The best desktop speakers, ever

Audio Engine Speakers

Everyone’s lamenting the decline of proper stereo equipment. Teens are losing their hearing to their tinny iPod earbuds and nobody knows what non-compressed music sounds like anymore.

People don’t buy stereos these days — listening to music in one’s living room has become part of an overall surround sound home entertainment setup that comprises a tv, five or seven speakers and a subwoofer. All music destined for commercial success is now mixed with such high compression (to grab attention on the radio and compensate for the poor quality listening devices that are so prevalent) that it’s lost all nuances and dynamics. There’s actually a movement to reduce the amount of compression applied to recorded music.

And yet, in our era of the long tail and tech entrepreneurship, there’s more and more excellent, affordable audio equipment available, mostly made in China to exacting specifications from US or European engineers and sold on the web or through smaller retailers. As with everything these days, Google and niche sites are your friend — as long as you know what you’re looking for, chances are you will find it at a price point that works for you.

The quest for ever-better audio equipment never ends, truth be told. The scale has an unlimited top end of course, and — given enough money — it could always be just a little better. I’m never not thinking about it (like any good nerd).

I listen to a lot of music while working in my home office.

Recently, I found what I think are the best desktop speakers I’ve ever heard. They’re made by a company called Audio Engine and cost only around $200 (a remarkable feat given that Bose charges twice as much money for what are essentially two plastic boxes with artificially enhanced bass and the most horribly coloured sound you can imagine).

The Audio Engine A2 speakers come in two kinds of black (glossy or matte) and white. They’re small, heavy and quite beautiful. They have Kevlar woofers and silk tweeters. And — after about a week of burn-in, which all good audio equipment requires — they sound simply extraordinary. The built-in power amplifier (in the left speaker) produces ample power to fill a room, and if you’re sitting right in front of them (using a near-field monitoring setup in a typical computer application) they can be quite overwhelming even at low volumes.

More Audio Engine speakersThey have excellent bass, focused mids, and trebles that are never sharp or uncomfortable, regardless of what kind of music you play. The A2s also have great depth of field and sound stage. Even coupled with a better-than-average, yet still quite flawed external sound card/DAC such as my trusty old M-Audio Audiophile USB, they sound briliant — musical and coherent regardless of musical style. Even complex orchestral music doesn’t overwhelm these tiny wonders.

Audio Engine sells a set of little rubber pedestals that tilt the speakers slightly backwards and bring them inline with the incline of your monitor.

I’ve replaced the cables that came in the Audio Engine box with my own — I’m using a decent-ish pair of Monster interconnects plus some leftover Totem Tress, a fantastic speaker cable made by Totem, who make the speakers I use in my main stereo, to connect the amplified left hand side to the unamplified right.

I cannot recommend these speakers enough.

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Listening to: Bach, Weihnachtsoratorium (Harnoncourt)
Listening to: Beverley Knight
Best new music of 2011

7 Responses to The best desktop speakers, ever

  1. Johann Visagie August 23, 2010 at 2:44 am #

    Man, those first two paragraphs resonated. I can never get ranted-out about those topics.

    These speakers sound worth investigating. Unfortunately I don’t really have any space for desktop speakers in my current environment/routine, but I’ll keep this in mind…

  2. kathy November 23, 2010 at 6:20 am #

    comparing anything to bose is certainly a seriously poor choice , unless that is you very little about the audio industry
    thr audiogene 5 would be a better choice
    but have read about reliability issues on forums
    if you were an audiophile you might spend big doe on the the mx-15 to get really good sound
    but you did say affordable

  3. Sam December 13, 2010 at 2:19 am #

    Lots of raves are going around for Aktimate Minis. Several 5-star reviews. Amplification by Creek Audio, speakers by Eos. from Epoz (the Australian arm of the company). Anyone have experience with these??

  4. sondra May 7, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

    Oh! you are so right about a time of the past of buying home systems

    I used to upgrade every 2 yrs my amp, , ect. then suddenly..it all changed.

    So now it;s all about my computer and it’s sound and watching TV through my monitor and listening to music while on the computer.

    But the problem with all this is , YOu were right…no quality sound anymore,.
    It’s like the new singers of the day..They can’t sing.
    like the old singers from the pre 60 thru the 80′s…true singer sound good.

  5. Mobilekeith May 22, 2011 at 3:06 am #

    I like the way you think and hear!!!  I’ll look into these.  It sure is hard to find some solid desktop speakers.  Thanks for the post!

    Kathy – I think we all get that Bose is underwhelming…   My take-away from the Bose reference in the article is that companies like Bose are corrupting the market with poor quality product and market it as “the best” to those (the vast majority of consumers) that just don’t digest or crave the sound waves we appreciate, thus making it hard to find quality desktop speakers..  I don’t think this is a contest to see who has a better ear.  Maybe I read into your comment wrong and you were just saying “Amen!”

  6. RBoyd July 12, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    I purchased these speakers about a month ago and have been amazed at the quality of sound coming from these tiny boxes.

    I am a hard core audiophile that is in the process of building a new system and wanted something to play with while I save coin. These units will satisfy even hi end buffs. They are that good. I took them and set them where my main system used to be and the sound was quite good in my room. I highly recommend these speakers to anyone looking for good sound for their desktop system. I do used them with the HRT iStreamer and Streamer II.

  7. Louis February 21, 2013 at 2:55 am #

    I love this article. I am an audiophile and listen to a wide range of music. I am currently rebuilding my audio system and going from home theater 5.1 back to 2 channel. I just sold a Rotel integrated amplifier and some Energy speakers. It was an awesome sounding system. Right now these two little computer speakers sound like they would be great, while I try to save some money before purchasing a new stereo system.

    I spend most of my time on my PC anyway. I am studying to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in IT with emphasis on Web Design. I love developing web pages and learning and playing on my computer. I hope these speakers will bring some great excitement to my desk.

    Oh yeah Bose….hahahahahha….and everyone says wow they sound so clear. As if clear (but unnatural) sound is hard to reproduce (in 2013).

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