Acoustic Energy Aego M
The UK's Acoustic Energy is well known in audio circles, and even -- since the company's Aego 2 system was released a number of years ago -- in "computer audio." But the original Aego was $600 or so, which placed it out of consideration for most computer users. The Aego M is Acoustic Energy's more-affordable alternative, and it's a relative bargain at a only $200.
Like most computer speakers, the Aego M is designed for use with a computer, iPod, TV, or other audio source with a standard audio-output jack. But the Aego M differs in a few ways from most of the systems you'll find at the local electronics superstore. For starters, the 4-inch (high) by 2.75-inch (wide) by 3.5-inch (deep) satellites are made of metal alloy, weigh over a pound and a half each, and are painted black or white with mesh grills made of non-removable black fabric. Each satellite has an attractive, curved-corners design with an angled base that points the speakers up for better sound quality when listening at a desk or on a table.
The subwoofer, 14 inches high by 7.75 inches wide by 10.5 inches deep, is made of (what appears to be) sturdy wood and matches the satellites' color, rounded corners, and mesh grills. Like the satellites, the sub feels exceptionally solid. It hosts an unconventional oval-shaped driver, as well as the system's 90 Watts of amplifier power.
On the front of the subwoofer is a silver volume knob and a 1/8-inch audio-input jack. On the back is another set of audio inputs, although these use gold-plated RCA connectors -- three of them, for left, right, and center -- and a Center Input Yes/No switch. (Neither the company's Web site nor the Aego M's documentation explains when you would use this center-channel input.) There's also a bass-level switch that lets you set bass output to 1, 2, or 3, with 1 being the least bass. Finally, there are three pairs of clip-style speaker outputs -- for left, right, and center. (Again, no center speaker is included, so it's unclear when you'd use this output.)
The Aego M also includes more -- and better-quality -- cables than most computer speakers. You get a 5.5-foot mini-to-mini cable for connecting an audio source with a 1/8-inch stereo output to the Aego M's front-mounted input. You get a 6.3-foot cable with a miniplug on one end and left/right RCA plugs on the other; this cable can be used to connect a source with RCA outputs to the Aego M's front input, or for connecting a source with a minijack output to the Aego M's rear inputs. There's a 5.8-foot cable with bare-wire speaker connections on one end and three RCA plugs on the other (I didn't have an opportunity to use this one). Finally, you get a pair of 16.4-feet speaker cables (yes, each is over 16 feet long!). However, the left and right satellites each host a single RCA connector, so these cables each have bare-wire speaker connectors on one end and an RCA plug on the other. (Since you can't use standard speaker cables, it's an especially good thing Acoustic Energy has included long cables.) All cables are thick and well-made with gold-plated connectors.
Finally, the Aego M also stands out for its excellent sound quality. In my testing room, with the bass switch set to 2, bass response was solid and extended lower than I expected; more important, the bass wasn't boomy, as it is with many computer speakers. (Although, like most good subwoofers, the Aego-M's sub is sensitive to placement. Put it too close to a wall or corner, and you'll get more bass than you want; switching the bass setting to 1 helps here.) Treble was exceptionally clear, and stereo imaging was impressive -- among the best I've heard from a system in this price range. The Aego M can also play extremely loud without distortion.
A minor criticism of the Aego-M's audio is a slight dip in the midrange, likely due to the system's tiny satellites, which are too small to accommodate a true midrange driver. The result is that the system's overall sound is clear, almost analytical, rather than warm or rich. But only mildly so -- I never found the Aego-M to be irritating or fatiguing. This is a system I could be happy using as my main audio system in an office or bedroom.
In fact, the Aego-M is the first system at this price ($200 or less) that competes with Altec Lansing's $250 (but available for under $200) FX6021. The Aego-M offers clearer detail and tighter bass response, although the FX6021 gives you slightly better midrange. The Aego-M even compares favorably to the $400 Jamo i300 sub/sat speaker system. The i300 offers better sound quality overall, as well as an iPod dock with remote, but the Aego-M is good enough that if I had $400 to spend on a subwoofer/satellite iPod speaker system, I'd seriously consider spending $200 on the Aego-M and $70 on a remote-control iPod dock, using the extra $130 for more music.
(One issue I experienced with the Aego-M is that if I had audio sources connected to both the front and rear inputs, the level of the rear input would be reduced. The company told me that this is normal behavior: because the Aego-M is designed to allow you to listen to both sources at the same time -- for example, audio from your computer and your iPod -- the sensitivity of the Aego-M's two inputs can be affected if the two input devices have different impedances.)
If you're in the market for speakers for your computer or iPod, and you're willing to give up the convenience of a one-piece system for the better sound quality of separate speakers, the Aego-M is tough to beat without spending a lot more. Even if you add the cost of an iPod dock and remote, it's an impressive system and a great value.
Acoustic Energy Aego M