Audioengine, as a company, fits into an interesting place in the market. It manages to make products that are consistent with mainstream standards while still trying to keep to an audiophile quality.
The B2 is one such product, offering a high-end look and feel, but in an affordable package powered with Bluetooth. For the price, size, and connectivity options, the B2 is a smash hit. However, a cheap 3.5mm jack and issues with placement hold it back just a bit.
Audioengine B4 Specifications
|Type||Powered Bluetooth speaker|
|Amplifier Type||Dual class AB monolithic|
|Power Output||60W peak total|
|Drivers||2x 2.75” Kevlar woofers, 2x 3/4“ Silk dome tweeters|
|Input Impedance||10k ohms|
Design and Build Quality
Like all Audioengine products, the design and build are stands on their own. Each of the three finishes looks beautiful in its own right, with checkered Kevlar cones to accent.
You can purchase the speaker in Walnut, Black Ash, or Zebrawood finishes. The hand-built wooden cabinet has a feel of its own, adding a personalized touch to each speaker. It’s a marvel at the price point.
Two straight lines bisect the speaker to add some porting. This is one of the few cases where engineering plays a role in both sound and aesthetics. If you would like to cover it up, which you shouldn’t, Audioengine includes a magnetic grille. It’s silver, a thankful departure from many audio products, and transforms the standout speaker into something you’d expect from Bose.
The back is clean as well. You’ll find the 3.5mm input, a power/pair switch, volume, and a Bluetooth antenna. The antenna is external which may help with pairing distance (though there’s no certainty), it otherwise sticks out like a beacon on top of the speaker and should be reserved to a diagonal decline hidden behind.
In the same area is the other misstep with the speaker. The 3.5mm jack is cheap. That’s not a complaint, but more of an observation. Many entries and exits will weaken the jack over time and it may break. Still, I’m thankful Audioengine chose to cut in this area and not others.
Other than that, it’s hard to find a flaw with the B2. The look of each finish is beautiful, and the removable grille changes the look of the speaker completely (in a good way). The attention to detail in the handbuilt cabinet is exceptional at the price, making this area a big win for the speaker.
There isn’t much to the B2 and that’s the beauty of it. The feature set is focused on excellent audio performance over Bluetooth and it excels at that.
Audioengine achieves the sound with Qualcomm aptX. This is nothing near for Bluetooth-enabled devices, but a welcome inclusion. As audio is transmitted wirelessly, the bit rate needs to be reduced. aptX takes that reduced audio and replicates the frequency spectrum that would come from a full piece of audio.
It isn’t the same as using mega-expensive shielded cables to playback FLAC files, but it is a considerable improvement for Bluetooth audio. For many streaming off Spotify or using mp3s, it’s like you’re plugged directly in.
One notable addition to clean up the speaker is the built-in power supply. While it adds a considerable amount of weight, it clears up floor space as well. A single dual-pin plug is all that it needs to get up and running.
While not pertinent to the sound, Audioengine also includes a microfiber bag for the speaker. This small addition goes a long way. It’s not the best bag, but it is a way to carry the speaker around and keep it somewhat protected. Small things like this show the attention to detail.
The feature list is small, but it really doesn’t need to be massive. An improvement Audioengine could include in the future is some sort of controller so you need not reach around the back to adjust the volume. Still, most controls are on the device connected anyway, it’s a small improvement at best.
Despite how great everything else is, it’s not a match for the sound of this speaker. This is the best Bluetooth speaker I’ve heard at the price, producing audio that would be expected from a speaker at twice its size and price.
The balance between frequencies works really well, not getting too boomy or too brittle when listening on-axis. It’s surprising and will improve with the audio source fed to it. You can hear improvements from an mp3 to a ripped CD.
However, the size runs into issues with placement. Unlike many Bluetooth speakers, the sound is forced towards the front. That means you will get a different picture of the audio if you’re slightly off-axis.
The speaker loses the top-end. This can easily be solved by moving in front of it, but another issue comes up in placement. The small rubber feet aren’t enough to isolate the speaker from the surface it’s on, so bass will carry over. This can lead to a slightly more inflated low-end than what would be expected.
Decoupling the surface is the best way to go. This small change does wonders for the speaker. The sound opens up, with a clear top-end and responsive bass that manages punch while not interfering with the rest of the sound.
The B2 is exceptional at what it accomplishes at the price. The sound would be expected from something much more expensive, and the small package adds an extra layer of value. If you want one of the best Bluetooth speakers at the price, then it’s hard to beat the B2.
There is very little to fault the B2 with. The beautiful build, minimalist features, and exceptional sound make this speaker a fantastic value, even at a higher price point. Issues with a cheap 3.5mm jack and placement are disappointing but easily overcome.
If you want a Bluetooth speaker that has the looks and sound of something high-end, then pick up an Audioengine B2.
Alternatives to Consider
Klipsch The One – $299.99
Klipsch makes some of the best speakers money can buy in my humble opinion and The One is no exception to that. At a slightly higher price point, this speaker has a fantastic sound and look that is unique to itself.
The mid-century design juxtaposes with Bluetooth 4.0 capability and a built-in battery. A single charge grants eight hours of playback, which is a big improvement over the B2. Combine that with a 360-degree audio design and The One may be the only One for you.
Libratone ZIPP Portable – $225.99
If you favor practicality over aesthetics, then the ZIPP portable is a great option. The speaker features a cylindrical tower design in a variety of colors, focused more on mobility and less on looks.
A 10-hour battery powers playback via WiFi or Bluetooth. The inclusion of WiFi greatly increases the range in which the speaker can operate and pairing up to six of the speakers together is a perfect solution for listening outdoors.
The small package includes the big sound, with compatibility for just about anything imaginable, including Alex, Spotify, and more. If you want functionality and portability, then this is the speaker for you.
Bowers & Wilkins T7 – $349.95
Bowers & Wilkins is another brand, like Klipsch, that makes audio pieces with a great design and sound to match. The T7 has a look all its own, not easily compared to anything. The honeycomb grille grabs around the body, creating a look that I’ve never seen before.
Bass radiators sit on both sides of the speaker, projecting the sound out. It’s a costly Bluetooth speaker, but one that pays dividends in sound. If you like any other Bowers & Wilkins’ products, then you’ll likely enjoy this one as well.