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One-A-Day Gift Guide: Beautiful Little Speakers

A taste of audiophile sound. Or just a huge upgrade from terrible laptop speakers.

Posted on December 5, 2012, at 7:05 p.m. ET

There are two kinds of gadgets in the world: the kind that make good gifts; and the kind that are too personal, expensive, or particular to buy for someone else — think smartphones, laptops, or TVs.

Speakers are usually in the latter category. Living room audio equipment is not only for making sound; it's furniture, too, so giving it as a gift is tantamount to remodeling without asking. One kind of audio equipment that's immune to this problem, and which makes a fantastic gift, is the powered desktop or bookshelf speaker.

The Audioengine A2 speakers aren't as loud or powerful as the $200 2.1 or 5.1 computer speakers you can find at Best Buy, and despite their clean design, they bear more of a resemblance to the types of low-cost Altec Lansing desktop speakers that used to come bundled with Dells and Gateways in the 90s.

But it's the small size that makes these an acceptable gift — they're perfect for a work desk, a small TV, or a bookshelf — and their spectacularly clear and balanced sound that makes them a great gift.

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These are, for lack of a better word, audiophile speakers. They are very good at reproducing sound, which is not quite what everyone wants from their audio equipment — they'd get drowned out in a party, for example, and aren't going to drive thumping bass. But they are, and have been for years, some of the best-reviewed desktop speakers available at any price. I'll let Stereophile explain the appeal:

The highs were extended and detailed, and the Audioengine 2 was able to recreate room ambience and low-level dynamic articulation at levels of quality I'm used to hearing from far more expensive speakers...

...All vocal recordings were completely devoid of coloration, and vocal images were holographically projected at lifelike size with all low-level phrase articulations intact.

In English, this translates roughly as "these speakers sound very clear." They're for listening to music at reasonable levels while you work, lounge around the house, or read in bed. They sound crisp and present and basically just good, and won't screw up your friend or family member's room arrangements.

They're also — and this is crucial for this kind of tech gift — just nice enough that lots of people might not think to buy a pair for themselves.