Another month passes and another speaker set comes in for review. This time it is from an old hand in the Hi-Fi business, Acoustic Energy and they have kindly sent us one of their more budget offerings, the Aegis Neo V2.
Older and wrinklier readers may recall that I was once the original production manager for the guys who set up Acoustic Energy. This has meant that down the years I have been entrusted as the reviewer 'most likely to be critical' of what the brand has been doing since the departure of the original designer, Phil Jones to pastures new.
The back-story to AE's speaker know-how is worth a mention. Basically, Jones once had a broken subwoofer driver for his PA system and decided to fix it with Araldite. Inadvertently mixing too much, he idly covered the whole cone and, when it was set, tested it and discovered that it behaved a bit differently: it was much more rigid and pistonic. Eureka!
This semi-accidental idea-sparker is how the (originally spun, now pressed) rigid, pistonic alloy AE cone came into being – that and a magic glue becoming available that finally allowed the manufacturer to really stick a foam surround well onto a hard anodised surface.
The two combined to allow Jones to make his now-legendary rigid metal cone piston speaker: the AE1. HCC's own Alvin Gold loved the AE1 and Acoustic Energy took off on the back of his good review.
The big deal was that the metal cones were thermally coupled to the voice coils, and heat wicked away so bloody fast, that there was no 'power compression' or tendency for it to get less loud as the voice coil in the speaker got so very hot, very fast.
Like the speed with which tinfoil cools, the Acoustic Energy's bizarre snap and attack was to do with this, and the resultant big bass from such small cones carved their legend.
Of course, the danger with legends is that they can become lost in the midsts of time, and I always worry that the past will be forgotten and something will alter when they bring out new kit. Thankfully, I needn't have worried.
Aegis Neo V2
The Aegis Neo V2 has the Janus touch, looking backwards and forwards in equal measure – and totally delivers the audio goods in the process.
This set of new speakers, the Version Two of their popular Neodymium magnetted range, is now the entry-level for AE. No more widgety small boxes, just 'real ones'. So what has changed or remained with the Neo V2, then?
Well, one thing has stayed the same and that's the really high importance placed upon choice of HF device. In the original, it was a Mo Iqbal design bought in to grace the AE1; now, for the revamped Aegis Neo, we have the newest iteration of the lovely bat-frequency-capable 'ring radiator' tweeter with a small pointy bit at the centre, looking at you from each main speaker.
In my 5.1 test setup, the four surround speakers are the Aegis Neo One enclosure and the centre is the two-drivered 'Centre' product. This last box is really interesting as it is called a '2.5-way'.
This means that while they have just two sizes of driver, tweet and mid, one is playing midbass on the passive crossover and the other driver is being sent much deeper material, again from the passive crossover inside being a three-way.
This extra layer of cunning in the passive is a bit new for the V2 I gather, along with posher components, including high quality Polypropylene capacitors, used in their make-up.
Each speaker has a single set of binding posts, and nice chamfered front edges with pretty and substantial badging. Not wonky stick-ons like I've recently seen on some other brands, but precision engineered jobs, one on each of grille and cabinet.
Said grilles are brilliant and equipped with top-quality Neodymium grippers with Ferrous cabinet inserts (the same ones you'll find on Acoustic Energy's Reference series, apparently). These makes them stick like chewing gum to the underside of a desk and yet need no holes nor legs to hold them firmly.
In my opinion, the whole look of this array is way above the £1,000 price tag.
The final ingredient in the package, the Aegis Neo subwoofer, has a little nest of knobs on the rear panel that might look a bit daunting to the uninitiated, but turns out to be a nice variable phase knob and a really well thought out single parametric notch filter that lets you pick a point between 40 and 100Hz and pull out up to 12dB of boominess – just at the problem point.
You can even adjust how wide or narrowly this affects the bass around that point, in case your room-boom is a bit harder to cure. It's a bit like having a fancy RoomEQ system at your disposal.
It's all the more surprising that this good stuff is brought to the table by a £400 woofer. Acoustic Energy has really thought this through: there are real, big benefits here but kept affordable and then discounted for this Aegis Neo V2 package.
The sub's 8.75in driver plays in a sealed box and is now super-wobbly and extra efficient, so only needs that 200W amp to really hold and push out proper deep notes and big boomy hits in explosions. After a decent mess about with the subwoofer's notch filter and other settings, I plugged myself into a control pod thing and became once more, tall, slender and a sort of mottled blue colour... Or in other words, I put my Avatar Blu-ray on.
Going for a song
One thing I hate about my job is the ruination of movies by clips, as I am passionate about cinema. It extends to hating too much trailerage and hype, so Avatar came with baggage and took ages for me to get around to spinning up. I regret that, as it is, of course, awesome.
So in some ways, giving this affordable Acoustic Energy system this film to check out first item was a bit like giving a talent show kid a major diva's song to sing. Only this system proved to be the talent-show equivalent of Alexandra Burke. Heritage of a singing goddess and gorgeous to look at.
Yes there are limits to what a grand's worth of speakers can do, but the V2 system is an example of real engineering talent, and more than worthy of Phil Jones' heritage. He will be proud of you AE, I promise!
With Cameron's sci-fi extravaganza fired up, I was rewarded with a sound of sheer realism and scale. Open, full, detailed and utterly involving, it imaged beautifully with a really clean and crisp feel. It had weight and size that enabled me to believe in big trees being crunched or huge choppers crashing.
Plus, Cameron's vision demands a soundtrack of huge jungle creatures and whomping air-tubeworms and massive arrows zipping about – all to the basso thrum of some of the biggest held bass notes in cinema. The Neo V2 array ate it like a Titanothere eats small trees.
The bonkers-good Neo V2 subwoofer is all about that truly special driver. It enables use of a smaller amp and drops deeply and with real grip and authority, especially if you use your filter well.
After extracting myself from the land of the Na'vi I tried the AEs with some multichannel music, too, and again was impressed, finding them rich and fulfilling, whereas a recent THX-certified set had let me down with lots of tinkle and no richness.
These are luscious as long as you keep them on song. At a lower volume level, the sound became a bit less linear and fulsome, but wake up the driver suspensions and they will amaze.
On the other hand, don't over-push them or they can get a tad congested and lose that headroom. So, keep them in the revband and they'll keep the hairs on your arms erect for hours.
The Acoustic Energy Neo V2 speakers are absolutely outstanding value and I'd spend my own money on them, which is as good as it gets for a reviewer.
Yes, the £1,000 speaker market is a tough place, but this system has the strength to fight off most challengers.
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