HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



July
2009

Reviewed by
Kevin East
REVIEWERS' CHOICE


Aperion Audio
Intimus 5T-DB Hybrid HD
Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Intimus 5T tower speaker
Price: $495 USD each
Dimensions: 38"H x 6.3"W x 8"D
Weight: 36 pounds each

Model: Intimus 5DB surround speaker
Price: $345 USD each
Dimensions: 11.75"H x 10.6"W x 7.5"D
Weight: 17 pounds each

Model: Intimus 5C center-channel speaker
Price: $350 USD
Dimensions: 19.33"W x 7.33"H x 8"D
Weight: 22 pounds

Model: Bravus 10D subwoofer
Price: $799 USD
Dimensions: 15"H x 13.5"W x 13.5"D
Weight: 44 pounds

System price: $2829 USD

Warranty: Ten years on speakers, transferable; three years on subwoofer amplifier, transferable.


Features

Intimus 5T

  • 1" silk-dome tweeter
  • Two 5.25" woven-fiberglass midrange drivers

Intimus 5DB

  • Two 1" silk-dome tweeters
  • Two 5.25" woven-fiberglass midrange drivers
  • Trapezoidal configuration
  • Switchable bipole/dipole design

Intimus 5C

  • Sealed box
  • 1" silk-dome tweeter
  • 4" and 5.25" woven-fiberglass midrange drivers
  • 5.25" woven-fiberglass passive radiator
  • Vertical driver array

Bravus 10D

  • Two 10" side-firing, high-excursion aluminum woofers
  • Line-level and high-level inputs
  • 300W BASH amplifier (manufacturer rated)
  • Customizable parametric EQ settings with crossover bypass mode
  • Customizable presets: Movies, Music, Games
  • Remote-controlled settings


poty_2009.jpg (32978 bytes)


Category: Loudspeakers



When the loonies (no, really -- read on) at Aperion Audio shipped the review system, they sent me an e-mail: "While Kelli was carefully hand-packing your shipment, we all sang a song of farewell and blew confetti about the warehouse. Then we packed your speakers on the truck, snapped to a smart salute and sent them on their way. If any confetti remains in your box, please dispose of it carefully. One can never fully trust confetti."

I had to wonder if the speakers would arrive festooned with clown faces or fronted by distorted, Dalí-esque grilles -- but, no, what I unpacked on this end were two handsome loudspeakers finished in natural cherry, with nary a shred of confetti to be seen.

The e-mail concluded with: "Your new Aperion Audio speakers have seen much in their travels. Now they’re ready to take you on cinematic and audio adventures of your own. Treat them well, love them, and they will last a lifetime."

I pay attention to a company that isn’t afraid to break the marketing mold, and espouses -- may even believe in -- the power of love as an audio attribute. Still, I sorta wish I’d seen some confetti.

Aperion Audio sells high-value speakers exclusively through its website. A business model that bypasses the middleman -- the audio dealer -- and doesn’t let the customer kick the tires before committing cash to the deal is a risky one. Each Aperion purchase price therefore includes shipping, a no-questions-asked 30-day home trial, and an astonishing and transferable ten-year warranty. As Net commerce continues to develop, it is companies like Aperion (and, as we have seen, Yambeka and AV123) that will eventually dominate the market, offering value, service, and price. But the first order of business is a quality product -- and folks, the Intimus 5 line consists of quality products. What I’d just unpacked was the Intimus 5T-DB Hybrid HD system ($2829).

Attributes

All Aperion loudspeakers are finished in brilliant high-gloss black or, like the review samples, a lovely natural cherry. Each speaker -- except, of course, the subwoofer -- has a rear receptacle with gold-plated five-way binding posts. I connected the speakers with banana plugs, but they can also accommodate bare wire, pins, and spade lugs. The surround and center-channel speakers can be mounted on a wall with the included hardware.

Perhaps the more unusual features of the Intimus 5T-DB system are the two 5DB switchable bipole/dipole surround speakers ($345 each) and the Bravus 10D remote-controlled subwoofer ($799). Each trapezoidal surround has a switch mounted on one of its two façades, which toggles the speaker between bipole (in-phase) and dipole (out-of-phase) output. The dipole output is designed for movie sound, where the broadest possible dispersion of surround-channel artifacts may be desired. The bipole setting is intended for listening to multichannel music recordings (SACD, Dolby Pro Logic, etc.), for which a coherent, in-phase signal is important for accurate reproduction. The review samples were odd in that the left surround speaker’s switch was at the top of the speaker’s right façade, while the right surround’s switch was at the top of the left façade and upside down. Hmm. All this means is that you can’t simply assume that flipping the switch up will always put a speaker into dipole mode -- you have to look at the switch and read its label. At first I thought it odd that the switches weren’t mounted on the speakers’ rear panels, where you’d ordinarily expect to find such controls. However, since the 5DBs are designed for wall mounting, it wouldn’t make sense to have to remove the speaker from its mount just to switch modes. Right clever.

The subwoofer’s amplifier has a built-in parametric equalizer designed to shape the sub’s output to your particular room. Further, the sub has preset outputs optimized for Movies, Music, and Games. Even better -- I really like the way Aperion thought this one out -- you don’t have to jump up and down every time you switch between, say, Marti Jones’s Any Kind of Lie and I, Robot. You simply press a switch on the remote, and the sub does it for you. Very cool. The remote can also change the sub’s volume -- want that cosmos-rending explosion just a little bit louder? Simply adjust the volume upward. Want less interference from the front-channel speakers? Use the remote to adjust the sub’s crossover point.

The parametric equalizer has four adjustable parameters: Narrow (a particularly narrow band of frequencies), Wide (a particularly wide band of frequencies), Normal, and amount of boost or trim (Level). You can increase or decrease loudness, tame the blurred edge around that all-important cosmic explosion, deepen the rumble of the Klingon battle cruiser, and so on. This, as well as the adjustable crossover, gives you an amazing amount of control of not only how much bass is output for any application, but how it is shaped for your room. There’s no such thing as the perfect audio venue -- man, all sorts of stuff just gets in your way -- so this kind of hands-on, on-the-fly control of bass output represents a significant advance in bass management for the discerning listener.

Installation

The Intimuses presented no extraordinary installation challenges. Each speaker is lovingly wrapped in both a plastic baggie and a cloth sock. The 5T towers come with both spikes and rubber feet, the latter perfect for our family room’s hardwood floor. The sub comes with four screw-in rubber feet -- no matter how much I asked of it, it didn’t move a silly millimeter. I placed the towers 11’ apart, to either side of the entertainment center. The 5C center-channel speaker was placed atop the entertainment center, and the 5DB surrounds -- more on these puppies below -- on stands on either side of the listening position, the middle of a big ol’ sectional sofa. The sub, as usual with subs here, went behind a comfy overstuffed leather chair to the left of the entertainment center -- only this time I left a little of it exposed so I could play with its remote control. Also as usual, I fine-tuned the installation using the Onkyo TX-SR800 A/V receiver’s pink-noise generator and a RadioShack digital SPL meter.

Listening

In audio writing, tales -- perhaps apocryphal -- abound about ’philes who show off their systems by positioning their victim precisely in the sweet spot, carefully cueing up an LP (naturally), playing ten seconds of a cymbal crash, and then exclaiming, "Isn’t that the most incredible decay you’ve ever heard?!" The victim gushes appropriately, and they move on to ten seconds of the next LP. Reviewing a switchable speaker such as the 5DB threatened to suck me into something very similar: listening to a passage of a movie I know well, whose soundtrack’s dynamism is dependent on well-placed, well-tuned, and compliant surrounds, then switching back and forth between the bipole and dipole capabilities. Then comes the easy part: describing the differences.

The first scene during which I switched the surrounds’ mode was the destruction of Prof. Lanning’s house, in chapter 14 of I, Robot. An enormous machine systematically lays waste to an equally enormous mansion in which Det. Spooner (Will Smith) happens to be doing some detecting. In bipole mode, the 5DB surrounds rendered pretty much the same aural space that I’d become accustomed to from this scene: the main action framed by the front and center speakers, splintered detritus spewing from the surrounds. In dipole mode this scene was no less powerful, although, as one would expect, the effects were more diffuse, the zings less directional, the whams and pops spread generously around the surround speakers. In a well-engineered surround system, the outputs of all the speakers are integrated into a single seamless soundstage, and the Aperions accomplished that with ease. While there were obvious differences in how the surrounds performed in the two different modes, those differences, in the context of the sound of the entire system, were subtler and more nuanced than smack-me-in-the-face obvious.

Similarly, the epic battle between The Black Pearl and The Flying Dutchman, in chapters 21 and 22 of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, features whizzing cannonballs, slashing cutlasses, creaking halyards and ratlines, and enough havoc to last producer Jerry Bruckheimer another two or three action flicks. The effects create an enveloping soundscape as convincing as Calypso’s maelstrom. And again, the differences between the bipole and dipole modes were the sense of sound dispersion over any pronounced, emphatic statement. When one considers that surround channels aren’t supposed to do any of the cinematic heavy lifting, that they’re there to play only supplemental roles, it shouldn’t be surprising that any difference in the 5DBs’ settings won’t result in any profound differences in the sound. Differences were nonetheless present, however, and one of the advantages of the 5DB is user selectivity -- you can decide which mode works best for you.

While spinning -- don’tcha love LP jargon? -- Marti Jones’s Any Kind of Lie (RCA 2040-2-R), I took the opportunity to switch between the stereo and surround-sound (Dolby Pro Logic II) modes and got quite a shock. First, Jones’s lovely alto, which I think is showcased at its finest on this recording, shone through with its customary combination of lusty zest and lyrical purity. In my opinion, an acid test of any speaker’s ability to deliver the real deal is its portrayal of female vocals. From Norah Jones’s lovely Come Away With Me (CD, Blue Note 5 32088 2) to KT Tunstall’s rambunctious, effervescent Eye to the Telescope (CD, Relentless 3 50729 2), there was never any evidence of smearing, chestiness, or sibilance. However, the shock came when I switched from surround mode to simple stereo and, like a smack across the chops, got an immediate and dramatic improvement in the overall sound. I checked and double-checked the settings on both the surrounds and the sub: music all the way. Nonetheless, as with the Yambeka Audio speakers I had in for review some time ago, the sound lost something in surround mode. While the $1789 combination of the Intimus 5T towers and Bravus 10D sub couldn’t match the sonic depth of my reference audio speakers, original Legacy Classics, Aperion offers for that price a two-channel system that is musical without much compromise.

The Bravus 10D subwoofer performed as flawlessly as its Intimus brethren. I’m not a bass nut, so while I appreciate deep, flowing bass, its artifacts, especially standing waves, seem to me to add more complications than musical fulfillment. Then again, I’ve been wrong about a lot of things. That said, the Bravus 10D worked well with both music and movies -- set to Music and Movies, respectively. When Det. Spooner encounters the first of the renegade NS5 robots in I, Robot (chapter 18), massive transports thunder into position. The Bravus 10D conveyed the impending threat -- nothing that rumbles is ever up to any good, right? -- with subterranean tremors that would jolt the unsuspecting viewer upright. I forgot to switch algorithms when listening to Any Kind of Lie, but could detect no appreciable difference when I then switched from the Movies to the Music setting. Nonetheless, there seems to be enough thoughtful technology built into the Aperion line that I’d bet that no bass-hungry user would be disappointed.

Conclusion

At first, I felt that the Aperion Intimus array, with its modest driver complement and exotic electronics was a bit too shy for the kind of music and movie duties our family room demands. I learned quickly, however, that cranking them up evoked an experience unlike any other. Simple switches of bipole to dipole and Music to Movies created subtly customized aural environments that were unavailable with any other surround-sound array we’ve had here. The Aperions’ fit’n’finish is terrific, and the company’s support (free shipping, home trial, warranty) is unsurpassed. The total price of the system reviewed, $2829, is competitive, given what’s included. Further, the Aperion website provides all sort of aids to help you select the right speaker for your environment, be it a room small, medium, or large.

These are marvelous products. If your speaker-system budget limit is around $3k, then I’d short-list them. Turns out the loonies at Aperion aren’t so loony after all.

Review System
A/V receiver -- Onkyo TX-SR800
Source -- Pioneer DV-563-A DVD player
Cables -- Monster Cable, RadioShack, generic 14AWG speaker wire
Display -- Dell WD4200 42" plasma television
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Aperion Audio
18151 SW Boones Ferry Road
Portland, Oregon 97224
Phone: (888) 880-8992

E-mail: sales@aperionaudio.com
Website: www.aperionaudio.com


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