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Retro Gear Review - Acoustic Energy AE2 Speakers


flak monkey
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Super Wammer

I've owned these speakers, and their dedicated stands for almost 20 years now and they have been through a lot with me and through several houses and different rooms. So I thought it would be good to write a review of them after all this time.

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History and design

They were launched by AE back in 1988 and mine date from the early 90's. Back then these speakers cost £999 (£2,800 now) and their matched stands weren't cheap either at around £500 (£1,400 now). 

Engineered by Phil Jones, they weigh in at 17kg each and measure 15.2" x 9.25" x 11.8" (HxWxD), cabinets are 25mm thick MDF and loaded inside with aggregate based (plaster like) damping the cabinets are super solid and non-resonant. The stands are cast aluminium with 2 support pillars on each, they are partially filled with steel shot and weigh a hefty 25kg each.

Drivers are 2x 130mm mid/bass and a 25mm metal dome tweeter (made by Seas). The mid/bass driver are identical to those used in the AE1, there's just twice as many in the AE2 cabs. Talking of those drivers, they have a metal cone, although the anodizing on them makes them more like ceramic-metal-ceramic in construction. Those cones are incredibly stiff and have a total of +/-10mm throw which allows them to move a big amount of air despite their diminutive size.

Crossovers in the standard version like mine are 24dB/Octave 3kHz and feature high grade components and are silver soldered. I replaced all the capacitors in the crossovers of mine as one of them had failed leading to high frequencies being rolled off on one channel. An easy enough fix and AE were kind enough to share the original design for the crossovers with me so I could keep them original.

Sound

The main thing with these speakers is dynamics. And if you think their small size is a hindrance then you are likely to be surprised. I've run these in rooms from 3.5x4m up to 8x8m and they never struggle. Bass falls off quickly from 40Hz down, as you would expect from small speakers, but they never feel like they are really lacking. I often run them without the sub turned on in my system. The bass ports in these are tuned to 42Hz.

The only real criticism I have of these speakers is that treble can be slightly forward at high listening levels, and I'm talking about 95dB+. This is easily resolved by running them with the speaker grilles in place at high volumes. At all normal listening volumes the sound is very balanced and neutral.

I have a very varied musical taste, everything from acoustic, blues and R&B through to death and black metal, and everything in between. The AE2's rarely fail to make the hairs stand up on the back of me neck for all the right reasons.

Summary

If you are in the market for some small speakers and can find a pair I really recommend auditioning the AE2 - I've listened to a lot of other speakers in the last 20 years, in search for something better, and I still haven't found it! Don't let their small size fool you, they have a lot more to offer than their size belies.

Rest of my system

Pre-amp - VTA SP12 and PH12 (tube)

Power amp - ESP P101 Lateral Mosfet (180W@8ohm, 275W@4ohm)

CD - Roksan K2

TT - ProJect RPM3 Carbon, Ortofon Red

Sub - BK XXXLS400

Listening room

3.5 x 4m - solid concrete floor and 9" brick walls.

Measurements

Below is a REW measurement of these speakers in my listening room. The peaks in the bass are partly due to the room and partly the bass port tuning on these speakers. The red line is the plot without the sub, the green is with the sub turned on. This is only included for interest as it's influenced greatly by the room

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Super Wammer

Excellent write up for these speakers.  I heard your speakers at Scalford some years ago and I now own a pair of Mk1's, which reluctantly, are up for sale as I have to many good pairs of speakers in the house.  Your REW measurements inspired me to do some for mine just to see if they were similar.  I don't have a sub in my system so these plots are for the L and R channels.

AE2 with XTZ400 smoothing half.jpg

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I heard some at a bakeoff some years ago. They were being driven by some valve amplifiers but really came alive and sounded truly awesome on the back of a SS Nelson Pass designed Nakamichi pre/power combination - they need some current but are fantastic speakers, IMO.

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Nice to see you back Sera. Never forget your room at my first Scalford (the last one). Liked the self made amps but loved the music choice - best room!!

I heard AE2s for the first time at that show. Rik had them in a big room upstairs with big MF amps IIRC. Thought they sounded quality (lots of PRaT) but I do like a bit more bottom end myself.

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