Audioengine HD3 Powered Speakers & DAC Review 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers
Written by Andre Marc   
Monday, 06 February 2017

Multi-function powered speakers are all the rage in 2017, and no other company has been more at the forefront than Audioengine. They have been making affordable, great sounding, and versatile powered monitors since 2005, along with DACs, headphone amps, and accessories.

There are a number of things I find refreshing about Audioengine. First, their pricing makes their products affordable to all, the designs are attractive for any decor, and they have an unpretentious attitude. What is not to like? Of course, none of this would matter if Audioengine products did not bring the sonic goods. And they do. The excellent HD6 monitors sit on either side of my desk connected to a Mac Mini and iFi Micro iDSD DAC, and I listen to this set up for hours daily while working.

I very much appreciated the design improvements implemented into the HD6. The front baffle volume knob was a great addition, and the overall refinement in the presentation and sound basically made it an easy recommendation to friends looking for a carefree powered speaker solution. It ships with a nicely made metal remote control, a very nice addition. I mentioned in the review the only thing I wanted for was a USB input. Other than that, It is a fairly flawless package for the current price of $749.

Audioengine has brought out what could be considered the little brother of the HD6, the new HD3. Approximately seven inches tall, perfect for tighter spaces that can’t accommodate the HD6, they are available in three finishes, Cherry, Walnut, and as my review samples were supplied in, Black Satin.

Unboxing the HD3 makes it clear that Audioengine wants its customers to be able to go from unpackaging the speakers to having them play music without having to provide any additional items. This includes speaker cables, line level cables, and a USB cable. Along with a nicely written manual and power cord, this is about a complete a set of accessories as you are going to see. Speaker grilles, which I kept on to protect the drivers, are also supplied.

The HD3 has the connectivity one would expect from modern powered speakers, including RCA inputs, a mini jack input and, instead of the often seen optical input, a very welcomed 24 bit USB input. There is also an analog output, a headphone jack, and of course, an aptX based Bluetooth connection.  It should be noted Audioengine uses old school class A/B analog amplifiers in their speakers, none of the cheapo digital stuff. Check that against some of their competitors.

The only thing you may want to add is one of the stands Audioengine sells for either desktop or freestanding use.  Audioengine has traditionally sold directly from their web-store but also has developed a nice dealer network.  The company also offers a risk-free, generous in home trial.

 

http://www.avrev.com/images/stories/equipspeakers/audioengine/HD3/audioengine_hd3_rear.jpg

 

Set Up & Listening

The HD3 are plug and play. Literally. Hook up the speaker cable from the master to the slave, plug in the power cord, install the Bluetooth antenna, then your source. That is it. The HD3 took up residence first in my bedroom paired with a SOtM sMS-100 ethernet streamer, and an iFI Nano iDSD DAC, via Kimber interconnects. I purchased foam speaker pads to place them on from Amazon to protect the wood table they were placed on, and to stabilize them. A cheap, but effective add-on for $15.

The sound was bigger than I anticipated with the HD3, as I was used to the bold, full sound of the HD6, with it’s bigger drivers and more powerful internal amplifier. The HD3 filled up the room quite nicely, with excellent frequency-spectrum balance.  The footprint of the speakers is miniature, but the sound is not!


Next up I used my Mac Book Pro via USB. After selecting the HD3 as an output device, you just play your tunes, from iTunes, Audirvana, or whatever source you choose. Using the USB connection simplifies everything in that no external DAC or additional analog cables are required.  And this is how most people will use them on a desktop. The front panel volume knob is all you need to adjust. I am not sure if you can get more satisfying sound at this price point.

I then moved on to Bluetooth, connecting numerous devices including an iPhone 7 Plus, iPad Air, and an iPad 3.  The connection took exactly ten seconds and worked flawlessly. Audioengine has worked hard on their aptX Bluetooth implementation and it a joy to use. Whatever audio resides on your device will be played back in very good fidelity, or you can stream music or audio from any service. In our case, it was Amazon Prime Music and Spotify, and locally stored files on the device.

http://www.avrev.com/images/stories/equipspeakers/audioengine/HD3/audioengine_hd3_amazonechodot.jpg

This is where it gets interesting. I purchased a second-generation Amazon Echo Dot to use with the HD3 and it became my favorite pairing. I used the analog output of the Echo Dot, but Bluetooth is also an option.  Via voice command, you can ask it to play back music from Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Prime, etc. For example, simply requesting “play Adele from Spotify” starts tunes playing in seconds. You can request specific songs, albums, or a playlist.  File this under “instant access”. 

To cover all bases, I also tested out the front panel headphone jack and, according to Audioengine, it uses the same circuit as their stand alone D1 DAC, which they say can drive most headphones with no issues. I used my Grado SR60 and indeed the sound was engaging, balanced, and loads of fun.

In use, I found nothing to complain about with the HD3. it worked flawlessly with every source and connection type. I am hard pressed to find fault with these speakers for desktop, bedroom, or workspace use. Of course, they won’t fill up a big room; for that, you will want the HD6 or equivalent. But in the proper environment, with all the connection options, the HD3 are about as fun as it gets.

http://www.avrev.com/images/stories/equipspeakers/audioengine/HD3/audioengine_hd3_workspace.jpg

Conclusion

Audioengine has done a smart job of scaling down the HD6, and including a USB input. I love these little speakers, and they will be my desktop reference for under $500 speakers. The HD6 will continue to me my easy recommendation for those with larger spaces and bigger budgets. 
You get everything you need to get started with the HD3 in the box, and an in-home, risk-free trial. With engaging sound, built in DAC, versatility, nice build quality, and choice of three finishes, I can’t imagine there are too many better options.


Specifications


Audioengine HD3 Active Monitors/DAC: $399
www.audioengineusa.com


Review System 1


Server: Bryston BDP-2
DAC: Bryston BDA-3
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Turntable: Rega Planar 3
Phono Preamp: Lounge Audio LCR MKIII, Lehmann Cube SE
Preamp: Schiit Audio Freya
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Simaudio 760A
Speaker:  Bryston Mini T
Cables:, Wireworld, iFi, Transparent, Black Rhodium
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks and Svelte Shelves, Shakti Stone, Bryston BIT-15, Salamander rack

Review System 2


Music Server: Sonore microRendu
Turntable: Project Debut Carbon DC
Phono Preamp: Graham Slee SE
Preamp: Schiit Audio Saga
DAC/Streamer: Simaudio 280D
Power Amplifier: Onkyo M5000R
Speaker: Magnepan MMG, Spendor S35R
Cables: Wireworld
Accessories: Cable Pro Noisetrapper, iFi iPower, Audience aR






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