Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Aperion Audio Intimus 533-T loudspeakers and Intimus S8-APR subwoofer

(Here's another Aperion review that got canned when they replaced these with a new model. Aperion Audio is an interesting company...they're based in Utah, but their stuff is manufactured in China. Still, they offer huge bang for the buck, a great return policy, free shipping, etc.)

If you're like me, you have a lot of non-audiophile friends who are constantly asking you for audio recommendations. This is especially true of loudspeakers. Being an audiophile apparently means that you not only know which speakers are the best, but the best ones for them. And that can be quite difficult, because your buddy is looking for something that really rocks, pumps out the bass, and looks bitchin' as well. Oh, yeah...and they can't cost a lot of money, either, or their significant other will skin them alive. In other words, they want it all, they want it now, and they want it for five or six hundred dollars max. They can maybe push it to a grand or so if they brown bag it for the next month or two, and buy the significant other something nice and sparkly.

I've always balked when making such recommendations. For a grand, I'd lean toward a nice set of small but high quality bookshelf monitors. And while my buddy might learn a thing or two about midrange purity and superb imaging, he is still going to ask a lot of questions about bass output. He has non-audiophile buddies, too, and he needs to impress them as well. And what about the babes? Babes love bass!

Eventually, this conversation will turn toward subwoofers, and while there are many three-piece speaker systems that can be purchased for well under one thousand dollars, I'm not about to recommend any of them. Almost every one I've heard had a big problem with low frequency integration, meaning that there was a stunning lack of seamlessness between the sub and the satellites. In order to get seamlessness, you usually have to spend more money. A lot more, in fact.

To be specific, you have to spend $1149. So you may have to brown bag it for three months instead of two...

Aperion Audio saves the day (and my reputation)!
We've covered Aperion Audio speakers previously in these pages, specifically the 632-LR monitors and 633-T floorstanding speakers. If you've already checked those reviews, you'll know that Aperion is a little different than the majority of audio companies out there. Based here in Portland, Aperion designs their gear here, but manufactures it in China. Okay, that may not be so different in this day and age, but Aperion also sells directly to the customer, ships for free, charges no sales tax, and gives you a 30-day no-hassle money-back guarantee. Even the shipping materials reek of incredible value. All Aperion products are shipped in solid double boxes, and every speaker is nestled in a comfy midnight blue velvet sack. Even the drawstrings are classy.

I received a pair of the Intimus 533-Ts, which are the middle model of their floorstanding line of speakers, along with the Intimus S8-APR subwoofer, which is yet another middle child. The 533-Ts retail for $375 each (a hint that these can be used for home theater applications), and the sub goes for just $399. All three enclosures were finished in cherry and were quite attractive, although one of the 533-Ts appeared to be lighter in color than the other speaker and the sub. It was slight, but noticeable. Considering Aperion's excellent reputation for customer service, I'm sure they would take care of something like this immediately.

Intimus 533-T tower loudspeakers
I started off by plugging the 533-Ts into my reference system without the sub. A relatively tall, slim design, the 533-T consists of two 5.25” woofers and a silk-dome tweeter in a ported enclosure. With a 89 dB sensitivity and a steady 8 ohm impedance, the 533-Ts should be fairly easy to drive, even though Aperion recommends at least 50 watts per channel to drive them. I used both a Nagra PSA (100wpc) and a McIntosh 275 (75wpc) just to be safe.

I immediately liked the sound of the 533-Ts, noting their smooth and warm demeanor. If I could describe them in one word, it would be clear. I'm not talking razor-clear or ultra-detailed, but free of edginess and distortion and other artifacts that can get in the way of the music. They might have been lacking in that organic, natural, I-can-hear-you-breathing sonic presentation that more expensive loudspeakers manage, and I found the soundstage to be slightly narrow as well, but for $750, the overall sound quality was nothing short of amazing.

The one thing they didn't do was deep bass. Aperion claims that the 533-Ts only go down to about 65 hz, which sounds about right. I guess that's why they sent me the sub!

Intimus S8-APR subwoofer
The S8-APR sub is powered with a built-in 150 watt amplifier, and allows you to get down to about 35hz. With its active 8” woofer and its two 8” passive radiators, the S8-APR is described as a sealed passive radiating design. It's a busy-looking little cube, with only the top and bottom unfettered by drivers, connections and controls.

The rear control panel contains for pairs of binding posts for a speaker level connection, and two pairs of RCA jacks if your preamp has a sub out feature (my ModWright 36.5 line stage doesn't, so I went the former route). In addition, you can invert phase, switch from 120V to 240V, and choose between three power options (on, off and auto). Finally, there are two knobs for level and crossover frequency. Aperion suggests you turn both of these knobs to the 12 o'clock position, and start your fine adjustments from there.

With my new, smaller listening room, I had to back off quite a bit from this position in order to avoid whumpy, one-note bass. In fact, when I first inserted the S8-APR into my system, the output and crossover controls were just a bit to the right, and my first musical selection (“King of the Mountain” from Kate Bush's Aerial CD) caused my next door neighbors to run over and see if everything was okay. (“All we heard was a big thump, like a sonic boom!”) I eventually set the crossover frequency just a bit above the 65hz mark, to mate properly with the low-frequency limitations of the 533-Ts, and the output level somewhere around 10 o'clock to reduce the effects of the sonic boom.

So happy together...
Once everything was hooked up for a while, I sat down for some serious listening. (Well, duh.) I took a while for me to stop thinking “$1149...$1149...$1149.” That's what I kept thinking about while listening to the Aperion system, whether or not I could come up with a loudspeaker that would sound better for that kind of money. Of course this depends upon your priorities when it comes to a speaker. I'm sure there are a variety of somewhat small yet well-built monitors that could better the Aperion in terms of midrange clarity or imaging or even the size of the soundstage. But will they hit 35hz with aplomb? It's doubtful.

The Intimus system didn't prove to be outstanding in one specific parameter or another. It was simply well-rounded, and it offered a level of sound quality that easily surpassed its modest price. And once I could get all of those monetary qualifiers out of my head, I simply relaxed and enjoyed some of the richest, deepest bass I've experienced, coupled with very smooth upper frequencies. And while the soundstage was relatively narrow, it was deep, subjectively extending behind the back wall of my listening room.

Did this combination achieve that aforementioned seamlessness? I have to admit that it did take some work. At first I recognize that the sub did sound detached from main speakers. Fiddling with the crossover frequency did make a difference, but I had even more success by experimenting with placement. The S8-APR isn't a wallflower, happy to be stuffed in convenient nooks and crannies. It likes to be the center of attention, which mean placed midway between the 533-Ts. Only then did I experience a cohesive, balanced sound.

So at last I've found an affordable loudspeaker to recommend to my non-audiophile buddies, and some of my audiophile ones as well. Aperion Audio has created quite a bit of buzz of late, and after spending some time with one of their middle systems, I can easily understand why. I'd love to hear some of their more ambitious designs, as well as maybe one or two of their small monitors. I know that they tend to stick to the same basic drivers throughout most of their designs, so that means there is a definite Aperion “sound.” And that, my audiophile and non-audiophile friends, is a good thing.

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