Acoustic Energy AE100 review

A surprising sonic performance at odds with some unassuming looks. Tested at £200

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

Enthusiastic sound belies the unassuming aesthetic of these competent budget standmounters


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    Clear, solid, driving sound

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    Good timing and agility

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    Evenly balanced

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    Discreet design

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    Can be placed against a back wall


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    Lack outright subtlety and space

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If the aesthetics of a speaker reflected its sonic character, these Acoustic Energy AE100s would be bright and colourful things. You might even need to don a pair of sunglasses before reading this review.

Which is another way of saying that these budget speakers are charismatic, fun-loving performers.

So there’s little correlation between appearance and sound here. The AE100s could hardly look any more unassuming, with their typical walnut- or black-finished boxes, two-way driver arrangement and discreet display of the brand badge.

Build and compatibility

They’re smart in a classic way, like many Acoustic Energy speakers before them, and the company claims they have a higher standard of finish than any of its previous entry-level speakers.

The AE100s' small proportions - just 27cm tall and 16cm wide – make them an appealingly discreet solution.

So if you’re looking for a competent, budget-orientated pair of compact speakers, have you found them here?

MORE: How to build the perfect speaker

The AE100s have been designed to achieve high sound-pressure levels from a small enclosure. The AE engineering team claims to have achieved this, thanks chiefly to three key technologies: a 10cm mid-bass driver built around a long-throw motor system, a rear slot port for enhancing bass and a 28mm soft dome tweeter featuring the company’s Wide Dispersion Technology.

Designed to improve dispersion, this last has already proven its worth as part of the five-star AE1 Active’s make-up.

We place them in their preferred spot, near a rear wall - though not right up against it. The AE100s rely on a wall to bolster the solidity and fullness of their sound, utilising their rear-ported design.

MORE: Acoustic Energy AE1 Active review


We begin with Public Service Broadcasting’s Gagarin, and the AE100s put their best foot forward.

They eagerly lay their sprightly nature bare in jazzy celebration of the world's first cosmonaut (the track’s theme), driving the playful bassline and multiple riffs with enthusiasm and keen-eyed focus.

That readiness resurfaces as we roll into Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Dust of the Chase – as does the speakers’ stand-out talent: their midrange. The opening acoustic plucks brim with texture, the Acoustic Energies taking in each strum of a string.

MORE: How to build the perfect hi-fi system

The country legend’s distinctly guttural vocal is projected with stark clarity and fullness, and delivered with his signature twang and rough, raspy elocution. That midrange insight captures the sense of musing in the song’s poignant vocals.

Despite their bold, if a little forward, presentation, the AE100s' character is capable of being cautionary as well as carefree. There’s deliberation to the timing during the rich interplay between the droning electrics, shakers and harmonica, and it convinces as a result.

In terms of balance, the bassier notes rear their head just as much as the frequencies above them.

MORE: How to buy speakers and set them up for the best sound

Their execution isn’t quite as accomplised as the Award-winning Dali Spektor 2s, which are a little tighter in terms of their timing.

The first drumbeats flow across the soundstage with greater conviction and precision via the Dalis, revealing greater subtlety and dynamic variation.

The Acoustic Energies don’t have the same expansiveness of soundstage as the Dalis or the Q Acoustics 3020is, nor do they describe as much space between instruments as their rivals.

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While the AE100s could do with a subtler touch, their insight isn’t in question.

We fire up Perfume Genius’ Run Me Through, one of the more haunting on the singer’s latest art-pop album, and the sobering moodiness of Hadreas’ softly spoken lyrics and the breathy woodwind accompanying it sound suitably unsettling through the AEs.


Their absorbing qualities particularly hit home here, as do those of the five-star Dalis and Q Acoustics.

But despite an abundance of competition around the £200 mark, the can AE100s hold their own. They may not be the most refined or transparent performers out there, but they do promise a good time.

Plugged into equally entertaining kit, like the Onkyo A-9010 stereo amplifier or Denon D-M41DAB microsystem, they will sing along as comfortably to your ‘80s disco as they will your classical compilations.

The performance of the AE100s has left us looking forward to seeing what the brand has to offer with the next range up from this, the 300 Series.

See all our Acoustic Energy reviews

What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

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