It's not a secret that I have a good deal of affection for Acoustic Energy; I used to work as the Production Manager for this very outfit, just as it was starting out.
The company was the brainchild of a man affectionately known as Jones 'The Speaker.' He spawned Acoustic Energy with a stroke of serendipitous genius. Having parsimoniously repaired a big old gauss woofer cone with Araldite, rather than re-conditioning it, he found he'd mixed far too much glue. In a mindless fugue, thinking about mass loading and dope cone coatings and evenness of weight dispersal around the cone, he painted the whole thing with it.
The unbelievable rigidity that resulted in the repaired (and now invincible) woofer took him up a path that led to the modern resurgence of metal cone speaker technology. You see, he found a new glue that would stick rubbery speaker surround to anodised aluminium. I know, I was there; humping PA boxes in and out of pubs in the '80s for his one-man (and a fat bloke) PA company. But, as ever, I digress...
The Linear series reviewed here has some DNA from the brand's highly-regarded Elite range. This alone marks the system out for serious scrutiny - and visually, the speakers are certainly eye-catching. With their piano black finish and sculptured baffle (to better integrate the high- and low-frequency drivers for superior inphase frequency response) they have a very high WAF (wife acceptance factor).
The main stereo pair are floorstanders dubbed Linear Three; they sport 160mm and 130mm drivers to go with their Vifacoated fabric HF unit. The tweeter has its own heat sink behind it to help dissipate heat from the Ferro fluid its voice coil is bathed in. This makes for a faster, higher power, less-compressed high end.
The sculpted baffle helps time-align the output.
It looks as if the 130mm driver and the 160mm driver each get their own resonant chamber in the Linear Three, as there are two gas-flowed port mouths around the back (the drivers are decoupled within).
The same 130mm driver is also found in the Linear Centre and bookshelf-style Linear One rears. The Ones use only a single 130mm driver, with two used in the Centre. Pressed, rather than spun aluminium, the cones are thermallybonded via their voice coils to the outside world; in the same way tin foil cools instantly when you take it off the roast, they help to dissipate heat massively.
The subwoofer is a pretty-looking and reasonably imposing item to behold, with simple classic line-in and line-outs on phonos, as well as speaker level inputs and outputs. The top has a glass panel inset within it, with the AE logo showing through.
For much of the official 5.1 audition, I chose to listen to these speakers with the latest acquisition from the DTS stable - its demo disc SURROUND.9 has clips from Hero, The Return Of The King, I Robot, The Day After Tomorrow and Blue Man Group. Each clip is fabulously mastered and clearly intended to show off the resolution of their digits.
It makes for a convenient audition suite of demos in one place. The first thing that struck me upon firing up this speaker system is the sheer scale it can generate. Hero's 'arrows' sequence is epic in scope and this box combination plays it well. Flipping to I Robot, the sheer vastness of the robot hanger sequence is tangible. The gunplay and helicopters immediately following Will Smith's successful flushing of the identity crisis automaton is vast is scope and impact, too, making you feel you have a much bigger set of enclosures in the room than you do.
The Blue Man Group was the best sequence for musicality, and revealing just how deliciously well this set can play.
There is real synergy and overall integration front to back on these models; a seamless sound-field with real power to the rear - so much so, that I would suggest that the One model is a better example of its kind than the floorstanding fronts.
The only chink in the AE Linear armour is the subwoofer. It's minus six dB point, or where it is only half as loud, is a relatively high 30Hz. In the company of such serious performers, I felt it lacked genuine extension. I like scary subsonics with my top-class top-end, and I know they're on the DTS disc - right in the dragon beast's wing beats in the Lord of The Rings clip.
This Acoustic Energy system has a lot of class. Reasonably priced for the money, I believe it fights well above it's weight, with a sonic performance that can thrill and engage; my only caveat is that it deserves an esotericgrade subwoofer to couple with, rather than the admittedly pretty one it ships with.