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Audioengine 5 review: Audioengine 5

Audioengine 5

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
5 min read

Editors' note (February 21, 2012): The speakers reviewed here have been replaced by the newer Audioengine 5+ speakers.

The Good

The powered Audioengine 5 speakers deliver phenomenal sound and offer simple, attractive styling. They feature two audio inputs and two integrated charging options (one USB port, one AC plug). Speaker wire connections mean that you can optimize stereo separation.

The Bad

The speakers aren't cheap, and many will find them to be too large and bulky compared with PC speakers. There's no remote control, and no way to toggle between inputs.

The Bottom Line

You'd be hard-pressed to find a pair of powered stereo speakers at this price point that sounds better--and offer more flexibility--than the Audioengine 5s.

We've been a little tardy in reviewing Audioengine's PC speakers, but we're glad we finally got our hands on both the 5 series ($325) reviewed here and the step-down Audioengine 2 series ($199) because they really are quite impressive.

The key thing to note about both sets of speakers is that they are bookshelf-style speakers masquerading as PC or "multimedia" speakers (as these things are apt to be labeled). But unlike classic bookshelf speakers, these Audioengine models are powered (via a standard AC plug); there's no need for a separate receiver or amplifier, so you can use them with any audio source. The larger 5 series is the more industrial-looking (read: less stylish) of the two models and appears to share some heritage with monitor speakers you'd find in a recording studio. It's available in either black or white, as are the 2s. There's also a bamboo version of the 5 series that costs $449.

The Audioengine 5 speakers measure 10 inches high by 7 inches wide by 7.9 inches deep. They each have a 5-inch Kevlar woofer and a 20mm silk dome tweeter. Because the left speaker houses the amplifier (50 watts per channel), it's heavier than the right speaker. Unlike the 2s, which are ported on the front, the 5s are ported on the rear.

It's worth noting that both the 2 and 5 series Audioengine speakers come nicely packaged, with cloth covers over the speakers and cables. The left and right speakers connect to each other with "real" speaker wire (included) and you also get an input cable that allows you to connect your PC to the 3.5mm aux input on the back of the left speaker. The use of standard cables means that--unlike some speakers with proprietary connections and cables--you can invest in custom-length cables that are as long or as short as you'd like.

What's most unique about the Audioengine 5 speakers is the 3.5mm aux input on top of the left speaker that sits next to a USB port. To be clear, the USB port is only for power, not for reading audio files; it also doesn't allow pass-through syncing to PCs. But that combination of USB power-plus-audio input allows you to charge your iPod/iPhone with a USB cable while you're listening to your music. And though the cables make it a bit less appealing to the eye than a standard iPod dock, the combo is far more universal in its compatibility: you can charge 'n' play any USB-powered audio device, including a wide array of non-Apple music phones and media players.

The USB power and audio input on the left speaker's top side make for easy portable player hookups.

It gets even better: the second 3.5mm input on the left speaker's backside is located near a full-on AC power jack. Audioengine touts the fact that you can plug an Apple AirPort Express directly into the outlet, turning the speakers into an iTunes streamer (via Apple's AirTunes functionality). Of course, that outlet can also power any other audio source--anything from a Sonos or Squeezebox streamer to a CD player.

Note that you can't toggle between inputs; both are always active. That's either going to be a feature (say, the ability to listen to music from an iPod while being able to hear the bleeping and blooping from your PC) or a bug (the constant need to mute one audio source while listening to the other), depending on your point of view.

The rear of the left speaker includes a second audio input and an AC power port.

Speaking of controls: no remote is included, and we should point out that the volume control button is on the front of the left speaker. Unlike with the 2s, that volume knob doesn't double as the power switch; there's a separate power toggle on the back of the speaker. However, Audioengine has equipped the 5s with an autosleep power-save mode that kicks in after about 10 minutes when no audio passes through the speakers. That said, some people have complained that the speakers make a sound when the power-save mode kicks in--and it can be fairly loud if you have your volume up high--which you may find annoying.

Also of note: though the Audioengines aren't technically "certified for iPhone," they are magnetically shielded. We didn't experience any GSM interference from the iPhone (those annoying clicks and buzzes that can afflict nonshielded speakers), even when we left it directly on top.

Audioengine sells some accessories, including the S8 subwoofer ($350) and a couple of wireless adapters (the W1 and W2) for its speaker line. The subwoofer connects via the red/white RCA stereo outputs on the left speaker's backside. It would obviously allow you to get more bass and even richer sound, but the appeal of these speakers is that you can really do without the sub.

It's hard to quantify just how much better the Audioengine 5s sound than the Audioengine 2s, but they definitely deliver bigger, richer sound with deep, tight bass, and excellent clarity--and they play very loud. With higher-end PC speakers you just get fuller, smoother sound that has that much more detail, and when you listen to these guys, you start to hear stuff (i.e., individual instruments) in your music that you weren't aware was there. They easily best more-expensive iPod speakers out there, including those from Bose and B&W, which retail in some cases for twice as much.

When we review PC speakers, we like to throw an eclectic mix of music at them, as well as a couple of action movie and games (usually a first-person shooter or two). We also like to do a little jury testing, and for this review, we pulled in Steve Guttenberg, who reviews home theater speakers for CNET and had previously praised the Audioengine 2s and the Audioengine P4s (unpowered, passive bookshelf speakers) in his Audiophiliac blog. Steve thought the Audioengine 5s sounded great and were clearly superior to the 2s, but he liked the 2s for their smaller footprint, sleeker look, and more affordable price tag.

It's true: For some, this model will just seem too bulky to leave sitting on a desk. They truly are bookshelf speakers with--as we said--a more industrial, monitor flair to them. However, the bottom line here is that you're going to be hard-pressed to find a 2.0 system that sounds better, particularly at this price point, and that has the 5s' connectivity options. Yes, we could quibble about there not being an integrated iPod dock and remote, but in the end, the extra input and USB port on top of the speaker, combined with the speakers' exceptional sound, make the Audioengine 5s worthy of an Editors' Choice award.


Audioengine 5

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9