Acoustic Energy Radiance 3
Acoustic Energys Radiance 3 is
fairly petite as floorstanding loudspeakers go -- only 36"H x 9"W x 11.7"D
(920mm x 230mm x 297mm), and weighing a manageable 35 pounds. It has a lovely radiused
enclosure of braced, 15mm-thick MDF. The two I was sent were finished in a fine Natural
Ash -- blond veneer, real wood. The speaker is also available in what AE calls Antique
Ash, which reminds me of the dark finish some American retailers call wenge. The grille is
held in place by hidden magnets, so the front panel is unmarred by attachments. The
speaker costs $3000 USD per pair.
The Radiance 3 is a three-way, reflex-loaded speaker with
two 6.2" low-frequency drivers and a 5.1" midrange, all with cones of pressed
aluminum alloy. The tweeter is a 1.5" ring radiator set into a special DXT lens that
its creator, Denmarks Mike Thomas, says "optimizes directivity by carefully
arranged diffraction edges in the surface of the drive unit. The edges are placed
precisely in certain distances from the cone." Thus, the "DXT resolves several
key issues regarding loudspeaker design, including uneven power response and limited
dispersion at high frequencies." Each range of drivers (bass, mid, treble) is
separately ported. The speakers are set up for biwiring, which came in handy. Theyre
rated to handle 200W peak program power, and their claimed frequency response is
40Hz-45kHz, +/-3dB. The crossover frequencies are 650Hz and 4kHz. The claimed sensitivity
is 90dB at 2.83V/W/m, the nominal impedance 8 ohms.
The Radiance 3s tall, narrow shape would make it
unstable were it not for its outrigger feet and the very well-designed and -made spikes,
which are included. As set up in my listening room, they were extremely stable -- an
appreciated situation, given the occasional presence of a very active two-year-old
granddaughter! For further stability, the speakers lowest section can be loaded with
Unlike many speaker makers, Acoustic Energy provides a
fairly informative owners manual. Yes, some of it is a bit promotional, but
theres enough of value to recommend it. One thing I liked was that speaker-placement
suggestions were offered for both two-channel and surround-sound arrays: for stereo, AE
recommends that the Radiance 3s be placed 0.5 to 2 from the front wall,
1.25 to 2.5 from the sidewalls, and 8 to 11.5 apart, with no more
than 15 degrees of toe-in.
During most of the review period, the Radiance 3s were
connected to my main system. Sources are my Dual CS-5000 turntable with Shure M97Xe
cartridge, Sony CDP-X303ES CD player, and Magnum Dynalab Etude tuner. Part of the time I
used Blue Circle Audios GDC integrated amplifier, but for all serious listening, the
speakers were powered by my reference Linn Majik 1P integrated amplifier via 14-gauge AR
cable. Interconnects are Linn (CD) and Straight Wire (tuner). Power comes from a dedicated
circuit operating through a PS Audio Soloist in-wall power conditioner and surge
suppressor. My listening room is 17L x 11W x 7H, done in drywall, with
wall treatments and cork flooring, most of the latter covered by a 12L x 9W
rug. I primarily compared the Radiance 3s with my NEAR 50 ME II tower speakers.
I set up the Radiance 3s in incomplete accordance with
AEs recommendations. While they ended up just shy of 2 from the front wall and
more than 2.5 from the sidewalls, I found they worked best in my rather small
listening room when only about 6 apart.
I have a good friend whose ears I trust nearly as much as
my own, though theyre attuned to different qualities of reproduction (one of the
reasons I like hearing his opinion). Hes been an unsung collaborator throughout my
15 years of audio reviewing. In all that time, Id never reviewed equipment for which
he requested multiple listening sessions -- until the Radiance 3. In fact, he and I spent
not one but three lengthy listening sessions, for which he supplied much of the
My friends speakers of choice are JBL 4312 broadcast
monitors, which he listens to at close range -- about 4 from his chair. He listens
for deep bass, and lots of detail in the mids and highs. By his and my estimations, the
Radiance 3s bass was not quite in the same class as either my NEAR 50 ME IIs or his
JBL 4312s. Thats not to say that the Radiance 3 was bass-shy. In fact, if the
recording had deep bass, the AEs stood up and performed. It seemed that my bud and I had
both grown accustomed to a bit of unnatural bass boost from our speakers of choice. He
suggested that I add a subwoofer, but I was happy with the Radiances as they were.
The key for him was that the mid- and high-frequency detail
produced by the Radiance 3 was nothing short of miraculous. What amazed me was that there
was nothing shrill about the sound -- a marked contrast to his JBLs, which break up with
some high-frequency material. And the AEs placement of instruments and voices on the
soundstage was simply fabulous.
My favorite types of pop music are Motown, soul, and funk.
I recently picked up a great album called Pure Funk (CD, Polygram 314 558 299-2), a
compilation of great soul and funk tracks from the 1970s. One of the first cuts I sampled
was "Theme from Shaft," by Isaac Hayes. While I would have enjoyed
slightly more bottom end, Hayess voice, and the hi-hat, cymbals, and tambourine,
were incredibly tight. Through many other speakers, the cymbals sound smeared, but with
the AEs they were just as tight as they should be.
Another cut from Pure Funk that Ive always
enjoyed is LTDs "(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again." With this
tune, it struck me what a "whole" sound the Radiance 3s reproduced. Again, they
perhaps lacked the deepest bass extension, but what was there sounded precise. And, again,
the soundstaging of voices and instruments was fabulous: tightly focused, well defined,
and solidly placed. Plosives and transients (of which this song has many) were well
reproduced, without smear or imprecision. I just wanted to get up and dance -- in my
really bad, nerdy way.
I pulled myself away from funk and went on to another of my
favorites: jazz. John Pizzarellis "Rhythm Is Our Business," from his Our
Love Is Here to Stay (CD, RCA 67501-2), features the entire Don Sebesky Orchestra,
which really swings! This disc showed that if the source recording had bass, the
AEs could reproduce it. The song is a sort of call-and-response in which Pizzarelli sings
in turn about various soloists in the band, and each then responds with a chorus on his
instrument. One of the most impressive was the trumpeter, who sounded as if he were in my
room. Ive never heard this solo sound so "live." In fact, the Radiance 3s
brought this track to life as have no other speakers Ive had in this room. It was
After all the hoo-hah of Pizzarelli and the Sebesky guys, I
tried something a bit more mellow -- and bassy. Ive always loved Fourplays
"Bali Run," from Fourplay (CD, Warner Bros. 26656-2). The five-string
bass used on this album goes much deeper than the typical bass guitar -- down to about
32Hz -- and this track offered further proof that if the source had bass, the Radiance 3
could reproduce it. Two things that really impressed me were the width and depth of the
soundstage; a third was the speakers exceptional reproduction of transients.
As I was considering bass reproduction, I pulled out Amy
Grants Heart in Motion (CD, A&M 75021 5321-2) and played "Good for
Me." This song has bass! The bottom E (the lowest note) of the four-string
bass guitar has a frequency of 41.2Hz -- right around the bottom of the Radiance 3s
claimed response. All I can say is that there was no lack of bass with this track. And
Grants voice was reproduced in fine fashion -- just as I imagine she sounds in real
Then I asked myself, What is the most sensual song I
know of? The answer: "Fever," as sung by Peggy Lee. I grabbed The Best of
Peggy Lee (CD, Capitol CDP 8 21204 2) and loaded it into the CD player. If youre
not familiar with this classic recording, I recommend looking it up. Its just Lee, a
bassist, a drummer, and a guy snapping his fingers (he was the guitarist hired for the
date, but they decided not to have him play for this take). The original Willie John
lyrics are enhanced with great additions by Lee. The song was recorded in the fabled
Capitol Studios at Hollywood and Vine, in L.A., in the early days of stereo: Lee is front
and center, the snapping fingers just below, the bass and drums just behind. Bass
extension? Not a problem -- it sounded very natural and full. The overall reproduction of
this recording was the best Ive ever heard.
So far, most of what Id listened to had been
recordings of small groups, which is mostly what I play when Im listening for
pleasure. So I grabbed something completely different: J.S. Bachs Little Fugue in G
Minor, from The Fantastic Stokowski, with the late Erich Kunzel leading the
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra (CD, Telarc CD-80338). Bach originally wrote it for the organ;
Leopold Stokowski arranged it for full orchestra about the time he was music director of
the Cincinnati Symphony (c. 1910). The arrangement begins very simply -- just a single
oboe carrying the theme -- but as the piece progresses, more and more of the orchestral
sections join in in a long crescendo that ends in a magnificent climax with the entire
orchestra, including what is (often derisively) known in the biz as "the Telarc bass
drum." Yes, that bass drum is big -- but the Radiance 3s reproduced the sound
of my hometowns Music Hall better than any other speakers Ive ever heard! The
reproduction of this recording, through the Blue Circle Audio GDC and the Radiance 3s,
was, hands down, the best Ive heard. With the Linn, there was a little less boom on
the bass drum, but not so much that Id throw the Linn out of my system.
When, one evening, Henry Mancinis theme for the film Charade
happened into my CD player (via Henry Mancini: All Time Greatest Hits, RCA
8321-2-R), what immediately struck me was the width and depth of the orchestra. The width
of the soundstage actually extended beyond the edges of the speakers -- especially the
bongos, which consistently were positioned in free space to the left of the left speaker.
This remastering is pretty good, considering that the recording was made in 1963.
Theres no discernible tape hiss, nor does tape saturation (distortion) rear its ugly
I played a couple of LP cuts that I thought might show
whether the Radiance 3s really had it all together. The first was "One Fine
Morning," from Lighthouses eponymous album (Evolution LP 3007). Lighthouse was
something of a Canadian Blood, Sweat & Tears -- a rock band that included some very
good brass players -- and "One Fine Morning" is a medley of their US hits.
Ive always liked it for its tight, fast, driving pace. The trumpet is featured, and
the Radiance 3s reproduced the instrument as well as any speakers Ive ever had in my
system -- perhaps better. It was tight and brilliant, but not harsh. I ended up playing
the cut several times, hearing details Id never noticed before.
Finally, I pulled out "You Got Me Hummin,"
by Cold Blood, a late-60s San Francisco group. Think Janis Joplin meets Average
White Band. Their eponymous LP (San Francisco SD 200) features a number of great blues
songs, but "You Got Me Hummin" just really gets me goin. Lead singer
Lydia Pense could stand up to the fabled Joplin anytime, anyplace. Again, the trumpets and
saxes sounded just as tight as could be, and this cut offered proof that bass in equals
bass out. The bass line, as reproduced on the Radiance 3s, was worthy of "the
greatest bass player of all time," Motowns James Jamerson. Once again, I had to
get up and dance my geeky dance.
Right out of the gate, my NEAR 50 ME IIs have more deep
bass -- but with an 8" woofer in a reflex cabinet 48" high, they should.
Ive heard reasonable amounts of solid-sounding bass out of them down to 30Hz. The
Radiance 3s were absolutely solid down to 40Hz, with a slow rolloff beyond that; they put
out some response as low as 31.5Hz, but at a couple dB less than the NEARs. The real
difference was in the mids and highs, where the NEARs sounded absolutely honky compared to
the AEs. Mids through the AEs sounded simply neutral; through the NEARs, they sounded
forced. Highs with the NEARs were fair, but not NEARly so detailed and realistic as with
the Radiance 3s. In defense of the NEARs, the room theyre now in is the smallest
Ive ever asked them to deal with, and I think thats a problem for them. But in
the same room, the AE Radiance 3s shone.
As youve probably gathered, I really enjoyed having
the Acoustic Energy Radiance 3s in my system. Their sound was as crisp and detailed as I
might want, but never shrill or overpowering. When bass was called for, they stepped up
and produced. And they look attractive -- my wife likes them better than anything else
Ive had in my listening room.
I suspect that, without a subwoofer, the Radiance 3s would
not be great in a huge room. And if your electronics tend to a dry, crisp sound, the AEs
arent for you. Nor, at $3000/pair, are they cheap (although Ive heard speakers
at that price or more that I dont find as good).But if you have a moderate space to
fill with sound and your system leans toward the mellow, I cant think of a set of
speakers that could be more satisfactory.
Throughout the review period for this product, I mentally
wrote the following letter:
Dear Acoustic Energy,
As you know, Im reviewing your Radiance 3
floorstanding speaker. While I know theres a standard reviewing period, its
imperative that I keep them a bit longer -- say, four or five years. They require that I
relisten to my entire collection of music at least once. Or twice. Would that be OK with
I didnt send the letter, but it pretty much sums up
my reaction to the Radiance 3s. For my purposes, theyre just that good.
. . . Thom Moon
|Acoustic Energy Radiance 3 Loudspeakers
Price: $3000 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
16 Bridge Road
England GL7 1NJ, UK
Phone: +44 (0)1285-654432
Acoustic Energy North America Inc.
675 VFW Pkwy. #102
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467-3656
Phone: (508) 695-8090
Fax: (781) 207-0700