Acoustic Energy Aegis One loudspeaker Page 2
The Acoustic Energys followed the astonishing little PSB Alpha AVs into my listening room. Priced at $249/pair, the PSB (reviewed in the April 2000 Stereophile) offered a bighearted, warmly musical balance. By comparison, the Aegis One sounded more refined. Its low frequencies were not as rich-sounding as the Canadian speaker's, but offered a better balance of extension and definition.
It wouldn't be reasonable to expect thunderous lows from such a small speaker, but bass guitar in general came over with sufficient heft. Walter Becker's bass on "Janie Runaway," from Steely Dan's new Two Against Nature CD (Reprise 24719-2), for example, sounded less plummy than with the PSB, with a better sense of pitch definition. This track is particularly revealing of bass-alignment character, as Becker appears to keep the strings damped at the bridge; this not only reduces the sustain of each note, but, more important, minimizes the attack transients that help the listener define what instrument is being heard. With a speaker having too much upper-bass bloom, as is so often the case with inexpensive minis, the bass guitar will start to sound like an anonymous low-frequency instrument—some sort of synthesizer, for example. The Aegis One passed this test with flying colors.
Of course, the danger lying in wait for the designer of a small speaker who is trying to avoid bass bloom is that he will overdamp the alignment. This can result in music sounding thin and weak, even if the design has good measured bass extension. The Acoustic Energy managed the balance quite well in my room, with good extension down to the 40Hz warble-tone band on Stereophile's Test CD 3. However, the 50Hz warble tone was plagued with audible chuffing from the port. As I did not note this port-noise complaint on anything other than organ music with high-level sustained bass notes, I must assume that the Acoustic Energy gets away with this tradeoff most of the time.
At the other end of the audio band, the extreme highs sounded clean, but the speaker overall lacked "air." Billy Drummond's Zildjian ride cymbals on Stereophile's Rendezvous CD (STPH013-2), for example, had a little too much of a sssh tonality rather than the correct sss. This would be more of a problem in rooms larger than my 19.5' by 15' one, less so in smaller spaces, as it appears from the measurements to be associated with a lack of top-octave dispersion rather than a depressed on-axis response in the same region.
But the subdued extreme highs did leave the mid-treble a bit more exposed than I would have liked. There was an occasional hardness to high-level treble instruments that had me reaching for the volume control. When Cyrus Chestnut hammers away at the top of the piano keyboard on Earth Stories (Atlantic 82876-2), for example, some treble notes jumped aggressively forward of the piano image.
It was in the midrange that the Aegis One excelled. Yes, I could sometimes hear a hint of nasality, but that alloy-cone drive-unit seemed to be very good at staying out of the way of the music. Other than at the top of the keyboard, Cyrus Chestnut's piano was presented with a natural tonal quality. Voices, too, were reproduced with good pitch distinction, although I did note an occasional lack of clarity, a touch of hootiness, at the bottom of the midrange. I noticed a slight overhang to Sara K.'s distinctive contralto, when she drops down to the bottom of her range on "If I Could Sing Your Blues" (from No Cover, Chesky CHDVD195, 24/96 sound and full-motion video). But when the recording was itself a little fizzed-up in the extreme highs, such as James Taylor's Live at the Beacon Theater DVD (Columbia Music Video CVD 50171), the Aegis One's overall presentation sounded very natural.
Stereo imaging was generally very precise. Dual-mono recordings, such as the Fender bass channel-identification tracks on Stereophile's Test CD 2, were reproduced as a narrow, stable central image. And details of the recorded acoustic were clearly audible. On recordings I have made recently of Robert Silverman performing Beethoven piano sonatas, the walls of the small recital hall in Santa Monica were readily apparent—as was the surrounding acoustic of Manhattan's St. Peter's Episcopal church on the Sara K. DVD.
Only when it came to dynamics did the Aegis One falter. At low levels, the balance tended to be a bit uninvolving. Yet when I wanted to rock out, that slight hardness in the low treble acted as a limit on ultimate loudness. However, when I get into critical listening mode, it's easy for me to forget price. To be fair and to put my criticism into context, this is a speaker costing just $299/pair. To want subjectively unlimited dynamics for the price of a couple of weeks' groceries is unrealistic.
I am sure that some will cry "foul" because I mainly used the Aegis Ones in my megabuck reference system. However, I did use the speakers in my desktop system. My conclusions were no different, other than the fact that in the nearfield listening situation, the speaker's top octave was in better balance with the lower frequencies.
One of high-end audio's elder statesmen, Richard Vandersteen, told me a while back that the only loudspeaker manufacturers who would thrive in the new century would be those whose designs offered much more performance than the average at their price points. By that yardstick, and if the Aegis One is anything to go by, Acoustic Energy has a rosy future ahead of it. If I hadn't known it costs just $299/pair when I first heard it, I would have estimated its price as at least twice that.
Its problems are minor, its virtues many. Like the PSB Alpha AV reviewed last month, the Aegis One is an astonishing value. Highly recommended.