The Compact 1s retail for £150 per pair and the Neo Subwoofer for £399. As a 6.1 system, the package is offered at an RRP of £825, but shopping around, will see the Compact 6.1 landing in your front room for nearer £700 and that's interesting. That puts it up against some very well thought of, true sub/satellite packages, but the Compact 1s in particular, are considerably larger than some of the palm sized wonders that category contains. They are still very far from large, but their success rests on providing a distinct advantage from their larger, less invisible form factor. We shall see.
The conical dust cap of the mid/bass driver, continues the traditional AE look, but in this case, it is just the look. In a departure from the AE norm, the 100mm mid/bass driver cone is polypropylene, rather than aluminium and sports a ferrite magnet. This and the doped fabric, 25mm neodymium magnet dome tweeter, are screwed to a MDF sub-baffle, that is covered by the silver plastic trim forming the inset front of the speaker. Let into the four corners, are soft rubber cups that accept the metal pins on the rear of the thin, but solid MDF and fabric grill. The inset rear baffle, is finished in satin black and has a flush recessed terminal tray, for the pair of gold plated speaker cable terminals and the exit for a bass reflex port. Foam bungs are supplied for tuning the port's bass output ie, all or none.
The front and rear baffles are wrapped on all sides by the vinyl wood effect cabinet, that is of considerable 18mm MDF construction. This is further strengthened by an internal vertical brace, to which the five element crossover is screwed. Additional angle fillets further strengthen the corners and it all adds up to a cabinet that is very dense and very stiff. The Compact 1s as supplied, were in the Vermont Walnut option, with Gloss Black also available.
The final feature of the Compact 1s is that they come supplied with a simple metal plate, that allows the speakers to be hung from the head of a suitably sturdy screw for wall mounting. As the speaker wire terminals are recessed into the rear of the speaker, it is possible to achieve a nice tight, flush fit up against a wall.
The Neo v2 subwoofer is no stanger to these parts, being as it is the same unit that also serves in the previously reviewed Radiance Series, albeit in that role it attracts a real wood veneer. As supplied the vinyl wrap matches the colour of the Compact 1s, if not quite the style, as it sports the rounded vertical edges of the range from which it was culled. In practice, you won't notice. The Neo v2 sub is a front firing sealed subwoofer, with a pressed alloy framed driver, sporting a serious looking rubber roll surround. It comes with both 8mm spikes and some rubber feet, for those with wooden floors or laminates. The plate amp has stereo in and outputs, plus a separate LFE input that bypasses the former's 40-120Hz low pass crossover, but is still subject to the gain and continuously sweepable 0-180deg phase control. There is also a single band of parametric equalisation, or notch filter if you prefer. Using this, it is possible to match the exact frequency and width of your room's worst mode (room boom) and dial it out to deliver a much tighter, more even bass performance. Whilst it's virtually impossible to implement the filter 100% effectively by ear, for those who are willing to delve into room acoustic measurement, it's possible to make a very large improvement to your sub-bass quality. It's inclusion is therefore, very welcome and you don't have to use it if you don't want to.
Of course, this lack of size, does leave them a little light in the bass department, with little action below 70Hz or so, but as a stand alone speaker for a second room, or a small flat, it's less obvious than you might think. With the ports unplugged and mounted closer to a rear wall, there's decent enough weight into the high 50Hz region owing to the boundary reinforcement. It's a balancing act though; go too close and the lower mid range can suffer a thickening and chestiness that isn't inherent in the Compact 1. To be fair, a speaker of this size can't be a bass monster and Acoustic Energy aren't trying to kid you that they are. The bass is tuned to do what it does, with an even and tight quality that is entirely consistent with the balance struck twixt the mid range and treble. The port hasn't been tuned up to add excessive weight, nor efficiency taken too much of a hit, in trying to make them sound deeper. If you want more, buy a subwoofer, or just get used to the idea of needing larger speakers. The midrange is open and articulate and indeed they're exceptionally natural sounding when listening to spoken word on the radio, or off the net. Similarly vocals are expressive, with the sensibly balanced treble avoiding the prat fall of being set to rise with frequency, in order to impart an impression of added detail and air. The treble does slightly betray it's budget origins, with a slight added zing to certain sounds. There is the occasional sibilance with some sources, normally lower bit rate digital TV channels, that excites it a bit and likewise, splashy sounding pop mixes can sound a little over exuberant. Generally it's pretty well controlled and with a good clean recording, it continues the good work done lower in the frequency range in a mature, cohesive fashion.
Dynamically, there's an obvious limit to sheer impact due to the small form factor, but mid range transients from a plucked string or a piano, have good attack and just as importantly, don't hang around once they've happened. This lends them a nimble, pacy quality that makes for fun with acoustic guitars. I did also note, that I seemed to listen to quite a lot of woodwind on them, enjoying the tonal differentiation the neutrality enabled and possibly because such instruments lean less heavily on bottom end weight. Clearly, the chaps who developed this speaker know their instruments and what it takes, with the limits imposed, to deliver a believable rendition.
As it was time to try some movies out, the Neo Sub was introduced into the equation. Now, this is a little sub I know well and it's proven an exemplary match with Acoustic Energy's smaller speakers in the past. There's no change here and indeed, this is an exceptional, compact pairing. In pure stereo mode, you will need an amplifier with pre-outs as the Neo Sub lacks high (speaker) level inputs, but there's plenty of adjustment to get the subwoofer dovetailed under the Compact 1s and with careful tuning of the notch filter, it's possible to deliver an exceptionally taut and deep response that lifts the scale of the presentation onto another level. As the Compact 1s are still running full range they are the limiting factor, so in this mode, the performance limits of the Neo Sub are to all intents and purposes untouchable.
Introducing the bass management of a surround sound receiver, allows you to take the heat off the bottom end of the Compact 1s and let the sub do the heavy lifting. And they certainly do enjoy it. The Neo Sub has a good top end bass response and is happy running quite high crossovers without becoming noticeably locatable. As I can position the sub up front between the speakers, crossover at 120Hz was no problem, although in listening, I settled on 100Hz. With the Compact 1s relieved of the big Watts required by bass, they could be driven quite comfortably to very high levels, without the sound hardening up and becoming uncomfortable. Metal cones they may not have, but they can still soak up quite a bit of power and a good bit more than the budget receivers they will inevitably be partnered with can kick out.
This of course, made movies good fun and the unusual feature, at this price point, of identical speakers all round, made it exceptional in some regards. Tonal matching across the channels is of course, excellent, as is horizontal dispersion, assuming you can mount the centre upright. If you can, then all listeners spread around the room will get an even tonal match across the front three as there is no off-axis lobing to contend with - This is pretty much unavoidable with a traditional 2-way centre speaker. Of course, some will worry that the centre channel, carrying as it does the mother load of the action, may be found wanting as it's so small or rather, not larger than the speakers it partners. However, as mentioned, budget receivers will struggle to stress it and with the subwoofer used at 100Hz+ crossovers it's pretty much a non issue.
You will enjoy clear dialogue, the seamless way in which panning effects pass smoothly around the room and the grunt afforded by the Neo Sub, which is well matched in this package. Okay, it's not going to bend the room, but I'm always pleasantly surprised by how well it tickles the Williams sofa on occasion, lending impacts and explosions a solid, tactile punch. It's definitely one of the better budget subs, worthy of consideration in it's own right.
- Sounds good with music and movies
- More grunt than the micro sub/sat packages
- Good power handling
- Excellent subwoofer
- Well made
- Only available in multiples of two
- Limited colour options
- A bit too big to be micro
Acoustic Energy Compact Neo 6.1 Speaker Package Review
The Compact package introduces an interesting alternative into the market place. Being smaller than nominally 'full sized' speaker packages, it goes head to head with the micro sub/sat packages, which as I've experienced, are getting rather good lately. But those packages are micro for a reason, so there has to be a quid pro quo, to the sacrifice of going visibly larger.
That benefit is in being able to contain larger drivers and the result is that the Compact 1s do offer extra upper bass dynamic kick in the 100-150Hz region. Kick drums and gunshots were the two notables that demonstrated the extra potential, even if there is little to choose above and below this point. It does however, add an additional, natural warmth to instruments, which makes the Compact package a more obvious choice for those who value their music as much as movies. Add in the fact that they do naturally go that bit louder too and it's easy to see that they can also fill a slightly larger space with sound, than the half pint sized competition.
Leaving aside the additional speaker, that you may or may not have a use for, the deals that can be found on the Acoustic Energy Compact 6.1 system, makes a very persuasive argument for giving them a listen in 5.1. If you can find a little extra space, or have a little extra space to fill, then you'll be rewarded with a mature sounding system that's as even handed with music, as it is with movies and they're very nicely made.
Value For Money
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