do". The A2+'s frequency response was not designed to be flat from the get go, but its thick, warmly saturated midrange with smooth transitions was what that really blew me away. At first impression, the B2 sounds flatter than the A2+, but after some careful listening, I am not sure if it was deliberately tuned this way, or was it an illusion caused by the physical placement. Essentially, I feel the A2+ was able to capture the essence and spirit of each piece of music, even if it was not a completely accurate reproduction. However, with the B2, this was not present. This is possibly due to the fact the two 2.75" midrange woofers are placed right next to each other, creating a perception of a much louder midrange, whereas the A2+'s equivalent is separated by a distance. This new-found flatness -- or the perception of it -- trades away the "thick and rich" warmth signature of the A2+, and for this, I am a little bit disappointed. The layering is still there; the immersive experience with perfect harmony, on the other hand, is no longer.

For its treble, I still have great things to say about it. It carries almost all the characteristics of what makes good treble sound good, and that is sharp, distinct, and wet. At the same time, it is not overly bright. Even if we count it is slightly recessed, its definition is very well refined. I would like it to sound a little more immediate, but for the $300 they want, this is amazing. More often than not, poorly tuned treble will hurt the listener's ears. The Audioengine B2 is mostly pleasant to listen to, especially for a portable speaker system.

The amount of precision and detail the Audioengine B2 is able to reproduce is still excellent. The layering comes in at a very detailed resolution, yet each frequency layer is distinct and extremely well separated. It is clean and well defined. At the same time, the transition between each layer is smooth and cohesive. I find the Audioengine A2+ slightly smoother, but the B2 is very close behind.

The Audioengine B2 is a great Bluetooth speaker. It provides no physics-defying surprises; the physical limitations put forth by the single cabinet, and no separation between the two sides make it acoustically pretty different than the parts donor, the A2+. That said, this is probably still one of the best wireless speakers available in the market today.

Page Index
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Physical Look - Hardware
3. Subjective Audio Analysis
4. Conclusion