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At its announcement in May 2012, the Aperion Aris was billed as the world's first wireless speaker for Windows. While there are dozens of Apple AirPlay speakers, and even an Android speaker or two, why has no one thought to make a Windows one? Apart from sounding unfashionable, play with the Aperion Aris for 5 minutes and you'll find out why.
The problems with the Aperion aren't exactly the fault of the speaker, as Windows' Play To feature is fairly unreliable, but it does make us pine for the Apple AirPlay option that's due for the Aris this spring. Sound quality is fairly good for a device of this type, and it can go plenty loud. If only it weren't so expensive.
Design and features
The chassis of the Aris is pretty distinctive, constructed from a single piece of brushed aluminum and sitting atop a red steel stand. The thin stand is removable if you don't like the look and the bottom of the unit has a rubberized surface you can use instead. On top you'll find volume controls and power; there is no remote.
The Aris features a total of six drivers -- two tweeters, two woofers, and two passive, rear-facing radiators -- and boasts an amplifier with a total power output of 100W (likely 50W per channel). While it lacks an EQ circuit it does come with three different sound modes: Natural, Bass Boost, and Enhanced Stereo.
The manufacturer anticipates that the main use of this speaker will involve Windows Media Player's Play To feature, as used in Windows 7 and 8. Right-click on a file in Windows Media Player and choose Play To -> Aperion Aris and the sound will (theoretically) appear out of the Aris. The box is also DLNA-compatible, so you aren't limited to Windows, and there are numerous apps, including the official Aris app, available for iOS, Android, and Mac.
The Aris Control app is available for iOS and Android and is designed to be used specifically with the Aris. Unfortunately, it didn't work as well as even Windows' Play To function (about which more shortly) and either refused to recognize the Aris player or failed to offer up a usable library from within my Android phone.
In the three years since Windows 7's Play To debuted with promises of effortless streaming, I can say there is not a day that I've found it could fulfill them. I've used a dozen different configurations of networks, PCs, and playback devices, and Play To has consistently proved buggy.
Compared with Sonos' system, Apple AirPlay, or even other implementations of DLNA, Windows Media Player didn't satisfy. It either couldn't find the player or the stream would stop and start more frequently than an NFL match. I was hopeful Microsoft had fixed the problems with Windows 8, but no, playing to the Aperion would stop after 30 seconds or simply say Device Disconnected and require a reboot.
Though I did get the feature to work for about half an hour at one stage, I found a simple, yet self-defeating way to fix this problem: use the 3.5mm jack. One thing to note is streaming to the unit won't work while something is plugged into 3.5mm port -- Windows will tell you it's playing but there will be no sound. I had some success with the usually reliable Media:Connect app for iOS, but at one point even it stalled.
But whichever way you can find that works for you, there is no dismissing the sound; it makes products like the Libratone Zipp, though good, seem like toys in comparison. This is one of the most hi-fi "wi-fis" you will find for the price.
Of the three sound settings, it was a toss-up between the Bass Boost option and Natural. For rock music, Bass Boost was best and Natural seemed too thin while enhanced stereo sounded like it was being transmitted from out of a satellite dish with a sunken middle and exaggerated left and right. In Natural mode, the Aris had an intimate, detailed sound that was better suited to music from singer-songwriters or small ensembles.
Though the speaker is barely 15 inches across, it has one of the strongest stereo images of a speaker of this kind. We're not talking opera house spaciousness here, but voices sounded like they were coming out of the center of the speaker with a definite left and right channel audible from about 8 feet away. This is something you can't say of the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air, where all of the sound comes from over there...somewhere. The Aris provides more air around the instruments and voices and greater focus while the Zeppelin seems like it's throwing its voice: it doesn't draw you in the way the Aris does.
The Zeppelin's strength though is that it's designed to be listened to in the background and so from anywhere in the room, whereas move off-axis to the Aris and the sound closes in on itself, losing scale and immediacy.
Try something a little more complicated on the Aris though and it will try its best to keep up, for a while. The thud of John Stanier's toms at the beginning of Battles' "Atlas" were every bit the equal of the bass-heavy Zeppelin with plenty of punch, but once the other instruments piled in on top the bass response disappeared and the speaker instead tried to focus on the higher pitches of the "vocals." If you want something more consistent you should opt for a set of powered speakers such as the Audioengine 5+ speakers, which will give you an even greater stereo spread -- the drums come out of the left speaker in this instance -- and better bass response when things get busy.
Further dense music such as "Wasted Days" by Cloud Nothings sounded constrained when played though the Aris, and only when the bass and drums were playing together did it sound more convincing.
While we all wait for an official AirPlay module for the Aperion Aris, I'll have to say the Aris has the musical chops but is let down by its choice of instrument. However, it is one of the only wireless speakers you could even begin to pretend is an actual hi-fi system, and it is built to last. Its reliance on Windows is a sore point, and having to resort to a 3.5mm input defeats the purpose of buying this type of speaker in the first place. If the Airs were AirPlay-compatible by default, as well as DLNA-compatible, and could (magically) keep the same price, it would be a much more recommendable product.