My first reaction to the beautifully wrapped Aperion Intimus 522D-PT Powered Tower loudspeakers was "oh my god, what have I gotten my self into!"
The Cherry towers came dressed for a night at the opera in blue crushed velvet bags with gold drawstrings! Very elegant. Very expensive looking. Great looking present.
But this was a problem for me. I said yes to the review without checking out the loudspeakers beforehand. These elegant towers were obviously 4, maybe 5, thousand dollar loudspeakers; and that was a problem.
You see, so far I don't love the expensive loudspeakers seriously auditioned, in my own home, with the same music and equipment, for EnjoyTheMusic.com. Despite some admirable qualities of the $4K Vince Christian E6c system (July, 2002), some of which I still remember quite fondly, I struggled to find the right words to politely describe the let-down feeling they gave me. Same thing with my lukewarm emotional response to the otherwise "audiophile quality" $1,199 Coincident Triumph Signature bookshelf loudspeakers.
(Though both reviews are now safely tucked away in our equipment achieves, you can check them out yourself, by clicking the above link, then equipment reviews, loudspeakers and scrolling through the alphabetically list; Coincident is in the top quarter, Vince Christian in the bottom quarter.)
I know this odd reaction is just me. Others rave over both loudspeakers. In fact, I even explained as much in my op-ed piece, "Deprecating The Gifts Of The G-ds." There I bemoaned the obvious audio quality of modern marvels, those made with almost unlimited funds, compared to how much enjoyment the low cost alternatives, such our publisher's "Cool Audio System on the Cheap" (less than $1K) can provide, with so much more limited funds. With champagne tastes on a beer budget, I am a seeker of truth and value. These articles only "shows to go ya" that loudspeakers are the only bargain in audio: you get a lot of bang for the buck.
Therefore, the Aperion 522D-PTs were obviously going to be a very big - and expensive - headache for me. But no! In fact, they are a lot of bang for the buck. John Wanderscheid ("wunder-shy-d"), VP of Sales & Marketing, verified that the towers, with 150-watt sub-woofers built-in, were only $1,198 for the pair!!! I doubled checked again. I could NOT believe the price. These are sharp looking and sumptuously packaged loudspeakers. Clearly a great first impression. Wanderscheid confirmed the $1,198 price and said it included free shipping in the United States!
What You Get
Aperion started as Edge Audio back in 1999, and sells Internet direct to consumers only, though Wanderscheid, says they "will have some affiliate relationships with some online shopping portals like Amazon, Yahoo, etc. in the near future." Their most popular model is the 5.1 system with 10" sub-woofer. The 522D bookshelf speaker is their most popular individual product, but these power towers are the latest.
A powered tower loudspeaker is basically a bookshelf design; grafted atop a powered sub. You get the advantages of a bookshelf speaker with two smaller subs as handsome as regular floor-standers!
The most popular Aperion finish is the natural Cherry veneer, although the high gloss black may be a 50/50 mix in the near future. The slim 522D towers sport two common looking drivers under the black grille in a simple tower. The grilles cover the upper half of the towers. Removing them only slightly improves the treble.
A 5.25" midrange driver sits beneath a 1" tweeter on the front of both, while the built-in amplifier powers 8" subwoofers on the sides. The towers are marked right and left, so the woofers point sideways, into the room. The back has two ports and a sandwich-size plate of black cooling fins. The top port is for the midrange driver and the bottom one is for the subwoofer. The woofers are housed in their own enclosure. The top port makes an excellent handhold for inching the towers this way and that.
The narrow width of the cabinet reduces the time delay of the (unavoidable) diffraction. The medium size height gets the drivers at ear level (so that the tweeter and midrange sum the best through the crossover zone). The cabinet depth gets the right air volume after the proper width and height are satisfied. The 522D-PT matches the look and form factor of the Aperion's Intimus family.
The cabinet is made of veneer over 1-inch thick high-density fiberboard (HDF), with a 3/4" shelf separating the mid driver from the woofer. The 522D-PT cross-braced with 1-inch HDF inside. Internal dampening is polyester fiberfill, to stop standing waves and internal reflections but not intended to affect the "Q" of the drivers.
Although the rated frequency response of 30Hz to 20kHz, within 3dB, certainly sounded flat enough, the powered 522D towers did NOT seem as deep as my ultra-sensitive big ole horns (see my regularly updated bio for the context of all my reviews).
Aperion gets the flat frequency response by having the drivers made for them with successive re-samplings, "then, as with most designs, the crossover was adjusted to "voice" (equalize) the overall output." One of the largest driver manufacturers in the world makes the drivers for Aperion in China. When Aperion was launched, the company was manufacturing in Mexico, but found that they were importing all of the parts from Asia anyway.
The smooth impedance curve of the 522D-PT towers has a low 4-ohm minimum and exhibits the standard twin impedance peaks of a ported woofer. The outboard receiver sees only the mid-range driver and tweeter. The sub woofer amplifier handles the 8-inch side driver.
The powered subs make even cheap receivers sound much better. They always provided a solid bottom to both music and movies. The actively powered, solid-state subwoofers include a pleasantly long, detachable power cord. Subtracting $500 for a modest actively powered, solid-state subwoofer leaves an above average value for mid-range loudspeakers.
The slim Powered Towers allow for easy bass balance regardless of location, but with any loudspeakers, the slim 522Ds should be away from corners for tighter bass, two or more feet from the sidewalls for better imaging, and at least one foot from the speaker rear (the front wall) for image depth. A triangle, more equidistant than Isosceles, casts the wider soundstage.
Lots Of Extras
The slim 522D Powered Towers come with both brass spikes, button feet and soft white cotton cleaning gloves. The gloves are an elegant touch, perfect compliment to the crushed blue velvet opera robes. Do yourself a favor and do not put the brass spikes onto carpeted floors until after you spend weeks fiddling with the exact ideal placement.
The slim 522D towers use DiAural crossover technology, patented by Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable fame. Aperion says the DiAural crossover technique allows for "fewer parts, less distortion, lower production costs, and renders the high-frequency and midrange transducers virtually burnout proof."
Crossovers are all second order, at 110Hz and, right in the middle of the hypercritical area, 2,000Hz. The DiAural crossover results in a 5-ohm minimum (nominal 6-ohms) with a reduced impedance peak at the mid "Fs" and a gentle rise towards the highs. Free air resonance ratings (the Fs) are 50Hz for the mid-woofer, 1800HZ for the tweeter, and a low 30Hz for the woofer. Wanderscheid says "the impedance is lowest where it would be with a typical crossover: above the Fs but below where the voice coil becomes inductive."
Magnet size on the drivers is 10 oz. on the 5.25" mid-range driver, 38 oz. on 8" polypropylene woofer. Voice coil size on the mid-range and high-end drivers is 25mm, and 38mm on the woofer. Cone treatments are industry standard Polyvinyl Acetate on the on mid-range driver, but there are no treatments on the piston-like woofer cone and silk dome tweeter.
Wanderscheid says customers will use the towers with solid-state electronics, but that powerful tube amps will work well. Wanderscheid says most of his customers use mid-priced integrated AV receivers like Onkyo, Denon, HK, etc. "Our speakers do like power so we recommend at least 50wpc."
My initial selection of flea-powered tube and vintage solid-state receivers and amplifiers (3 and 18 watts) were no match for the Aperion loads. None of my amplifiers meets the Aperion recommended wattage. I couldn't get volume, punch, dynamics or gusto out of the 522D-PT towers with any of them using either Monster or thick Coincident CST 1 cables.
Either the glue-coated Aperion drivers really did need a two-week walk around the block to open up, or my vintage 70's receivers and flea-powered tube Bottlehead 2A3 Paramour amplifiers just do NOT have the oomph to drive the mid and top end of the 522D-PT towers. Thankfully, my vintage 48-pound Class A Pioneer amplifier (20-watts) made these slim towers open up and sing.
Wanderscheid confirmed that 48 to 100 hours is recommended for burn-in time, so in my case, it was several weeks of casual use. Drat! That meant I had to repeat the entire "swap this for that" review process all over again. Somewhere between one amplifier and another, they suddenly lost their veil.
All Dressed Up With No Place To Go
Second time round, both of my solid-state and tube amplifiers did much better. The qualities of each amplifier stood out, as if the painter has scratched the lines on the canvas to mark where the objects should go. The sound stood out in relief.
The newly beefed-up and futuristically chic xxxRoksan Caspian integrated amplifielinkrxxx (85-watts/2-channels), easily showed off the soft vocal stylings of new young soft jazz ingénue Norah Jones, but hid sonic effects behind the singer's image. The Caspian added body and weight to the center stage. It added a musical presence, giving life to instruments. The Caspian make otherwise plain loudspeakers sound as elegant as their blue velvet opera gowns.
Aperion's slim towers cast a clear vocal sound even when one of the mid-range drivers is mostly blocked.
The 41-pound harmon/kardon AV630 receiver is a monster, with 75-watts into five output channels. The AV630 face hides a panel of buttons. Its rear is decorated with more silver RCA plugs than a Russian General. Adding the AV630 to the list of equipment for review with the Aperions, and a meteorological trifecta of hurricanes to South Florida, extended the listening period. All in all, I listened off and on to Aperions in various configurations for an unusually long three months. In that time, the appreciation my associates and I held for their elegant good looks only increased.
The AV630 restored the harsh blare to trumpets, rendering the Beaujolais smoothness of flutes with a brittle Cabernet edge. It could NOT bring the loud Japanese drums on DMP's "Multichannel Reference SACD" to realistic levels. The brawny American version of the AV630 Corvette made me yearn for the sleek British sophistication and smooth competence of the Roksan Caspian.
On Tracy Chapman's New Beginnings, the AV630 is not as smooth or as crisp in the treble, but it brings her voice forward. It adds slightly more snap to the drum whacks, adds reverb, tightens mid-bass, lifting some of the low-end boominess. The AV630 was a better match in the short run, but maybe a little too harsh for a long-term relationship. The Aperions also swallowed all the AV630 could push at it. Plus 10dB, top o' dial, was not too loud, even in house the size of a double-wide mobile home.
Warner Brother's 1988 idea of a Class A boy band was The Traveling Wilburys, an offbeat compilation of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison. On Volume One, the AV630 painted a wider soundstage than the Caspian and revealed the aging deficiencies of the disc. On Norah Jones' second release, the AV630 not only returned the harshness associated with loud -- a rough, brassy feel to the vocals, like PA amplification -- but it also returned a natural resonance to mid-range piano notes. Other mid-range sonic effects, like string plucks, stood out better.
A Remarkable Combination
Antique Sound Labs' beefy AQ1003 DT is a sweet sounding, 30-watt, Class A EL34 tube integrated amplifier, for only $1095. In the review due next month, I find this amplifier on the Aperion 522 Powered Towers to have a delectable quickness to the notes, with powerful mid-bass. Together, the music they made was a foot-tapping pleasure.
With the solid-state sub-woofer support in the Aperions, the mid and upper bass was solid and moving. Almost everything you might want it to be, without going all the way and throwing the system budget out with the speaker purchase. The treble was better than the massive harmon/kardon AV630 receiver, but still a little sharp. Yet, the snap of the drums and the blat of the horns returned. Compared to the HK AV630 receiver, it takes a hemi of a tube amp to provide the same bass hauling capacity of a modern solid-state SUV.
This was a winning combination. Unbidden, amateur musicians would remark on how good the system sounded, whether they knew a new amplifier was in the line or not. One of them is interested in buying an AQ himself.
Though I am reluctant to think that certain tube amplifiers might go as well on cone loudspeakers as they do on horns, I am forced to admit that this amp and speaker was one winning combination. Movies and music were a joy to listen to with ASL's small city of lights. The AQ presence seemed to infect the house with music listening sessions as quickly as a winter cold.
Compared to other loudspeakers I seriously auditioned -- in my own home, with the same music and equipment, for Enjoy the Music.com - Aperion's slim 522D Powered Towers are more evenly balanced, without the bright or punchy exuberance of the Axiom M3Tis (April, 2002). They do not have wrap-around soundstage of the sophisticated Vince Christian E6Cs.
Yet, without being too analytical, the 522D towers on solid-state receivers delivered music fairly sympathetically, but yet un-aggressively. When I turned my attention to details of the sound, I was dismayed NOT so much by its reticence at the extremes of treble and bass, but by its lack of effort. Although certainly competent for movies, the Aperion's restricted dynamics, limited transparency and undistinguished presentation preclude a strong recommendation for tweaking audiophiles. Yet, all was forgiven when the musical qualities of the ASL AQ amplifier combined with the Aperions' solid-state 8 inch woofers. The joy the musical combination brought overwhelmed the analytical failings.
Stereo reviewers abuse the term "neutral" as easily as politicians abuse trust. To politicians, trust has as little value as a rusty penny. The Aperion mid-range can be described as neutral, but others might say it is recessed.
The Blue Note Scale
Although loudspeakers with these specs can sell for twice the price (and do not look any better than these slim ladies), the tone of the 522D towers was not remarkable. Neutral? Yes. Transparent? No. Three Blue Notes on the new Enjoy the Music.com™ scale. They neither detracted, nor added color to the music. They are smooth ice cream, but without the extra fat of Hagen-Daz or the flavor of chocolate. Even so, with the beefy ASL amplifier, there was little to complain about.
The soundscape, the stage upon which the image of the singer and the instruments appears was narrow, toeing the loudspeakers in and out did not widen the soundscape beyond the confines of the loudspeakers. Therefore, the extension of the 3D sonic holograph into the room was not as good as it could be. Norah Jones' voice was very good, but "her body" did not come out in front of the loudspeakers. To all but the most critical of tweaking audiophiles, this capability means little, (many audio hobbyists still have their loudspeakers up against the walls), but it does cost a Blue Note in the imaging score. My own category, Enjoyment, is average.
Neither were the towers rich in details, texture or tone. Sub bass was good, without being punchy or boomy. As was the mid-bass too. The deepest notes still thumped with solid-state authority. Yet neither bass made me want to watch movies or blast some rock n' roll. For a good example of that, see how the fast bullet-nose dual mid-woofers of the Classic Audio Reproductions' Cinema Ensemble made me drool. Aperion's slim 522D Powered Towers do not have the super-sensitivity, snap and dynamics of the CAR Ensembles.
Compared to a somewhat similar, "laid-back" sound of the Coincident Triumph Signature bookshelf loudspeakers, in the same $1K price range, the Aperion's slim 522D Powered Towers, with their solid-state subwoofer-woofers are a much better value.
Also in this Internet price range are the cherry Millennia M80Ti line driver arrays of Axiom Audio. The narrow Axiom towers are certainly colored, having a forward presence, solid mid-bass and dual tweeters, which gives them sizzling treble. Although not as accurate or neutral as the slim Aperions, I found the Axioms to be an enjoyable value for HT systems. Either one offers a good, practical choice, with a lot of Internet-direct value. Fit and finish of both of them was excellent -- no flaws. The Aperion's slim Intimus 522D Powered Towers however, throw in a moderate price subwoofer-woofer into each loudspeaker, making the practical value choice between the Axioms and the Aperions a tough decision indeed.
The Aperion capabilities are not so much failings as they are notable strengths of the competitors. The Aperion Intimus 522D-PT are polite, elegant and well-dressed loudspeakers. Without sounding too critical, the slim Aperion ladies are perfectly good loudspeakers for home theaters not seeking elusive audiophile qualities. Because of their relatively low price, slim, unobtrusive good looks and powered woofers, when matched with the right amplifier, the Aperion Intimus 522D-PT are above-average values for HT systems -- four Blue Notes.
Type: Three-way full range floorstanding loudspeaker with powered subwoofer.
Frequency Response: 30Hz to 20kHz
Enclosure Type: Ported 1" HDF
Minimum Impedance: 4 Ohms
Nominal Impedance: 6 to 8 Ohms
Amp Power (Continuous): 150 watts
Amp Power (Maximum): 180 watts
Recommended Power: 50 to 150 wpc
Dimensions: 41.5 x 9.75 x 12.5 (HxWxD in inches)
Weight: 57 lbs.
Warranty: 10 years on loudspeakers, 3 years on subwoofer amplifiers
Price: $1,198 (pair) with free shipping within the Unites States