The only adjustment on the front of the 5+ is a small rotary volume control knob. On the opposite side of the knob there’s a small white light that blinks when you turn the knob up or down and stops blinking when you reach the top or bottom of the 5+’s adjustment range.
Next to the white light is the small translucent circle of the 5+’s remote control. The remote is one of those credit-card-sized units that have a way of finding the crevices of couches with tiresome regularity. The remote offers four options: volume up, volume down, mute, and sleep. For the end-user there’s not a lot of difference between sleep and mute—in both cases the music does a quick fade (nice touch that fade) to silence. But in sleep you’ve actually partially powered down the 5+, while in mute you’ve merely attenuated the audio output. The acceptance angle for the remote is extremely wide and the remote itself has plenty of reach.
If the 5+ speakers were a breed of dog they’d probably be golden retrievers: friendly, smart, easy on the eyes, and loyal. In the 5+’s case, the loyalty is to the music, although they do lean towards the warm euphonic side of absolute neutrality. Given the 5+’s modest price, a somewhat harmonically “friendly” skew with a smidgen more lower midrange and mid-bass than would be considered ruler-flat isn’t a bad way to tilt the odds in favor of a wider variety of music listeners.
Some speakers, especially smaller powered speakers, are dynamically limited. That wasn’t a problem with the 5+ speakers. I recently recorded the world premiere of a modern classical “concerto” for beat box and orchestra (a beat box is a guy with a microphone and the skills to mimic percussive sounds). When I listened to the playback over the 5+ speakers the big percussive attacks were handled with ease, but what was even more impressive was the way the 5+ speakers captured the micro-dynamics involved in the subtle rhythmic play between the full drum kit, tympani, and pair of xylophones onstage.
Although not as three-dimensional or revealing as the far more expensive combination of a pair of Aerial Acoustics 5B speakers ($2400/pr) tethered to a Parasound A-23 amplifier ($799), the Audioengine 5+ speakers were still capable of creating a cohesive and convincing three-dimensional sound stage that came very close to the higher-priced spread. Although the spaces between the instruments and outlines of the instruments weren’t as well defined, and the background wasn’t quite as quiet or grain-free as with my reference separates, it became clear after a few minutes of listening that it’s easy to be seduced by the amount of sonic information the 5+ speakers deliver.
The 5+’s published specs list their lower threshold at 50 Hz. If you want real low bass, you will need to use a subwoofer. But the 5+ speakers do deliver more than adequate amounts of mid and upper bass. The rear-firing slot-loaded port lets the speaker’s 5” Kevlar mid/bass driver generate more low-frequency energy than you would expect. And it is high quality, nuanced bass, not a one-note blatt. In a leaky-bass environment, such as a dorm, apartment, or small condo, using the Audioengine 5+ system without a subwoofer would be a more neighborly way to go, and given the 5+’s mid and upper bass capabilities, would still make for a rollicking good time.
If you move around in your chair while listening, you’ll be glad the 5+’s listening window is size gigantica. For chair-bound listeners it’s virtually impossible to boogie your way out of the 5+’s sweet spot. Taller listeners using the 5+ for a near-field desktop system will want to use some sort of speaker riser or stand for optimum performance, and even shorter listeners may find a stand improves the 5+’s image cohesion and soundstage size.
To hear how well the 5+s handled well-recorded commercial rock I played Toy Matinee’s “Last Plane Out” from Toy Matinee’s eponymous album [Toy Matinee, Warner Bros.]. Although the 5+s didn’t plumb the depths of this track’s low bass, they did a good job of handling the synth’s upper bass lines. The acoustic guitars’ midrange was sweetly rendered while the electric guitar’s solo remained salty. The synth-drums didn’t have quite the impact I’m accustomed to and the dynamic slam wasn’t nearly equal to a pair of ATC SCM7 speakers driven by an Accuphase P-300. Still, the 5+’s overall presentation was euphonically musical, with enough backbone to keep the music lively. Volume-wise, the 5+ had enough horsepower to produce over 95 dB at listening position without audible distress. By the time the 5+s began to get untidy they were really LOUD.