Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Audioengine A5+ vs. Emotiva Airmotiv 5

An atypical post on my part but indirectly related to photography since many of us listen to music while editing. I wanted to upgrade my sound setup in the office and auditioned the Audioengine A5+ and Emotiva Airmotiv 5.

Here's the setup:

MacBook Pro
TOSLINK to Mini cable
Schiit Bifrost DAC "Uber board"
RCA output

Audioengine A5+
- Loved these speakers and it was so close between the Airmotiv 5 and these speakers.
- Can go stupid loud so easily. So much power.
- Not finicky about placement at all. Can practically aim them willy nilly and they sound amazing.
- Big soundstage.
- Great imaging.
- Warm/Sweet tone and a full sounding mid-range.
- Only one power cable necessary.
- Volume adjustment on the front adjusts both sides simultaneously at equal power levels.
- Great looking bamboo wood treatment (optional).

- Not as neutral as the Airmotiv 5. Has a little more "coloring" towards the warm side and more robust sounding mid-range.
- Mid-range not as clear as the Airmotiv 5 and sometimes murky with male vocals that sounded a bit thick.
- Other reviewers said that these speakers really wanted to just "party" all the time. I did find the bass to be a smidge on the heavy side but not overwhelming at all. I can understand that perspective considering the speakers need to be turned down considerably for 95% of normal listening.
- One side is active and the other side is passive.
- Lacks clarity compared to the Emotiva Airmotiv 5.

Emotiva Airmotiv 5
- Kept these speakers.
- Clarity and detail are amazing. Clarity of the speakers aren't overwhelming or tiring to listen to. Ribbon tweeters aren't too bright.
- Extremely neutral. Less coloring than the Audioengine A5+. More accurate as a studio monitor.
- Ribbon tweeter makes for such clear high frequency. Male and especially female vocals are vibrant and detailed.
- Each speaker is identical. Individual power cords and inputs. There's no differentiation left from right.
- Good imaging depending on speaker placement.
- More than enough power to fill a small room.

- Bass/Bottom end isn't as strong or as full as the Audioengine A5+.
- Placement is very finicky.
- Imaging depends heavily on placement.
- Soundstage does not feel as big as the Audioengine A5+.
- Hard to adjust power levels on both speakers to identical levels because of individual dials.
- Kind of boring industrial vinyl treatment.
- 2 power cables means needing 2 power outlets and 1 additional power cord running around the desktop.

So why keep the Airmotiv 5 and return the Audioengine A5+? It comes down to preference. There's no "right answer". It all depends on what you like and what you need these speakers to do. After hearing the Emotiv Airmotiv 5, I couldn't go back to the Audioengine A5+. There were some songs where the contrast between the two in terms of clarity was too stark. The Airmotiv 5 just had a level of detail and clarity on the upper register that the A5+ lacked. In addition, I firmly believe that the Airmotiv 5 are more neutral and thus more suitable across the board whereas the A5+ have a little more "coloring". Therefore some tracks sound good on the A5+ but others sound murky and bottom-heavy. On the other hand I really miss the A5+'s big sound stage and imaging and terribly easy speaker placement. But since for me, vocals and jazz are the type of music I use to compare the speakers, it was ultimately a matter of having speakers that really delivered a clear and neutral tone. At the end of the day it was a very close race. I could have kept either and been very happy with them. But stylistically the Airmotiv 5 are a better fit with my personality. Industrial but effective.

Your mileage may vary. They really are different speakers. If you like lots of bass and listen to your music loud, I think the Audioengine A5+ might be the ticket.


  1. This is completely different than what you're looking for in your setup but since I get so much good photo advice from you I thought I'd share some in return from my profession, audio engineering. If you want to be truly amazed with a small monitor check out the Spiral Groove Studio One (or its predecessor the Sonics by Joachim Gerhard Anima). Complete overkill for your purpose but the best speaker I've heard in terms of clarity and hearing inside the music, it's shown me things in mixes I couldn't believe.

  2. Thanks for the advice Bhubba! I'll check it out :)

  3. and an order or magnitude more expensive