Pros: Incredible sound. Excellent finish and build quality
I recently bought a pair of Aktimate Minis and tested them against the Audioengine A5s which I also own.
I've put together the review below for anyone wanting a comparison between these two popular speakers. I haven't bothered including photos or specifications because these can easily be found via a Google search. Instead I've focused on how the Minis sound compared to the A5s. Hopefully someone finds it helpful.
I've been a happy Audioengine A5 owner for the past few years. They've sounded great being fed from an Auzen Forte sound card for music and games, and a Panasonic DVD-S97 for movies and cds. Recently my Forte threw a sound card tanty and decided to stop working, so I replaced it with a Xonar D2 that I picked up on eBay for $90. Great card by the way.
I was browsing eBay recently and came across a pair of ex-demo Aktimate Minis for $330 delivered. I thought about it for a few days, and after being assured by the seller they were in perfect condition, decided to take the plunge and see what all the fuss was about.
I'm no audiophile (or any other word ending in phile ) but I’ve always been fussy about sound quality. I also realise that in the world of audio, there’s always a ‘sweet spot’ in terms of cost versus performance, and that beyond a certain price point, the law of diminishing returns becomes apparent.
Testing was fairly simple. I didn’t perform any double-blind ABX tests or any such wankery. I simply setup both pairs of speakers side-by-side, matched their volumes as closely as I could and then threw a bunch of source material at them (swapping between speakers as quickly as I could) via a number of sources, including the Xonar D2 sound card, Sony NWZ series mp3 player, and the highly regarded Panasonic DVD-S97 dvd player.
In a word, excellent. The Minis’ cabinets are solid and the piano gloss white finish is superb - photos don't do it justice. In fact photos made them appear somewhat plasticy and cheap but they’re actually quite attractive in the flesh. I'd put the Minis and A5s on par for build quality, both offering excellent construction and finish at this price point. The Minis are roughly the same width as the A5s but are noticeably taller. The amp is designed by Mike Creek of Creek Audio, and speakers are courtesy of British based loudspeaker manufacturer, Epos. Quality stuff under the hood indeed.
One minor annoyance with the Audioengine A5s is that they don’t appear to accept a standard size banana plug for speaker wire, meaning I can’t use my home-made speaker cables with them, instead having to use the supplied speaker wire. The Minis on the other hand do accept a standard banana plug. I'm sure the A5’s supplied speaker wire drives them just fine but being able to use my own speaker cables with the Minis is nice, even if only for the placebo effect it probably brings.
Another slightly more annoying ‘feature’ of the A5s is the pop the amp makes when turning them off. Turning the volume down and unplugging the source from the active speaker doesn’t prevent this from happening. I'm not sure it does any damage to the speakers, but it's still an unpleasant sound. Conversely, the Minis don't pop at all when turning them off.
So they look good and use quality components but how do they sound? Amazing. The Aktimates exceeded my expectations the moment I turned them on. I set them up right next to my A5s and AB tested them using the same source and the same material, including Dave Mathews Band, Metallica, John Mayer, Lady Gaga, Jeff Buckley, Sting, Eminem and Paul Oakenfold to name a few.
I thought the A5s bass was impressive but the Minis seem to have the same quantity of bass, but trump the A5s with quality. Initially I thought the Minis didn't extend as low as the A5s but I quickly realised the added clarity in the bottom end was confusing my ears into thinking there was less bass. The A5s have a mid-bass hump that can makes the low end feel a little uncontrolled and harder to distinguish bass notes.
The Minis don’t seem to emphasis bass, but rather reproduce what the engineer intended. So where a recording is a little thin on bass, that’s how they sound. Conversely, where a recording sounds thick and weighty, that’s how the Minis sound.
I'm perfectly satisfied with the Minis’ bass and for now, have no desire to add a sub. Even hip hop and dance music sounds weighty with plenty of impact and little hint of distortion, even at louder volumes. However If the Minis were relegated to a larger room as main speakers in a home theatre setup, or my preferred genre of music was hip hop or dance, I’d be inclined to add a sub.
The Minis’ mids are just ‘right’ – not recessed and not forward. Vocals sound clear and natural, sitting well in the mix. Guitars sound tight and full with plenty of crunch, and drums sound tight and punchy, with snare drums sounding natural and with plenty of crack. I tend to focus on drum sounds when listening to music because I’m a ‘professional’ drummer (I get paid to play in a band). I digress.
Voices in movies are crystal clear and sound very natural. A direct comparison left me feeling that voices sound a little nasal through the A5s and I often found myself EQ’ing the mids on my PC to make voices a little easier to hear.
On paper, the A5s appear technically superior to the minis with their silk dome tweeter, but after extensively AB testing the two, I found the A5's treble to be a little too rolled-off for my tastes and often resorted to EQ'ing the higher frequencies to compensate. The tweeter on the Minis is one of their most impressive features. The highs are crystal clear without being forward or sibilant. Cymbals sound explosive, detailed and realistic, and well produced pop music such as Lady Gaga, sounds amazing with all the intricate layered synth sounds. Overall I feel the Minis have clearer and more detailed treble than the A5s.
Integration between the Minis’ 5.25" Epos driver and 1" aluminium tweeter is flawless. No one frequency stands out or appears to be enhanced significantly. The sound is very smooth and “Hi-Fi”, or as I prefer to describe it, musical. No matter what you throw at them – Rock, Hip Hop, Dance music, movies or games, the Minis are an enjoyable listen. I once owned a pair of Monitor Audio RS1 bookshelf speakers (nearly $1000) and a Rotel stereo amp (around $500 second hand), and the Minis sound more musical and more engaging.
Make no mistake, the A5s are a good speaker and represent excellent value for money. I was happy with them for several years. However after having had the opportunity to compare them back-to-back with the Minis, to my ears the Minis are better in every way. I’ve therefore decided to keep the Minis and sell the A5s.
The Minis sound so good that I can’t really imagine anything sounding better, without having to spend significantly more than their retail price *cough* diminishing returns. They really do represent incredible value.
If you are on the fence about buying these speakers, jump. Life is short. Sacrifice that morning latte and start drinking instant. Stretch your haircuts out to every 3 months. Sell naked photos of your girlfriend on the internet – do what you have to. Simply put, if you can afford them, buy them.