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Lifewire / Jordan Provost
Good sound quality
Built-in headphone amplifier
Bass and high end a bit lacking
The Audioengine HD3 speakers look expensive, but the built-in DAC, headphone amplifier, and Bluetooth connectivity give them great value for high-fidelity audio and multimedia.
When you go shopping for the best computer speakers, you’ll find plenty of options across every price range, but few stand out as much as the Audioengine HD3. The attractive wood finish aside, the speakers boast great sound quality and are packed with extras like Bluetooth and built-in audio processing. We tested these desktop speakers over the course of a week by listening to music, watching a couple of movies, and playing around with the Bluetooth settings and built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Read on to see if they warrant their high price.
Most speakers aren’t known for an attractive design. Well, with the Audioengine HD3, that’s not the case. The pair we reviewed is covered in a quaint 80’s-style Walnut finish with a classy metal strip accenting each speaker. It’s also available in a Satin Black, Cherry, or High Gloss White finish to suit any home aesthetic.
Measuring in at just 7 inches tall and 4 inches wide, you won’t have any trouble fitting these speakers on any desk. And because they weigh just 4 pounds and 3.4 pounds for the left and right speaker, respectively, the Audioengine HD3 is extremely portable, letting you take full advantage of their Bluetooth functionality.
The front of each speaker is covered by a magnetic mesh dust cover, hiding the drivers. On the bottom front side of each speaker is an air vent, that’ll pump out cool air while playing, which surprised us out at first, as the speakers were positioned behind our keyboard while we were writing.
The left speaker has all the buttons, dials and inputs, which consists of a volume wheel, a headphone jack that’s powered by an actual headphone amplifier, and a Bluetooth pairing button. Around the back, you get the power input, output to the right speaker, and RCA input and output to a subwoofer. That’s all pretty standard, but the main selling point here is the antenna for Bluetooth and the USB input which allows you to take advantage of the built-in DAC. The right speaker is virtually identical to the left, but limited to input from the left speaker.
When you go out shopping for computer speakers, you’re going to find a lot of sets that are good for general purpose use. By that, we mean that they’ll be good enough for music, gaming, movies or whatever you want to use them, without excelling at any one thing in particular.
The Audioengine HD3 speakers, however, are obviously meant for music. This comes down to the bass. The HD3 feature 2.75-inch silk woofers, so while the bass is definitely audible, it doesn’t take center stage. The mids and highs are the stars of the show here, thanks to the 0.75-inch tweeters. However, some of the highest highs tend to get lost during busy music.
The Bluetooth connectivity, built-in DAC, and solid sound quality add up to a pretty compelling product.
While we were testing these speakers, we listened to all different kinds of music, from the bass-heavy chaos of M.I.A.’s “Come Walk With Me” to Mozart’s “Requiem” to Sufjan Stevens’ “Futile Devices”. Everything sounded good, but Sufjan and Mozart stole the show, thanks to their less aggressive instrumentation.
In the Sufjan Stevens track, the piano, guitar, and banjo are all distinctly audible, and command the same presence, with Stevens’ voice floating above the rest. These speakers make this gorgeous Indie Folk track come alive. During “Dies Irae”, near the beginning of Mozart’s “Requiem”, the massive choral vocals stole the show, obviously, but we noticed that some of the fainter violins got buried in the background.
During the M.I.A. track, however, the HD3 speakers faltered the most. The bass in this track that typically shakes a room sounded almost flat with these speakers. If you’re buying the HD3 for music, which is their targeted use, you’re going to want to pair them with a subwoofer if you plan to listen to any bass-heavy music. In fact, we’d recommend pairing them with a subwoofer no matter what kind of music you plan on listening to.
Beyond music, these speakers will get the job done. While watching the trailer for “Avengers: Endgame” for the 50th time, the music and effects certainly hit as they should, but again, the low-end was a bit lacking. That moment when Stormbreaker hits Thor’s hand didn’t quite have the same impact as when we saw the trailer in theaters.
While playing The Division 2, we noticed that the ambient noises of post-apocalyptic Washington DC came alive, really immersing us in the world. That said, once we got into combat, the kick of our sniper rifle and the explosions of our grenades didn’t have the same punch as with our gaming headset.
However, before you write these speakers off for their lack of booming bass, you should keep in mind that they’re incredibly small. Yes, you can get bookshelf speakers with better bass, but they’re going to take up significantly more room than the Audioengine HD3. You have to take into consideration what you need the speakers for, and the amount of room you have.
The major selling point of the Audioengine HD3 is the inclusion of a built-in DAC. Typically a good DAC can run you around $150 to $200, and can completely change the way you listen to your music. And, we’re happy to say that the DAC in the Audioengine HD3 is a good DAC. Plus, the fact that it also acts as a headphone amplifier that’s able to power even the most intense headphones is a major benefit for people with more premium cans.
The DAC is accessible through either the USB or Bluetooth inputs, and is rated at 24-bits, the same as our $169 Audioengine D1 DAC. This is an incredible value, and more than makes up for any shortfalls in bass or lows.
If you want to listen to Hi-Fi audio, and you don’t want to drop hundreds of dollars on an audiophile setup, the Audioengine HD3 can match your needs as speakers and drive a pair of powerful headphones.
Using Tidal’s “Master” streaming quality option, we listened to Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You” four times: once each through USB, Bluetooth, 3.5mm analog, and through our Audioengine D1 DAC. We could immediately tell the difference between using the built-in DAC or our external DAC, and using the analog 3.5mm connection. You can hear some faint distortion when played at max volume, but it really isn’t a deal breaker. Between the two DACs, we really couldn’t tell the difference. Maybe our ears just aren’t sensitive enough, but they sounded identical, which isn’t surprising since they both are made by Audioengine.
Basically, thanks to this built-in DAC, it’s incredibly difficult to match the value of these speakers, unless you already have extra audio hardware lying around. If you want to listen to Hi-Fi audio, and you don’t want to drop hundreds of dollars on an audiophile setup, the Audioengine HD3 can match your needs as speakers and drive a pair of powerful headphones.
If we were just looking at the speakers by themselves, the $349 (MSRP) price tag would be a little steep. But the Audioengine HD3 are more than just speakers. The Bluetooth connectivity, built-in DAC, and solid sound quality add up to a pretty compelling product. Sure, it’s not the best value in the world, but if you’re looking for some small desktop speakers for your desk, the Audioengine HD3 are among the best you can get for the size.
That said, when you’re spending $350 on a pair of speakers, having to drop another $200, at least, on a decent subwoofer isn’t a great feeling. If bass and lows are particularly important, you may want to consider other options.
If you’ve already got a desktop DAC, and you don’t need a smaller pair of speakers, dropping an extra $50 on the $399 Audioengine A5+ might be the way to go. While they don’t have the built-in DAC that the Audioengine HD3s do, these speakers are incredibly powerful. With a peak power output of 150W, compared to the HD3’s 60W, you’re going to be able to fill your living room or bedroom without even trying. Plus, the much larger 5-inch woofers will shake your house when listening to bassy music.
Compact, feature-packed desktop speakers
If you’re looking for a pair of compact desktop speakers that will get the job done, and let you indulge in high-fidelity audio, you can’t really go wrong with the Audioengine HD3. Sure, they’re not the most bass-filled speakers in the world, and they’re a little on the pricey side, but they do offer a simple solution to meet all your speaker needs. There is better audio out there, but it will require significant additional investment and likely won’t look quite so good on your desk either.
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