How many powered loudspeakers are available for $399 a pair? Probably more than I can count on my fingers and toes. And if I were forced to listen to them all, back-to-back, I’d be ready for counseling or medication. Thank God for exceptions. The AudioEngine 5+ speakers are the second pair of under-$400 powered speakers I’ve reviewed recently. The first was the Focal XS Book for The Absolute Sound. The XS Book was a neat speaker, but I think most people, especially those who like to rock out, will prefer the AudioEngine 5+.
The 5+ offers clean looks and neither needs (nor offers) speaker grills. Its extra beefy power amplifier provides impressive dynamic with dynamic performance. With a volume control on the front of the left speaker as well as a remote and iPod USB power option, the 5+ can be the center of surprisingly good sounding bedroom, den, or computer-based desktop system.
The 5+ is available in three finishes: satin black, hi-gloss white, or solid carbonized bamboo. Audioengine sent a pair with a satin black finish for review. The finish was impeccable with no swirlys or irregular marks on any of its surfaces. I mentioned earlier that the 5+ comes without speaker grills. In lieu of a speaker grill, the 5+ has molded one-piece charcoal-colored circular baffles around the drivers so that you never need to look at a bare screw or speaker basket edge. With a look like this you don’t need or want grills.
Because the power amps to drive both speakers are housed in the left-hand speaker, the left-hand unit weighs more and has a large cooling fin on the back. The left-hand speaker also has provisions for an AC power connection, one pair of RCA inputs, one stereo mini-jack input, one pair of RCA single-ended variable outputs (provided for purposes of feeding a signal to a subwoofer, if desired), the on/off power switch, a voltage selection slider switch, and a set of five-way binding posts for output to the right-hand speaker. The right side passive speaker only has a pair of five-way binding posts.
If you prefer to swap the speakers so the left side has the passive unit while the right side has the active electronics with all the inputs and outputs, simply reverse the inputs to the 5+ and put the left speaker on right and the right speaker on the left. Why would you want to do this? One good reason would be because the 5+’s tweeter is not situated directly above the midrange/woofer driver, but rather is positioned approximately one inch off-center (so that the left and right speakers are mirror imaged). By reversing the speakers you can get the tweeters closer together than with the standard set-up. On my desktop the 5+ speakers imaged more precisely with the speakers switched left for right. Of course your mileage may vary, but it might be worth a try for either sonic or ergonomic reasons.
• Built-in power amplifiers (both are housed in the left speaker).
• Credit-card-sized remote control.
• Improved thermal management vis-à-vis earlier versions of the A5.
• RCA and mini-jack audio inputs.
• Front panel volume control.
• USB power charge port (allowing users to charge up iPods from the speaker system).
• Variable preamp audio output (this feature makes it much easier to add a powered subwoofer, if desired).
• Gold-plated connectors.
• Full-size 5-way speaker binding posts.
• Custom Kevlar woofers and silk dome tweeters.
• Hand-built MDF wood cabinets (except in the case of models ordered with laminated, carbonized bamboo enclosures).
• Magnetically shielded (not as important a feature as it once was, but a nice touch that means it’s OK to use the 5+ alongside old-school CRT monitors).
• Advanced, tuned cabinet with rear-ported waveguide.
• Stand-mount 1/4" threaded inserts.
• Cables included.
Unlike some speakers, which can take as much as 100 hours to break-in and perform at their full potential, the 5+ speakers sounded fine right out of the box. And while I don’t doubt that they still improved with some playing time, they didn’t go through the sort of radical changes I heard during the Focal XS Book ($399/pair) speakers’ first 100 hours of break-in.
In my desktop system I used the 5+ speakers perched atop ADAM acoustics’ desktop speaker stands. Originally made for the ADAM A5 speaker, these stands not only raise a monitor 2 ¾” above the desktop, but also angle the speaker slightly backwards. When the A5+s were on the ADAM stands, my ears were about 1” below the tweeter and 3” above the center of the midrange/woofer.