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Acoustic Energy AE520 Floorstanding Loudspeakers

Acoustic Energy AE520 floorstanding loudspeakers

Where do you stand on the notion of ‘quantity’? Do you subscribe to the idea that ‘more is more’? If you like being able to see, as well as hear, an overt indication of the money you’ve spent on your audio system, read on. Acoustic Energy has some floorstanding loudspeakers that might well interest you.

For the thick end of 35 years now, Acoustic Energy has quietly been turning out some of the most accomplished loudspeakers the United Kingdom has had to offer. Certainly I find myself returning to the AE1 Reference Series mkIII SE standmounting speaker from 2008 time and again – they combine fearsome powers of analysis with wanton levels of entertainment more completely than any alternative.

The 500 is Acoustic Energy’s flagship range, and the AE520 floorstander is the biggest and most expensive member of it. In terms of cabinet dimension, the AE520 is probably too slim to be described as ‘imposing’ – but where simple driver-count is concerned, it’s not so much ‘imposing’ as ‘intimidating’.

ACOUSTIC ENERGY AE520 FLOORSTANDING LOUDSPEAKERS

The AE520 is available in a choice of piano white, piano black or American Walnut wood veneer finishes – each one, in its own way, serves to highlight the svelte cabinet dimensions. With the (necessarily long, magnetically attached) grilles in place, and standing on their chunky, off-board two-piece spikes, these speakers are about as discreet as a big floorstander ever get. But take those grilles off, and their visual attitude undergoes something of a change.

There’s no denying it’s unusual to see a total of a dozen drivers in a pair of speakers that aren’t specifically designed to give club-goers a temporary hearing threshold shift. But each AE520 features a 25mm carbon-fibre dome tweeter (sitting in the wide dispersion aluminium waveguide Acoustic Energy’s been refining for a while now), a couple of 125mm carbon-fibre midrange drivers and three (count ‘em!) 125mm carbon-fibre bass drivers.

The midrange drivers are fitted with oversized (35mm) voice coils in a push for optimum motor force and low thermal compression. Each is mounted in a dedicated sealed enclosure. The three bass drivers, meanwhile, are reflex-loaded by a large rear-facing slot-shaped port – this shape is favoured by Acoustic Energy for its low-turbulence characteristics, as well as the knock-on effect of making the speaker notably forgiving of position relative to a rear surface.

Using carbon-fibre drivers across the board offers the best chance of tonal matching throughout the frequency range. It also offers improved damping when compared to the ceramic aluminium drivers with which Acoustic Energy first built its reputation, while maintaining the former’s pistonic power.

Filling the front of a cabinet from top to bottom with drivers brings quite a few theoretical difficulties, of course. The opportunity for reflections from the floor, as well as from the ceiling, is increased, for example. Acoustic Energy has expended a lot of time and energy in optimising the AE520’s vertical directivity, and has deployed aluminium outriggers to provide rigid floor-coupling in an effort to reduce room-to-speaker interaction.

The cabinet itself (little of it is visible from the straight-ahead, admittedly, given that drivers dominate this plane) is flawlessly finished, with an agreeable – and acoustically crucial – little curve where the top surface becomes the rear panel. Other than the reflex slot, the rear panel features just a single pair of chunkily purposeful speaker binding posts. The cabinet is constructed from Acoustic Energy’s 18mm RSC (resonance suppression composite) material – its constrained layer arrangement reduces acoustic radiation from the cabinet, and in theory reduces sound colouration.

ACOUSTIC ENERGY AE520 FLOORSTANDING LOUDSPEAKERS

It’s easy enough to put all this theorising to the test, of course, by playing some music. The AE520s are wired to a Naim Uniti Star streamer/amp using QED XT400 speaker cable, and are served content from TIDAL Masters via an Android smartphone, vinyl from a Cambridge Audio Alva TT and compact disc using a Cyrus CDt.

Naturally, the AE520s need a little breathing space – not so much where distance from a rear wall is concerned, but certainly when considering how far from each other, and from your seated position, they prefer to be. They’re also partial to a slight toe-in in order to form the most convincing stereo image, too. But as long as you have a listening room sizable enough to pander to them, they’re far from the most demanding loudspeakers.

And despite their fearsomely over-drivered appearance, they’re far from the most oppressive listen. With a 180g reissue of Four Tet’s There is Love In You [Domino] spinning, what’s initially most impressive about the AE520 is not their out-and-out low-frequency presence (although that’s undoubtedly one of their stronger suits). It’s how deft and light on their feet they are.

Extension down to 30Hz is significant, certainly, though the Acoustic Energys do rather look like that’s the least they should be able to manage. And the bottom-end stuff they deliver punches (rather than shoves), is controlled with absolute authority and has nothing in the way of discernible overhang. It’s textured and detailed, and consequently makes the derivation of the sound explicit. Kieran Hebden’s recording methodology mostly involves laptops and headphones, and quite often his tunes are not ‘recorded’ so much as ‘digitally transferred’ – the AE520 are unequivocal when explaining this.

Switching to an original 1966 pressing of Ike & Tina Turner’s River Deep – Mountain High [London], produced in inimitable fashion by the late and partially lamented Phil Spector, allows the Acoustic Energys to showcase their midrange potency and powers of separation. The famed Wall of Sound is tall but narrow, not unlike the AE520s themselves – yet despite the music being delivered by what sounds like a couple of dozen musicians crammed into one room, these speakers have little trouble giving each performer a degree of space. Tina Turner’s extraordinarily hair-raising vocal performance, meanwhile, is potent and immediate, with every shred of detail handed over faithfully. The specifics of reverb (both natural and applied) are made plain, and there’s even a suggestion of stage layout – the majority of loudspeakers, at any price, tend to pile the instruments in this recording up on top of each other like a sonic wedding cake.

There’s a tremendous sense of purpose to the way the AE520s go about creating music, but they have sufficient poise to avoid sounding aggressive. They have the sort of deep-breathing dynamic range to let a CD-borne copy of The Flaming Lips’ She Don’t Use Jelly [Warner Bros] do its quiet/loud/quiet thing without alarms, they have the powers of harmonic expression to make the eccentricities of Thelonious Monk’s technique during Well, You Needn’t [Blue Note] explicit. If you want information about the variation in a drummer’s strike of a snare, or the variation in a pianist’s key releases, these speakers are unambiguous. When a pair of loudspeakers has a comfort zone as expansive as the AE520s do, it proves extremely tricky to goad them out of it.

In absolute terms the Acoustic Energys are, tonally, on the warm side of neutral, but it’s an unobtrusive heat they generate and is unlikely to become problematic unless they’re partnering some particularly toasty electronics. There’s just a tiny suggestion of richness to their tonality that makes every one of the pieces of music referred to above sound rather luxurious – but that’s meant entirely positively. There’s nothing cloying about the sound of the AE520s, and their powers of analysis aren’t blunted by their tonal emphasis in the slightest. They’re more than speedy enough to avoid getting bogged down – their management of rhythms and tempos is confident.

As long as you have the physical space to accommodate them, there’s very little downside to Acoustic Energy AE520 ownership. They play no favourites where types of music are concerned – from full-on symphony orchestras to voice-and-guitar demos, they locate the fundamentals of a recording with real tenacity and are endlessly, easily listenable in the process. They’re as enjoyable and as information-packed at very low volumes, and they don’t get shouty or coarse when you turn the wick up – they simply get louder.

ACOUSTIC ENERGY AE520 FLOORSTANDING LOUDSPEAKERS

Winston Churchill once memorably described Clement Attlee as “a sheep in sheep’s clothing”. There’s not much that’s sheepish about the way these Acoustic Energys look, but neither are they as straightforwardly wolfish as they appear.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Type: three-way; bass reflex slot, floorstanding loudspeaker

Driver complement: 1 × 25mm carbon fibre dome tweeter; 2 × 1125mm carbon fibre midrange driver;
3 × 125mm carbon fibre bass driver

Frequency response: 30Hz–28kHz

Crossover frequency: 373Hz; 2.8kHz

Impedance: 6 Ohms nominal

Sensitivity: 90dB/W/m

Dimensions (H×W×D):
1130 × 185 × 320mm

Weight: 30kg/each

Finishes: Piano gloss white; piano gloss black; American walnut wood veneer

Price: £3,499 per pair

Manufacturer: Acoustic Energy Loudspeakers Ltd

URL: acoustic-energy.co.uk

Tel: +44(0)1285 654432

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