A few short months ago I wrote about the fine sounding Aperion 633t floor standing loudspeakers (see review here). As part of discovering that my modest home theater could actually sound pretty good on two channel music using the 633T's, decided to finish off my theater by purchasing the matching surrounds, the Intimus 632-LR's and the Intimus 634-VAC center channel. During the process I unwittingly discovered the 632-LR's. The 632-LR's and 634-VAC showed up shortly before Christmas. Over the Christmas holiday a decision was made to put the Aperion 632-LR's in the listening room on my main floor to let them run in. That system consists of the Odyssey Audio Etesian preamp and the Odyssey Audio Khartago amp and my ever faithful AH! Njoe Tjoeb.
I've learned over the years not to pay much attention to the way new gear sounds when I first hook it up and the 632-LR's were no different. Tonally they sounded OK(ish) but they were pretty closed and constrained sounding. So I hit repeat on the AH!, set the volume to a reasonable level and forgot about them for a few days. Upon coming back for a true first impression of the speakers, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. In this small(ish) space there are some pretty heavy treatments to keep the bass from running me out of the room. The other thing done to tame the amount of bass was installing port plugs, as these are rear ported speakers. After a fair amount of break in time, I found the sound coming out of this super affordable system was very impressive.
The speaker compliment is a 6.5" long throw woofer and a 1" silk dome tweeter. The woofer is a woven carbon fiber design with a rubber surround. The crossovers utilize Aperion's proclaimed HD-X, impedance leveling crossover technology. As I mentioned in the previous article, this is a variation on a Zobel network for impedance flattening. I can't comment on actual crossover design as I've not seen schematics and I haven't felt adventurous enough to tear the speakers apart to reverse engineer it.
Overall, these are a very impressive speaker to look at. The fit and finish is top shelf. It's as good as you'd see on any speaker regardless of price. The real question is how do they sound?
For this new setup I decided to try them out with some tubes. If you remember, I mentioned that the 633T's seemed to like a bit more current (read: solid-state). The thought process was since these were a smaller cabinet they might play nicer with my tube amplifiers and sure enough, they do. First tried some high power, 100 wpc push-pull KT-88 monoblocks with the 632-LR's and they literally came alive. After a couple of weeks I had a good feel for their synergy so decided to try something with a bit less power to see how they would react. I slid in the wonderful sounding factory modified JoLida 102b. My fear here was the (relatively) puny 25 watts of the JoLida might be a bit of a mismatch to these optimistically rated 86dB/W/m speakers. After the JoLida warmed up, my fears were quelled. Not only did the 102b take command of the Aperion speakers but all of that marvelous 6BQ5 sound began flooding my room.
Let's start at the lower octaves and work our way up the scales this time. Listening to the bass reproduction, this time I chose Pat Metheny's "Cathedral in a Suitcase" from the Secret Story release. About two-thirds of the way through the song, the bass line drops to a solid 30Hz note. I've measured this many times on the mini-monitors I've had through the old homestead and not a one has played this note as well as the 632-LR's have. That 30Hz note (measured and verified with my Sencore SP295) was solid, even and very tuneful without being overly warm or flabby. For a 6.5" driver, the bass had plenty of weight and when called upon they didn't shudder from the task of delivering deep bass with ample authority and grunt. Remember, I'm driving these <86dB/W/m speakers with a puny 25 watt JoLida 102B tube amp. I've got to say, I'm damned impressed.
Continuing my work up the scales, decided to pop on some fun music to check out the midbass and lower midrange. War's Greatest Hits has always been one of my favorite listens. Scrutinizing the vocals I find that the 632-LR's aren't lacking in the least in giving a nice midbass reproduction. The midbass is sufficiently warm, covering up little of the midrange details. Songs like All Day Music are an absolute pleasure to listen to on the Aperion's. As I'm cruising through my collection I happen upon Robben Fords Blue Moon. The first cut Up The Line features a Bari-Sax at the beginning of the song and in the chorus. The sax falls right into the midbass region. Here the 632-LR's give that big phat baritone sax sound, just as it should be. It doesn't sound the least bit thin, nor does it sound overblown either. Quite nice.
As I work my way into the midrange, I generally prefer to use female vocals to see how revealing speakers are. In this case I've decided to use a relative unknown female Country singer, Allison Moorer. For those of you that are open minded, her release called Little Miss Fortune is a great example of female vocals at their best. The first song, "Tumbling Down," shows off Allison's vocals quite well. The Aperion's present themselves with plenty of detail without coming across as being too forward or splashy.
Moving on to my old standby for low level detail retrieval, I popped on Alison Krauss and Union Stations song "Gravity" from Lonely Runs Both Ways. The 632-LR's bring forth nearly all of the detail that I've heard so often from my main reference system. As I listen to the transition between the woofer and the tweeter, I don't hear anything too noteworthy. The crossover pretty much stays out of the way of the music and the drivers are fairly well matched (timbre-wise). On the odd occasion, there is the ever-so-slight notice of the tweeter calling attention to itself. Here I'm talking about on recordings that are particularly sibilant, like Eva Cassidy's "Songbird" played at high levels. When it comes to the treble, the Aperion's fair extremely well. The highs are crisp and clean with very few hints of veiling. That can be said about their overall presentation also. Their choice of soft dome tweeters is quite good. The extension is relatively smooth and flat all the way out to the (near) ultrasonic region. As you might imagine, I find the treble region quite good and completely non-fatiguing.
Moving onto some of the audiophile(ish) characteristics of the Aperion 632-LR's, I've fast forwarded ahead to my favorite test for soundstaging, Pink Floyd's "Signs of Life" from Momentary Lapse of Reason. Here I find the water lapping against the shoreline to be coming from about 4' outside of the speakers boundary. Pretty impressive as most of the inexpensive monitors I've played with are usually inside that mark. The overall dynamics of the 632-LR's is good. Though constrained when compared to some of the best speakers on the market, considering their price range, the Aperion's definitely will hold their own against some pretty formidable competition in that same class. When it comes to the musicians placement on the virtual stage, the 632-LR's do a very nice job. Playing some Adam Rafferty Trio, Blues for Wes and George, I can easily follow the drummer Tomas Fujiwara around his drum kit. The images portrayed by the Aperion's are relatively sharp and clean. Though not pinpoint, they are still quite commendable for such inexpensive speakers. When it comes to image height, the 632-LR's sonic image extends about 3 feet above the speakers and the performers remain relatively well focused on the same plane as the speakers.
As I listen for soundstage depth, the 632-LR's defiantly come across as a more ‘front row' speaker. They aren't quite first row but they definitely put you in the first ten rows. Keeping that in mind, the soundstage depth is a bit limited when compared to a pair of mini-monitors like the Odyssey Audio Epiphany's which have a huge and deep soundstage. That said, as I listen I found the soundstage depth to extend about four or five behind the speakers which isn't too bad for a speaker voiced as ‘front row'. Now, that said again, I'm sure I could have pulled the speakers out a bit further and increased the depth of the soundstage but I chose the closer placement for the bass reinforcement. Again, audio is all about compromises.
I should mention a couple of things before I get away from their sound as two channel speakers. First is placement. I had the 632-LR's about three feet from the side walls and about 18" away from the back wall. Since these are rear-ported speakers, this gave me a nice bass boost when I was listening to rock ‘n roll. The bass filled in quite nicely without becoming overpowering. When I wanted to listen to Jazz or Orchestral music, I just popped in some foam port plugs. It evened out the bass quite nicely without drying up the lower end. Instruments like the double bass and tympani still sounded quite nice.
Too Many Speakers
When it comes to timbre matching, the 633-T's and 632-LR's are a near perfect match as they use the same drivers and basic crossover components. The only differences between the two speakers are the cabinet sizes and the fact that the 633T's have a pair of 6.5" drivers rather than a single 6.5 bass driver as in the 632-LR's. The 634-VAC is a different design than the 633's and 632-LR's. The 634 is a three way that still uses the same 6.5" woofers and 1" silk dome tweeter but Aperion has added a 5.5" midrange. The biggest reason for doing this is this is because of the off axis anomalies you experience from the typical Midrange/Tweeter/Midrange (MTM) center channel speakers. Let me explain. If you've ever looked at the polar response from your typical MTM speaker design you'll see that that speaker has severe lobing characteristics. The effect of lobing causes a rather dramatic reduction of midrange or high frequencies (depending on the actual design) when you move off axis to the speaker.
What Aperion has attempted to do is design a midrange driver that is still voiced similar to the 6 .5" woofers that are used in the 633's and 632-LR's. In turn, the 6 .5" woofers have been crossed over to kick in on the lowest four octaves allowing the new midrange to carry the bulk of the dialog load. This is a great concept as it minimizes the lobing characteristics of the speaker.
First let me talk about the off-axis response of the typical MTM loudspeakers. My old center channel that I built was very close in timbre to the 633'T's. It was a typical MTM design and it suffered from lobing (horizontal, off axis phase cancellation) much as other designs do. When I sat off axis (as I often do), audibility of the center channel was difficult unless I turned the volume up. Trouble with that was when I'd go and sit in the sweet spot after I'd turned up the volume, I'd get blown away because it was so loud. See the problem?
Aperion has attempted to tackle the off axis response issue by designing a slightly different speaker than most. As I mentioned, the 634-VAC is a three way design. The mid-to-tweeter crossover point is around 6kHz while the woofer-to-midrange crossover point is near 500Hz. That particular crossover point is critical because it directly correlates to the off axis lobing of the speaker. The lower that crossover point, the less chance that lobing interferes with your off axis response. Proper speaker design dictates the distance between the bass drivers to prevent cancellation as does total baffle area around the mid and high frequency drivers.
Another issue that Aperion has taken into consideration is the fact that the typical center channel is placed directly above or below your television which is consequently either on the wall or backed against the wall. I my case it's even worse. I've custom built a stand for my large screen to sit on. It has a closed back and sides leaving only the front open making a shelf for the center speaker. Its dimensions are such that when I place a center channel within the enclosure, I essentially create an exponential horn for the rear ported speaker. In turn, this custom cabinet causes all kinds of problems with the amplification of the low frequencies due to boundary reinforcement and the (near) horn loading characteristics.
Aperion has incorporated into the 634-VAC, crossover circuitry that addresses the boundary reinforcement that so many of us experience. They call it Voice Right Technology. On the back of the enclosure is a simple two position switch that when flipped on, allows the bass to roll off starting around 500Hz. This allows the natural boundary reinforcement to supplement the 634-VAC's frequency response, providing a much smoother bass and lower midrange response from the center channel.
Ok, enough background and technical stuff, its time to talk about how the surrounds and center channel sound in the multi-channel setup. Here we only need to focus on the 634-VAC as the other speakers use the exact same drivers and crossover points. As is sit here listening to Eric Clapton's and BB King's release of Riding with the King DVD-A I'm finding that the 634-VAC center channel is a very close timbre match to the 633T's. In particular on the track Three O'Clock Blues, they have EC's voice where he is placed just between the center and left channel. Same is true for BB's voice, it's between the center and right channel. In a properly matched set of speakers, the vocals should ‘hang there' in the middle of space with neither center nor side channel calling attention to themselves. This is the case between the 634-VAC and the 633-T's. Eric and BB find themselves right between the channels just as they should be.
Next up is Jamie Cullum's first release, Twenty Something on DVD-A. I know this disc inside and out. It is a tremendous recording although the surround mix on the DVD side is a little strange when compared to the CD side. The piano on this disc is quite well recorded. As I'm quite sensitive to timbre, I paid particular attention to the 634-VAC's reproduction of Jamie's piano. Though not perfect, the reproduction was quite good. In fact the 634-VAC did a better job at producing the piano than some ‘audiophile' speakers I've listened to in the past.
I saved the best (or maybe you'll consider it as the worst) for last. My all time favorite surround mix is Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral. One thing can be said of Trent Reznor, he is truly twisted in his writings and composition and this DVD-A exemplifies it. Close up pictures of dead insects, decaying bits of metal, broken feathers and all sorts of obscure scenes grace the screen as a backdrop to some of the most emotionally charged music and lyrics one could write. This surround mix was very well thought out and brings you closer to Trent's visions in music. Providing you can get into the NIN sound, this mix totally immerses you. On the song "Closer" it starts with the heavy bass licks and vocals on the center channel. The 634-VAC doesn't shy away from Trent's task of deep electronica bass. The sounds reproduced are deep, controlled, dynamic and totally involving (again if you are into NIN). The midrange and highs are crisp and reasonably clean without ever coming across as being harsh. The low level detail retrieval I thought was quite good also. I was able to crank the heck out of this extremely abusive set of songs without ever feeling as if it was fatiguing. Yet nearly all of the detail that I hear on the Vinyl and CD version of this same release is still there.
As I listened to multitudes of music on the 634-VAC paying particular attention to the center channel, I found their off axis characteristics quite good. In fact I am getting far better off axis response with the 634 than I've heard on the typical MTM designs. This design is a tremendous benefit for all listeners gathered within the confines of your speakers. When it comes to the Voice Right circuitry, it works quite well. When I installed the 634-VAC below my Mits in the cabinet, I was over run with bass. It covered up much of the critical midrange and interfered with the audibility of the center channel. A quick flip of the switch on the back of the speaker and I now had a nice flat frequency response. Obviously, each installation and use of the circuitry will be different based on your rooms' acoustics but in my room and in my cabinet, it worked perfectly.
In The End
As I mentioned earlier, if you are a fan of speakers that have that ‘front row' sound, you will definitely like the Aperion 632-LR's. They give you that down front presentation without having that ‘in your face' character and fatiguing sound that so many inexpensive monitors do. The Aperion's perform equally well on aggressive music or something more laid back.
Overall, I am extremely impressed and quite satisfied as an audiophile with the 634-VAC center channel. The frequency response is quite good from top to bottom. The Voice Right circuitry doesn't appear to detract much from the presentation of music or movies, at least that I've noticed. The 634 is a very musical as a center channel to boot. When playing a wide selection of tunes from Jazz to the Blues to heavy Industrial, it performed quite well. The real standouts in this matched set are the 632-LR surrounds. They are quite impressive for the money. To reiterate what I said about the 633T floor standers, if you are an audiophile on a budget, you owe it to yourself to give the Aperion line of loudspeakers a try. They have a 30 day in home, risk free trial. Their finishes are quite stunning. Personally, I prefer the Cherry but the Black lacquer is equally impressive. They are very solid performers with a deep, clean presentation.
Type: Two-way bookshelf or stand mount