November 1, 2009

Aperion Audio Intimus 4T Loudspeakers


A common thread among audiophiles is the belief that perfectly reproduced sound is attainable if you throw enough money at the problem and choose components carefully. In my many years of listening I have indeed heard examples of really good reproduced sound, always from very expensive systems set up in carefully contoured listening environments and playing recordings chosen with equal care. But such experiences always ignored two facts of my life: I have a family with which I actually share my listening space, and a collection of real recordings, on CD and LP, of mostly great artists and performances recorded with a great range of sound quality.

Yet I witness with some amusement -- and much disillusionment -- the continuing parade of absurdly featureless preamplifiers and integrated amplifiers designed to not corrupt the purity of the signal: "a straight wire with gain," and all that. That’s all very laudable, but I’ve got some early-1980s CDs and digitally mastered LPs that could definitely do with some corrupting, lest my ears fall off. More pertinent to this article are the loudspeakers I’ve seen and heard whose designers have evidently assumed that their buyers will have on tap hundreds of expensive, high-current-driven watts, and who won’t mind placing those speakers in the middle of the room, optimally far from all walls, to give them "breathing room." I can already hear someone yelling, "Kids! Don’t go near the speakers!"

Fortunately, there are some nice, serious, yet practical companies that make superb-sounding products that demand so little in exchange that you’ll be left in a happy daze.


Aperion Audio is one of the growing number of companies that have bet the farm on selling their products to customers directly and exclusively via the Internet. As much as I recognize -- and, in some ways bemoan -- the fact that this is just one more nail in the coffin of the local high-end dealer, the advantages to the consumer are compelling. Obviously removed from the equation are the retailer and his markup from wholesale. Less obvious an advantage is that the auditioning venue has been moved from the dealer’s showroom to where it should have been all along: the consumer’s listening room. To facilitate this, Aperion offers a 30-day, risk-free, in-home audition, as well as free shipping to most places in the US. (Aperion Audio is based in Portland, Oregon.)

The Intimus 4T, Aperion’s lowest-cost tower speaker (there are two other models), costs $325 USD apiece, or $650/pair. Aperion is big on multichannel and video-based systems, hence the per-unit price, and indeed, the 4T is offered in various multichannel packages. Over the cabinet of 0.75"-thick high-density fiberboard (HDF) you get a choice of finishes: high-gloss black or cherrywood veneer, the latter of which was how my review speakers were dressed. The speakers are decoupled from the floor via screw-in cones that mate with dimpled metal disks to protect your floor. The 4T is magnetically shielded, has a single pair of gold-plated, five-way binding posts, and is finished to furniture quality on all outside surfaces, including the bottom. Aperion manufacturers its speakers in China, and to ensure an uneventful trip across the Pacific to your home, each 4T is well packed in its own cardboard box. Two things brought a smile to my face: the luxurious velvet bag each speaker is packed in, and -- delivered before the speakers arrived -- the free speaker-care kit, which contains a polishing cloth and a pair of white cotton gloves.

The 4T is relatively small at 34"H x 5"W x 7.5"D (the base plate measures 8.25"W x 10"D). At the top of the narrow front baffle is a 1" silk-dome tweeter; below that are two 4" woofers of woven fiberglass composite, and below them is a port. Despite the number of drivers, the crossover is a simple two-way design, and the 4T has a modest nominal impedance of 6 ohms. Aperion gave me the warm, cuddly feeling of its being an "engineering company" by providing reasonable and detailed specifications, including graphs of the 4T’s frequency and impedance responses. The frequency response is 55Hz-20kHz, +/-3dB; the sensitivity is 86dB/W/m; and the recommended range of amplification is 25-150W. These specs are also posted on Aperion’s website, which is where I found information on how to set up a pair of 4Ts -- no printed manual was included with the speakers. The well-designed grilles are easily removed, and though the speakers look good without them, Aperion provides graphs that show that a smoother treble response is attained with the grilles in place, which is how I listened to them.

Review system

The 4Ts traded places with my Totem Acoustic Model-1s (which sit on sand-filled Target stands) and beloved Snell E IIs. The Aperions sounded best, as recommended, with their backs against the front wall and aimed straight out, about 45 degrees off axis to my listening position. The speakers were driven by an NAD C 325BEE integrated amp (50Wpc at 8 ohms) through Kimber KWIK 12-gauge speaker cables. Source signals were passed through Kimber PBJ interconnects from my Kenwood KT-8300 tuner, Rotel RDD-980 CD transport and Meridian 203 DAC, and VPI HW-19 Jr. turntable with AudioQuest tonearm, Shure V 15 V-MR cartridge, and Bellari VP129 phono stage. My wood-framed listening room measures 12’W x 14’L x 8’H and has two large archway openings in adjoining walls.


Aperion didn’t indicate that any break-in period was necessary, and over the weeks I had the Intimus 4Ts in my system I heard little change in their sound. However, I got a few impressions right out of the gate. First, the 4Ts put out a full-bodied sound at low volumes. Some might recall the ubiquitous Loudness button on old receivers and integrated amplifiers; basically, this was a switchable fixed-equalization setting that raised the bass relative to the midrange, and sometimes the treble as well. There’s no Loudness control on my NAD, but I do have bass and treble controls. These can be switched out of circuit, but I admit that they’re more or less permanently engaged (to boost the bass) when the Totems are in the system. I’m not saying that the Totems sound threadbare, but they do require a few extra watts before each Model-1’s woofer and port match its tweeter in output. Never once did I feel a need to engage the tone controls when playing the Aperions, which sounded fully fleshed out even at background levels.

Another quality became quickly apparent when I listened to FM broadcasts. Of the two New York City classical stations, WQXR and WNYC, my tuner produces a quieter stereo signal with the former. The static of the WNYC broadcast usually forces me to press the tuner’s Mono switch, trading clarity for a stereo soundstage. With the Aperion 4Ts in my system I felt no desire to do this, and listened to WNYC in stereo quite happily for long periods. It would be tempting to explain this in terms of foreshortened treble extension, or to say that the Totems had a better tweeter, as might be expected in a much costlier speaker. An obvious conclusion, perhaps, but not necessarily correct, as I began to realize only after much intense listening.

The 4Ts’ imaging was terrific. The 20-bit remastering of Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige (CD, Columbia/Legacy CK 65566) presented the various brass instruments, tom-toms, bass, and fiddle across the soundstage as stable, solidly positioned sources of sound. The soundstage itself was flat across the plane described by the speakers’ baffles; those instruments nearer the edges of the soundstage were of the same volume and intensity as those between the speakers, indicating a good "disappearing" act for the 4Ts. I remain unable to hear this quality from the Totems, although they’re better at resolving the microtonalities and complex harmonics that can make recordings of acoustic instruments sound real. Sam Woodyard’s quarter-note beating of his tom-toms in "Part 1" were powerful and expressive, but sounded like undifferentiated jungle drums through the 4Ts. The Totems let me hear that Woodyard is, indeed, playing three distinctly tuned drums from his kit.

I listened to recordings of male voices using "The Voice" himself, from a mono LP of Frank Sinatra’s Swing Easy and Songs for Young Lovers (Capitol W587). Any fears I had that the Aperion’s fleshed-out low-level bass response might lead to a thickening of Sinatra’s baritone were unfounded. His voice was wonderfully light and agile, while Nelson Riddle’s string arrangements positively bounced!

To explore the 4T’s bass capabilities, I brought out the big guns. Charles Dutoit leading the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in Holst’s The Planets (CD, London 417 553-2) can make for some impressive hi-fi fireworks through a system with sufficient low-end reach. Organ-pedal notes were satisfyingly powerful in Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age, although my much larger Snell E IIs get closer to the fundamental notes. At the end of Uranus, the Magician, the series of low Fs from the organ should be downright scary, and through the 4Ts, they were. Also nice was that imaging was not spotlit but a little diffuse, in a lifelike manner.

If not the most resolving speaker I’ve ever heard, the Aperion 4T was still very convincing in the midrange. The lovely, shimmering overtones of Miles Davis’ trumpet on Kind of Blue (CD, Columbia/Legacy CK 64935) were nicely conveyed. There should be a bit of bite to his phrases that lesser speakers will either dull or accentuate. To my ears, the 4T got this quality just right.

What of the aforementioned attenuation of FM hiss? After listening to various test tones, and well-recorded cymbals and other percussion, I have to say that the Aperion’s high-frequency extension was at least as good as the Totem’s -- so I’m pretty certain that the 4T was not "pinched" in the treble. Then I tried track 2 of Anonymous 4’s An English Ladymass (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 907080), which has always been torture to my ears. Something is going on in the blending of the four women’s voices in "Polyphonic Song" that is akin to higher-order harmonic distortion. The Totems, God bless ’em, zero in on this defect like hounds on quail. Through the Aperions, although I could still hear the distortion, the overall sound was not nearly as off-putting. In the high registers, I think the Totems’ resolving power actually works against them. The Aperions’ smooth, smooth tweeters and greater tonal range didn’t so much mask high-frequency artifacts as refuse to focus on them. Which is right, Totems or Aperions? Who knows? But which would you rather do: enjoy your recordings, or sit there cringing at their imperfections?


The Aperion 4T is a wonderful loudspeaker that could have easily been overlooked if sold through the traditional high-end retail establishment. For one thing, it’s small -- it looks almost puny -- and lacks the physical "presence" of the more impressively sized speakers it would no doubt be standing next to. In addition, it’s a truly neutral speaker designed to serve the music and avoid listener fatigue, qualities that are revealed only through the sort of extended and undisturbed listening sessions rarely offered by audio dealers. Yet have a pair (or more!) delivered to your home, as Aperion invites you to do, and see how easily they can be integrated into your lifestyle. The 4T asks little in terms of space, watts, or money, but play through them your favorite but imperfectly recorded LPs or CDs and they’ll make the most of the good that’s there while downplaying the bad. In a world of cynical hi-fi gear, the Aperion 4T is a true optimist. Highly recommended!

. . . Ron Doering

Aperion Audio Intimus 4T Loudspeakers
Price: $650 USD per pair.
Warranty: Ten years parts and labor.

Aperion Audio18151 SW Boones Ferry Road
Portland, OR 97224
Phone: (888) 880-8992, (503) 598-8815
Fax: (503) 598-8831