Collisions happen in every facet of life. Whether it be from the atoms being split to form the nuclear reactions or waves hitting onto a shore, one thing is certain, there is always a crossroad where everything must meet. In the audio world, we typically have products geared towards those on one end of the spectrum towards enthusiasts and another set for the other side. In Pro audio the middle meeting ground has a term, they call this Prosumer. For us, there is no exact term but one thing is for sure, the territory of audio products that fall right into that sweet spot of enthusiast versus consumer is a terrifying battlefield; do you opt for the best of the earthly consumer world with its easy bells and whistles, or go on an arduous climb for a peek at the pearly gates?
Gear up, because we are going on a hike to see, if only but a glimpse, what awaits at the top. Today we have the Audioengine A2+ Wireless Speaker System. This is the third iteration/variant which started with the A2, then to the improved A2+, and now to the wireless+wired version of the A2+. This is akin to our previous review on Headphone.Guru of the Audioengine A5+ Wireless Speaker System. They have taken what is perhaps the most iconic and well-known speakers to enthusiasts in the entry-level segment (in regards to Enthusiast preferred tabletop computer speakers) and made them wireless. It’s 2019 baby, and everything is going cableless. Let’s take a look and see how the A2+ Wireless stacks by itself and compared to other computer desktop speakers in the price range.
The Audioengine A2+ Wireless Speaker System, or A2+ BT as it also goes by, is a set of active powered speakers that come with all the creature comforts you would expect in the consumer world. You can connect to it through RCA input, 3.5mm input, Bluetooth 5.0, and micro-B USB for use with a computer. It also has a dedicated output to a subwoofer if you want more punch. The original A2s did not come with a digital interface and required a DAC somewhere in your lineup either externally or the one built-in to your computer/laptop. The A2+ upped its level with a built-in TI PCM2704C DAC whereas the new A2+BT utilizes the CSR8670 which is a full Bluetooth audio System on a Chip (SoC) from Qualcomm. This allows them to combine both the wireless feature set with a dedicated DAC that can be used independently.
I do feel it is important to point out that wired performance using a high quality stand-alone DAC was superior to the performance achieved using Bluetooth or the incorporated DAC, though this was probably obvious from the outset.
Good news is, just like its big brother the A5+ BT, the wireless connection is one of the highlights of the speaker. The A2+ BT’s wireless connectivity is impeccable and one of the fastest I have witnessed. As the main wireless product reviewer here at Guru, I’ve come across a plethora of devices and the majority have a caveat. They only seamlessly connect if you are in the right state on the host device; without having, say, just recently disconnected/connected another wireless device. Every single time I have wanted to swap over from my PC’s internal headphone or speaker setup to use the A2+ BT it has been beyond simple.
Turn the knob on the back of the speaker to turn it on, and 5 seconds later, it shows up in your audio device’s menu. This has been the case on both Windows 10 (with a desktop ASUS USB Bluetooth adapter) and Android 9 on my Essential Phone.
The speakers in wireless mode have little to no hiss or noise and were fully shielded from cellular issues from my cell phone. With the speakers actively in wireless connection mode, I maxed out the volume knob and what I encountered was stupendously un-eventful, just the way I like it. In a perfectly quiet room with my ears 12 inches from the driver, I could only detect a faint trace of speaker hiss. That test passed, with the next one being how well the shielding and signal integrity have been implemented. I performed multiple cellular calls with my phone at multiple sides of the main driver unit (Left) followed by Wi-Fi calls and lastly a bombardment of 50+ SMS text messages while constantly putting my phone in various locations and on top of the cables. Nothing happened, perfect.
Depending on how magical of an ability you have at reaching into the couch to search for the remote or finding your phone that fell off the bed will determine your adeptness with the A2+ BT, for, if you have not been bestowed with the powers of the all-knowing hand, the A2+ BT is for you! The only form of volume control is through the back-panel of the left driver. No remote functionality like the A5+ BT, and no other way besides to change it. The one workaround is to change it on the host device side digitally which is not that great of an option. There’s a reason most of the photos on the Audioengine website show the A2+ sitting next to laptops and being right close to the user, that’s the only way a rear volume wheel would be the least hassling. This becomes compounded by the wireless feature set meaning it has a usage case that would have a greater proximity to the end-user or it may even be mounted somewhere out of reach.
If you can look past that inconvenient volume wheel, the rest of the A2+ BT is rosy. The multitude of input options with its compact design and dashing looks is a winner in my book. Almost every way I could think of using to ‘talk’ to a speaker has been thought of and accounted for. The Audioengine A2+ Wireless Speaker System, emphasis “System”, comes with everything you need and is beyond intuitive to use and continue using months or even years past unboxing.
(my desk when I’m doing full-blown testing)
I used the Audioengine A2+ full-time in its wireless Bluetooth mode (SBC 90%, aptX 10% of the time) during my testing period. It is just below my wall-mounted Audioengine A5+ BT and is lifted at an angle so that its tweeters are pointing at my ears using $600 worth of DAPs (see below) I had laying around; Audioengine sells cheaper optional stands for $29, it’s much cheaper than using two $300 DAPs, I highly recommend you grab a set.
The overall sound of the Audioengine A2+ Wireless is crisp and clean leaning towards the slightly warmer side. The bass is ‘enough’ and pertinent to get the job done but can get overburdened easily as it starts losing out on character with heavier songs. The soundstage is more narrow than full-size bookshelf speakers and tonality squished a bit more but that is also to be expected given its petite size.
Starting off with a more modern pop/EDM song out of left field, we have “Heart Upon My Sleeve” by Avicii. The A2+ perform admirably given their size and make the track sound meaty and full. The violins in the background are apparent and have their own space from the vocals, if just a bit, and add a layer of ‘texture’ to the music with each strum. The star of the show is the vocals which are the complete opposite of other ~$200 speakers for computers on the market. They are front and forward at the listener with enough clarity to differentiate them from the rest of the music. Other speakers would be like 2D paper whereas the Audioengines add ‘definition’ to them like a pop-up greeting card. Vocal intensity definitely pops with the A2+ BT compared to the Logitech Z623 and Harmon Kardon Soundsticks which sound muddy by comparison.
The carry on the song that really made me go ‘wow’ was the bass beat at the 50-second mark. I was expecting a trial that would end with the A2+ tripping on its face, but surprisingly, it was quality. From a quantity and impact perspective, the A2+ will not be on the level of the other consumer desktop speakers in the bass department as they don’t feature a dedicated woofer for the low-end. But the bass beat we do get is higher in quality being punchy, clean without muddying up any of the mid-frequency vocals. Despite how much I visibly try to look at the drivers bouncing back and forth while it does both deep bass and vocals simultaneously, I can’t detect any distortion or over-encompassing on the mid-drivers part. For their size, impressive.
Next up is “Wandering” by Yosi Horikawa. This song is more a work of art than a song, it’s an escape into the natural realm. It highlights the capabilities of the soundstage that the A2+ BT can capture (at this price range) which are clarity and lack of background darkness. The Z623 and Soundsticks, no matter how hard they try, have a level of dark and thick timbre to them that they can never hide. During the mid connecting hook into the main chorus, the song has periods of tender calmness, the A2+ BT maintains this serenity, making the listener feel like the speaker isn’t there, it’s that level of transparency. This is important and one of the facets of what puts the Audioengine speaker on a different tier than its consumer brethren, it starts to introduce audiophile ideals into the mix.
The multi-layered ‘texture’ in the song is also one of the highlights. The song incorporates a mix of natural water, birds, forest, drums, and other instruments to create an ecosystem within itself. The A2+ is capable of, with just a tweeter and mid-driver on each unit, creating the layering required to make a believable image of what the artist intends to show. The birds and forest sounds in the background, despite that luscious heavy drum solo in the foreground, sound so utterly clean and isolated that I felt like I could pluck them from the song and still have a pure recording.
(look how nice and tiny they fit into everything!)
So where do the A2+ BTs falter? The answer lies in their size. Despite how much tuning you do, you can’t escape physics. Too much bass and low-quality elements (Lo-Fi, Trance, heavy metal, etc) mixed together en-mass and you have a recipe for a slushie. The A2+ BT simply can not deliver by themselves with heavier bass music and that’s just something you will have to accept for speakers the size of two Coke cans taped together. A car nut will tell you: “There is no replacement for displacement” and the truth is here with speakers as well. You need physical size to the drivers (pistons) followed by the interior resonating cavity (cylinder walls) to create the sheer sound pressure. Not enough when a song demands it and you’re left with a microwaveable meal cooked partway through before the breaker tripped.
I really enjoyed the sound of the A2+ BT for what they were, a look into what exists beyond and a taste of paradise, despite their small size and limited bass. The Audioengine A2+ Wireless Speaker System represents an entry-level kit that still contains the ease of use and consumer comforts with the performance of high-end audio. They perform better with cleaner sounding genres and can seriously push some sound through the little drivers with minimal distortion. The answer that it comes down to is if you want a multi-tool that can do a lot of everything but mediocrely or a fine-tuned knife made for a job. If you want the former, go to Best Buy and check out the Logitech section, else, come check out the Audioengine A2+ BT’s and perhaps the doors at the top will start to crack open for another to enter.