Acoustic Energy's high quality speakers have been around the UK hifi scene for some years - the AE1 was their first release in the early 1990s, and the model's gone through a few variations since [first plain 'AE1' then 'Signature' and now 'AE1 II']. These are serious speakers at a serious price. Sevenoaks HiFi are selling the previous model at a reduction, but 700 quid is enough of anyone's money to make it worthwhile thinking and listening hard before parting with the cash. Are they worth it? I think so, but I'm biased having bought a pair of the original model shortly after they were released. I've also listened to a recent pair in a dealers demo room while choosing a tuner recently and I certainly can't hear any differences from mine. You simply _MUST_ use them with good quality equipment, and go to a good dealer who'll partner them with a sympathetic CD player and amplifier. Don't even think about it unless you're looking at a system price of over £2000 including good connectors and speaker cable. But if you are, the sound's simply stunning and I've not heard a compact speaker with such refined sound but natural impact for under several thousand pounds (ie Sonus Fabers). These are compact boxes [even my wife doesn't complain too much...] but the clarity and impact of their presentation is gripping. They've got metal dome tweeters and base units and a pair of front-facing ports, and the combination gives amazingly lifelike transients and great imaging both laterally and in depth. Acoustic guitar and percussion played loud sounds just like they're in the room next to you. Loud 'thwacks' just blow you across the room. They suit rock and classical music equally well and, although their own bass extension is good and clear for the size of cabinet, they partner good quality subwoofers really well [we're talking expensive REL equipm
ent here, not some home cinema boombox from Jamo!]. Voice reproduction is very natural. There are matching AE stands (around £300, I think. Phew!) which look like they've just been pinched from the Parthenon, but they do match the speakers well and definitely improve the sound [the AE1s also sound good on Slate Audio stands, which are more likely to meet with domestic managerial approval and are cheaper]. My AE1s are in slightly-textured matt black, and have worn very well over the years, and there are now some very tasty-looking wood veneers available. They can be used with or without the speaker grilles, the latter state brightening the sound a little to my ears. Mine'll handle 100 watts per channel, and the new versions will cope with twice that. Apart from cost, my only criticism is an occasionally too-refined or 'distant' effect with delicate music (eg quiet choral pieces). I could probably get round this by choosing different cables, interconnects (I use van den Hul) or amplifier, but I enjoy the speakers and system sound so much already that I've never bothered to experiment. So, get out and find a dealer who'll do a proper demonstration of a pair. If you're in the market for speakers between £500 and £1000 you really should try them out. Even if you don't want to pay that much, I guarantee you'll enjoy the experience!