It’s a 5.1-channel speaker system from one of Britain’s best-loved audio brands, known for producing high-quality speakers that don’t cost the earth. The 3-Series is no exception – for just over a grand you get a beautifully crafted package equipped with AE’s patented driver technologies, which hark back to the company’s popular AE1 monitors launched 25 years ago.
The 3-Series is made up of four different speakers, including the 301 standmount (£425 per pair), which can be used as fronts or rears; the 305 floorstander (£999 per pair); the 307 centre speaker (£349); and the 308 subwoofer (£799). On test here is the living room-friendly combination of 301s for the fronts and rears, plus the 307 centre and 308 sub.
Opening the boxes, the 3-Series makes a good first impression. We cracked open the 301s first and their build quality is outstanding – heavy, solidly bolted together and finished in luxurious lacquered paint. They ooze quality from top to bottom, making a mockery of their £425 price tag – even if they cost twice as much, it would still seem justified.
AE doesn’t push any envelopes aesthetically, opting for classic, unfussy box cabinets. They’re, elegant, sophisticated and styled in dreamy piano black or gloss white – a conscious move away from traditional wood finishes and towards a more contemporary feel.
There’s a magnetic cloth grille on the front and a round recess on the back housing the gold-plated binding posts. Remove the grille and you uncover a lavish rubberised front baffle housing the drivers – both accentuated by eye-catching silver rings.
But don’t let their simple appearance fool you – there’s plenty of cutting-edge tech going on around the cabinet. For instance, they’re reflex loaded and fitted with a front-mounted slot port that reduces port turbulence in a bid to achieve deeper low frequencies than traditional ’port tube’ loaded designs. It also means you can place them closer to rear walls than you can with rear-ported speakers. It’s the most compact speaker in the range, measuring 300mm high and 185mm wide.
The 307 centre is styled with equal panache. Again there’s a choice of Piano Black and Gloss White, complemented beautifully by the rubber baffle, drivers, slot port and tweeter - the layout of which, co-incidentally, makes it look a bit like E.T.'s face (see above). Anyone?
At 450mm wide and weighing 9kg it’s a rather large, imposing speaker that might be hard to slip into a TV cabinet next to your Sky box – it’s better suited to medium to large-sized rooms with more space.
Next we come to the 308 subwoofer, another sumptuously built unit. Unlike some speaker systems, which throw in any old sub no matter what it looks like, AE has taken care to style the 308 in the same way as the other speakers.
That means you get the same black or white lacquer finish wrapped around a sealed cube measuring 36mm x 36mm with clean lines. Build quality is exceptionally good, bulking up the weight to 20kg and giving it incredible stability – helped along by rubber feet (which can be pulled off to reveal spikes if you need them).