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Acoustic Energy AE1 MkIII SE Review

December 11, 2008 By Geoffrey Morrison

Click the images below for bigger versions:
Acoustic Energy AE1 MkIII SE in Cherry
Acoustic Energy AE1 MkIII SE in Black
Acoustic Energy AE1 MkIII SE in White
Acoustic Energy AE1 MkIII SE in Red
Acoustic Energy AE1 MkIII SE

1 of 100

In the first two sentences of Acoustic Energy's web page on the AE1 Mk III SE, the word "special" is used four times.

Normally I would scoff at such repetition of an already over used word. In this case though, they don't seem to be resorting to hyperbole.

Acoustic Energy AE1 MkIII SE in Cherry

Mr. Wizard, take us back to the old tymes

If we travel way back to the old days, ok, 1988, Acoustic Energy unleashed on the world their AE1, a fairly non-descript two-way that garnered praise from press and customers alike. It has gone through several updates and changes over the years, the most recent being the AE1 MkIII. The goal with the new SE version of the MkIII was to make the best small speaker Acoustic Energy has ever made.

I would have loved to have been in the room when AE management decided to give the go-ahead to make this speaker. I can imagine the engineers drooling at the idea to just "make the best possible." Cost, for this one, takes a back seat.

As you can imagine, only the finest in materials were used for this UK designed and built speaker. The cabinet is 18mm MDF, internally braced.

That in and of itself isn't totally out of the ordinary, but the additional 4mm steel plate lining glued to the inside is. All of this makes for one heavy 12-inch tall speaker. Drop one of these on your toes and you'll really know it. So will your neighbors.

Acoustic Energy AE1 MkIII SEThe second order crossover at 3kHz was redesigned with the result being that it requires less than half the number of parts than its predecessor. AE engineers extensively auditioned each of these components.

My favorite item of all the bits you can't see is the multi-strand silver internal wiring. Silver is actually a better electrical conductor than copper, though you know, just a bit more expensive.

The 38mm (1.5-inch) ring-radiator tweeter has a claimed upper-end frequency response of 40kHz. The 110mm (4.33-inch) woofer is AE's spun aluminum cone with a die-cast magnesium chassis and twin neodymium magnets.

The eight layer finish is done by hand, and is available in black or white, or with a cherry veneer. Or you can get it in whatever high-gloss color you want for a bit more.

Sit back
The first selection I chose is one of my favorite discs, Bach: Brandenburg Concertos from Vanguard on SACD.

This originally analog recording is nearly flawless in both performance and sound. What struck me first was the fullness of the sound from the MkIII SEs.

The speakers were warm, not boomy, and had a clean treble with no bite. Further listening revealed something I didn't expect. I've heard this disc on many systems, but this was the first to reveal such timbre in the violins and violas.

Throughout this and other selections, the treble was excellent, though perhaps slightly tilted up. Thankfully, the tweeter sounds so good, that not only is this not an issue, but probably just be referred to as extra clarity by most listeners.

The soundstage was wide, yet still had distinct imaging, a fine line walked well.     

Female vocals were given a swing with Norah Jones' 2002 Come Away with Me also on SACD. While her piano had a fullness not found on most small speakers, her voice warmed the room on "Lonestar."  

I dialed up the rock meter one tick with Death Cab for Cutie's 2003 album Transatlanticism, their only one on SACD.

Acoustic Energy AE1 MkIII SEThe title track slowly builds into a crescendo at 6:30 that has so much going on, lesser speakers can reduce it to mush. With the AE1 MkIII SE's, this cacophonous anthem sounds as huge as you'll ever hear it, yet never muddled.

The midrange, such as Ben Gibbard's voice and chorus was perfectly balanced and full, without being chesty.

To go that next level, I threw in Alive 2007 from Daft Punk. This live recording best captures this electronica/house duos energy.

As you can imagine, it also has a lot of bass. While it's reasonable to expect a well-designed small speaker to create a decent amount of bass, creating this decent amount of bass and deep bass is unexpected, and impressive.

Sadly, as good as the AE1 MkIII SE's are, they can't defy physics, and they hate Pink Floyd. These speakers sound so good, that you really want to crank them, but regardless of amp power, they have a limit.

I found this limit at a wonderfully high volume just over 2 minutes into "One of These Days" the first track on Floyd's classic Meddle.

The driving bass line was filling my room, then the drums came in, and the speakers very clearly asked me to turn it down.

For normal listening volumes, the bass from these speakers is so good you don't need a subwoofer. If you really like cranking the tunes, a small (but powerful) sub will let you get a much higher SPL without making your speakers unhappy.

I came away surprised at how much quality sound can come from such small speakers, and that's from someone who loves small speakers. The response is remarkably flat, they play deep bass, and have enough extension in the high end to reveal timbre that other speakers mask. The soundstage is huge, without losing imaging.

Acoustic Energy engineers may have started out trying to design the best small speaker AE has ever produced, but the result is one of the best small speakers period. Truly excellent.

PRICE: $5,000/pair (Only 100 matched and numbered pairs will be made)
CONTACT: 508.695.8090, acoustic-energy.co.uk



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