Audioengine USA
Small on the outside, but big sound comes out of the Audioengine 5 powered speakers.
By Columnist
updated 8/1/2006 5:30:52 PM ET 2006-08-01T21:30:52

If you’re looking for a way for others to hear what’s on your iPod you have a few options.

You could pass your headphones around the room — not the best solution. Or you could attach the iPod to a set of speakers.

When it comes to iPod speakers there are a number of options out there.  But, none of them sound as good as the new Audioengine 5’s I’ve had the pleasure of auditioning.

Readers often ask me what kind of speakers they should buy for their iPod.  It's a tough question to answer.

If you crunch your music at as small files, 128KB or so, it doesn’t matter what speakers you buy.  Low resolution music files will sound the same on most speakers.

But, if you prefer your music files as Lossless or WAV files, you need a playback system worthy of the music.

The clever engineers at Audioengine seem to feel the same way.  They’ve developed a startlingly great sounding powered amplifier system for the iPod.

From a distance, the 5’s are very conventional looking.  They consist of a pair of similar looking bookshelf speakers dressed in a white finish, which matches the iPod look.

Each 10 by 7 by 7.75 inch enclosure has a 5-inch Kevlar woofer, a 20mm silk dome tweeter and cabinets made from very substantial, 1-inch thick MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard).  They're built like bricks.

Although they look alike, when you lift them you notice that the left speaker (14 pounds) is much heavier than the one that goes on the right (9 lbs.). That’s because the amplifiers for both channels (45 watts/ch.) are stuffed inside.

The Audioengine 5’s have an iPod dock of sorts on top of the left speaker.  There’s a USB port for charging your iPod and a mini-jack audio input for the sound. 

Audioengine USA
The rear panel of the left speaker - the speaker with the amplifiers inside - and all the connections on the outside.
On the left speaker’s back panel is the on-off switch, a speaker binding post (for the right channel), another mini-jack audio input and an aux AC outlet.  Think in terms of plugging in another device — maybe an Airport Express to create a self-contained wireless music distribution system in your home.

Set up was a breeze — took less than 10 minutes.  The set up guide is a hoot.  No high-tech gibberish — just easy to understand, helpful instructions.  I particularly like their Basic Troubleshooting section — which suggests one reason for a lack of bass output might be due to a possible blockage of a back panel port “by a rodent or jelly sandwich.”

The 5’s come with everything you need: all sorts of cables to connect a myriad of portable devices, a wire to attach the right channel speaker and a heavy-duty power cord. All the accessories come in a nifty, drawstring cable bag.  Each speaker is shipped in a similar protective bag. They come with a 3-year warranty.

The bottom line
How do they sound?  Much better than their $349 suggested retail price portends.  Given a good-sounding music source (well-ripped files, for instance) these speakers are worth their weight in gold.

The 5’s sound clear and accurate. The highs are smooth and clean. They produce terrific bass from such a small enclosure. Overall, they sound better than anything else in their price range. 

A number of manufacturers have similarly-priced systems for your iPod — including Apple. For the most part, they are portable, one-piece affairs.  It’s tough to design impressive stereo separation when both channels come from the same small enclosure.  I was able to physically separate the 5’s speakers about 10 feet apart. It makes a big difference.

These are meant to sit on a desktop but I was using them on an inexpensive set of speaker stands.  The 5’s overall sound rival a number of much more elaborate and expensive stereo systems I’ve heard in people’s homes.  If, for some reason, I had to be separated from my super-duper stereo for a period of time, I could happily live with a pair of Audioengine 5’s.

I see a trend starting here.  Well-priced, great-sounding hi-fi components.  With an inexpensive switching box (I found a few on the Web) you could choose between an iPod, a portable CD player, radio and more for the ultimate “portable” home hi-fi" system.

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