It's not a new package having been around since late 2008/early 2009 - the Radiance 2 not included here came out a couple of years later - and its position in AE's lineup is atop of the packages able to offer a mix and match approach to surround sound. It is topped by the Reference Series, but as that comprises small standmount speakers with no dedicated centre speaker, for most AV enthusiasts this is currently the pinnacle of AE's domestic products.
On test here we have a pair of the floor standing Radiance 3, a pair of the stand mount Radiance 1 (ostensibly on rear channel duties, but we will cover it's use as the front stereo pair too), Radiance Centre, and Radiance Sub. Prices are ￡1500 for the Radiance 3, ￡600 for the Radiance 1, ￡395 for the Centre and ￡495 for the Subwoofer. Collectively known as the Radiance 3 AV package, the keen of eye will spot this is a 5.1 package. The absent Radiance 2 is a smaller two-and-a-half way floor stander at ￡1000 and there are no di/bi-polar surround options offered.
It's a feature that also appears on the tweeter, although much like the Vifa XT25 ring radiator used, it's not the most notable departure from the norm. That departure would be the highly visible DXT waveguide through which the tweeter fires and it's worthy of further discussion. What is a DXT waveguide? Well, to understand that you need to know what a waveguide is and that in turn requires knowing what a power response is.
When you see the frequency response range of a speaker quoted, that is normally as measured from a point directly in front of the speaker in anechoic conditions ie, no reflected sound to interfere and influence the reading. That is almost precisely how you don't hear a loudspeaker and so tells you very little about how the speaker will interact with your room. In reality, at least as much sound is reflected off the surfaces of the room, and what you hear is the sum total of this direct and reflected sound. What a power response represents is the average of a number of frequency response measurements taken at different points around a loudspeaker and it gives a far more relevant indication of the way the speaker distributes its sound into the room. A smooth frequency response is good, but a smooth power response is better and harder to achieve. Why? Because the drivers employed radiate sound unevenly. At the lower end of the frequencies radiated by a given driver, dispersion will be wide, but as frequency increases the dispersion will start to narrow until, somewhere about the point where the wavelength equals the driver's diameter, it will effectively 'beam' like a spotlight straight ahead with virtually no sideways output.
Now, if you picture the crossover point between a midrange driver and tweeter, you have the mid driver operating at the top end of it's range and beaming like a goodun, whilst the tweeter is spreading it's output far and wide at the same point - only to start beaming as it's output increases in frequency. This creates the crossover designer a whole lot of hoops to jump through if the sound reaching your ear isn't going to suffer audible jumps in intensity as different frequencies are either beamed straight at you, or have larger component of reflected sound. This is where waveguides come in, the idea being that, dispersion of the frequencies at the bottom end of the treble driver's output is restricted to better match the dispersion pattern of the midrange driver working beneath it. A side-effect is that as less energy is lost sideways, the tweeter offers more efficiency at the bottom of it's range meaning lower distortion and/or the ability to use a lower crossover point. All good.
Where the DXT (Diffration eXpasion Technology) waveguide claims to differ is not in the way it guides the dispersion at the bottom end of the tweeters output, but in the way it simultaneously, progressively increases dispersion as frequencies rise in order to deliver a consistent power response not just in the crossover region, but throughout the tweeters passband. The technology - patented by a Dane, Mike Thomas - superimposes edges on the normally smooth flair of a waveguide to diffract higher frequencies further outward and it's the mathematics of the waveguide flair and where the ridges are that is patented technology. As to whether the diffraction ridges work, or are simply there to provide a patentable product, seems to be open to some debate.
Google the DXT website for more info, but to date there are only three products that use it. A Swedish loudspeaker that uses the Chinese OEM based tweeter on the DXT website, a SEAS tweeter that appears in a DSpeaker active monitor and the AE Radiance Series here. I apologize for the sojourn in examining a single component part, but it's not often that you see something truly new and original in loudspeaker design these days, so it's worthy of note and we have the room here to do it. As to whether it works, well that can only be discussed in terms of the package in which it's integrated and more of that when we come to listening later.
AE Radiance 3
The 15mm thick radiused cabinet sides are inherently stiff due to their curvature, but are further reinforced by a solid cabinet divider beneath the mid range driver, a window brace between the bass drivers and, again, by a solid brave that compartmentalizes a volume at the bottom of the cabinet for filling with sand to aid stability. This is another feature I like that AE have consistently provided across their range, down the ages, and I wish others would do. The front baffle is a full 25mm thick and the whole is impressively dead to the rap of a knuckle. All of this is wrapped in a real wood veneer with two colour options of either 'Natural' or 'Dark' Ash. In my room there is both natural oak, maple and pine and if push came to shove, I'd say the Natural Ash option, as supplied, was a pretty close colour match to oak or pine, with the grain leaning more toward the oak end of the spectrum. In other words, Ash it may be, but sufficiently anonymous it is that it should fit in with any light wood decor.
Stability is further aided by screw in outriggers that significantly extend the width of the speakers footprint. As the rocking forces, generated by the drivers, operate in the fore/aft plane they make little difference in performance terms but if you have an ebullient two year old they're handy and they do make leveling the speaker a doddle. I also liked the conical tops that extend the styling cues of the dust caps on the mid and bass drivers - Nice touch.
To the rear, we find two pairs of decent quality cable terminals on a recessed plastic tray, the surprise being that there is only two on a three way speaker. The split is midrange and treble on one pair with the bass drivers connected to the other but, if going to the trouble of offering the facility at all, why not three pairs? To be fair, anybody with an AV Receiver, bi-amping will be the most that is catered for and for those with pre or pro-power setups considering the expense of six channels of amplification for a ￡1500 front stereo pair alone, well they'd probably be better off looking for better amps rather than more.
Above the terminal tray are a pair reflex ports that are very well flared externally AND internally. I've experienced a hat full of speakers that have a flare where you can see it, but only a plain end where you can't. There is no cost (read performance) cutting here. Right at the top of the narrow rear panel is a further, very small, port to vent the mid range chamber. Vent rather than port is probably the right description as the purpose of the vent is not to tune the midrange enclosure but quite simply to leak some mid range sound to the rear to expand the sound stage and more on this later.
It's not mentioned in the instruction manual, but the presence of ports allows you some bass tuning options. Plug one bass port and you lower the tuning frequency of the enclosure whilst also reducing relative bass output and plug both to reduce bass output further and operate as per a broadly sealed cabinet with a second order roll-off from a higher frequency. I say broadly because a sealed enclosure optimized for the drivers would be a lot smaller with a higher Q and offer better protection of the drivers against over excursion. As such, I'd only suggest trying sealed if you're insisting on trying to squeeze the Radiance 3s into a room that's too small for them and where you will benefit from the high roll-off of a low Q sealed enclosure due to excessive room gain. If you are this person, then you should probably consider the Radiance 2s....
Finally, the grills (on all of the speakers in the package) are held in place with hidden magnets which contributes to the clean look of the package. The grill frames are as minimal as could be and are radiused to minimize diffraction. Short of doing away with frames altogether, these are about as neat an example of the ilk as you will see.
AE Radiance 1
AE Radiance Centre
AE claim that the Centre can be stood on a stand, mounted on a wall, on a furniture unit or even integrated within a "screen stand". This would seem to be a slightly contradictory range of mounting possibilities, not least because the presence of one or more room/furniture boundaries can have quite a pronounced affect on the sheer quantity of bass produced and simply plugging the port can't affect a great enough to change to this by itself. Much will depend on which way AE have leaned in the bass tuning - Lean bass to be mounting tolerant, or normal bass that expects free space atop a dedicated speaker stand.
Additional are the three controls necessary to implement a single band of parametric equalization. These allow you to tame your rooms worst mode (boom) by notching it out with a filter that targets the exact frequency, amplitude and bandwidth of that mode. It can be a very effective feature that can improve bass quality out of all recognition but, even as someone who has used a lot of EQ devices of varying complexity (and effectiveness), I find the precision required to set the filter is not something that can be done by ear other than by luck. The finesse required to operate the controls by the tiny amounts that can result in a direct hit, or a near miss that can simply make matters worse, is not something you will luck upon. If you plan to visit these controls effectively, you need to read up on in room bass measurement. I recommend this to anybody anyway, whether you have a sub or not. It's a boon for setting up speakers which can suffer many of the same issues.
To complete the picture, there is a three position ON/OFF/AUTO selector that does exactly that, chunky rubber feet that can be augmented with some 8mm spikes and finally a grill, that looses the magnetic fixing in favour of the traditional pin and cup.
Without jumping ahead of myself and because I've basically reviewed it before, it's fair to say this a good little sub that is comfortable amongst is price comparable peer group and a good deal more competent than most. However, this time it's playing amongst a set of speakers more than double the price (and indeed size in the case of the 3s) of what it is asked to compliment elsewhere in the range. It has it's work cut out.
I rang the changes, using both stereo pairs at the front for both stereo and multichannel listening, the former with and without the subwoofer's input and I'll start with stereo performance.
Listening - Radiance 3
From the top down, the treble is very refined and remarkably free of spitting or sibilance which makes even edgy recordings very listenable, without sacrificing natural detail. Cymbals, hi-hats and crashes have a lovely polished metallic ring and the subtle tonal shifts as the metal is hit slightly differently is clearly differentiated - where the drummers skill allows. The general lack of treble hash, even when the volume gets turned up, is impressive and, so, the promise of the lower distortion the waveguide delivers would seem to be well founded. Although it's as much down to the crossover, the transition to the midrange driver seemed to be particularly seamless and I dug out plenty of simple guitar and piano to try and pick holes.
If there is a small criticism to be had, it would be in the area just below this (I'm guessing 1-2kHz) where I did find some of the more powerful piano pieces and the occasional female vocal could start to pick up a touch of a metallic edge and shout just a touch at high volume. I suspect there's a slightly engineered-in 'presence' here to project vocal clarity because even at very low volumes, I found speech to be uncommonly intelligible, - Late night, low volume viewing, or listening, is very easy with the 3s. It wasn't an issue at moderate levels, but when winding the volume control up, the sound started to harden slightly as your ear failed to appreciate the slightly 'cuppy' emphasis, it didn't really need, where it's most sensitive. This did seem to be rather artist dependent and may be a non-issue depending on the music of your choice and the flip side was that the vocal image of all artists seemed etched, life size between the speakers and projecting very clear of the instruments around them.
Part of me did wonder if this might also be an unwanted side effect of the mid range vent reflecting its output off the rear wall and so to experiment, I plugged it. The result was simply that the sound lost its natural life and spaciousness and the depth of the soundstage seemed to compress. The vocals stayed out front, but everything else just seemed to flatten towards them. Whether the idea of sound being 'leaked' from the rear seems strange or not, it works in practice.
Whilst I'm touching on soundstage, this was another satisfying area. The rigidity of the cabinet and careful attention to the radiation of sound from it and the drivers implementation pays dividends in both a freedom from box colouration and a freedom of the sounds from the boxes. This is a speaker that detaches itself and places sounds firmly in the air between them. Even recordings that I use with a pronounced, but not total bias of an instrument to one channel refused to anchor themselves to one speaker and this proved so in a couple of different rooms. That, in itself, was a valuable experiment as the resulting sound overall was very consistent between the rooms, so the attention to the power response through the treble and midrange seemed to pay dividends in a high degree of room independence.
Back to the trip down the frequency range: The other area I felt the midrange delivered in, was in the dynamics of instruments like acoustic guitars which play into the hands of a three way speaker's strength. Much of their frequency range falls squarely into the range covered by the midrange driver and the freedom from time smearing phase issues, the use of one driver allows, is probably the single most marked difference a three way makes to reproduction. With no difficult crossover transitions to other drivers, right where the ear is most discerning, the result is a nimble, immediate dynamic midrange attack and vocal expressiveness that is rare to find in a two way speaker. It's more akin to the experience of listening to a full range driver, but without the downside of spiky treble and restricted bass output.
There's little restriction in bass output in evidence here. In room, I was measuring useful output to sub 30Hz and, even for a subwoofer advocate like myself, I felt little need for more - under most circumstances. Once set up and port tuned (one bung to deliver a little less bass, in fact) I found the Radiance 3s bottom end to be a very tight, tuneful performer with even double bass dispatched with little effort.
A lack of overhang gave notes a nice fibrous, tactile quality that enhanced the sense of realism with real instruments, with swift fret runs on either double or electric bass tracked with real tonal dexterity. I even ran a few tracks though them of no notable musical provenance that I would only normally reserve for trying to break, sorry, test subwoofers and unless you are a real organ fiend, or impressed by ICE sound offs, you're unlikely to be left wanting. If there is a limit, it is in sheer bass dynamics and one must remember that we are only dealing with a pair of 150mm cones here. Okay, they have the same radiating area as a 200mm cone, but in my experience that doesn't add up to energizing air in the same way as an eight incher can. The natural dynamic kick of bass drum doesn't hit in quite the same way a larger driver on a wider baffle can, but that is the trade-off for a domestically acceptable visual presence and it would be unfair to criticize AE for failing to defeat the laws of physics in a way that every other speaker with a pair of six inch drivers fails too.
In all, the Radiance 3 is a well rounded package with few weaknesses and, at £1500, you can't expect it to have none - This is far from 'cost no object' hi-fi. It manages to excite without offending and civilize wayward recordings without robbing the life out of those that have no edges in need of polish. I would caution that it does seem to enjoy amplifiers with, if not power station credentials, at least the ability to swing a bit of current and a good damping factor. I heard them on the end of a good seventy watter and they worked very well, if not with quite the volume levels that my normal reference amp can muster. Swapping that out for a Yamaha RV-X3800 I use as representative of mid-range AV fodder (120W/channel claimed) wasn't a happy combination as the Yam struggled to hold down the bottom end or inject any real life into the sound. An abject lesson about all Watts not being the same me thinks.
Listening - Radiance 1
That's not to say they lack bass, quite the reverse in fact. I was genuinely pleasantly surprised by how solid the foundation of bass they served up was and at the volume levels they were prepared to do it. Electric bass was very well defined and textured with double bass being required to first show up a softness at the speakers very lowest registers and then the rapid drop off beneath. I'd say play realistically stops at about 40Hz in room, which is still damn good going. Because the midrange driver is having to achieve the high excursions to manage these bass feats, you do loose some midrange definition and refinement at higher volumes, but t'was always thus with a two way and, as I say, the limits are high for such a small speaker.
Within the limits of what you should be asking the Radiance 1s to do, they remained extremely refined, projecting vocals intelligibly - with a very natural balance and a treble quality that if excellent in the larger 3s, sounded expensive beyond it's price point in the 1s where the lighter balance tends to lead you to focus more on the upper part of the frequency spectrum. In some ways, as a balance of their strengths - for the price - and expectations in terms of what you expect their size to deliver, these where my favourites of the bunch.
In basic terms, the vocal clarity of the main speakers is comfortably matched by the Radiance Centre and the package, as a whole, expressed the same grace under pressure that it had with music. The explicit but natural detail is capable of picking out voices in a crowd and placing effects across the front soundstage with precision and all of those delicate little tinkly effects, that make for a movie style sound, are abundant. This presentation of natural detail, combined with refinement of the package, as a whole, makes for a very unfatiguing listen across extended sessions, at high volume. You don't need to make excuses for choosing these as a music speaker that sacrifices movie fun; just bear in mind that they won't impress the ears off you on a short listen and their qualities are more manifest once you've lived with them for a while.
However, there are some points worth noting with this particular combination of speakers and it took a bit of swapping around to nail down some of them. First up is that whilst the Centre works well enough with the Radiance 3s in terms of keeping up with the larger speaker's output levels, the Centre's leaner tonal balance does introduce a less than totally seamless blend across the front. On the up side, it was a match made in heaven when partnered with the Radiance 1s and I do mean very, very good indeed.
Surround imaging is not the same thing as stereo imaging. Both speakers of a stereo pair are a de facto, tonal match. With a dedicated centre speaker being a totally different speaker, that is not a given and where multichannel audio is concerned, its character is central to the illusion of effects passing cleanly across the soundstage - without it actually sounding like it's there. In other words, a well matched front three sound like a good stereo pair. With the Radiance 3s flanking the Centre, that seemeless blend wasn't as utterly effortless as it was with the 1s on the case.
In terms of the rear channels, and surround effects, the Radiances (I had to use the 3s as the surrounds when using the 1s at the front - that looked odd!) gave one of the most creditable surround experiences I've heard from a monopole speaker. AEs manual is less prescriptive than most with regards to rear positioning and I tried the 1s alongside, behind, firing at the listening position, firing forward and finally settled on them about 45cm behind the hot seat firing directly at each other and I seem to recall this was the recommended arrangement for the Sat/Sub package I previously reviewed. Although that was based on the modus operandi for a mixing room, it proved particularly effective with the Radiances. Perhaps it's also because of their room independence - and therefore the way they're less prone to tonal variations, as a result - but I was less aware of effects being fired at me from a discrete location, than usual, and effects passed from front to rear without a noticeable hole-in-the-side and steered around the room in a very effective manner. It's no small compliment to say I didn't miss di/tripoles, at all, when hammering an action flick and multichannel music, which I'm still not counting myself as a convert to, was simply brilliant with the right disk. I don't want to sit in the middle of a band, generally preferring mixes that use the rear channels to provide ambiance, but, blimey, Jeff Wayne's 'War Of The Worlds' was mesmerizing. It still couldn't make the SACD multichannel mix of Dire Straits 'Brother In Arms' sound anything less than odd, but that's not something you can blame AE for!
I haven't mentioned the Radiance Subwoofer yet and it's success was variable depending on how the package was configured.
Starting with the Radiance 3s in stereo mode, I found the Sub didn't have much of a role to play for two reasons. For those who prefer their speakers full range, with a sub filling in the very bottom end, the minimum 45Hz crossover the sub allows simply isn't low enough.
Any added extension is overwhelmed by the excess of bass from the large overlap, between the speakers and sub, so you don't hear much more than a thickening and blurring of the deep bass caused by excess combined output in the 30-60Hz region. Second, if you do tend to prefer a sub to handle the bottom end in 2.1 stereo like I normally do, you don't really gain a lot over what the Radiance 3s can already manage on their own. Okay, if you have a particularly savage room boom, the parametric EQ can tame that (and it does work very well by the way) in a way that may be hard with speakers, but if the room's not too bad you may find the extra few Hertz of extension isn't a desirable trade for the extra acoustic clues and information that stereo bass can provide.
With the Radiance 1s in charge, the Sub is on firmer ground as it does bring a missing dimension to the party and, once tuned to compliment the smaller speaker, it proved a worthwhile addition. Obviously extension was much improved and the benefits of relieving the speakers of producing deep bass were much clearer. The midrange of the Radiance 1s maintained its natural clarity to higher levels than before, and bass dynamics gained a lot more tactile kick, energizing the room far more effectively.
Although the disparity between the possible speaker/sub combinations was less notable with movies at normal levels, the hooligan levels the Radiance 3s can happily maintain stretch the Subs capabilities somewhat. It's not that it starts to cry or make untoward noises - AE have applied well judged limiting to stop that - it's just that its lack of sheer SPL capability starts to become noticeable due to the LFE effects that don't scale the heights the 3s are comfortable delivering. With the Radiance 1s up front, the balance is better as mechanical sympathy for the speakers should stop all but the worst bass heads pushing the sub overly far.
- Sound quality and refinement
- Flexibility in setup
- Tonal matching amongst the smaller speakers
- Subwoofer too small to partner the larger speakers
- Radiance 3s won't suffer weak amplifiers, although you can't blame that on the speakers
- Tonal matching between the Radiance 3s and the other speakers
Acoustic Energy Radiance 3 AV Speaker Package Review
A difficult one this as the individual components represent excellent value for money and deliver excellent performance in their own right but ,taken as the 5.1 system I'm presented with, the outcome is a bit more equivocal. Had this been a system based around the smaller Radiance 2 floorstanders, I suspect the outcome would have been more balanced to the benefit of a more evenly positive conclusion. But it wasn't and so I'll conclude accordingly. I should also note, right now, that if you weren't about to try running the system here front to back as I did, then you would probably wonder what the dickens I'm on about, because the differences are small. But I like to be complete in these matters and I did notice.
In multichannel mode, the obvious problem - in terms of the package as a whole - is ironically the most capable speaker of the bunch. It's not that the Radiance 1s on surround duties and the Centre doing what it does can't keep up - they can; bass management sorts that out. It's just that the tonal balance of the 3s is (only just) sufficiently different to impact the seamless transition around the acoustic sphere. On top of that, the levels of output available from the 3s make it possible to stretch the Subwoofers output to its limits.
As I say, the Subwoofer isn't really at fault and, as before, I still think its a great little sub of it's type, size and price. What is really needed is simply a larger more powerful subwoofer to match the step up in performance the Radiance range as a whole offers. With the smaller speakers it's a fine match as they place more of a limit on the demands the Subwoofer can be subjected to, but the Radiance 3s really need a larger, more powerful sub to deliver something that they can't and keep up with what they can.
Turning the package around results in an almost diametrically opposed result. The integration between the 1s and the centre is blinding. Probably one of the best I've heard without resorting to using three identical speakers across the front and I should mention (because I haven't) that within reasonable limits, that impression stands up off-axis where horizontal format speakers can suffer. I seem to recall thinking similar with the Neo V2s, so AE would clearly seem to know their onions when it comes to centre speaker design. The Centre is further worthy of praise for its grace under pressure, playing comfortably, and cleanly, for extended periods and offering excellent dialogue clarity.
Looking at the range overall, the traditional AE benefits of comfort at high SPLs are present and correct and I feel that the benefits wrought by the DXT waveguide have a universally positive benefit across the range. The Radiance Series really is a very positive advert for well implemented controlled dispersion drive units. The transition from mid to treble is audibly invisible, the cleanliness of the treble, resulting from increased efficiency at the bottom of the tweeter passband, is obvious in what is missing (distortion) and, finally, the consistency in the results between different rooms means that more of what you hear in a dealer demo is likely to transfer directly to your front room. Don't underestimate the value of that last point, especially if your dealer has an acoustically correct room and yours isn't.
To conclude the conclusion(?), I'd say that people who lean toward pure stereo (no sub) with AV attached will find the Radiance 3s a real tonic and the rest of the package well enough up to the job. Those for whom music plays second fiddle will find the smaller speaker a better option as you will have a sub to handle the bottom end anyway. I also suspect, although I didn't have them to hand to test the theory, that the Radiance 2 will be the best natural floorstanding partner in terms of the surround package as it has a lot in common with the Centre anyway.
In standalone stereo terms, then the Radiance 3s are an excellent proposition that proves tolerant of positioning for quite a large speaker, although I would stop short of trying to shoehorn it into a 4x3m mid terrace living room. No amount of port bunging will make that work. The Radiance 1s are in their element, in that environment, and will deliver deeper bass than their paper specs and anyway, the Radiance Sub will do a good job of tickling up a bit more bottom end should you so desire.
So, for anybody who skips to the rankings at the bottom first, you'll be missing a good deal of the point. I have to deduct marks for the issues of the package as a whole, but I hope I've made it clear why this is and that other combinations would result in a star higher. You really should search out a combination of these products that reflects your room, your preferences and your pocket. There is original thinking, some genuine star quality - in all of the Radiance Series - and a balance of sound that won't wear thin or lose it's gloss with time.
Recommended, with caveats.
Value For Money
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.