Acoustic Energy AE300 HiFi Speakers REVIEW
I recently undertook a group test on nine standmount HiFi speakers to try and find the best affordable standmount speaker under £650
Reviewing, by its very nature, is a subjective thing and lots of factors can influence perceptions. In order to minimise the external influences, my listening room is heavily acoustically treated with panels from GIK acoustics to manage sound reflections and the rooms behaviour. To take this a step further I use DIRAC Live to manage the frequency response of the speakers I am testing to undo what negatives effects their placement in my room may have. I also take this one stage further utilising Dirac Live as a tool to get the very best sound from the speakers.
In this review I compares the Acoustic Energy AE300 Hifi Speakers with the Wharfedale Evo 4.2, Klipsch RB300M, SVS Prime Bookshelf, B&W 606 and the Q Acoustics 3030i, all of which I have reviewed earlier as part of this group test.
This was my first time listening to any Acoustic Energy speakers I therefore had no preconceptions about how the AE300 might perform. The AE 300 have a small form factor compared to the other speakers in the group test, this definitely lowered my expectations. However, I was pleasantly surprised by their performance it far exceeded my expectations.
I used roughly the same setup as for all of the speakers in the group test and initially I heard some very good things, but something was not quite right. The AE300 sounded a little too soft in their mids and flat and one dimensional. After some experimentation with positioning I eventually settled on a very aggressive toe-in, as can be seen in the sound demo video (below), much more toe in than I had used with any other speakers in my listening room to date. What matters most is what works for each speaker, and for the AE300 and my listening room this was the way to go to get a more honest and detailed sound, it unlocked a whole new level of performance from them.
From the frequency response you can see that the AE300 measure fantastically well and overall are very linear and smooth through the mid-range and treble. They measure similar to the SVS Prime, they also measured very linear with the main differences being the AE300 have a slight dip in the ‘presence’ region and a slightly earlier rolled-off treble. Those two differences are key to why the speakers sound different and explained what I was hearing with the AE300.
The treble delivery of the AE300s is pretty faultless, It is clean, composed, stress and strain free. In fact they have the sweetest sounding treble of any speakers reviewed so far in this group test. I want to make a special mention of the AE300 treble as it stands out as being sweet but not overly softened, a neat trick for a speaker designer to pull off. The AE300s have considerably less treble presence than the Bowers & Wilkins 606 or the Klipsch RP600M but the treble is never lost within even a complex layered soundstage. You may recall that I felt that the Q Acoustics 3030is might benefit from taller stands. The AE300s managed to create a much taller soundstage than the speakers physical size despite being slightly smaller than the 3030i.
What I did notice was that the AE300 do not deliver the raspy sound of trumpets, trombones or saxophones with the same vigour as the SVS Prime and the Klipsch RP600Ms. It appears that Acoustic Energy made be a trade-off of some of the treble and soundstage intensity to realise a more smooth overall musical balance.
Midrange and vocals largely follow the treble characteristics and are clean, precise, and with a really impressive warmth, organic and musical character, similar to the Wharfedale EVO 4.2. However, the delivery is quite different. The EVO 4.2 are lively and energetic in their vocals whereas the AE300 are more reserved, yet focussed, tightly controlled and also very musical. I also compared the AE 300 with the SVS Prime, which have quite a matter of fact presentation, by comparison the AE300 are not as clinical sounding they are noticeably more easy going, relaxed and mellow. The AE300 are a more musically engaging listen even if not as technically "accurate" in presentation. The AE300 reminded me of listening to Harbeth speakers, which is high praise at their price point.
Bass from the AE300s is bigger than I expected for their size and after applying a custom DIRAC Live response curve they delivered a bass which was more enjoyable than the SVS Prime Bookshelf speakers and with no port noise issue, this could be due to the AE300 using a rear slot loaded port instead of a tube port.
The scale of the soundstage the AE300 deliver and the space around instruments, precision and layout is extremely impressive but falls short of the much larger Wharfedale EVO 4.2 and its not as in the room with you lively as the Klipsch RP600M. However after the aggressive toe-in I was very impressed with the depth and dimensionality of the AE300 soundstage, they create a very 3-dimenioanl sound. The layering of instruments front and back was as any of the speakers reviewed in this group so far.
Acoustic Energy have really paid attention to detail in the build of the AE300 cabinet and in critical key components of their design. Their looks and build quality are impressive and home (WAF) friendly, with softened and rounded corners. The finish is very high quality, it feels like they may be made of plastic there are that many layers of paint and high gloss finish.
The reserved sound character of the AE300 meant t I found I myself turning the system volume up more to get the same impact from the music compared to the other speakers in the group test. Not a huge amount more but noticeable. This is because they trade-off some excitement and dynamics for a relaxed, clean composed and organic musical sound. If you are not looking for a really big bass, the engaging and tunefulness of the AE300 will surely impress.
At £599 the AE300s are £50 more than the Bowers 606 and £300 more than the Q Acoustics 3030i whilst being similar price to the SVS Prime.
Overall, they won me over as a speaker system, and have been a great introduction to the Acoustic Energy brand. There are no standout characteristics where they deliver an exceptional performance and this may sound a little negative as a comment but instead they do everything to a high standard, bass extension aside. T
Acoustic Energy has put a lot of attention to detail into the AE300 and they deliver an Excellent speaker at their price point.
Frequency Response - 45Hz – 30KHz
Style - Two way vented box
Sensitivity - 86db/1m
Normal Impedance - 6Ω
Power Handling - 100w
Dimensions - 300 x 175 x 260mm
Weight - 6.5 Kg each
A Special Performer Award is Pursuit Perfect Systems highest accolade and is in recognition of exceptional product performance regardless of price