Slapping the word 'Max' onto the end of your product name doesn't automatically make it great, as anyone who's tasted Pepsi Max can attest. But in the case of Acoustic Energy's Neo Max hi-fi speaker system, it seems entirely appropriate.
Acoustic Energy's original 5.1-channel Neo V2 system was a serious proposition in the first place, but this beefed-up version adds even more firepower to its already considerable arsenal. It increases the speaker count to 7.1 and swaps the Neo Threes in the original sound system for a pair of the new Neo Four floorstanding speakers.
This injection of sonic steroids was prescribed after AE's customers started demanding more potent floorstanders for the Neo lineup, capable of bringing more detail and bass depth than the smaller Neo Threes could muster.
That means a higher price, but at just under £2,000 you're still getting a lot of speaker for your money. It's more expensive than the Magnat Quantum 650 Series but cheaper than the XTZ 99 Series and Monitor Audio Bronze BX Series.
Alongside the Neo Four fronts (£699 a pair separately), you get a pair of shorter Neo Three floorstanders for the rears (£409 a pair), £229 Neo One bookshelf speakers on surround back duties, the £179 Neo Centre and the £409 Neo Subwoofer.
But first we'll inspect the new kids on the block. The Neo Fours are an imposing, majestic presence that'll cast sizeable shadows over your living space with their 1.2m tall, 70-litre cabinets. They weigh a fair amount too. But they have the sort of muscular build quality we love, and are much better than you have any right to expect for their price.
But for all their bulk, Acoustic Energy has done a terrific job of making them look elegant and contemporary, with curves all over the shop and a luxurious Vermont walnut or Black Ash finish. Cover the drivers with the magnetic grilles if you want, but we think they look far funkier without them.
For setup, you need to screw on the black plinths. Attaching the supplied spikes is entirely up to you.
The Neo Four's internal design is just as attractive – particularly the 32mm-thick MDF baffle, which helps to ensure tight, potent bass response. They use a three-way, triple-ported design, with a 5-inch aluminium alloy midrange driver, a pair of 6.25-inch bass drivers and a wide-bandwidth 1-inch dual-ring radiator tweeter.
Another key element in the Neo Four's technical make-up is the choice of material used for the magnets. Interestingly, the Neo Fours use Ferrite magnets instead of neodymium, which is used by all the other speakers in the system and is what the range-topping speakers are named after.
But there's method in the madness – Acoustic Energy's engineers preferred a ferrite system to deliver the extra punch required by these larger, more voluminous cabinets. And what a punch they pack; there's 200W quoted power handling and a frequency response of 28Hz all the way up to 40kHz.
The rest of the system, from the bookshelf boxes up to the 905mm-high Neo Threes, boasts an equally awesome construction. Again, there's a choice of Vermont and Black Ash finishes and they share the smoothly curved corners as the Neo Fours.
These rear floorstanders are a two-and-a-half way, reflex-loaded design featuring a 1-inch neodymium ring radiator tweeter, and a pair of 5-inch low/mid drivers. The two-way Neo One bookshelves lose the second low/mid driver.
The importance of dialogue to your movie enjoyment hasn't escaped Acoustic Energy's attention either, and as such the Neo Centre boasts the same two-and-a-half way driver array as the Neo Threes. It's a hefty box though, likely to require quite a reshuffle to house it.
Acoustic Energy hasn't felt the need to introduce a new subwoofer for the Neo Max system, so you get the same bass-box as the original Neo V2 array. Thankfully it's up to the task, endowed with a 200W Class A/B amplifier, and an 8.5-inch drive with a long-throw ferrite magnet.
All this brawn is bundled up in a beautiful box, styled in the same classy-looking finish. You should have no trouble getting it to integrate with the other speakers, thanks to the wide range of controls found on the rear panel.
Volume, crossover and phase can all be tweaked to your heart's content, as well as less common audio adjustments such as notch filters for frequency, Q and attenuation, which can help rectify any sound problems you have with room acoustics. You also get line-level stereo inputs and outputs, plus a separate line-level input.