In 1988, a little-known British loudspeaker company, Acoustic Energy, launched their AE1 monitor – a speaker which soon gained a global reputation thanks to its linearity, high power handling, superlative accuracy, precision stereo imaging and exceptional dynamics and transparency. Originally based in west London, Acoustic Energy now operate out of a 15,000 square foot facility in the cotswolds, where, thanks to an alliance with a far eastern manufacturing and purchase facility, they continue to design and develop award-winning British loudspeakers, including their critically acclaimed Aegis Neo, Aelite and Radiance ranges.
The subject of this review, the Acoustic Energy 301 standmount speaker, is part of their 3-Series launched in 2012. The range consists of the 301 standmount, the 305 floor stander, the 307 centre and the 308 sub woofer. Developed entirely at Acoustic Energy’s Cirencester head office, the 3-Series speakers incorporate technology from the world-renowned AE1 monitors, including the spun aluminium cones for which AE are renowned.
The new phase-perfect crossover is a high current, low distortion design utilising the highest quality components throughout. Their new enclosures are reflex loaded with a tuned front-mounted slot port, reducing port turbulence and allowing the speakers to be placed close to a rear wall, while at the same time delivering a faster, deeper low-frequency response than traditional tube loading methods.
The cabinets come in high-gloss black or white finishes, with rubberised matt baffles, plastic-framed magnetic grilles, driver trims and subtle Acoustic Energy branding. Personally I’m not a fan of the rubberised mat finish; it’s a magnet for dirt and marks, and in my experience can wear over time.
The 301 stand mounter is the smallest speaker in the range, standing at just 300MM tall and measuring 185 x 250 MM (W x D). Packaged in large foam blocks and draped in cloth bags, their weighty cabinets are well-damped – the usual tap test offering no resonance from neither the top, bottom, side, front or rear panels.
On the back, you’ll find a single set of recessed speaker terminals, supporting banana plugs, small spade connectors or bare wire. The terminals are of high quality, with captive locking nuts to keep the cables in place.
On the front, the 110MM (4.3”) mid/bass driver sits below an AE-designed 28MM fabric dome tweeter, both surrounded by a neat driver trim to hide the fixings. The mid/bass driver is one of AE’s renowned spun aluminium cones as used in the AE1 monitor, hard-anodised on both sides resulting in a cone of exceptional stiffness.
I particularly liked the AE301s grille design. The grilles are slim, and fit neatly into a slight recess on the front panel. They’re unobtrusive when mounted to the front of the speaker, held firmly in place by their strong magnets and can’t be easily dislodged. I also appreciated the subtleness of the AE branding on both the grille itself and the front of the speaker.
Frequency response is rated between 48HZ and 32KHZ (+/- 3DB), with a quoted power handling figure of 150W RMS. Sensitivity is rated at a surprisingly high 87DB, with a recommend amplifier rating between 25 and 150W into an 8 ohm load. In practice, I found the 301s were reasonably difficult to drive; the similarly priced Marantz PM-6005’s 45W per channel was quickly swallowed up by the 301s, leaving them (and me) wanting more. A high-power, high-current amplifier is definitely a must here.
Thanks to that front-mounted slot port design, Positioning the 301s is easy. After locating them in place of my regular active studio monitors, I simply aligned them with the stands, resulting in a spread of roughly 2M with a 10 degree toe-in towards the listening position. Even being in close proximity to a wall didn’t appear to hamper their sound, again thanks to their port design.
Accurate, dynamic, crisp and clean sums up their sound nicely. Take care with system matching, as components that lean towards being bright or harsh will result in a shrill, brash top end which quickly becomes fatiguing. The AE301s are more at home playing the likes of Norah Jones, Sound of The Sirens and the Beatles than hard rock artists such as Nirvana or blink-182 (though some softer 70s rock produces passable results).
Bass reproduction is, however, excellent. The AE301s powered through my usual test track (The Goo Goo Dolls ‘Let Love In’) with ease. This track (especially when taken from their Greatest Hits remaster) is over-compressed to the max. As such the drums in the second verse are nothing more than a distorted mess, even on some of the best systems I’ve tried. It takes a pair of speakers with exceptional low-frequency control to hold it together, which the AE301s did admirably.
Sound staging is again excellent. Having experimented with various seating positions i settled on a distance of roughly 1M from the speakers. Despite the harsh top end becoming somewhat overpowering, I was still able to enjoy the sound stage presented by Guns N’ Roses ‘November Rain’.
If you favour accuracy and detail above all else, and the rest of your system is up to scratch, the AE301s may well be the speakers for you. Keep in mind that a high-powered, warm-sounding amplifier is a must to keep that top end in check. They’ll work well in the confines of a small room, and aren’t fussy with regards positioning. Worth an audition.
Hi,Ashley! Do you have any experience with AE Aelite 1,and what amp would you recommend?
I haven’t heard them in person. They are relatively high (89dB) sensitivity, but my experience is that AE speakers do benefit from higher power. How large is the room, how loudly do you play music, and is there an amp you were considering?
how would you describe sound with Marantz and is it deffo better getting amp with more power?
Hi,Ashley! Thank you for your quick reply.My room is 18m2.I live in apartmant,so I don’t listen music very loudly. My budget is small,so I was considering something like Onkyo A9010 or Cambridge SR 20.
Either amp would drive them fine. I’d encourage you to have a listen first if you can. My preference would probably lean slightly towards the SR20 but I don’t think there would be much in it.
Ive just ordered these in black for 225 pounds,At that price i couldnt resist. i am going to partner them with a old arcam avr 350.
They are replacing a pair of kef iq3s. I hope they sound good, i had a pair of aelite 1s a few years ago, and liked them a lot. i shall let you all know once they arrive.
Let us know how you get on! Any thoughts from you Horea.
Love them, even from cold and fresh out of the box. A definite improvement over my kef iq3s. Can’t wait to get trying all of my favourite music
Any chance you can get your hands on a pair of acoustic energy ae1 actives to review. Would love to hear what you think about them. I’m now actually considering selling my amazing 301’s for these.
Or do you feel i should stick with my first idea and connect a beautiful hybrid amp to the 301’s. The choice is killing me. AE1 1000 pounds, amp 1300 pounds.
No chance of listening to the ae1 for myself i’m afraid. They already have an editors choice from hifi choice but i would like your views because you were the only one that was honest about the rather nasty treble on the 301’s. The ae1 has a new tweeter with some fancy technology. Enough from me. Any thoughts?
I’m sure I can, stay tuned!
I just wanted to add some new things i’ve noticed these past few months about these speakers. At first i thought it was the cable changes that made a huge difference. But now i think the speakers are finally burned in. If that is the correct term in English.
You mention in your review that the tweeter can be harsh and unforgiving and this is very much so. It even drove me mad for a long time. But these last few weeks the tweeter has somehow mellowed a lot. I can still hear some sibilance on my worst recordings but most of my cd’s sound fine now.
Bear in mind that my current set-up is lean and bright. So this doesn’t help things. A new amplifier is on its way, but for now i feel the speakers have finally settled.
I also felt i was a little short on bass even if one can’t expect miracles from these small bookstands. Maybe the cable swith again. Or have those stiff aluminium woofers loosened up a bit. My speakers, after i think about a thousand (or more) hours of listening, are finally showing their full potential.
I can’t wait to try it with my new amp. A dual mono design with tube pre and a/b mosfet power amp inside. Keep you posted.
Thanks for sharing your feedback. A tube pre should definitely help with the brightness. Some Van Damme UPLC-OFC 6MM cable may be worth a try too. I look forward to hearing how you get on.
Thanks for the tip. I haven’t yet upgraded my speaker cables.
Any good quality cable will be fine. I tend to recommend the Van Damme cable as it is a thick conductor offering low resistance and capacitance per metre, which is all you need. Don’t pay for marketing hype or scientific nonsense
I just order a pair of AE 301 and I’m so excited. I’m gonna paired them with my NAD C325BEE & NAD DAC 2. Do you think there is enough for them? Is it a good combination? I also have a great deal for a Rega Brio-R @ 290 pounds, almost brand new.
The C325 should be adequate for the AE301s providing you don’t intend to reach extreme listening levels. If you do play at loud volumes frequently, you may find yourself wanting more power. I’ve not heard the combination myself (I reviewed the AE301s with a Marantz) but NAD amps are typically very non fatiguing so I don’t see why they shouldn’t sound good together. If you wanted more power, consider moving up the NAD line if you enjoy the sound your C325BEE produces. I don’t recommend the Brio-R.
Is there a noticeable difference between AE301 and AE101? Beside finish. Did you had the chance to listen to them?
Haven’t heard them I’m afraid.
similar specs, BUT looks are absolutely stunning on the 301! Mine are gloss black. Beautiful.
Well…I’ll have them on gloss white with white Norstone Stylum 2. I chose AE301 instead of Kef Q100.
The technical team from AE says:
“Our technical people have said
“Spun cone and exterior finish mainly, less than 5% audible difference so if you’re happy with vinyl wrap the 101 is better value!”
For me the gloss finish is added value and i think they differ more than 5 percent. White will also be stunning. Keep us informed.
The speakers don’t really need a lot of power. I use an amp with 40watts and that’s enough. Going for an upgrade but for now they are excellent. Nad will be perfect because it’s not too bright and that will keep the treble in check.
Please let us know what you think of them. I love mine. They are so easy to place and they let you hear every detail. Bass is taut and the speakers are fast, i mean really fast. Love them!
I added a beautiful dac between my cd player and my amp and things really opened up. Amazing detail and everything is much more refined now. Now i can really hear what these fantastic speakers can do. I love these speakers. And i got them for just 290 pounds. I’m never selling these.
Thanks again for your excellent review!
Excellent! glad you’re enjoying.
Can you please give me the name of the shop where you purchase your speakers please!? Thanks Andrea
Analogue seduction. Great guys. Ask for their best price.
I call them, but unfortunately they don’t have any 301 in Stock! Any other advice please? Thanks Andrea…
SuperFi have them.
Dynaudio Emit M10 vs B&W 685 S2s
When they reviewed B&W 685 S2s it was awarded best for two years in a row with 5 stars. Now it seems that they want to kill it for some reason!!!!!!!…. then you sub struct a star, saying that it does not perform very well and start pushing the one you have to.
Can anybody stop this magazine, it is so obvious what it is going on or what they are trying to do. Sure there will be better newcomers but since when we downgrade a speaker or a review because there is a newcomer. And why the rest of the competition even older designs remain with 5 star rating.
That’s our industry for you. We don’t do that here on AA. If you want to put a stop to it, don’t read the content. It’s your choice. 🙂
New amp and cd player with the acoustic 301’s. Mitchell and johnson sap and cdd 201. Couldn’t be happier.
Excellent! glad you’re enjoying.
just bought the speakers last week and your review was decisive. Did you however test them with the marantz. And which brand of amps would you choose for the 301.
Depends on the budget. I’d try the Yamaha A-S701 and maybe the Arcam A19 which might smooth them out a bit. There’s also the Marantz PM-8005, but with both the Marantz and the Arcam you’re getting close to spending twice the price of the speakers on the amp.
Two months now with my ae301 speakers. They sounded amazing connected to my humble denon 520pma and 520dcd. But then I sold the lot and replaced them with the audiolab 8200a and 8200cd.
Biggest mistake i’ve ever made. Looks amazing but the sound now is terrible. Clinical, sharp, cold… I’m so dissapointed. I should have listened to you again and bought a warmer amp.
I’m thinking about putting a warm power amp in between and use the 8200a as a pre-amp.
Do you think this is a good idea? The digital filters on the cd player are quite dominant too.
Geoffrey (from Belgium)
Get rid of them both and buy a Marantz PM-8005 and SA-8005, or a Rega Brio-R and Apollo-R. Either option will sound better and be more reliable in the long run too.
Thanks for you reply
do you think the Yamaha AS-501 would be capable to drive them or should one step up to the AS701?
The 501 would be more than capable of driving these, though if it were me and the budget permitted I’d go for the 701
Thanks, I already got the AS-501 and I am very satisfied with the outcome (701 was double price). Maybe later I will add a sub (although bass is really good, especially considering their size)