Go to Home Page

Click Here to Go to Index for All Speaker Reviews

 

Product Review
 

Aperion Audio Intimus 5.1 Speaker System

December, 2003

Rick Schmidt

 

Specifications:

 

● Four 522 Satellites, Ported Design, Each with One
     1" Fabric Dome Tweeter and One 5 1/4" Woofer

● MFR: 60 Hz - 20 kHz

● Sensitivity: 88 dB

● Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms

● Power Handling: 150 Watts

● Size: 7 1/3" H x 11 1/2" W x 8" D

● Weight: 12.6 Pounds Each

 

● One Intimus 12 Subwoofer with 12" Driver, Ported
     Design

● MFR: 20 Hz - 180 Hz

● Amplifier: 250 Watts

● Low-Pass: Variable 40 Hz - 120 Hz

● Phase: Variable 00 - 1800

● Size: 20 1/2" H x 15" W x 21 1/2" D

● Weight: 66 Pounds

 

MSRP: $1,499 USA for the Entire Package

 

Aperion Audio

www.aperionaudio.com

 

 

Birth of a Bargain

For this review, Secrets arranged for me to visit the Aperion Audio headquarters, to take a tour and then bring home an Intimus 5.1 speaker set (Intimus 522D satellites and center and Intimus S-12 powered subwoofer). Part way through my visit with Marketing Manager John Wanderscheid, I realized I didnít know the actual price of Aperionís products. John had told me that their goal was to offer a great value for $1,500 instead of $3,000. I assumed he was talking about two speakers. You know, stereo. (Sooner or later I will join the surround sound age.) He was talking about the complete 5.1 set with 12Ē subwoofer. But after spending some time with these speakers in both my home theater and stereo systems, I would not have found $2k surprising for just a pair of the satellites.

Aperion was founded as Edge Audio by Win Jeanfreau because he couldnít find anything affordable that appealed to him. I think weíve all been there. He satisfied his short term need by buying a kit speaker from the Fabulous Tweeter Brothers but then went on to enlist one of those brothers Ken Humphreys, as the engineer to design the Aperion line. The name was changed from Edge to Aperion a few years ago.

Aside from this bent for offering a good buy, Aperion keeps the price down by selling direct over the Internet. A thirty day home trial with shipping paid both ways by Aperion takes the edge off (sorry) any anxiety about the purchase.

The Design

All the speakers, satellite or subs, start with 1Ē thick High Density Fiberboard (HDF). Thatís a bit more than I would expect in the mid-price range and way more than you would get in an entry level system or Home Theater in a Box (HTIB) system. In fact, the way most speaker companies create the lower end of their line is to cheapen the cabinets.

How does HDF compare with the more common Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)? It's more rigid and seems heavier, a knuckle rap on the side of one of the satellites results in more of a ping than a thud, a little bit of resonance is present. If you place your hands on them while they are pumping out some Led Zep (more on this later!), you will feel some taught vibration. This would be expected to muddy up the sound at the corresponding frequency range (mid lowís?), but if it did, I was struggling to hear it.

The 522D satellites are rear ported two ways with a 5.25" polypropylene coated paper mid/woofer and a 1" soft dome tweeter both designed by Aperion and perhaps most importantly, a DiAural ô crossover. This crossover which Aperion licenses from the inventor made quite a splash at some audio trade shows a few years ago. The key difference from traditional crossovers is no capacitor inline between the amp and the tweeter. (A capacitor is normally used to cross over the tweeter at a specific frequency, and eliminate the frequencies below the crossover from getting to the tweeter.) Two-way speakers already enjoy some freedom from crossover complications as there are only two drivers to be sorted out. To my ear, the DiAural takes it another couple of steps forward. The sound from these little two-ways is much less fatiguing, especially on CDs. The highs are open, airy, and light. Your ears, rather than unconsciously recoiling as they do when a digital sound source has that grating quality, happily relax and say, ďPeel me some more grapes pleaseĒ. Iím not kidding. The highs coming out of that tweeter are shimmering but not glaring. Somebody should study this.

The center channel speaker (522C) is identical to the satellites (522D) except that the soft rubber feet are on the long side rather than the bottom. Also, the grille is set to look right in this side position.

A knuckle rap on the side of the subwoofer sounds like someone knocking on a board rather than on a box. No resonance whatsoever. The subwoofer is front firing, rear ported. (They come in 8", 10", and 12" versions.) I was graced with the 12Ē for this review. This subwoofer is driven by a 250 watt amp. The standard RCA or speaker-wire-direct-from-amp hookups are on the amplifier panel. I used the RCA with my preamp-processor performing the crossover duties at 120 Hz.

A phase control is included on the subwoofer. This made placement a snap. I had it against a wall to the side of my viewing position, turned the phase knob to 900 and forgot about it. Oh, and the thing weighs a ton. John Wanderscheid helped me load it into my car, but then I nearly busted a gut moving it into my basement. Carrying one of these is a good job for two people.

Available finishes are real cherry veneer or seven coats of black lacquer. The website pictures do not do justice to these finishes. Both are gorgeous, especially the luscious black lacquer. Aperion protects the finish in transit by enclosing each speaker in a velvet bag (as well as a bunch of Styrofoam and a sturdy box). After a few weeks they send a white glove cleaning kit with care instructions.

The Sound

My first exposure to the speakers was at Aperionís auditioning room (if you live near Portland, Oregon, you too can drop by and audition the speakers there). The opening scene of "The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers" where Gandolf sticks it to the nasty underworld beast is a pretty demanding scene aurally, what with the fire and the falling and explosions. The Aperions kept all the sounds separate and distinct. There was plenty of impact and impressive thumping. We also listened to Floydís "Dark Side of the Moon" on SACD. This was my first exposure to SACD and I expected to hear a more analog type sound and I did. Now that Iíve played ordinary CDs through the Aperions, I donít know how much to attribute to the SACD format and how much to attribute to the speakers. I wonít spend any time worrying about this until the record companies make a serious move to SACD.

The first thing I tried at home was a Led Zeppelin DVD. Luckily, my TV room has is in the basement Ė no windows, because I was jumping around like an idiot. I could hear the speakers break in a little as I went through the disc. This was a very quick break in. The most amazing thing was that I listened to all of disc in one sitting. Just as with CDs, I usually donít make it through an entire music DVD before wanting to do something else. When I wasnít hopping around I was grinning and leaning forward on the couch and if I closed my eyes it was like I was there.

Now, let me say something about Led Zeppelin here. "The Song Remains The Same" was their first concert movie and it was less-than-impressive shall we say. It was released well before the age of ubiquitous computers and Protools editing software. Just putting two and two together Ė are we really hearing what Zep sounded like live? My review notes for this experience say that I was most impressed by the timbral accuracy Ė a guitar sounded like a guitar. But later when I switched back to my JmLab Cobalts, I noticed a little more nuance in that guitar sound. Jimmy Page plays a Gibson and I was reminded of the difference in tone between Gibson and Fender Stratocasters which is what I would have guessed from the Aperions. This was a subtle difference that required my most critical ear. That same ear heard that my reference speakers had a more closed-in sound. With the Cobalts, gone were the effortless highs that had me jumping and leaning forward and smiling. The no-capacitor-in-the-tweeter-signal-path seems to make a huge difference with the Aperions.

When the Aperions were in the system the subwoofer integrated seamlessly. I had to get near to it to see if it was on but when I turned it off it was missed. Very well done.

Switching over to movies, my reviewing standard is "The Matrix". In the Lobby Shooting Spree scene, the result was similar to Gandolfís exploits, all the mayhem could be heard clearly. The subwoofer shook the couch with authority, more so than any sub Iíve had in my viewing room up until now. The surprise with these speakers was that, for whatever reason, I was playing the rest of the movie more quietly than I usually do and the voices were easy to hear. If there was any drawback to not having the traditional center channel design where the tweeter is positioned between two drivers in a horizontal array, I didnít hear it.

I moved a pair of the satellites upstairs to my stereo listening room for a while. This room is nearly twice as large as my home theater room, so itís a little too much for two small two-ways, but I confirmed all the things I had heard downstairs. CDs are redeemed by that no-cap crossover. I listened for a good long while and switched to vinyl only for reference or because that was the recording I wanted to hear. I was amazed at how I could concentrate on the sound of cymbals and how good they sounded. Two of these little guys were able to get remarkably low as well. No wonder they integrated so well with the sub. In a small room and with jazz or classical, these speakers would do quite well even without the sub.

When I switched back over to my reference speakers (GoldSound kit #9) which are three way speakers that cost $1500 for a pair that I had to assemble Ė including the crossover, the effect was similar to switching to the JmLabs. There was more color in voices. Kind of like the difference in visual colors between a 10 bit and 12 bit DAC in a DVD player. But, the sound was more closed in and congested. I was hearing more but smiling less. If there was a bit of a growl in a Sinead OíConnor vocal I heard it more with my reference than with the Aperions. If there was a high guitar note or cymbals, much better on the Aperions. While the Aperions were plugged in, when a CD ended I was jumping up to put in another. Not so when I switched back to my reference. Why canít I have it all?

Conclusions

Any doubts I had about Aperionís dedication to reasonable pricing were banished by the speaker stands at $95 for a pair. Donít get me started on what some people charge for speaker stands out there. Iím a big believer in picking audio equipment based on how you feel when you listen to it. How does it feel in your chest? Are you smiling? Do you want to get up and dance, or is your head bobbing? With the Aperions the answers are: Great, Yes, and Yes. Based on this I would choose them over my existing reference speakers if I had it to do all over again. The fact that they cost less than my reference speakers would make me feel all the better.

Right now Iím eyeing a new preamp/processor that promises to drain my bank account, so I am planning to reluctantly return the review samples but I expect I will purchase some Aperions in the future. Aperion is planning a tower speaker that combines their two-way design with a built-in sub.

 

- Rick Schmidt -

Associated Equipment

Analog source: Nottingham SpaceDeck
Digital sources: Panasonic RP-56, Naim CDX
Preamps: Edge, AudioRefinement Pre-2
Amps: Edge M4, Outlaw 770
Speakers: JmLab Cobalt 816, GoldSound Kit #9

Follow-up to Original Aperion Audio Intimus 5.1 Speaker System Review - The 522D-PT Towers with Built-In Powered Subwoofer, and 522D-VAC Center Channel Speaker - March 31, 2005

There were two key items at the end of my review of the Aperion Intimus speakers: 1) I planned to buy some. I have done that, and Iíve been very happy with them, more later; 2) Aperion was planning on expanding their line. They have done that. My job was easier Iíll admit, but hey, we both came through.

A year ago the Aperion line-up consisted solely of the 522D two-way speaker, either upright, or on its side to serve as a center channel, and powered subwoofers of various sizes.

The line has since grown to include floor-standing tower speakers, the 522D-PT, that combine the 522D two-way at the top of an elegant 42Ē tower with a built-in 8Ē powered (100 watts) sub, MSRP $599 ea, and a new center channel, the 522D-VAC (Vertical Array Center). The new center channel is an intricate design with a new 4Ē midrange driver aligned vertically with the tweeter in between the traditional 5-1/4Ē driver used in all the Intimus line, and a passive radiator. Unlike the other Intimi, the VAC is a sealed box design. MSRP: $280.

I began my review by replacing the speakers in my two-channel setup with the PT's. I had tried this last year with the 522Dís just to see how they worked with a different amp (which was fine). but the room proved to be too much for them. My two-channel setup is in a 12íx20í room, but thatís only part of it. The room opens to the kitchen, the stairs, and the hallway to the bedrooms, basically itís the whole house. The PTís on the other hand, were comfortable in this setting. I placed them well into the room, about 4' from each wall, along the 20í span, angled to the listener (me!) at the center of the other long wall. The woofers were facing inwards.

Since these speakers have powered subs, I had to find power for them. Not always so easy in a house built in 1926. My speakers were review samples and Iím sure it was for that reason that one of them came with a 6í power cord and the other a 10í cord. I needed that 10í cord. The speaker-level connection was the usual five-way binding post, although I found that the banana jacks on these posts were tight. It took some work to get them in as far as they would go, about half way. While I had no fear of a bad connection, I didnít like the look of these half-way inserted connections whenever I was around to the back of the subs.

I had to do this to adjust the bass level which is set for each speaker via a stepped volume control on the back. This means you can adjust the bass level to, or perhaps beyond your heartís content. It can come in handy if you have some recordings that youíd like to EQ yourself, or if you are worried about disturbing neighbors with your loud rock music. Since itís the bass that carries through walls and through their windows, just turn the bass down a notch or two.

I had an interesting experience with this that I canít quite explain. I often use the balance control on my preamp as I shift my listening position. It seemed that with the PTís, shifting the balance on my preamp had the desired effect on the top of the tower, the midrange and tweeter, but it had little or no effect on the subwoofer. Iím guessing that the output of the woofer really did change but with the speakers in this configuration, with the woofers facing in, I was not as able to localize the origin of the bass frequencies.

The Sound

The PTís preserve that open, relaxed, goes-on-forever quality of the high frequencies that I heard in the 522D two way bookshelves. This makes sense, as the top of the tower is a 522D. This is the quality that keeps me recommending these speakers. The woofers, being driven by their own amps, did sound a little less integrated into the soundstage compared to standard three way designs. This is not something that I found bothersome. but it did take some adjustment.

The PTís shone with particular kinds of music. They were able to channel Miles Davisís trumpet. Whether its the beautifully packaged Jack Johnson Sessions box set or the soundtrack to Ascenseur pour líechafaud, the trumpet was there in the room with the backing band comfortably tucked into the background. With that open, relaxed tweeter, I could listen for hours, and I did. Electronic music also seemed to be more Ďnaturalí through these speakers. You know youíre in hi-fi land when electronic music can sound more natural. What I mean is, certain electronic sounds gave me the impression that Ďthis is how it was meant to soundí. With guitar based rock, or classical, I found that the PTís were less in their element. Still a remarkably enjoyable experience, but the mix was not sorted out as well when Miles was on. My theory is that the Intimus line is voiced primarily for movie soundtracks and the trumpet happens to hit the sweet spot of these speakers. And it is very sweet.

Similarly, I found that the PTís brought female vocals to life more so than male. Missing Personís Lost Tracks CD features plenty of electronic touches and of course, Dale Bozzioís squeaks and squeals. On the PTís, the fast edges and intense highs were all there. Even better was the first EP from Smokey and Miho. Thatís jazz guitarist Smokey Hormel and Miho Satori formally of Cibo Matto. Mihoís voice is about the sweetest thing going these days. This is a voice that wants to float, not project, into your listening room. The PTís did just that. But with male vocals such as Robert Plantís, I heard more throat and less chest than I would expect. Not that Plant sang in an operatic style, so this is obviously a subtle difference.

One other great thing about the sound of these speakers. The background is black, black, black. I donít know what technical feature of speakers of other equipment to attribute this to, but these speakers definitely have it. You can hear it as clear space around the separate instruments in most any musical passage, but you really get it when music quickly fades to silence. It's as though the sound were sucked back into the speakers.

The 522D-VAC

I have been very happy using the 522C which is simply a 522D, two-way speaker, turned on its side. My opinion of these speakers has not been changed by living with them for a year. The open, relaxed highs from Aperions is a unique experience in hi-fi and is especially effective with digital sources.

I did have one gripe though, the 522D is smaller than a traditional center channel. Its proportions donít blend well when it's sitting on top of a 16:9 TV. In fact, on top of my 65Ē set, it looked altogether too small for the job. Like a toaster.

The 522D-VAC fixes that right away. The proportions are more what weíve become accustomed to in center channel designs (toaster oven?). When my eyes wander up, away from the screen, because Iím impressed yet again with the sound, the viewing experience is enhanced,

The VAC continues the Aperion tradition of unique design choices and superior results. Like the rest of the 522 line, the VAC uses the DiAural crossover. While this nugget may be at the heart of the sound of these speakers, it's also the source of job security for the Aperion engineers. Even in a two-way design, which is a more natural fit for the crossover, Aperion uses custom drivers and tweeters. The three-way design of the VAC swallowed eight iterations of the 4Ē midrange driver before the sound was right. A passive radiator on the left side of the center channel replaces the rear port on the regular 522ís.

Iíve always associated passive radiators with a soft sounding speaker, not in a bad way, usually itís a pleasing, easy sound. The driver is not constrained by the enclosure. While the VACís may be slightly less extended in the highs than the regular 522ís, soft is not the word for it. In fact, if I were going by the sound alone, I would not have guessed that they utilize a passive radiator.

A glance at the specifications for the VAC shows that the high end rolls off at 18 kHz as opposed to 20 kHz for the 522C, so that may account for the difference I heard in the high end extension.

I noticed two other differences from the 522C that were more significant. One is a welcome expansion of the soundstage. A bigger, more room filling sound than I had with the 522C. Not boomy or reverbed, but a sound that I associate with movie theaters, probably associated with a back wall echo in the theater and the passive radiator in the VAC. The other difference is better resolving power, namely human breathing and inflection were now present. I pumped many hours of VH1 Classicís The Alternative videos through this center channel. I canít believe that it's been 15-20 years since the golden age of pop that produced this glorious music. It has not faded from my brain at all, I know what it should sound like. The VAC did a great job of providing a space for each instrument in the mix, even music with heavy, textured, multiple guitars such as Curveís "Fait Accompli" or "Ministry" was presented as a collection of distinct instruments.

I eventually moved the 522D-PT towers downstairs to the home theater to join the VAC, placing them as the L and R fronts, and unplugging the 12Ē subwoofer. As expected, there was slightly less bass slam on movie soundtracks, but this was not entirely unwelcome. I sometimes find the impact from a 12Ē subwoofer a bit too much.

If you are building a home theater that is also your primary music system, this setup is well worth considering. My preference is to stick with the regular 522Dís and a subwoofer. However, there is a certain magic with two-way speakers, and Iím willing to live with the harder job of integrating with a subwoofer to get it. On movie soundtracks, other than the larger slam from the larger sub, Iíd call it wash. Most of the work is done by the center channel anyway.

Conclusions

My continued recommendation of these speakers is based on their great value and how well they are suited to home theater. All speakers that cost less than a house have some degree of voicing or coloration. The choices made by the Aperion team, beginning with the DiAural crossover, are unique among speaker manufactures, and that is what makes these speakers stand out. For a two-channel system devoted entirely to music, the 522D-PTís are economical contenders albeit with plenty of competition. In the home theater realm, the Intimus line, in any configuration, is a leading contender. The low price is just icing on the cake.

Still More to Follow?

Aperion is working on still more speakers: A two-way design with a larger main driver than the Intimus line and some beautifully sculpted Home-Theater In A Box style (read diminutive) speakers.
 

- Rick Schmidt -

 

© Copyright 2003, 2005 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

Return to Table of Contents for this Issue.

Go to Home Page

 

About Secrets

Register

Terms and Conditions of Use