Everything about the Audioengine 2 selfpowered multimedia speakers is compact— except the sound, but more about that later. The Audioengine 2s ship in a compact box, with the speakers neatly arrayed inside within their own classy-looking soft-grey-cloth drawstring bags. As I carefully extracted first one, and then the other, I could hear my office colleague’s intake of breath. “Wow, those are beauties,” she said. And indeed they are, with their glossy piano black finish. They’re also pretty hefty for such small fries. The left speaker—the one sporting the 60-watt amp— weighs in at four pounds, and its passive neighbor, the right speaker, is just a pound lighter. At a mere six inches high, these speakers seemed dwarfed by the Quad 11Ls I reviewed in our last issue (twice as tall and nearly five times as heavy).
Did I almost pre-judge these small beauties unfairly by thinking they couldn’t possibly make my computer sing with resounding fullness given their meager dimensions and very low price ($199/pair)? Very nearly. But Audioengine has the reputation of backing up its marketing spin with solid science. And I was about to see that the Audioengine 2s are no exception.
The Audioengine 2s ship with everything you need to hook the speakers up. There’s six feet of speaker cable to run from the active left speaker to the passive right one. This is much more than any desktop setup would ever need and plenty for a college dorm room or other small listening station. Two mini-jack cables are included, one well suited for hooking up your close-by iPod and the other a longer cable designed to reach your under-the-desk computer. Finally, there’s a power supply for the left speaker.
As a bonus, I also decided to test Audioengine’s AW1 Wireless Audio Sender/ Receiver(s). I plugged the Sender into my Mac (and also my iPod, later) and the Receiver into its power-supply adapter and then ran a speaker cable from the receiver up to the active left speaker. Then, voilà, I was set up for wireless, with no runs of cable across my desk to add to my usual clutter. Neat.
Looking at the Audioengine 2s face on, the Kevlar woofers are striking at just under 3 inches in diameter. The .8-inch tweeters are silk, and together, the pair make are a handsome sight. I haven’t seen a typical pair of traditional computer speakers that look nearly this good. But how would they stack up in sound comparisons? I was about to find out.
The more I listen to Perla Bertalla sing “Bird on a Wire” from the Leonard Cohen tribute CD I’m Your Man [Verve Forecast], the more I love the piece. A long-time backup singer to Cohen himself, Bertalla comes into her own with this song. Tinged with the usual melancholy tonality you’d expect in one of Cohen’s pieces, accompanied by a simple, yet effective guitar line, the song leaves the voice very exposed, and Bertalla’s capable instrument shines through. I was prepared for that, because I’ve heard her many times before. What I wasn’t prepared for was her palpable presence upon the soundstage the Audioengine 2s produced. It was almost as if Bertalla had taken a seat on my computer desktop and was giving me my own personal concert.
So startled was I by the largesse of the soundstage, that I pulled a string of colleagues in to place them in my chair. “Can you believe this?” I asked one after the other. It’s fun to see colleagues with their mouths uncharacteristically hanging open. But then it was also hard to get my chair back. The Audioengine 2s seemed to defy preconceived notions about how large speakers need to be in order to produce a large envelope of sound.
I had ripped the Leonard Cohen tribute CD to my iTunes library as high-res files, and so that accounted in part for the clarity of Bertalla’s voice. To see how the Audioengines would perform with lower-res tracks, I hooked them up to my iPod and played mp3 files of jazz guitarist Bill Frisell’s “My Buffalo Girl,” a hauntingly beautiful song from his album Good Dog, Happy Man [Nonesuch Records]. The piece is an instrumental tapestry combining virtuosic electric guitar playing by Frisell with the sounds of Greg Leisz on dobro, Viktor Krauss on bass, and Jim Keltner, drums and percussion. Again the depth of the sound stage was remarkable, though not as profound as with Bertalla, but nevertheless, the instruments had the kind of distinctness and fullness that allowed me to become absorbed by the full effect of the multi-instrumental weave, yet not be pulled to one speaker or the other, one instrument or the other.