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Published April 1, 2002

 

Acoustic Energy Aesprit 300 Loudspeakers

As I write this, I have just spent the entire day in an unheated house while my aging furnace gets replaced on a cold, snowy winter day. My toes and fingers may be nearly frozen, but the Acoustic Energy Aesprit 300 loudspeakers have warmed my heart and soul.

The AE 300 is part of the UK-based company’s Aesprit Series. At $699 per pair, this nicely finished bookshelf speaker is close in price to the venerable Energy C-2, which has been a happy resident of my living-room system for the last several years. So it was with keen interest that I unboxed AE's mid-sized monitors.

Description

They say you only get one chance for a first impression and Acoustic Energy made a fine one as I pulled the first speaker out of its box. The cabinets are impressively heavy at 18 pounds, and my pair was finished in an extremely attractive cherry veneer -- completely unexpected at this price point, where vinyl laminate is the norm. Visually, they compare favorably with the B&W CDM series, which is a healthy 50% more expensive than the AE 300.

In addition to its fine fascia, the cabinet itself seems to be solid and well braced. In fact, there is a brace that runs the entire circumference of the interior. The front is covered with a simple black grille cloth, behind which is a fully veneered face. The two-way AE 300 includes a single 6.5" metal-alloy woofer and a 1" tweeter that boasts a neodymium magnet and ferrofluid cooling. Both drivers are magnetically shielded for video applications. Around back you’ll find two pairs of gold-plated two-way binding posts with plastic nuts. This is the only outward indication that the AE 300 is not an expensive speaker. On the top half of the back panel is a bass-reflex port with a foam plug for tuning the bass response. Inserting the plug will reduce bass response and will help tame unfavorable room interactions when the speaker is placed close to a wall.

Setup and sound

The AE 300s are said to have a frequency response of 40Hz to 23kHz and a sensitivity of 87.5dB, which is around average. Bass output seems exceptionally strong without the port plugs in place, making this speaker compare favorably with many smaller tower speakers I’ve heard.

On the subject of the port plugs, I found them useful. When I auditioned the speakers in my family room, I was able to place them a couple of feet out into the room and I didn’t find the plugs necessary. When I moved the AE 300s into my living-room system, where speakers are frequently placed close to the wall because of space restrictions, I found the port plugs useful; they tamed the overly heavy bottom end caused by jamming the speaker close to a boundary.

Where the room dictates a wide and shallow placement, I found that toeing the speakers in toward the listener sounded best. However, in the family room, where a more conventional placement was possible, I found that I preferred the speakers pointed nearly straight ahead.

During the course of their stay, I was able to team the AE 300s up with three likely partners: a Rotel RB-976 amplifier, an older Yamaha integrated and the new Marantz SR4200 receiver. The AE 300 allowed the character of each amp to show through. The Rotel proved to be a good match for the AE 300, exhibiting openness and clarity on the top end. Meanwhile, the Marantz came through with a little more fullness in the bass and a somewhat smoothed presentation. The Yamaha displayed slight grain and harshness that wasn’t readily apparent when it was paired with the C-2s, but not enough to be objectionable. What does all this mean? The AE 300 should be right at home with most solid-state electronics, but has the capacity to show off what better electronics can do for them. I also pressed into service an Adcom GCD-600 CD player for source duties.

On the title track of Doug MacLeod’s You Can’t Take My Blues [Audioquest 1041], the bass energy was so strong, and extended so low, that I got up and walked over to my subwoofer to make sure it was really turned off! I was a little startled to discover that it was. What’s more, the bass was tight and tuneful -- none of that flabby, bloated bass you get from many monitors that pretend to be larger speakers. And that’s just the start. Switching to "If You Don’t Love Me," I found the top end to be detailed and articulate as well, with a very open and revealing sound.

Off to a good start, I next cued up Rod Stewart’s "Smitten," from his Human CD [Atlantic 83411]. Listening to this cut, it became apparent that the AE 300 is capable of excellent imaging, evidenced by the pinpoint placement of background sounds panning from one side of the room to the other. The soundstage extended well past the front plane of the speakers, providing a good sense of depth, which is not all that easy a feat in my less-than-perfect listening environment.

Contemplating the surprising bass response I encountered listening to the Doug MacLeod CD, I soon found myself loading the Eagles Hell Freezes Over [Geffen 24725] into the CD player and queuing up "Hotel California." Besides being an old favorite, this is a standard bass test track that has tripped up many a more expensive speaker than the AE 300. I shouldn’t have been surprised that the Acoustic Energys passed the test with flying colors, exhibiting stellar control and surprising depth.

Switching to something a little more complex, I cued up Cassandra Wilson’s Traveling Miles [Blue Note 54123] and chose "Seven Steps." Here the AE 300 displayed its prowess at delineating the various instruments spread across an expansive soundstage. Indeed, it was a simple matter to place each note on the close-miked vibraphone at a specific point in front of me, slightly behind the vocalist. Throughout this CD I found the soundstage and clarity of reproduction to be utterly convincing.

I needed a little classical music as a reference point, so I dropped Respighi's The Pines of Rome [Unesco 70722] into the CD player. Throughout the complex instrumentation of the opening bars, it was easy to pick out specific instruments arrayed across the soundfield in front of me. All were presented with perfect clarity and superb detail. After this test there was no doubt left in my mind that the AE 300 would meet just about any demand placed on it.

In comparison to the Energy C-2, which has been a mainstay in my system for so long, the AE 300 is clearly superior. The bass output of the C-2 is good for a mid-sized monitor and relatively clean. However, it’s no match for the prodigious output and definition of the AE 300. The Acoustic Energy trumps the C-2 in every aspect of bass performance.

GOODSOUND! APPROVED COMPONENT
Acoustic Energy
Aesprit 300
Loudspeakers

The midrange of the C-2, again, while quite good for a monitor in its class, has met its match in the AE 300. To put it bluntly, the C-2 doesn’t hold a candle to the AE 300 in the midrange, as listening to the Rod Stewart CD clearly illustrated. On very rare occasions there is a slightly nasal quality to some of the vocals with the Energys, but that was never the case with the AEs. As a matter of fact, the AE 300 compared favorably on male vocals to anything I’ve heard at several times the price.

Once they had fully broken in, I found the high frequencies of the AE 300 to be more natural and extended than those of the C-2 as well. In addition, the AE 300 raises the bar a notch in the area of soundstaging. Where the C-2 is a credible performer in this regard, the AE 300 bests it with a more expansive and precise soundstage and a greater sense of depth than the C-2 ever had.

Conclusion

Within its price range, the Acoustic Energy 300 will find few peers. The fine furniture-grade finish alone makes this speaker stand out in a crowded field of relatively similar mid-priced monitor loudspeakers. With video shielding as standard equipment, I suspect that this speaker would be equally at home in a theater or music-only system. The one and only slightly negative comment of any type that I can make is that I wish it had a little heavier binding post. This is really unfair though, since nearly every other speaker in this category uses similar or somewhat lower-quality connections.

There you have it. While $800 per pair may not be the cheapest speaker we’ve ever recommended, it represents money well spent in the Acoustic Energy Aesprit 300s. They exhibit no obvious flaws and perform satisfactorily in every category. If you’re looking for a speaker in this price range, the AE 300 should very definitely be on your short list.

Price of equipment reviewed


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