Acoustic Energy 1-Series review

This affordable floorstanding 5.1 speaker array is a good all-round performer

British speaker marque Acoustic Energy may be famed for the potent AE1 standmount stereo speaker that put it on the map, but it is keen on multichannel audio too, consistently producing subwoofers and centre channels for its various ranges. The 1-Series is its newest – and most affordable – arrival.

The entire range is actually represented in the package reviewed here – there are no step-up/step-down 1-Series models. The 101 standmount and 103 floorstanders are sold as stereo pairs while the 107 centre speaker and 108 subwoofer add the multichannel magic. All the passive speakers are built around the same combination of a 1in soft dome tweeter and 4.5in anodised aluminium mid/bass driver. Having the same driver compliment across the five speakers augurs well for a seamless handover.

The design of the 1-Series speakers is relatively conventional (if a little 2001: A Space Odyssey) but there are some interesting touches. The first is that, like Acoustic Energy's more expensive 3-Series, all of the speakers use a front-mounted slot port. This design allows for air to vacate the cabinet with less chance of audible noise; the slot is, I'm told, less prone to chuffing than a circular one of the same cross section. Front placement ensures that they can be placed close to rear walls without issue as well.

The 103 floorstander also apes the form of the more expensive 3-Series by angling the front panel backwards. This presumably aids the time alignment of the drivers. It also serves to reduce the visible bulk of the design. The final appearance is a bit of an acquired taste, especially in the black finish shown here, but the overall size of the speaker (it's less than 30cm deep) should be easy enough to accommodate in your den.

The 108 subwoofer is also fairly compact, and resolutely cuboid in shape. Built around a downward-firing 8in driver, it is fairly unusual as it uses a 150W Class AB amplifier (complete with external heatsink) for power. As well as the usual selection of inputs and dials, the woofer is also supplied with a remote control. This, again, is pretty rare (especially at this price point – the 108 sells for only £350). I'm a fan, though: like many convenience items, a subwoofer remote is something you never knew you needed until you've lived with one.

Doubling up on bass

Modestly specified, the 108 is not the sort of device that is likely to liquify your internal organs. Acoustic Energy rather brilliantly feels that it has a solution to this – the website makes it quite clear that the company feels the most effective use of the 108 is as a pair. This is undoubtedly effective, but does mean you'll be spending almost as much on the subwoofers as you are on the rest of the speakers. The full 5.1 package price is around £1,400.

The overall design and feel of the 1-Series is very positive. As mentioned, the black finish is not the most beautiful use of vinyl wrap you'll see this year (there's a walnut vinyl option that is perhaps a bit more classy) but the build and general attention to detail is good. There are some nice little touches that don't always make their way down to this price point, too. The speaker grilles use magnetic trim tabs, while the speaker terminals all accept various speaker terminations and feel usefully sturdy. This is a relatively affordable set of speakers but it never feels that corners have been severely cut to make it that way.

A final welcome feature of the speakers is that with 6 ohm minimum impedance and reasonable sensitivity, they should be easy for all but the most anaemic of AV receivers to drive without incident. Acoustic Energy is clearly gunning for customers who might have been considering sub/sat packages but can be persuaded into going for a sensibly-sized conventional array.

Getting the basics right

The temptation will be stronger if that customer sits down and listens to the 1-Series because this is a very likeable package indeed. Connected to my Yamaha receiver and Cambridge Audio BD deck, it doesn't take very long to establish that all of the basics that make for a good sonic performance are here. As you might hope with the same two drivers fitted across all five speakers, there's a fluid movement of audio from speaker to speaker. Across the front three in particular, the 1-Series presents an even and cohesive wall of sound.

This is helped in no small way by the 107 centre speaker, which avoids an issue that some rivals at this price point have by employing the same size drivers as the 103, and in a fairly large box. This means that it sounds convincing at holding dialogue on screen and linking the left and right channels together. The claimed low frequency response of 45Hz is hardly seismic, but it allows for the 107 to handle enough of the onscreen action itself, before handing over to the subwoofer, to be convincing.

The other area where the 1-Series is especially strong is its overall refinement. Even driven very hard, these cabinets manage to stay smooth and civilised, without coming at the expense of detail and impact. The street fighting sequence in the brilliant WW2 tank drama Fury is a dense and chaotic mass of sound effects but the 1-Series does a commendable job of making some sense of this wave of information. The soft dome tweeters add a pleasing sense of attack to the cracking artillery fire.

And given its relatively small size, the 108 sub does a nice job of augmenting the low end of the other cabinets. The decision to use an 8in driver is justified; while this pack can't go as deep as rivals with larger woofers, the speed and cohesiveness of the sound is very welcome. The remote control really is useful, too. The ability to gently tweak the sub level to better suit what you are doing at the time is something that adds to the 1-Series' appeal. It's easy to give bass a little boost at lower listening levels and maintain a sense of force that would otherwise be missing.

Against these positive comments there aren't many negatives. Performance is certainly at its best at medium to volumes, the speakers can lose some of their excitement and, importantly, scale at lower levels. Meanwhile, the 103 floorstander, while a very capable speaker in stereo, can sound a little matter of fact and not as entertaining as something like Tannoy's similarly-priced Mercury V4i.

Filmic fun comes first

If you are buying speakers predominantly for use with multichannel movie soundtracks, rather than listening critically to Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms over and over again, Acoustic Energy's 1-Series is a very strong option. This is a well-built, well-designed and reasonably attractive set of speakers that should be easy for any remotely suitable AV receiver to kick into shape. It offers a pleasing all-round performance and excellent integration between speakers.

The £1,400 price point should be enough to tickle the fancy of those otherwise considering a sub/sat package. And if you have the space in your cinema room for something of this size, the 1-Series definitely delivers an increase in scale and impact over the small-box competition. In that regard, and if your budget can't stretch any higher, the 1-Series deserves to be on your shortlist.


Acoustic Energy 1-Series
£1,400 approx

Highs: Well-built and well finished; refined and cohesive sound; easy to drive; keenly priced
Lows: Not the prettiest speakers going; a little restrained at lower volumes; subwoofer doesn't go particularly deep

Performance: 4/5
Design: 4/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 4/5


Acoustic Energy 103

Drive units: 2 x 4.5in anodised aluminium mid/bass drivers; 1 x 1in soft dome tweeter
Enclosure: Front slot-ported
Frequency response: 40Hz-32kHz
Sensitivity: 89dB
Power handling: 175W
Dimensions: 185(w) x 850(h) x 280(d)mm
Weight: 14kg

Acoustic Energy 101

Drive units: 1 x 4.5in anodised aluminium mid/bass driver; 1 x 1in soft dome tweeter
Enclosure: Front slot-ported
Frequency response: 48Hz-32kHz
Sensitivity: 88dB
Power handling: 150W
Dimensions: 185(w) x 300(h) x 280(d)mm
Weight: 6kg

Acoustic Energy 107

Drive units: 2 x 4.5in anodised aluminium mid/bass drivers; 1 x 1in soft dome tweeter
Enclosure: Front slot-ported
Frequency response: 45Hz-32kHz
Sensitivity: 88dB
Power handling: 150W
Dimensions: 450(w) x 185(h) x 260(d)mm
Weight: 9kg

Acoustic Energy 108 (Subwoofer)

Drive units: 1 x 8in downward-firing pulp fibre bass driver
Enclosure: Sealed
Frequency response: 38Hz-120Hz
On board power: 150W (Class AB)
Remote control: Yes
Dimensions: 280(w) x 280(h) x 280(d)mm
Weight: 10kg
Connections: LFE in; stereo phono in/out