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 seeing positions i settled on a distance of roughly 1M from the speakers. Despite the harsh top end becoming somewhat overpowering, I will 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.