Page 3 - Subjective Audio Analysis
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's quite a paradox haha). The tests were conducted primarily with the Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD sound card with the Audioengine A2+ plugged in directly to the 3.5mm front output. (Creative CA20K2 DSP/APU, National Semiconductor LME49720NA OpAmp, JRC NJM4580 signal buffers, Cirrus Logic CS4382A DAC, Nichon MUSE ES capacitors.) This sound card is probably one of the best consumer/prosumer computer sound cards out there in the market today, and will reduce its potential to be a limiting factor in our benchmarking today.
After over 100 hours of break-in time (Well above typically required period), we put the Audioengine A2+ to the tests. All tracks are uncompressed CDs, FLAC, or LAME encoded MP3s at 192kbps or higher.
Where should I start? Without giving away too much right off the bat... okay, who am I kidding: The Audioengine A2+ speakers are amazing. Here at APH Networks, we have pretty standard criteria for evaluating speakers. If something is good, we will tell you why it is good. In the same way, if something is bad, we will tell you why it is bad. But even if you are not a discerning audiophile trying to get picky about the A2+, all I can say is, "it just sounds good". Thoroughly enjoyable to listen to. Of course, if I stopped here, you might as well just head over and read some Amazon reviews now.
So what makes the Audioengine A2+ amazing? Before we talk 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 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. I do not believe it is unreasonable to expect owners of the A2+ to buy their own subwoofers, which is exactly what I have done. A low pass filter set at around 80Hz to 100Hz is probably a good idea, but make sure you own a good unit that can handle relatively high frequency bass.
With these expectations in mind, let us go over the big three: Bass, midrange, and treble. The bass is light. I dare say it -- it is weak. Even if it was there, it lacks punch. But as I have just said, there is no way around physics, and I am very happy the way Audioengine's engineers tuned the A2+. 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 A2+ will not shake your room, nor should you expect them to. You will need a subwoofer. I cannot emphasize this enough.
Here is where the good news is. The A2+ really shines through in its midrange and treble performance, which is what they are really designed to do. As far as the midrange is concerned, I don't know a term better than what I frequently see in the tomato sauce section of my local supermarket, and that is, "thick and rich". It is very natural and warm; saturated throughout the entire range, with no noticeable missing layers. The first time I heard it, I was absolutely immersed by its brilliant performance. The vocals were incredible. The instruments were incredible. It was just an incredible experience. For its treble, I have great things to say about it, too. 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 $250 they want, this is amazing. More often than not, poorly tuned treble will hurt the listener's ears. The Audioengine A2+ is pleasant to listen to all the time, much unlike talking to me in real life.
Once you start listening to the details, you can definitely see where Audioengine is coming from when they say the A2+ is tuned as a pair from the factory. The sound is imaged precisely to the center. If you close your eyes while firing up the music, you would swear there is a center speaker -- except you don't. Now, this is not an entirely realistic reproduction, but these are not studio monitors. For audiophiles listening to music, I think this is a desirable effect, and it creates a very enjoyable listening environment. In my setup photo above, I am watching TV with these speakers, and they are simply great.
Deriving from my assertions regarding the treble performance and imaging characteristics of the Audioengine A2+, I think you can probably make a very good educated guess regarding the soundstaging properties of the Audioengine A2+. Close your eyes, and you will imagine something much bigger playing in front of you. The soundstage is relatively wide for its size. Soundscaping is also impressive for a pair of stereo speakers; it carries a surprisingly reasonable amount of depth and direction to the music playing.
I am extremely impressed by amount of precision and detail the Audioengine A2+ is able to reproduce. The layering comes in at a very detailed resolution, yet each frequency layer is distinct and extremely well separated. If there is a better word for "clean" that roughly carries the meaning of "super duper clean", I would use that word. At the same time, the transition between each layer is smooth and cohesive, making everything sound very harmonized and immersive to the listener.
These are not studio monitors. The frequency response is not exactly flat. But it does not matter. To the discerning audiophile, I am absolutely blown away. Even if you are not an audiophile, you will still be blown away. The Audioengine A2+ simply rocks in sound quality.
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Physical Look - Hardware
3. Subjective Audio Analysis