|Aperion Audio Intimus System (522D-LR/522D-C/S10)|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Christopher Zell, Ph.D.|
|Friday, 01 August 2003|
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I started off with a tough task for the diminutive Aperions, director John Woo’s intense World War II drama “Windtalkers” (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures). This is the story of two U.S. Marines in the Second Reconnaissance Company protecting the wartime Navajo Code by fiercely and ruthlessly guarding the front-line Navajo soldiers trained to send and decipher coded messages. I evidently enjoyed this film more than many movie critics, since I found it entertaining, moving and suitably shocking in its depiction of infantry combat. The Aperions did an excellent job of relaying all of the details contained in the better than average soundtrack, from the rustling of gear during forced marches and the clicking of bayonets being deployed, to the sound of distant weapons and the screams of the wounded. The Aperions were able to stay small during mellow scenes, allowing conversations to be easily intelligible, and quickly become large and dynamic as a battle erupted. For example, during the invasion of Saipan, the Second Reconnaissance Company moved into the reportedly “safe” village of Tanapang, engaging in moving and peaceful interactions with the townspeople. The Aperions displayed its dynamic prowess during a sudden Japanese attack on the town, literally knocking me back in my seat in shock. The INTIMUS system may not be able to play the largest rooms at reference levels, but it had enough output and dynamic capability to satisfy on this difficult soundtrack. Many other scenes throughout this film depicted war jumping alarmingly out of quiet sequences, and the Aperions consistently performed well. The S10 subwoofer was particularly impressive, effectively pressurizing my large room when playing back at satisfying levels.
I moved next to the 14-year-old, relatively obscure but fine epic “Mountains of the Moon” (Artisan Entertainment). This fascinating, fact-based film takes place in the 1850s, following the story of two British adventurers’ quest for the source location of the river Nile, known as the Mountains of the Moon. They encounter hostile natives, mutiny, greed, hunger, injury, and finally ambition, which breaks apart even their close friendship. I enjoyed this film, but the overall effect was somewhat diminished because of the dated two-channel soundtrack. Compromised sonics like these make me really appreciate full, discrete soundtracks, with their much easily intelligible dialogue, enveloping sound effects and more realistic detail. The Aperions effectively dealt with what there was to work with, which was at times fairly rich in detailed, subtle sounds, but they also properly exposed the limitations of the soundtrack. The INTIMUS loudspeakers did a competent job of conveying Michael Small’s grandiose score during the numerous scenes showcasing the majestic African countryside. The occasional battle or mob scene was also recreated with the appropriate jump factor and dynamics by the Aperions, allowing me to still really enjoy this film, sonic flaws and all.
One of the first things I did in my evaluation of the 5.1 INTIMUS loudspeaker system was to get down to basics with two-channel music sources. Although I was impressed with the INTIMUS satellites, they do not have enough low-end weight to satisfy me in any serious listening by themselves. With the Aperion 522D-LR loudspeakers, the majority of my two-channel listening was done with the aid of the S10 subwoofer. Aperion Audio references a 2.1 channel audio system on their website, leading me to believe they also recommend packaging a subwoofer for two-channel listening.
For two-channel testing, I pulled out an old favorite, Kiko (Slash/Warner Brothers), the Mexican-rock-blues masterpiece and sonic gem by Los Lobos. The wide variety of interesting material on this disc enabled me to fully check out the Aperion 522D-LRs and the S10 subwoofer. In general, the Aperions did a fine job with Kiko, particularly the sparser cuts and sections, laying out a lot of detail for the listener. Throughout the album, various percussion and acoustic guitar segments were especially well reproduced. The subtly arranged “Angels with Dirty Faces,” a rather lush piece for this album, floated David Hidalgo’s pure vocals above the full bass line and swishing drums. The accordion, percussion, bells and occasional aggressive guitar jumped out of the surreal background where appropriate. The presentation may not have been as three-dimensional as I have heard on my reference system, but the Aperions acquitted themselves well, performing a respectable disappearing act.
Some of the more complex cuts became somewhat lean and congested at high volumes (remember that these are very small monitors) and the volumes I am talking about are loud, above where I normally listen. Heavy rock tracks like “Whiskey Train” had my daughters and I dancing and juking, although the purposely distorted guitars had a bit more of an edge through the 522D-LRs than I am accustomed to, especially when I really cranked it. Once again, the excellent S10 subwoofer laid down an impeccable bass line, and added to the excellent percussion detail with a firm, visceral kick drum.
Moving up to exercise the entire 5.1 system, I chose the DVD-Audio disc Abulum (Silverline) from former Toad the Wet Sprocket front man Glen Phillips. This is a much more intimate, subtle album than anything produced with his former band. It is sad, witty and diverse, creating an overall effect that was lasting and satisfying, especially after repeated plays. Not surprisingly, Phillips’ familiar vocals are highlighted on the majority of the tracks, particularly on moody cuts such as “Back on My Feet” and “My Own Turn.” These emotional songs sounded very live, stripped down, and minimally processed. ‘It Takes Time” picks up the pace, and the Aperions effectively separated the interesting juxtaposition of clear vocals and flowing bass against the raspy synthesizer, guitar riffs, drums and cymbals. The upbeat “Fred Meyers” highlighted the power and musicality of the S10 subwoofer and the Aperions’ ability to extract guitar detail. It was difficult to sit still while listening to this cut through 5.1 INTIMUS system. In general, I liked the production on this multi-channel album. The non-aggressively mixed surrounds added ambience and space, and the Aperion surround speakers depicted this space very well, not calling undue attention to themselves in my large room despite their mono-pole configuration.
To satisfy my budding addiction to concert DVDs, I selected Sarah McLachlan’s Mirrorball (Arista). Although this is also not the newest, absolute highest-quality title out there as far as video and sonics are concerned, it is nonetheless a fun ride for any fan of the multi-talented McLachlan. It also proved to be an interesting choice because the two-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack allowed me to once again compare and contrast standard stereo to the Dolby Pro Logic II surround-decoding algorithm for music playback. For this concert DVD, I generally preferred using Dolby Pro Logic II to the two-channel option. In stereo mode, there was more snap, detail and precision, but the added ambience and three dimensionality that Dolby Pro Logic II added more than outweighed these minor losses. Additionally, the extra lushness in Dolby Pro Logic II was a good match for the Aperions, offsetting any slight edginess they sometimes had without compromising too much of their overall detail. Mellow, moody cuts such as “Do What You Have To Do” were emotionally satisfying through the INTIMUS system. McLachlan’s beautiful vocals, coupled with her engaging presentation and movements, drew me in and captured my full attention. Turning up the tempo with “Wait,” the Aperions did a fine job of capturing McLachlan’s striking yet understated electric guitar wrapping around her front focused vocals, followed by crisp cymbals and percussion, and a solid, driving bass line. The surrounds captured the ambience of the hall, stretching out the walls of my good-sized listening room. With the volume turned way up, there was a bit of compression and bite present as the song built, partially due to the compromised sonics of this DVD. The S10 subwoofer continued to impress with tuneful, powerful bass up to relatively high volumes.