Founded in 1987, the British firm Acoustic Energy was put on the map with the 1988 release of its AE1 studio monitor—a relatively compact stand-mount speaker targeted toward the professional audio community, but that quickly won the hearts, minds and ears of audiophiles. Early on, the AE1 earned a reputation for accuracy, effortless clarity, three-dimensional imaging, and for its ability to handle power, and the rest, as they say, is history. In fact, a version of the AE1, which has now evolved to become the AE1 MkIII SE, continues to be manufactured and sold today. Good though the AE1 was and still is in modern-day form, however, one catch is that it is a relatively expensive product and one that requires a fair amount of power to drive effectively—both being factors that make the AE1-series less than ideal for use in surround sound applications.
Over the years, Acoustic Energy has gone on to create more affordable ranges of speakers, such as its Aelite and Aegis-series models, but what plainly was needed was a range that at once combined many of the sonic virtues of the AE1 monitors, yet that was fairly easy to drive and more affordable to own. AE’s new Radiance lineup exactly fills that bill. As AE’s Radiance Web information puts it, “Designed as no-compromise, high-end loudspeaker range for both stereo and home-theatre applications, in creating the Radiance Series we have gone ‘back to our roots’.”
I got my first introduction to the Radiance range at the 2009 CES Expo and have been anticipating doing this review ever since. The test system we have assembled consists of a pair of Radiance 2 floorstanders ($2000/pair) as main speakers, a Radiance Centre center-channel speaker ($800), a pair of Radiance 1 stand-mount monitors as surround speakers ($1200/pair), and a 200-watt Radiance Subwoofer ($1200), for a manageable—though by no means cheap—system price of $5200. How does the Radiance system compare to other offerings in its price class? Read on.
Consider this system if: you want a surround speaker system that is accurate (as in, neutrally voiced), highly articulate, and dynamically expressive. Consider this system, too, if you like the idea of a speaker system that sounds much bigger than it looks. Though not particularly flashy or ostentatious, the Radiance speakers are very well made, as a close and careful examination of their cabinetry will reveal.
Look elsewhere if: you absolutely, positively require a system that presents a surround sound image directly at ear level. Because the Radiance floorstanders are comparatively short in stature—just 36” tall—they tend to throw an image that falls slightly below ear level. On the other hand, compact enclosure dimensions are part of the Radiance system’s “big sounds from small boxes” appeal.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced surround speaker systems)
Acoustic Energy touts four signature technologies that set the Radiance models apart: