Active speakers. We’re keen on them here at HiFi Starters. Fewer boxes. Power amplifiers – plural – that are matched closely to the drivers. Some going further and including a DAC and pre-amplifier. Some going the whole hog and including streaming capability – a complete system in two boxes.
We’ve already reviewed two pairs. Elac’s Debut ConneX DCB41 wowed us with their small size, strong feature set and great sound. Q Acoustics’ M20 HD won our joint Product of 2022 Award for their blend of chic looks, functionality and brilliant sound. Both models sit within the sub £500 category and provide stellar value for money. Being audiophiles we had to ask the question though; what does spending more bring?
So we put the feelers out and thankfully the stars aligned; not one but three sets of active speakers to look at. Full reviews will be appearing soon, read on for a taster.
Acoustic Energy AE1 Active – £1,050 / US$1,799 / €1,300
The daddy of the three, the AE1 Actives were introduced in 2018 and haven’t changed since. Five years is a long time in HiFi but if it ain’t broke…. That the AE1 Actives comprise just speakers and power amplifiers helps; come upgrade time you just plug your new DAC / phono stage / preamp into the speakers’ analogue inputs (one each of RCA phono and XLR balanced, they’re not switchable). Ensure you have volume control though, the knobs on the back of each speaker are for system gain, not daily use.
The AE1 Actives have been here for a few weeks. We’re getting good results playing music from a Pixel 7 smartphone & Dragonfly Cobalt dongle-DAC. Even better using Audirvana software on a laptop (same DAC). In both cases volume is handled by the software.
At the other extreme the AE1 Actives are lapping up a top notch Pro-ject streamer and Mytek DAC. Read the forthcoming review for the full lowdown. Let’s just say we’d be happy to stop here, forgoing other reviews.
Triangle AIO Twin – £729 / US$1,000 / €699
But of course we won’t. Not least because the frost-white Triangle AIO Twins have just arrived (just, we had to unbox them to check the colour.) The review pair are brand new so will need a bit of running in. They do look rather good though. And the listen we had at the Bristol Show whetted our appetite for sure.
Unlike the AE1 Actives the Triangles have everything you need for a system. Including streaming based on the Linkplay platform. That bodes well; WiiM’s Mini and Pro streamers use the same platform (Linkplay is WiiM’s parent.) And we loved their sound quality and ease of use (reviews here and here).
The Triangles’ connectivity appears impressive too (vinyl fans note the Moving Magnet phono stage). All for £699, which puts them head to head with a Q Acoustics M20 HD / WiiM Pro combination. We’ll see if we can borrow some M20 HDs for a side-by-side comparison.
PSB Alpha iQ £1,299 / US$1,499 / €1,499
Arriving next week, the Alpha iQs are a rare foray into wireless streaming speakers for PSB. Like the Triangle they give you everything you need in just the two boxes (including an MM phono stage). The streaming platform is from Bluesound, sister company to PSB. This will be the first time we’ve used it.
Both the Triangle and PSB actives use a master/slave setup, with most of the electronics housed in the master speaker. Unlike the Triangles, the Alpha iQ master sends the signal to the slave wirelessly though. No need for a speaker cable strung between them. PSB says the link is very stable even for hi-res music (the iQ handles up to 24/192 and also MQA). Which is something we’ll test. If true – we’ve no reason to think otherwise – it’s a handy feature.
As you can see the Alpha iQ’s price tag is somewhat higher than the Triangle’s. In the context of this mini shootout that pitches the PSB more against the AE1 Active (plus streamer). It will be an interesting comparison.
So there you have it. Three active speakers with slightly different feature sets, at differing price levels. Each will get their own review. We’ll then have a three-way comparison at the end, bringing back the Q Acoustics M20 HD to join the party if it’s logistically possible. The next month promises to be busy. And informative.
Triangle AIO Twin
Acoustic Energy AE1 Active
PSB Alpha iQ
Q Acoustics M20 HD