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£1500.00 speaker shoot out!

The fact that Jack of BD Audio and Paul of Purite North were happy for to write a no-holds-barred shoot-out style review of these speakers speaks volumes of the confidence they have in their respective products. Both priced at £1500.00 and both small, room friendly designs, these are right in the higher volume sweet-spot offering for any dealer.  A panning of either could prove costly then, and so I say they are confident with some erm.. confidence. Thankfully no panning is needed. As you will read, both offer exceptional sound quality, varying degrees of room friendliness and yet manage to be quite distinct offerings from each other.

IMG_2539.CR2    First out of the box were the Acoustic Energy Reference 1. It’s a heavy box for a small pair of stand-mount speakers, my 305 floor standers probably weigh less than these. Quite impressive mass then, less impressive was that Henley Designs decided not to send me the matching stands. A shame, but I still think they look very handsome on my Linn Majik stands. The Piano Gloss black finish is of a decent quality, but perhaps not the last word in mirror smooth finishes, a couple of small imperfections on the bottom edges set them back a notch, notwithstanding, (I have since been informed that these are B grade models, which are used for hawking round the reviewers, in store models are immaculate) the feeling of quality is only slightly diminished. The heavy solid boxes are quite deep in profile, yet still a small speaker. A speaker with a rich history, from the original AE1 studio monitors of the late 80’s, there’s a lineage here that shows the company’s ability to stand the test of time. Although the company has changed shape somewhat (now owned by a Malaysian outfit) the speakers really haven’t. The box is of very similar dimensions to the original, although the construction is somewhat different these days, once playing the feeling is of solid quality, speed and agility.

Paul Jeffrey of Purite North commented “The AE1’s have little in common with their distant progenitors – the cabinet uses a constrained layer damping composite material in a design penned by the same chap who designs the sound damping for Jaguar cars! Similarly the bespoke ring-radiator tweeter with its waveguide couldn’t be more different to the original AE1, and likewise the mid/bass driver, which uses a unique magnesium alloy diaphragm that varies in thickness to control breakup, plus a motor more than double the size of the old AE1”.

IMG_2549.CR2Paul had advised me that they needed a good 75cm behind them to sound their best. I found this surprising given the diminutive size, but went along with his suggestion. A little moving back and forward confirmed the dealer’s advice, as the bass is surprisingly full bodied and prone to slight bloom if the back wall is afforded a say in proceedings. Given space though, there is no problem at all, quite the opposite in fact. You immediately feel you are listening to a much bigger speaker (this is also true of the Mulidine’s), there’s a wonderful sense of scale as Massive Attack’s Karmacoma starts out. The room is very much full of music, clarity and speed being the over riding initial impressions, but without being overtly dynamic, I wasn’t pinned to my seat by it, more pleasantly immersed than beaten about the head.  Listening to Mose Alison there was no doubt that these had real Hi-Fi credentials, the double bass player’s fingers were easy to place and Mose’ voice floated beautifully. More dynamic software in the shape of The Chemical Brothers proved they were no slouches, thundering around the room like an elephant on PCP it amazed me the scale they manage from such a small box. Nirvana’s Lithium was not much short of breathtaking too, the snap of the snare drum had a real impact, the speed of these metal drivers is almost certainly what does the trick here. So stiff, they offer huge clarity and hilarious volumes. At 1am, I decided to go to bed, give the neighbours a rest. The same things happened almost every evening that week, and as the speakers burned in a bit, things just got better and better..A long listening session is always a good sign, these would be a great long term prospect.. however, come the end of the week I had some little French bagatelle’s in the hall, it was finally time to give them a go…


With a certain amount of trepidation and feeling a bit bad about setting the AE’s to one side I got the little Mulidine’s out. The previous Mulidines I’d  heard were exceptionally good, truly class leading. But these are much smaller, and the AE’s had really impressed me, would these stand a chance in reality? They are lighter and shallower in profile, but a floor-stander so perhaps that would help.. Also they share the same basic design as their bigger brothers so perhaps they will sound almost as good.. Could they compete? Oh yes, and some! Jack said “just plonk em down and have a listen”. So I did.  A little toe in to get the sound stage just so and that was it. Like their bigger brothers they are 3/4 wave front ported transmission lines. A unique (patented) design which takes all the fuss out of placement. The bass is not as punchy as the AE’s but what you do get is a lovely timbre to the sound, with very tuneful bass and while not plumbing the very depths, you are still impressed by the scale. Not least because of the huge sound stage generated by these little marvels. Close your eyes and there is no boxiness at all, and the sound is – if anything a touch cleaner than the AE’s – they leave no stone unturned. You get a real insight to the recording, perhaps slightly coloured in comparison to the very neutral AE’s, but in a very pleasing way that never detracts from the sound quality. Think Living voice avatars, but smaller. They have a character, but for those of us that enjoy that, they are hard to beat. It was another week of 1am finishes, The Mulidines were nicely run in after a week and really impressing me. I was keen now to really start comparing these back to back.


As ever the laws of compromise come into play. Few of us have the budget, space or sheer will to build a no compromise system. I’m not even sure such a thing truly exists. So, most of us  have to pick our compromises carefully. With the AE’s it’s ease of positioning and amp matching you need to watch. I found them surprisingly tricky for such a small speaker,  treating them like a much larger speaker gets the best from them. I would they also suggest they need more careful partnering to get them really singing. I heard them at Audio World Brighton and they sounded a lot more insightful with some top quality solid state amps behind them. I would love to hear them with the Sonneteer amps Paul sells. That extra drive really gets them energised. It’s possibly the lower sensitivity (87db) that causes this disparity in my system. An extra turn of the volume knob is required to keep them competing with the Mulidines. That doesn’t mean they need to be louder, they just demand a touch more power. They repay you for it though, bags of fun and lots of detail, when really singing they really are hard to beat.




The compromise with the Mulidines is less obvious in my set up, as they are better suited to my room (my room is rather lively to say the least) so the reduced bass output works in their favour here, however having heard the AE’s in other set ups I am not going to say these are better. They aren’t, they just offer better synergy with my room and amps. If I were running a Naim or Sonneteer set up I would probably prefer the AE’s as the Mulidines peppy presentation might become OTT with such dynamic amps behind them. Also the wonderful tweeter did stray into slight sibilance a couple of times. And while bass is perhaps a touch more tuneful with the Mulidine’s it doesn’t plumb the depths the AE’s manage or provide the dynamic swing one needs to really rock out. Put Nirvana on and the AE’s kick the Mulidine’s into touch PDQ, put Elbow on and it’s the Mulidine’s all day long. Yello’s Race gets the AE’s back in front, Jeff Buckley’s Grace puts the Mulidines in the lead.. Yet Philip Glass sounded equally wonderful on each, as did Orbital’s first album.. Must I pick a winner? I have painted myself into a corner here.




The problem here is if I do pick a winner it might put some people off one or the other speakers and that might cause you to miss out on the one for YOU and your room/system. Both are absolutely fantastic speakers, both are compromised in one way or another. Only you can decide which fits best. At this price point they are both an absolute must audition, along with the ATC SCM11’s Jason Kennedy raved about here.. Anyone with £1500.00 to spend on some new speakers owes it to themselves to listen to both. I heartily recommend them both strongly recommend you hear them in your own front room, with your own amps and your own musical program


Acoustic Energy Reference 1 Specs:

Deluxe Ebony Piano Gloss, Piano Black, Piano White or Satin White
Bass/Mid Driver:
110mm Underhung magnet, twin voice coil assembly

Ultra short signal path 2nd order crossover at 2khz

Frequency response: 
45Hz – 40kHz @ +/-3dB

Power handling:
Amplifiers rated up to 200Watts into 8 Ohms

87db for 2.83V at 1m

Nominal impedance:
6 Ohms

Total harmonic Distortion:
Less than 0.3% 200Hz to 20kHz

Dimensions (HxWxD):   

310 x 190 x 280mm

Price £1550.00

Mulidine Bagatelle Tech Specs:


  • Sensitivity: 89dB (2.83V input at 1 Metre)
  • Frequency range: 60Hz-22kHz
  • Nominal impedance: 3.8 ohms
  • Power handling: 60W
  • Dimensions: 17cm (W) x 22cm (D) x 82cm (H)
  • Weight: 12kg
  • Finish: Cherry veneer

Current retail price: £1495.00







About James Palmer

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