Aperion Audio Intimus 533-T Loudspeakers and S8-APR
In the comprehensive owners manual
that comes with any speaker purchased from Aperion Audio, the company outlines "The
Joy of Buying Direct," which, aside from the promise of attractive, well-made
equipment, emphasizes how the consumer can save money. Aperion claims that bypassing a
bricks-and-mortar retailer can reduce the price of a speaker by 50%, along with avoiding
sales tax. They even offer free shipping both ways, should you need it. Of course,
conventional wisdom says that no one should buy a speaker without hearing it first. So to
account for this, Aperion offers the usual 30-day home trial (only 2% of orders are
returned, they claim), and backs it up with a proactive customer-service philosophy that
any other factory-direct manufacturer would find difficult to match.
Once an order is placed, you are welcomed by a series of
e-mails that introduce you to the Aperion "family." Speakers are warranted for
ten years, the amplifiers in powered speakers for three; and within the first 12 months of
ownership, you can upgrade by taking advantage of a full-credit refund applied to the cost
of your next purchase.
The Intimus 533-Ts ("T" for tower, $750 USD per
pair) arrived in two huge double boxes, along with a more modestly sized S8-APR subwoofer
($399). The boxes themselves were so impressive that my UPS driver wanted to know why he
wasnt invited to the party. As I unstrapped the outer boxes and opened the inner
ones, there was one more level of refinement to enjoy on the way to the speakers: in the
sort of touch one might expect from items costing much more, each came enclosed in a bag
of royal blue velvet.
Aperion is a company of the modern era, and as such tends
to focus their thinking on home theater. At heart, however, they are music lovers, and
pride themselves in serving the needs of music listeners as well (as if the two must be
mutually exclusive). The 38-pound Intimus 533-T is 38.5" high, 6.25" wide,
8" deep, and stands on a base 9.25" wide and 10.75" deep. It has been
designed to compete with stand-mounted models, and maintains a remarkably thin and
unassuming profile atop that relatively small footprint. Music comes from a 1"
silk-dome, ferrofluid-cooled tweeter and two 5.25" mineral-filled, polypropylene-cone
woofers. Ported in front and magnetically shielded, the 533-T takes advantage of what has
come to be known as a 2.5-way design, in which the driver below the tweeter handles the
midrange, but both of the larger drivers are responsible for the bass. The thinking
is that a smaller cone area in the midrange will provide better integration with the
tweeter (while the two larger drivers will be able to supply adequate bass), in addition
to offering the soundstaging of monitors.
The cabinets are made of 1"-thick HDF and finished in
real-wood cherry veneer or high-gloss piano black. The black samples I was sent seemed
even sturdier than the speakers of wood and vinyl veneer I usually have in my living room.
Aperion supplies heavy brass footers that can be screwed into predrilled holes on the
bottom of each speaker, but mine stood directly on my apartments hardwood floors.
I auditioned the Intimus 533-Ts with their grilles on as
well as off. Typically, I prefer the studio-style vibe of listening to speakers with the
grilles removed, but found that while the grilleless 533-Ts were no more revealing, the
grilled version was just a bit more forgiving in the upper frequencies.
The 533-Ts replaced Axiom M22 speakers in my system, which
uses an Oppo DV-970HD universal player as its source, linked by Monster Cable
interconnects to an NAD C325BEE integrated amplifier. The Aperions were hooked up to the
NAD with 9 runs of Element Cables Double Run speaker cable, whose banana plugs
slid securely into the 533-Ts five-way binding posts.
Aperion assumes that their main speakers will be paired
with a subwoofer. They dont insist on it, but they expect their customers to be
assembling 5.1-channel home-theater systems -- 2.1 at the very least. At first, however, I
tried out my pair of 533-Ts on their own. Richard Thompsons Live from Austin, TX
[CD, New West 6074], the audio-only version of a concert recorded for PBSs Austin
City Limits, is as dynamic and atmospheric a recording as Ive heard in some
time, thanks to the mesmerizing interplay between the master guitarist and his longtime
double-bassist, Danny Thompson. Whether Danny T. was walking it on the opening
"Cooksferry Queen," or moving up and down the neck and exploring every nuanced
note in between on "Mingus Eyes," the 533-T handled his bass lines with impact,
punch, and a liveliness that could be attributed only to the speakers inclination
toward crispness and clean music making, while Richard T.s resonant baritone was
laced with menace and desperation.
When the Intimus 533-T dealt with the microdynamics of the
Thompson CD, what came across was a complete absence of coloration -- this was a speaker
that, despite its being a floorstander, screamed neutrality. I wanted to test this
impression with something a bit less subtle. Govt Mule recorded The Deepest End:
Live in Concert [CD, ATO 21517] at the 2003 Jazz & Heritage Festival in New
Orleans with a rotating cast of bassists, all paying tribute to the bands late bass
player, Allen Woody. On "Bad Little Doggie," lead guitarist and vocalist Warren
Haynes sang with a vivid immediacy that projected his voice forward of the speakers and
out into the room. I was looking for a bit more bottom-end heft from drummer Matt
Abts kit on "Soulshine," however, even though Haynes ringing,
striving guitar jumped from the speakers and nearly pulled me out of the chair. I thought
the sound lacked some connectivity from one end of the aural spectrum to the other.
Enter the Intimus S8-APR powered subwoofer, an economically
sized box that differs from the S8 sub by adding two passive 8" radiators to the
S8s single active 8" driver. Passive radiators instead of a port permit a
smaller cabinet size, which might help the S8-APR fit more easily into smaller rooms.
Rated at 100W, the S8-APR offers connection directly to the integrated amplifier or
receiver via RCA cables, or a more complex system of two sets of speaker cables: one set
from amp to sub, and one out from the sub to the speakers. I chose the simpler route and
went directly from amp to sub. With other brands, this shortcut might result in less
predictable integration among the sub and the two main speakers, but the integration of
the three Aperions was impressively seamless, as if the S8-APR was essential to tying the
sound together, like the laces of a whalebone corset.
It all came together on Govt Mules cover of
"32/20 Blues," Robert Johnsons song really just a starting point for
Haynes and guest slide guitarist Sonny Landreth. Over the course of 12 minutes, the 533-Ts
conveyed focused intimacy, impact, and punch, while remaining tuneful and with excellent
pitch articulation. "Beautifully Broken" and several of the other ballads were
supremely uncolored and open in the midrange, and the treble was pristine, stopping just
shy of graininess or etch.
MeShell NdegéOcello proved she was a monster bassist on
her 1993 debut, Plantation Lullabies [CD, Maverick 45333]. The S8-APR let the bass
on "Dred Loc" and "Outside Your Door" coat the room like motor oil
spilled across a garage floor. Larger subs seem to require tweaking of volume or crossover
point from album to album, or even from song to song. Not the Aperion S8-APR. Once set, it
offered just the right amount of low end without getting overbearing or congesting the
other notes in play. When faced with more upbeat tempos, such as NdegéOcellos
"If Thats Your Boyfriend (He Wasnt Last Night)" or "Step Into
the Projects," the Aperion system was bold, assertive, and satisfying.
An ongoing audiophile debate concerns neutrality and
accuracy vs. coloration, or sonic choices made and imposed by the designers of hi-fi gear.
Ive come to love my Axiom M22s. They sound rich and suave, and offer a midrange
creaminess usually found only in much more expensive speakers. They could also be
considered somewhat polite and reserved: laid-back at the expense of dynamic output.
By themselves, the Aperion Intimus 533-Ts resolved
low-level detail with extraordinary skill, played loudly without strain, and excelled at
spatial presentation, thanks to their ability to throw a wide, deep, tall soundstage --
taller, at any rate, than what I can get from the M22s, which are at a natural
disadvantage without stands. The 533-Ts imaging was palpable, atomically accurate,
tight, and set in relief against the surrounding air. When I added the S8-APR subwoofer,
the resulting 2.1 system retained all its transparency while benefiting from a warmly and
gracefully extended bottom octave.
Its a matter of taste whether you respond to
coloration or neutrality, but head to head, the Axiom M22s present a richer midrange and a
slightly deeper bass, while the Aperions were a bit more detailed in the highs, resolved
inner detail to a greater degree, and imparted an increased amount of musical information.
Aperion Audios website is the state of the art,
offering education on a wide range of audio topics and the option of dragging and dropping
speakers into a virtual room, as well as sharing customer feedback that can help move the
decision-making process along. Aperions business model lets you audition and enjoy
their products, relatively risk-free, in their natural environment: your home. In-store
listening is fast becoming a thing of the past.
Theres an old adage among audiophiles: the better a
speakers appearance, the worse it will sound. If this is true, then Aperions
Intimus 533-T and S8-APR are not audiophile speakers. They are attractive and unassuming
enough to match any décor (or meet any significant others approval), and handle the
complexity of music and the dynamic range of DVDs with equal aplomb. Their uncolored sound
and talent for imaging are rarely found at this price. Their designers, while paying equal
attention to musical truth and aesthetic beauty, have managed to deliver high quality and
superior value in one package.
Prices of equipment reviewed