- Robust build quality
- Smooth yet thrilling sound quality
- Other AE systems offer greater aggression
- Silver panel behind grille
- Review Price: £824.95
- 6.1-channel speaker system
- 100mm paper cone bass/mid driver
- Extensively braced MDF cabinets
- 200W Neo Sub
- Wall-mounting brackets and bass port bung supplied
- 28mm fabric dome tweeter
Acoustic Energy’s Neo V2, in both its regular and 7.1-channel ‘Max’ varieties, is a formidable speaker range, but not everyone can fit that many bulky floorstanders into their living room. To that end, AE has also launched a more affordable Compact system that distils the impressive tech of its larger speakers into lounge-friendly boxes, bringing you powerful sound without the spatial imposition.
Significantly, Compact Neo is a 6.1-channel system, marrying three pairs of the new Compact One bookshelf speakers to the Neo Subwoofer. This, as the blurb is at pains to points out, is perfect for listening to the recently-released Star Wars Blu-ray box-set with its DTS HD Master Audio 6.1 soundtracks (released on the same day as this system), and has absolutely NOTHING to do with the fact that the Compact Ones are boxed in pairs, you cynical lot.
Compact One may be smaller than other AE bookshelf speakers like the Neo One, but it boasts equally luxurious construction. It’s built like an Aussie scrum half and surprisingly heavy for its size – that’s down to the extensively braced 18mm-thick MDF cabinet.
A removable cloth grille covers the drivers, which uses plugs as opposed to magnets. Remove it and you’ll uncover a light silver panel that doesn’t look as good as in the pictures, but the cabinet’s Vermont Walnut finish is a classy touch (it’s also available in Gloss Black).
On the back of each speaker is a pair of gold-plated binding posts housed in a circular recess, above which is a bass port. If you’re using them in a confined space or against a wall, then there’s a bung for the bass port that limits bass energy being projected back into the cabinet and colouring the sound.
The Compact One is designed to be used vertically, but you can get away with using them on their side if need be. This is particularly important for the speaker on centre channel duties, as people might want to place it on a narrow shelf below the TV.
You also get wall mounting brackets in the box, providing further space-saving possibilities, and again the bass port bungs will come in handy when wall-mounting.
The Neo sub is the same one provided with the Neo Max and original Neo systems. Finished in the same Vermont Walnut as the satellites (although it also comes in Black Ash), it’s as sturdy and good-looking as subs get, and at 410(h) x 360(w) x 325(d)mm it shouldn’t be too difficult to accommodate.
The two-way, reflex-loaded Compact One features new drivers – a 100mm paper cone bass/mid driver and a 28mm fabric dome tweeter. The former has been tuned to offer ‘sweet midrange and tightly controlled low frequency response’ and sports AE’s signature conical dust cap, which is practical and funky. The frequency range is quoted as 65Hz up to 28kHz, with peak power handling at 100W and a 88dB sensitivity.
As for the Neo Sub, it’s a closed box design with a 200W amplifier, 220mm pulp cone driver, 48mm thermally bonded voice coil and a high-power long-throw magnet system.
The rear panel controls go beyond what you’d normally expect. As well as the usual Volume, Crossover and Phase controls you’ll find dials controlling Notch Frequency, Notch Slope and Notch Level, which allow you to apply a notch filter to the sub’s output and correct problems with resonance in the listening room. The three dials respectively control the centre frequency, sharpness and depth of the filter.
Much like the full-size system, Compact Neo delivers a calibre of performance above and beyond what we’d expect for the money. Naturally we took it for a test-drive with The Empire Strikes Back on Blu-ray and the cherished classic explodes into life with satisfying levels of punch and detail.
For starters the opening Twentieth Century Fox fanfare and iconic Star Wars theme sound suitably epic – glossy brass and fulsome percussion, real stirring stuff. Then skipping to the Empire’s attack on the Rebel’s Hoth base, the Compacts make the action sound fast-paced and dynamic.
Rebel fighters zip around the soundstage with a convincing 360° effect, while the fallen AT-AT explodes with a hefty thump. Despite their size the speakers has no trouble filling the room, and manage to create a spacious, seamless soundstage with effects placed accurately within it.
The fact that all six of the speakers are identical is crucial as it guarantees tonal consistency across the soundstage. That’s important when it comes to playing Empire’s 6.1-channel soundtrack with its rear-back surround channel, which relies on smooth, seamless pans from front to back and across the surround channels. You’re placed right in the middle of a coherent, engaging soundstage.
We’re also impressed by the Compacts’ ability to dig out fine detail and their refusal to lose control of high frequencies when the volume is pushed up high. What you get is a sound that’s smooth yet thrilling, and the Compact One is no slouch as a centre channel either, making sure speech has the drive and openness to remain audible no matter what’s going on around it.
The Neo Sub does the same assured job as it does with the other Neo V2 systems. Its bass depth is astonishing, yet the blasts of low frequency information are tightly controlled and as nimble as Michael Flatley.
If we had to find a negative among this torrent of positives, the system isn’t a forceful or authoritative as the other Neo speakers we’ve tested. Some may find the sound a little laid back compared with the brutal dynamics of its stable-mates. That’s inevitable really given their scaled down nature, but if you like your home cinema system to batter you round the head then you might want to think a little bigger.
For around £850, the Compact Neo system is something of a bargain. For starters, you’re getting six high-quality speakers (and a sub) for the sort of price that some manufacturers would charge for five, a fact made all the more satisfying by their excellent build quality – although they’re not the most attractive speakers AE has ever produced.
Performance is top notch too, as they handle Blu-ray soundtracks with the sort of panache befitting pricier speakers. The Neo Sub contributes greatly to the overall sense of wonder, providing deliciously deep bass output. Some listeners might yearn for even more aggression from their satellites, but that’s the only slight reservation about this otherwise fabulous compact system.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 8
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