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Sunday, 26 February 2012

Comments

Mike,
faced with a similar and equally vexing problem three years ago when I moved into this house, I simply didn't have the real estate for my CRT TV. I had a built in book case 8" deep and 34" wide, perfect for a 26" flat panel. but not deep enough for electronics and speakers! So I built a pull down door with the cable box and DVD when necessary (IR Repeater)and put the amplifier in basement below. Bought a pair of B&W speakers on Craigslist for $100. and handled the remote problem by using the variable audio out on the TV with a audio taper pot to match levels.

Thanks for the interesting review! I have one question though: when purchasing computer speakers recently I tried out a few different options and found that some are highly dependent on positioning (I know they all are to some extent, obviously), to the point where you have to sit in just the perfect spot for them to sound good. But when you are there, they sound absolutely amazing. Are these speakers a little more "forgiving" in that manner?

For what it is worth, the "computer speakers" I ended up with was a pair of M-Audio AV40s. Cost around 1300SEK here (so probably 150 dollars or so in the US I would suspect) and the sound--as long as you are careful with positioning both the speakers and yourself--is excellent.

No grills????

(OT) Congratulations for successfully taking a Saturday off, Mike! Hope you had a good rest.

Hey Mike, I take it you don't need the speaker remote if you can hook the speakers directly to the TV and use the TV remote. One less remote would be great.

Mike:
If you are an audience of one watching the new TV, consider getting a good wireless earphone set instead! I've been using a set of HDR 100 Sennheisers for several years and have been very happy. But of course your ears are probably more discriminating than my nearly 65 year old pair. But it's amazing what you can hear from earphones compared to built in TV speakers!

"Hey Mike, I take it you don't need the speaker remote if you can hook the speakers directly to the TV and use the TV remote. One less remote would be great."

Dan,
As I say, I'm not familiar with TVs and how they all work, and it very well may be that some TVs have variable mini-jack outs for which that would be true. With a fixed audio out like my TV has, however, you need to use the remote that comes with the speakers, so there are two remotes by my chair and couch.

Mike

"No grills????"

Sal,
No, no grills. Not even as an option.

Mike

As a matter of interest, what did you connect the audio lead to, on the TV? On my Samsung there is only a "head-phone" output for audio. Pleanty of inputs but not much in the way of outputs.

Christer,
That's called off-axis [frequency] response, usually illustrated with a waterfall plot. I haven't noticed much problem with that. I plan to try the speakers later with my big system, for music listening, and I'll report on what I find if I find anything worth reporting.

Mike

"As a matter of interest, what did you connect the audio lead to, on the TV? On my Samsung there is only a "head-phone" output for audio. Pleanty of inputs but not much in the way of outputs."

David,
Various TVs had different kinds of outputs--some have optical, some have RCA. I made sure when I bought it that mine had a mini-jack "Audio Out"--a mini-jack is a 3.5mm TRS connector, the smaller of the two most common "headphone jack" sizes. That was when I was planning to use my old receiver and Dynaco speakers, so I also bought a mini-jack-to-RCA adapter, which I found to my surprise when I got the speakers that I don't need, because the speakers have a mini-jack input on the back and even come with a 3.5mm TRS cable for just this application. If you have an existing TV, best to check the manufacturer's specs to see what if any Audio Outs it provides. Chances are good the headphone out on your TV would work, but it might be wise to check first.

Mike

.....Mike, I have these speakers in my kitchen and am running them from my main amps preamp out with a Burson DAC between the computer(iTunes) and the amp (Plinius). The sound is lush and blooms. I have the Bamboo finish and they look great as well.

Just as an aside, I recently acquired a 2.1 system for my p.c. Having been through various 2.1 up to 5.1 p.c. speaker systems and always been dissapointed by the lack of mid-range, I came across a system from Corsair, their SP-2500. You get a bass cabinet and two 2-way speakers for the desk-top, plus a hand-controller, into which you can plug a headphone. The desk-top units are very smart and feel well made and the sound is just terrific,(for my ears anyway). You can see them here
http://www.corsair.com/pc-computer-audio/pc-computer-speakers/gaming-audio-series-sp2500-high-power-2-1-pc-speaker-system.html
I do use a PCI audio card as well, i.e. not just the motherboard audio. One thing to watch is the bass cabinet is on the larg-ish side.

Damn, I've been eyeing these speakers, and their predecessors (The A5s, sans +) for about 2 years now, since seeing a review on AnythingButIpod.com. Perhaps now I shall finally have to plonk down the cash (the problem being I don't actually have any).

Your article came at the critical point in time where recognized need meets opportune information. I rarely have enough confidence in non-photographic related purchases to pull the trigger without thorough and plodding research. I read your recommendation and immediately clicked on the link and did the deal. Its testimony to your credibility and persuasion. Thanks Mike.

I have heard systems with Klipsch speakers and I always thought they sounded pretty good. Somewhat mystified by their shirking by the audiosnob crowd which seems to place price above performance. However I have a very nice pair of Wharfedales that fit me like a glove. I recently did buy a Klipsch subwoofer and I have to keep the volume control under 30% or rattle the dishes off the counter! Also some cuts really get the bass tuned up while others not so much - and I really don't like having to get up and adjust that subwoofer volume control. Maybe I'll just stick with cans.

Thanks, Mike, for the informative review that manages to also introduce the reader to some audio basics. I've heard a few reports of moderately heavy bass from the A5 and found your comment a bit surprising, especially considering the placement of the speakers in the photo. I would have expected perceptible bass reinforcement (and early reflections) from close proximity to the TV stand. The right speaker also looks close to a corner, though I can't be sure.

The example you gave of "frequency-response accuracy", a result of low linear distortion, is actually an example of non-linear (harmonic) distortion. I would amend it to say: "A 2-kHz signal of a certain amplitude is reproduced at the same loudness as a 3-kHz signal of that amplitude."

P.S. Strictly speaking, a two-way speaker can have more than two drivers. They just have to be arranged to receive either of two distinct signals (e.g., a D'Appolito array with a tweeter and two woofers in parallel). A "2.5-way" design usually has a midrange driver that shares part of the woofer's spectrum.

Wait - isn't this a "Photography..?"
(Kidding!)

Thanks for being so forthright and transparent about both the product, and how you obtained it for review. Glad they work for you, but due to hearing loss (heavy metal and explosives in the 80's) and a house with varied musical tastes, I'm a headphone kind of guy. Let me know if you ever go "head-fi" and find something to replace my Sennheisers.

My AudioEngine A5 speakers are connected to the stereo out terminals of a McIntosh Laboratories C 26 Solid State Stereo Preamplifier.Could not be happier.Inputs are my Panasonic HDTV,XM satellite dock,and my music collection on my 2.3Ghz dual core G5 PowerMac.The AudioEngine A5 speakers are perfect for us who have downsized living rooms (19'X9').

Why would you need a remote to set the volume?

For our soundbar, we set the TV to it's "normal" volume and then tuned the volume on the soundbar. Now we just need to turn the soundbar on and tweak the TV volume using the TV remote.

Whoa! the world is changing - I can get these for $369 from a couple of Australian on-line retailers. Such a pleasant change from the norm (e.g. Epson ink cartridges, made just north of here in Indonesia, cost twice as much in Australia as the identical product retails for in the U.S.)

Hi Mike, I was excited to hear your thoughts on speakers since I really appreciate your opinion on photography, music and coffee. I was also excited that the speaker was something I already own - almost. The AudioEngine A5 is the progenitor to the A5+. It's the model I own. They have been an absolutely great speaker for over three years now. I haven't regretted or gotten bored of them in that time. And that is saying a lot for a self confessed gear-updater/junky. One thing about the A5 vs A5+, the former has a standard North American outlet on the back. I use this to plug in an Aiport Express to stream audio from all my iDevices. The A5 lacks a remote, but I set macro volume on the speaker and fine tune volume on the source. By the way mine are white and they look quite nice in person.

"No, no grills. Not even as an option."

I haven't been in the market for speakers since buying a pair of Allison CD 9s at least 25 years ago. They currently sit on either side of a 42" flat screen, still sound good as new and satisfy me greatly. Thus my surprise at the lack of grills on your new Audioengine A5+s.

I guess it's fortunate those "woofers" are made of something indestructible like kevlar. :-)

I looked at these when I was trying to decide on a solution for streaming music. (I intended to power them from an Airport express) They certainly get very good reviews and sounded pretty damn impressive when I had a listen in a demo room, so I feel I can endorse Mike's recommendation.

(I eventually decided to go with a wireless Airplay solution in the end for its portability and discreetness. If you want an in-situ, more traditional hi-fi solution, these look pretty good.)

Sal,
I've owned Allisons. Roy Allison is a genius. I think he's still alive and living in New Hampshire.

I had a pair of AR3a's once too.

Mike

Yep - I endorse the high ratings given above. I have the A5s connected to my PC via a separate sound card and they are definitely the best bang for your buck, quality desktops I've encountered.

There is one caveat however. I do like listening to my music (and concert movies etc.)LOUD!I generally only get 45 minutes before the thermal cut out kicks in and I lose sound. I'm not complaining - I did notice this mentioned in some of the online reviews and blogs I researched and bought them anyway.
If I set up a standard household fan and have it trained on the back of the left speaker I will get hours of continuous, LOUD music.
It might also be the case that the next generation (A5+)has improved cooling.
Regardless, the quality of the sound is sensational.

Too bad Mizzu couldn't finish off KU ;-)
Thanks for the review... added to the shopping list.

I went to my LG TV (42") which I got two (one 3d and the latest is non-3d as 3d is useless). The sound not that good especially for dialogues. Never think about upgrade it but after reading your blog, I put my head into the back of both TVs and found that the only sound output is via optical ...

Never touch that before ... still a guy knew only RCA, hifi cable, pre-amp/power-amp ... any advice?

Mike, you can write about audio any time you want. As an audio DIY'er (funny how what started the industry in the late 1940s and 1950s - DIY - is now the 'core' that keeps it alive) I'm always interested in reading about the subject. However, I read your blog as much for your perspective on any subject as I do for the photographic insight.

The built in speakers on my TV are so bad you cant even make out the mere presence of background music most of the time, and dialog is massively hard to understand. With my old budget Sony surround system, things were tolerable, but still pretty lousy.

So I bought a pair of small Polk T150 bookshelf speakers ($75 on deep discount) and a Lepai TA2020 T-amp ($23) for my TV setup a few months ago (both from Amazon). Its sounds outstanding now, much more open and natural with background noises and music nicely separated from the foreground sounds. For a hundred bucks! I did keep the powered sub from my old setup, but its not strictly necessary, and decent ones are available for a hundred bucks. The little Polk's will shake the couch, slightly, on their own when turned up loud. But the extra punch makes movie helicopter sounds more fun. I just leave the amp on 24/7 and adjust volume on the source.

But yeah, you need good sound to go with the picture. A lot of people overlook that.

I used to own two Genelec monitors.....these look sort of the same configuration. Great for everything but dance (no nice base). How about the base with these.

Mike,
A quick suggestion, get a couple concrete blocks, (Not the building size "8x8x16", just the flat 2" thick variety)and place them under the speakers to isolate them from the resonant and reflective surface they're sitting on. If it doesn't make a dramatic improvement with the upper bass, let me know and I will pay for them.

Seems appropriate that a mike should review speakers.

(Sorry)

Many TVs today lack analog outputs, and if you get much of your content OTA, most DACs won't save you, because most won't decode Dolby Digital, which every major broadcaster uses. The result would be no sound for that station. The TOSlink digital out TVs do have won't pass a Dolby Digital signal, either. That leaves HDMI. And so for what initially seems impractical, a surround sound receiver makes sense, even with only 2 speakers.

I've been exactly where you were, Mike, wanting only decent "2.0" sound, but couldn't do it that way and don't regret being pushed into a receiver and satellite/sub setup. In my case, the alternative was to choose a TV that cost more and delivered a worse picture, just to get analog outputs. Would have left me with (ironically) worse sound, as that decoded center channel with a dedicated speaker is like gold.

Readers may want to know that the original A5 model has been heavily discounted in several places online to make room for the updated model you got. Thanks for the review, AudioEngine's praises should be sung, and they are good folks as well.

I've always been a fan of B&W (Bowers Wilkins)speakers. I've downsized from a five B&W speaker set up to just one, a B&W Zeppelin, which is actually a docking station. I run my TV through it and while it's no match for what I had, it's a massive improvement over my TV

Years ago I purchased a 5.1 set of flat panel NXT speakers from Mission. They've proven to be good home theater speakers as the NXT technology isn't as sensitive to placement and directionality as traditional cone drivers. In other words, they fill the room with sound and the sweet spot isn't restricted to a single seat or small couch.

Alas, the audio market seems as conservative as the photography market and NXT never really took off. Cones and magnets continue to be refined and will be hard to supplant.

The lack of grills may be fatal; which is too bad, since I'm kind of looking for some better speakers than what's built into the TV currently. I worry about dust and cat hair, and a little bit about the cats directly killing the cones (I've lost several speakers that way in the past).

I'm not clear on the need for the remote control. Normally that's a pre-amp function, and that's in the TV.

I'll have to keep these in mind if I ever have the money for nice speakers for my kitchen (I like to listen to classical music while I cook). I love old things so I've always thought I'd get some 70s stuff like a Sansui or whatever. But my knowledge of stereo equipment is limited to knowing that I like warm sounds but I've never even seen or heard something with tubes in person. I have no idea why you'd need a preamp and an amp or what exactly they do for you. And don't speaker cones where out or dry rot after many years? I'd ask for Mike's opinion on vintage equipment but that would just elevate prices for a long time. I'm not even sure why I'm rambling on here other than my work is boring right now.

I hoped you were going to write these up.

I just got a pair myself and they are excellent.

FWIW, I wanted the remote control on the volume because the remote on my TV does not affect the levels of the analog stereo out. So the only way to adjust the speaker levels is on the speaker or with the remote.

"And don't speaker cones where out or dry rot after many years?"

The foam edge suspensions, not cones, in many older woofers (including the AR3as Mike once owned) disintegrate after many years. Among other things Roy Allison improved after leaving AR to form Allison Acoustics and developing his own products was exactly that. Woofer suspensions on my Allison CD 9s are butyl rubber. After 25+ years, they're in perfect shape.

Mike---
Good choice. I've been using a set of A5s on my computer for the last few years. I spoke to the folks at Audioengine and they said that what you have should sound identical.

Which is why I bought a Bang & Olufsen Television. Seriously good sound. And engineered so well that it lasts and lasts. Looks good too. I don't want to see an ugly Asian clutter every day in my house. Photographers are pained by ugliness; at least my kind of photographer. The price tag seems high but if you take the long view it is worth it. Goff

Hi Mike,

Always enjoy your "off topic" columns on audio gear. I am a long time (too long!) audiophile - back to the days of Heathkits and Dynakits, although lately it's more time with music and less with equipment. I have an external DAC in my main system, and wanted to plug a Canadian company that makes DACs of various prices and features. It's called Hot Audio, in Winnipeg, and I have a "WOW" DAC (not necessarily the most confidence-inspiring product naming convention). Here is their site - actually it's one guy (Dave Smith) who makes all the DACs himself by hand. Here is their link "http://www.hotaudio.com". I play uncompressed digital files (FLAC or M4a format) through the DAC (via USB) to a NAD 355BEE amp/JMLab Focal 706s satellites/Martin Logan Dynamo sub system. Small room system but sounds very good. The player on the PC is foobar2000/WASAPI combo that bypasses any digital manipulation that Window 7 would normally do - so the digital signal is untouched from source to DAC. The only cursory sound comparison I've done is to RIP a good quality CD to FLAC and then compare the CD (played on a Marantz CD-63SE) to the FLAC version - no obvious differences (I didn't agonize any further ...).
Your column is a daily read, Mike - keep up the interesting stuff, regardless of the topic.

Gary

Fun to see this here; I went through a similar quest for TV speakers a few months ago, that was partly due to insane apartment neighbors complaining about noise from my old speakers (a shelf system), and ended up with A5s. The neighbors weren't pacified, sadly (A5 speakers are very powerful for a small room/apartment). I spent weeks researching sound before reading audiophile arguments almost drove me mad, and there were a lot of "anti-A5" people around. Oh well, I bought them, they're awesome. My only gripe is that they don't "like" being used at low volume, so I often have to lower the volume from the source/TV to keep the volume civilized.

It's hard to imagine a system I'd enjoy more than these puppies for cramped apartment life. A week ago I watched "Jurassic Park" on blu-ray with the A5s fired up, and WOW, even without a subwoofer the sound was phenomenal. Felt like the T-Rex was standing right in front of me.

As t. Thomas Hardie did and now that you have Wi-Fi, you should try hook up an Airport Express to these speakers. You'll enjoy one-button streaming from your iPhones. Extremelly convenient if you have some music in your phone.

Malcolm, the reason most people diss classic Klipsch is they sounded like crap, generally. They were efficient but horrendously colored sonically. The idea of horns is excellent and a well done horn system can equal or beat any other technology in my opinion (particularly in dynamics) however a well done horn system is probably the hardest type of speaker to get right. Klipsch, with their 10-15" woofer mated to a honky compression driver (and maybe edgy supertweet) was not the right way to do a horn.

Mike, tell us about your "big" system as it may give additional perspectives into your tastes as far as music reproduction. That would help flesh out the A5+ review, in my opinion, which is otherwise in a bit of a vacuum.

Speaking of AR, the ARs to have were the AR-1, which used a (war-surplus?, presumably) Western Electric fullrange driver, 728B I think, a superb driver even by today's standards, and which still fetch insane amounts of $.

I believe in a post long ago you recommended upgrading the power supply of a Firestone DAC. Do you recommend that for any DAC?

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