Aperion Audio Intimus System (522D-LR/522D-C/S10) 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Christopher Zell, Ph.D.   
Friday, 01 August 2003

Home theater is a wonderful experience that has the better part of the civilized world clambering to their local A/V retailers to get outfitted, most with a strict budget in mind. Once we get there, we soon realize that we are now dividing our available funds across five speakers and electronics, as well as a subwoofer. Can something that truly satisfies be found without spending an arm and a leg?

Enter Internet-only manufacturers such as Aperion Audio to the rescue, providing a high value by dropping a couple of layers of distribution costs. Here I evaluate a complete 5.1 Channel INTIMUS Theater/Audio loudspeaker system from Aperion, formerly known as Edge Audio. The review system retails for $1,399, configured with the INTIMUS S10 powered subwoofer. The Aperion includes a 30-day full money back guarantee for a no-risk audition if you are not able to hear the system before you purchase. Also, Aperion offers free shipping. This certainly falls into the affordable range for many readers, but the question is, does it deliver the goods for such a reasonable price?

The 5.1 Channel INTIMUS Theater/Audio loudspeaker system consists of four 522D-LR speakers ($180 each), one 522D-C center speaker ($180), and one of three subwoofers, the S8 ($399), S10 ($499) or S12 ($599). The 522D-LRs serve as the main left and right loudspeakers, and also as surrounds. As you unpack the speakers, each encased in a protective dark blue velvet cloth bag, you sense something out of the ordinary, particularly at this price point. The review samples came in a beautifully finished medium cherry veneer with pads on the bottom, exuding character and class right out of the box. The five-way gold-plated binding posts located on the rear panel are high quality and solid, particularly for this price range, although they are a bit small for use with ultra-low gauge (thick) speaker wires. The driver complement of this ported, magnetically shielded, 11.5 inches high by seven-and-one-third inches wide by eight inches deep, two-way monitor consists of a five-and-one-quarter-inch midrange woofer and a one-inch ferro fluid-filled soft-dome tweeter. The 522D-C center speaker is basically a 522D-LR turned on its side, with different grille cloth and binding post orientations, and pads moved to one of the long sides of the enclosure. The 522D’s all utilize the patented DiAural circuit crossover technique. The DiAural crossover does not use capacitors to band limit the signals to each respective driver, as in a typical crossover network. Instead, both drivers are connected in series, delivering the full range audio signal to each transducer. Parallel components protect the drivers from damaging frequencies, resulting in a loudspeaker that claims to have reduced distortion and increased phase coherence without the risk of driver burnout. All of the 522D speakers have a rated response of 60 Hz to 20 kHz, with the low end beginning to roll off by 100 Hz. For secure stand and bracket mounting, the 522Ds all have a one-quarter-inch threaded insert on the bottom panel. They are available in a high gloss black or medium cherry finish.

The Aperion system delivered for review included the mid-sized INTIMUS S10 subwoofer. The S10 has the same eye-catching packaging and finish as the 522D, in a very attractively dimensioned cabinet measuring 17.5 inches high by 13.25 inches wide by 19 inches deep, weighing a substantial 56 pounds. As the model number implies, this subwoofer has a long-throw 10-inch driver, powered by an amplifier rated at 200 watts continuous into four ohms, resulting in a frequency response of 25 Hz to 160 Hz. The back panel amplifier plate features a very versatile set of controls, including dials for continuously variable output level, crossover frequency, and phase alignment from 0 to 180 degrees. The S10 accepts line or speaker level inputs, and can be set to automatically turn on when a signal is present. Like the 522Ds, all of the INTIMUS subwoofers are available in a high gloss black or medium cherry finish.

An excellent, comprehensive owner’s manual is included with the Aperion INTIMUS Theater/Audio system. It is a very complete, informative and readable document, a style that I’d like to see adopted by other manufacturers. Those unfamiliar with home theater will be instructed on the basics, and even the experienced may learn a thing or two from the numerous detailed connection diagrams and sound and positioning optimization pointers. I did find one confusing issue relating to subwoofer setup. The manual suggests setting both your receiver and subwoofer crossover frequencies at 80 HZ, which would not be correct. If I understand their recommendations, you will get double attenuation at the crossover point, likely creating a hole in the response, with unpredictable results at best. If the crossover in your preamp or receiver is used, the subwoofer should be set at the highest frequency available to get it out the way as much as possible. It would be preferable to have a control that bypasses the subwoofer crossover completely to eliminate any chance of interaction with the receiver crossover.

I mounted the Aperion 522D-LR front main speakers on 27-inch-high stands, but the user may purchase suitable 30-inch speaker stands from Aperion online for a reasonable price of $100 per pair. After much adjusting, I settled on a location 32 inches from the front wall and three feet from the sidewalls, nine-feet separating them, and 11 feet from my listening position. The 522D-C center channel was located either on a low stand below my projector screen, 16 inches above the floor, or on top of my CRT display, in both cases angled directly at my ears. The final subwoofer location was 32 inches diagonally out from the front right corner, achieving a satisfying compromise between power and seamless integration with the mains. In my room, the optimal crossover point to my ears was a rather high 100 Hz, curing a slight thinness and lack of weight present with the more common 80 Hz point. The surrounds were mounted on small, adjustable wall shelves about one foot behind the main listening chair and four feet off the ground. Aperion also offers versatile wall-mount brackets for the 522D-LRs for $65 a pair.

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.

The Music
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.

The Downside
The surrounds are identical to the mains and center, which makes for impeccable timbre matching, but does not give the listener the option of diffuse, however, you can get a diffused surround effect through placement and positioning of the speakers in relation to the walls. This is not a particularly important issue for me, since I leave my reference surrounds (Revel S30) in the direct position rather than dipole most of the time anyway. This may perhaps be more important to those with smaller rooms where direct surrounds will be more easily detectable as individual sources, and those who are more movie viewers than multi-channel music listeners. Secondly, the 522D’s slight tendency toward leanness and edge may not always be suited to inexpensive, mid-fi receivers, which unfortunately is a frequent pairing with speaker systems in this price range. You don’t need to break the bank to get decent, non-aggressive performance out of a receiver, but I would advise choosing carefully rather than just buying whatever is cheapest at the local mega-store selling dishwashers and ovens in the booth next to the Home Theater demo room. One thing to note is that, although I was not able to fully ameliorate the 522Ds’ minor edginess by altering the setup and loudspeaker positioning in my main listening room, they were more tamed and musical when I tried them in fellow reviewer Tom Garcia’s home. Like every loudspeaker system I have ever heard, room acoustics and speaker positioning have a huge effect on the final sonics, so don’t underestimate the importance of adjusting and optimizing your system and surroundings. This is where the benefit of the 30-day trial period comes in, so you can be confident that the Aperion loudspeakers will be well matched with your listening environment.

In this price range, there will inevitably be tradeoffs, but I believe the Aperions are a real player in this range, especially because of the savings from Internet-only sales. Please don’t take my occasional criticisms during the course of this review as a condemnation of this loudspeaker system, but rather as a compliment that these speakers can be compared with much more expensive setups. As good a value as I feel the 522D satellite loudspeakers are, the S10 subwoofer is the real star of the show. I must admit, I was initially a bit disappointed when I discovered the review system came with the mid-sized 10-inch driver based S10, and not the 12-inch, 250-watt S12 subwoofer. But this attractive, unassuming unit was able to really pressurize the numerous rooms I tried it in, some large, all the while sounding musical, and not sticking out unless called for by the source material. Not only did the S10 work extremely well as a part of the 5.1 Channel INTIMUS Theater/Audio loudspeaker system, but I think it is an excellent choice in the under $500 subwoofer market by itself. The S12 is a significant step up from the S10, something you should hear. Overall, I was very impressed by the Aperion 5.1 Channel INTIMUS Theater/Audio loudspeaker system, and heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a complete surround setup anywhere near this price range.
Manufacturer Aperion Audio
Model Intimus System (522D-LR/522D-C/S10)
Reviewer Christopher Zell, Ph.D.

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