In our review of Audioengine's AW1 wireless audio adapter, we tipped our hand a bit: our interest in Audioengine's products started with the idea of setting up wireless surround channels. Let's face it: nobody likes fugly wires running along the baseboards, pulling wires through the attic (when it's even an option) is a hassle and carrying wires through crown-moulding isn't exactly plug-and-play, either. For rear-channel purposes, pairing the AW1 along with active speakers makes sense, especially if you're trying to minimize the aesthetic downside of your audio setup. Putting a whole separate receiver in the back of the room is no way to go, and even a small zone amplifier is just another box you're going to have to hide. As luck would have it, Audioengine has a small active speaker, the A2, that fits the bill. Much like the AW1, however, the A2 had some surprises for us.
The first impression with a product is important -- look no further than the popularity of "unboxing" coverage. But especially with budget-priced gear (like the $199 A2s), it's an area that's often relaxed. The A2 box is definitely designed to help it stand out on a stocked shelf, but the speakers, cables and power supply are all packed in cloth drawstring bags. Good thing, too -- the glossy black finish on the review units is very attractive, but a fingerprint magnet (you can get them in white as well). Don't worry about scratching up that gloss on the bottom -- there's foam padding. When you unpack the A2s, you definitely feel like you're getting treated to more than you paid for.
With a 2.7-inch Kevlar woofer, 0.75-inch silk dome tweeter, and 15-Watt amplifier, the A2 is intended to be used as a desktop multimedia speaker. It's a front slot-loaded design, and there are two always-on inputs: one RCA, one 3.5-mm. As you can see from the pics, these are pretty diminutive gems (6 x 4 x 5.25-inches); what the photos don't convey is how solid these feel, at about 4-pounds on each side (the left is a little heavier than the right because of the amp).
Surround channel performance
If you read our review of the AW1 wireless adapter, you know the punchline here. Used as surround-channels in our HT rig, the A2s performed without any complaint. These speakers are specced at +/- 2-dB from 65Hz - 22kHz, so they've got more than enough bandwidth to cover surround duties. More importantly, even though these are small speakers, we never heard dynamic compression in the surround mix; simply put, they don't sound small, which is a failing of many multimedia/desktop speakers.
Again, we can't overstate how much an active speaker is required for successful surround channels; if you have to put wireless, amplification and speakers across three separate components, you may as well pull wires from your receiver to the back.
In short, if you want or need to go wireless for your surround channels, we recommend checking out Audioengine's offerings. The ability to fit this setup in with just about any other components, ease of use and performance make a very nice solution.
General audio performance
Seriously, though, evaluating a speaker only as surround channel is just silly; if you want to know how a speaker performs, listen to it as a primary sound source. Audioengine told us that they made the A2 because they couldn't find any reasonably priced, powered desktop speakers, and then discovered that they work great for small to medium-sized rooms as well, with or without a subwoofer. To test the A2s out, we put them on our desk and fed them some lossless (FLAC and Apple Lossless) and lossy (256-kbps MP3) audio files.
Our immediate first impression was "wow." The rear channel mix was handled just fine by the A2s, but it simply didn't do them justice. We've heard lots of desktop speakers, and even when they sound good in that setting, we notice a huge step up when we go back to our living room system. It's not just the frequency response, but also a lack of compression. The A2s didn't suffer the same malady, and should be though of as "speakers that fit on your desktop" rather than "desktop speakers." We'd characterize the sound of them as rich as opposed to the lean and super-clean studio monitor kind of sound. There's quite a bit of midbass, but it's doesn't cross the line to being tubby and poorly-defined. The bass response was remarkable -- passersby always asked to see the requisite subwoofer box (there was none). We ran some test tones through the A2s and reached an honest 50Hz, albeit a bit attenuated. On the high end, things sounded good as well -- most importantly, things didn't get too "hot" in the upper registers, which we find very tiring.
We found ourselves moving the A2s throughout the house. With sound this good, this easy, it was a no-brainer to bring the A2s to where we wanted to listen to music. Want a good sounding alarm clock? Pair the A2s with an MP3 player's "alarm" option. Having a few friends over on the back patio? Move the A2s to the patio table and stream some music from your computer with the AW1. You get the picture.
In short, we really enjoyed our time with the A2s. Whether put to use as wireless rear surrounds or primary music speakers, they performed great. We think these are little beauties for their looks, sound quality and ease of use. Top it off with a three-year warranty and a 30-day trial period, and we can't help but recommend them. The A2s have really helped us enjoy the time we're "chained to the desk" a lot more.