Acoustic Energy 1 Series 5.1 Review
Big scale, small budget. Meet the 1 series.
What is the 1-Series?Allow me, if you will, to climb aboard a favourite hobby horse of mine. With loudspeakers, like engines, there is no real substitute for cubic capacity. The easiest way to give a speaker believable presence, scale, impact and simple realism is to imbue with the necessary driver size and cabinet dimensions to have a chance of doing the job. Like engines, there are ways of getting speakers to subvert the laws of physics but these are not cheap. The last speaker review I undertook featured speakers that truly monkey about with what it is possible for small speakers to do but that ensemble costs £5,500. At more real world price points, size matters.
Modern life however is not kind to the idea of larger speakers. As a result, the £500-1,500 category is dominated by sub sat packages or at the least smaller speakers that rely on subs to generate low end shove. Speaker packages with a pair of floorstanders as the front channels at this price have regrettably become rather rare. When Tannoy’s Mercury package broke cover last year, it didn’t take long to realise that if you have the space for them, full size speakers deliver performance that sub sat packages rarely can.
Now, another brand with considerable pedigree in this area has a new lineup. Acoustic Energy has been on a bit of a roll of late and has released some very strong speakers. The 1-Series is the latest arrival and is the most affordable complete range for Acoustic Energy ownership. This means that the 5.1 system you see here including floorstanders and a subwoofer is £1,373 and takes the fight to premium sub sat packages. Can they make their extra size count?
Design features of the 1-Series?The 1-Series comprises four models all of which are used in this package. The 101 Standmount and 103 Floorstander are sold as stereo pairs while the 107 Centre and 108 Subwoofer are sold singly (there is no sign as yet of anything filling the 105 slot). The range is scrupulously logical. All models (except the sub obviously) are built around the same two drivers- a 28mm soft dome tweeter and a 100mm anodised aluminium cone.
The larger cone is in the classic mould of Acoustic Energy and even features the pointed dust cap that gives them a family resemblance to both more expensive models and some of the classic designs from the past. The tweeter is more of a departure for them however. Traditionally, the company also used aluminium for their high frequency drivers but of late, they have moved to soft domes and seems to be switching over entirely.
The three passive speakers share another design feature that first appeared on the more expensive 3 Series and proved very effective. As is conventional for speakers of this size and type, the 1-Series is ported but the method by which they vent is a little unusual. All the passive models use a front mounted slot port which is intended to allow for a reasonable volume of air to pass from the cabinet but at the same time, thanks to the fairly wide opening, the air should not become audible. Putting this port on the front is a smart move too as it means that all members of the 1-Series are unfussed about being placed relatively close to walls which should allow them to go into a normal lounge without dominating it.
Nor is Acoustic Energy done there in terms of distinctive design. The 103 floorstander has a cabinet that tapers towards the top. This means that the front panel is angled back in a manner that presumably aids with time alignment of the drivers while simultaneously making the 103 look smaller than it actually is. This is something that the more expensive 3 series floorstander does as well but I don’t recall seeing it on a speaker that is so relatively affordable- not least because the cost of making it are that little bit higher than a ‘normal’ cabinet that is cut at right angles. The 101 and 107 are more conventional and use parallel sides all the way around. All the passive speakers have a sensitivity in the high 80s and impedance between 6 and 8 ohms which makes them perfectly suited to AV receivers in the £400-600 range.
What about the sub?The 108 Subwoofer that finishes the set is a compact device and is built around a downward firing 8 inch driver powered by 150 watt class A/B amp- a decided rarity in this day and age. The promo material for the 100 series suggests that the 108 is best employed in pairs and while I am sure this is tremendously effective, for the sake of normality, the review system simply used one of them. One unusual feature is that the 108 is supplied with a remote control which is not something commonly seen on models under £1,000 and almost never at £350. The connections are normal enough and when you combine it with the small footprint, it should be easy enough to install.
The result of this unusual combination of the normal and the less normal is a speaker package that feels a little bit different to the competition but not so wilfully odd that you’d need to make any real compromises to use them. The black finish of the review samples is not the sort of thing to get the pulse racing but the proportions are good and the walnut finish looks a little more promising. The build is very good too and there are some lovely touches like magnetic grill tabs that mean there are no unsightly holes in the cabinet when the grilles are removed. Other nice touches abound. The packaging is solid but extracting (and repackaging for that matter) is an entirely straightforward and well thought process.
The result of this unusual combination of the normal and the less normal is a speaker package that feels a little bit different to the competition but not so willfully odd that you’d need to make any real compromises to use them.
How was the 1-Series tested?The Acoustic Energys were connected to a Yamaha RX-A3040 AV Receiver with source equipment courtesy of Cambridge Audio 752BD, Sky HD box and Panasonic GT60 plasma. They were tested with and without the Yamaha YPAO equalisation in place and as the centre and surrounds were brand new, they were left to work with normal broadcast material to run in for a period. Main test material included Blu Ray, lossless and high res FLAC, broadcast and on demand TV and some on demand music service material, mainly Tidal.
The front speakers were placed roughly three metres apart with a small amount of toe in while the centre was placed on the top shelf of a Quadraspire QAVX rack. The surrounds were placed on a pair of Soundstyle Z60 stands and although the sub was briefly tested at the front of the room, the bulk of testing saw it at the back.
1-Series Movie sound quality
With some hours on the centre and surrounds, the 1-Series manages to get a great deal right from the outset. There are very few substitutes for having the same drivers in use across all speakers and the 1-Series nails this with only two drivers in use in the satellites and three in the whole system. This means that the performance of the package as a whole is impressively cohesive. Effects are handed over from speaker to speaker with an impressive smoothness and this lends the Acoustic Energy the same front to back consistency that well sorted sub sat packages have.
Where the Acoustic Energy kicks on from satellites is that all five speakers have the ability to generate meaningful impact in their own right. The 101 and 107 don't go tremendously deep- there is meaningful roll off below 50Hz but this additional 30Hz or so extension is the difference between the speaker reproducing a sound and reproducing an effect. This means that when you watch something terminally silly like Into the Storm there is a genuine sense of force from all corners of the room rather than the one where the sub is.
One area where the 1-Series is also particularly strong is thanks to the centre speaker. The 107 is fairly big by the standards of some of its rivals but thanks to those same drivers cropping up, it does a fine job of anchoring the front left and right speakers and provides genuinely good dialogue handling. Sometimes I test centre speakers (and not exclusively cheap centre speakers either) where they feel like a bit of a lash up- something clearly derived from a standard bookshelf. The 107 has clearly had a little bit of time spent on it and the result is something that across a very range of material consistently delivers excellent results.
With the 107 locking everything in position, the 1-Series delivers a very grown up performance. There is plenty of headroom on offer- the RX-A3040 is obviously a bit more amp than you'd usually partner them with but everything points to something like the more keenly priced RX-V667 being well up to the task of driving them. When you do drive them to high levels they stay smooth and usefully civilised when you so. Given that they are relatively compact, the 103 floorstander packs a useful amount of scale and punch to itself and when set to large and with the 108 sub at the back of the room, there is a very consistent sense of bass extension.
The 108 sub is commendably capable for what is a fairly small and inexpensive subwoofer. There is a sense when listening to it in more ballistic action sequences that the relatively small driver isn't the sort of thing that will rearrange your internal organs but it usefully adds an extra octave or so of bass to what the 103 can achieve and does so in a fairly lively and upbeat way. There is none of the sluggishness that can affect budget subs- quite possibly because of that more compact 8 inch driver being easier to move. The remote control is a genuinely useful thing too. Being able to tweak the volume on demand to cope with the variation between blu-ray and broadcast is really very handy.
Little details like this make the Acoustic Energy extremely versatile to live with. It is as happy pounding its way through Guardians of the Galaxy as it is reproducing the brooding score of Gone Girl. It is also stays detailed and easy to follow at late night listening levels as well although like many speakers from the Acoustic Energy range I've listened to over the years, they are happiest with a bit of volume behind them.
The 1-Series manages to get a great deal right from the outset
1-Series sound quality with musicWhen given the floor and left to their own devices, the 103 is a very capable stereo speaker. Given the relatively wide placement for front speakers I now use since the QAVX rack went in, I found that a degree of toe- in is required to secure a decent stereo image but this is far from unusual. As it is in multichannel, the 103 is civilised and happy to be worked to high volumes without much in the way of strain or harshness.
If I had to find a criticism of the 103 it would be that while it is refined and generally very capable it can be a little bit matter of fact. Compared to the recently reviewed (and £50 cheaper) Tannoy Mercury V4i, the 103 sometimes sounds like it is holding back a little. With the splendidly funky Gagarin by Public Service Broadcast, the 103 is deft, tonally accurate and produces a believable performance but the last bit of excitement doesn't seem to be there. We're deep in the realms of subjectivity here but the Tannoy edges the contest for two channel listening.
- Refined, detailed sound
- Excellent build
- Easy to drive
- Work best at higher volumes
- A little matter of fact in stereo
- 103 is not the best looking speaker around
Acoustic Energy 1 Series 5.1 ReviewSeeing a new full size package of speakers at a relatively sensible price is always welcome and it is even better news when- as is the case with the 1-Series, they come loaded with distinctive design touches and a real sense of intent. This is not here to make up the numbers, Acoustic Energy is in it to win it.
And by and large, they have done a very good job. This is a package that is extremely easy to live with and as happy giving it everything in an explosion fest as it is providing the subtle backdrop to a piece of high class drama. Being hypercritical, I think that some of the impressive refinement has been bought at the cost of a little excitement and they face the upcoming challenge of the Q Acoustics 3000 series in this category which is unlikely to be a walkover but Acoustic Energy has delivered a very capable speaker package indeed in the form of the 1-Series and one that is definitely one for the shortlist at this price point.
Value For Money9
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