Acoustic Energy AE100 Mk II Standmount Loudspeakers Review
Can this small speaker deliver the big sound that its provenance would suggest? Paul Sechi decides…
AE100 Mk II Standmount Loudspeakers
There is something special about compact 2-way standmount loudspeakers. They try hard to be sonically large whilst physically blending into your living area. Many manufacturers have tried, but few have succeeded – Acoustic Energy being one such example who managed to pull it off.
The British company caused a serious stir in the audio industry when it released the AE1 mini-monitor back in 1987; although small in stature, it served up a much bigger sound. Since then, Acoustic Energy has released many standmount and floorstanding loudspeakers and maintains a three-tier passive speaker range with the entry-level 100 series, mid-level 300 series and high performance 500 series. The AE100 Mk II is the latest budget design to grace the portfolio and is an entirely redesigned model.
My review pair was dressed in an attractive walnut veneer effect vinyl wrap – the finish got praise from my wife when she saw them. It’s not your normal square-edged cabinet as both the top and bottom have rounded edges, making the speaker look far more expensive than it is. The Mk II version is slightly larger than the original, being taller, deeper and wider at 165x295x250mm (WxHxD). It’s a compact design, but weighing in at 4kg is solidly built.
Interestingly, the new cabinet uses 15mm high-density fibreboard over the outgoing 18mm medium density fibreboard. The increased external dimensions and reduced cabinet wall thickness have provided an additional thirty per cent internal volume for the design team to optimise, says Acoustic Energy. The bass reflex cabinet vents to the rear via a slot-shaped port, which is claimed to reduce chuffing and limit driver distortion below the tuned box frequency. It also undoubtedly makes loudspeaker placement easier in confined areas, more of which later…
Acoustic Energy has done a full makeover of the 100 series, with new drivers across the board. In a rare claim today, the company manufactures all of its own drive units. Running a ruler across the paper cone of the mid/bass driver, I measured a diameter of 105mm on the inside of the roll surround. This is paired to a 25mm fabric dome tweeter featuring a waveguide flare. The Mk II has its crossover point set at 2.9kHz, which is well below the original AE100’s 3.6kHz. Even with the revised crossover point, that little mid-bass driver has a lot of ground – or should I say bandwidth – to cover in its daily duties.
The removable grill is sleek, being low profile with embedded magnets. Some speakers at multiples of this price point still use nasty grill clips that break, pull out or fail to fit again once removed, but with magnets, you cannot get a more efficient way to remove or attach a grill. Hats off to Acoustic Energy for bringing this into an entry-level speaker. A small sheet of adhesive-backed foam with eight 20mm diameter cutouts was provided to stick to the underside of the speakers. Four per speaker were used throughout listening sessions between the speaker and stand’s top plate.
Around the back, the terminal cups are standard 2-way types for spade terminals, banana plugs or direct cables. A neat and practical single A5 instruction card describing how to connect the speakers is included, reminding users not to short circuit their amplifiers when connecting or disconnecting the speakers – good advice for everyone.
The speakers have a three-year warranty that is extended to five years when you register the product with Acoustic Energy. The company claims a nominal impedance of 6 ohms and an efficiency of 87dB, making it a relatively easy load for most modern amplifiers. Its sensitivity figure is good for a small stand mounter, but of course, speakers with larger cabinets generally do better still. For this review, I used my Primare 100W integrated amplifier, Primare CD player, SolidSteel SS-6 stands – and streamed music via Apple AirPlay. The speakers were placed on stands (625mm high top plate) or 550mm high on a deep credenza, 2.9m apart (inside to inside) in front of a bay window. My listening position was dead-centre and 2.5m back from the front of the speakers with tweeters at ear level.
The new AE100 Mk II has an accurate tonality and fine sound staging and image placement. It has a propulsive, musically engaging sound thanks to its good timing, even if the bass isn’t quite as tight as it could be. Overall it’s an enjoyable speaker to listen to, albeit not entirely without flaws – but how many designs at this price point are?
Starting with soundstaging, I kicked off with Chuck E. Weiss’s album Congo Square at Midnight. Old Souls and Wolf Tickets is a hard track to master for any speaker and hi-fi system. The AE100 Mk II kicked into gear and conjured up a fine soundstage with reasonable stage depth. Get this track wrong, and you won’t have any snap, shine or cohesiveness to the instruments. Yet the little Acoustic Energy delivered a decent, tonally even sound, albeit without the scale that I’m used to from more expensive loudspeakers.
The timing really impressed me. For example, Luka Bloom’s opening track Delirious from the Riverside album is always a treat and highlights any undue shouting from poorly executed tweeters. The speaker provided good speed in tracking the guitar work and never once got shouty. For such an inexpensive design this is a good sign; the top end frequency range proved surprisingly well controlled. So Familiar is a foot-tapping track from Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. Again, the little Acoustic Energy loved this sort of music, which was delivered in a snappy way – although I did feel that there was some lower-mid band warmth missing.
I moved both speakers to my bay window credenza, sitting 2.6m apart and 200mm out from the bay window corners with 200mm of the credenza in front of the speaker – and things changed noticeably. Whereas there had been some thinness to the lower midband, there was now a real bark from them. There was more growl, bottom end reinforcement into the midrange, with what seemed to be a bigger soundstage, left to right and front to back.
I finally found the AE100 Mk II’s sweet spot on the stands, placed either side of a fireplace – 2.5m apart, 30cm off sidewall and 25cm from the rear wall. Here, the bass was firm but fair, the midrange warm and clean with the tweeter singing away. For the next two hours, I cycled through many recordings at various volume levels. The self-titled album by Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen has a head-nodding track called Just Kissed My Baby. It is deep, zingy, raucous and snappy – sometimes all at the same time. This speaker presented a broad and honest soundstage throughout the track, with good stage depth too. The bottom end was as realistic as you could expect from a small mid/bass driver in a compact enclosure.
Perfect 10 from The Beautiful South was one highlight from my listening sessions. The soundstage was broad, had depth and female vocals sounded the best I had achieved so far. The keyboard sections sounded together – with weight, pace and definition – and I found myself surprised at just how well the little Acoustic Energy standmounter was doing, keeping things together.
There is much to like about Acoustic Energy’s new AE100 Mk II standmounter. Set it up correctly, and it will sing for you – making music enjoyable and engaging. As with every loudspeaker, correct positioning is key, and when this is working right, it delivers a lot at the price. Of course, it has some low-frequency limitations, as all compact speakers do, but it still proved able to replicate bass notes in a tuneful way.
Thanks to this speaker’s generally sunny disposition, it proved to give a good rendition of all the music I threw at it. Of course, you’ll need a decent quality amplifier with at least 40W RMS per channel of power to really get the best from this baby box, but this done, it delivers an impressively uniform sound at low, medium and high volume levels. So if you are in the market for a little loudspeaker that’s sonically bigger than its compact cabinet suggests, you’re on the right track here – it certainly puts a smile on your dial!
Paul is a music appreciation fan of both live and produced music from diverse genres and cultures. Paul was interested in audio at school, did a thesis in acoustics and by day works as a technology strategist including smart environment standards and integration.
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