By Lam Seng Fatt
Acoustic Energy made an impressive debut in 1987 with its AE1 bookshelf speakers that were compact but delivered a big sound.
The AE1 is still available in its latest form, but that is not the subject of this review. I have been listening to its bigger brother – the AE2. Those who started out in hi-fi back in the late 1980s and 1990s would recall the AE2 which had twin woofers, a tweeter and three ports in front.
The latest version of the AE Reference 2 still uses two bass drivers and one tweeter, but there is only one port and it is placed at the rear of the speaker.
According to AE website, the bass drivers are twin, aluminium-coned long-throw motor assembly drivers for maximum linear accuracy and control. “The motor system comprising twin-wound aluminium voice-coils is thermally bonded to the aluminium cone for absolute minimum distortion and long-throw pistonic accuracy.”
The tweeter is the “well-established Vifa Ring-radiator tweeter which is used here in our own custom, upgraded specification”. It is coupled to AE’s DXT® Lens assembly for improved in-room response and dispersion matching to the bass driver.
Of interest is how the cabinet is made – constrained laminate layer construction for maximum resonance damping. A specially designed 7mm MDF/3mm high density rubber/5mm MDF sandwich material is used throughout the cabinet enclosure to minimise resonance and external cabinet noise, states the website.
The speakers are largish standmount types measuring (HxWxD): 39.5 x 25.5 x 31 cm and weigh 14kg each. Other specs are frequency response of 40Hz – 40kHz and sensitivity of 88db.
They come with dedicated stands which are tallish – 25-inch (including spikes) wooden stands. This is to ensure that the tweeters are at ear level when the average-sized listener is seated.
These speakers were connected to my resident system. Initially I connected the speakers with the tweeter facing inwards and then I noticed that the AE logo was upside down. The speakers are designed to be placed with the tweeter facing outwards.
The first thing I noticed was that the imaging was pin-point sharp and stable. The soundstage was deep and it was deeper than it was wide, compared with the resident ATC SCM50 floorstanders.
Details were easily picked out and the images were very etched out with a quite neutral tonal balance with little colourations – most probably due to the way the box is constructed.
As for the bass, given the size of the boxes, it is limited and even the claimed frequency response states that it goes down to only 40Hz. So do not expect sub-woofer type of rumbling bass with these speakers.
I found the AE Reference 2 to be very sensitive to placement. They needed rear-wall bass reinforcement to create a more even tonal balance. Too far away from the rear all and the sound can be on the bright side, too near and the sound can be too bassy.
In my house, the best position was around 26 inches from the rear wall. Bear in mind this is very room dependent and the positioning for best sound will be different in your listening room. You will have to experiment quite a bit to get the best sound from the AE Reference 2 speakers.
The speakers also loved to be toed-in quite a bit for the soundstage and imaging to firm up.
All in, the AE Reference 2 standmounts continue with AE’s tradition of making big-sounding speakers with small boxes. A major plus factor is the finishing – the glossy finishing is most attractive. Also they are “designed, tested and built in England”.
Acoustic Energy speakers are available at Hi-Way Laser, SS2, Petaling Jaya. They are priced at (list) RM16,500 a pair and the matching stands cost RM2,420.