For a speaker company that's been around for nearly a decade, Aperion Audio has been remarkably focused on a product range with just a few bookshelf, center, and tower speakers. That's probably because Aperion designs each speaker with a lot of care and sees no need to come up with "all new" products every year. So we were surprised to find that the entire 5.1 channel system we're evaluating in this review really is all-new. The Aperion Intimus 5B Harmony SD ($1,750) boasts more than a few design details not seen on previous generations of Aperion products, and the changes aren't merely cosmetic.
The six-piece Intimus 5B Harmony SD system comes with four Intimus 5B bookshelf satellites, one Intimus 5C center speaker, and the Bravus 8D subwoofer. The satellite speakers are a foot tall and the center speaker is 19.3 inches wide. The 5B satellites have rear ports, which somewhat limits their placement possibilities, as wall-mounting won't sound optimal. The 5C center speaker isn't ported so it won't be adversely affected by wall mounting. The rock-solid feel and weight of the cabinets is extremely impressive. Cosmetically, they're nearly identical to older Aperion speakers, but the Bravus 8D subwoofer is a departure. Our sample's cherry finish covered the front, top, and rear of the sub; removable black cloth grilles cover the sub's sides. The 33-pound sub comes with four metal "spike" feet, and a set of pointy rubber cones. The sub is 13 inches high, and a foot wide and deep. The speakers' all-metal binding posts provide a secure connection with bare wire, spades, or banana plugs.
The satellite speakers and subwoofer are available in real wood cherry veneers or high gloss black finishes. We had the former, and it was stunning--easily on par with high-end speakers costing more than double the price of the Aperion's package. The Intimus 5B Harmony SD system is available in 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1-channel versions. If the Harmony SD system is a little out of your price range, check out the Intimus 5B Fusion SD. It's somewhat more affordable and is similar to the 5.1 review system, except it uses smaller satellite speakers. (Visit Aperion's Web site if you're interested in checking out different configurations and alternative options.)
The Intimus 5B satellite features a 5.25-inch woven fiberglass woofer and a 1-inch silk dome tweeter. The Intimus 5C Center Channel Speaker is an unusual design on a number of counts. First, instead of the more typical two-way, woofer/tweeter/woofer center design, the 5C is a bona fide three-way speaker. The outer 5.25-inch woofers flank a 4-inch midrange driver and 1-inch dome tweeter. The woven fiberglass midrange and woofer are similar to the 5B's driver, and the tweeter is identical to that of the satellite speakers. The tweeter sits above the midrange driver and that "vertical array" positioning is said to improve the center speaker's dispersion, so every person on your couch will hear the same tonal balance from the speaker.
The Bravus 8D has an 8-inch aluminum woofer on each side of its cabinet and a built-in 150-watt amplifier. The cabinet is constructed of 0.75 inch thick High Density Fiberboard, cross-braced for additional rigidity. Connectivity options include stereo and LFE line-level inputs, plus speaker-level inputs. Aperion's new sub also comes with a small remote that controls volume, mute, and cycles through Music, Movie, and Game modes, each of which can be customized beyond the factory defaults. Having a remote for your subwoofer is a great convenience because we often like to adjust the sub's volume for different sources, but it's a pain getting off the couch to do so. The remote and the sub's cursor controls can access the Bravus 8D's extensive setup menus, which provide parametric equalization to help deal with difficult room acoustic problems. That's nice, but unlike other subs with auto EQ, the Bravus' EQ is completely manual. You really have to know what you're doing and use a SPL meter (such as Radio Shack's 33-4050) and a CD or DVD with test tones to get anywhere with the sub's room-tuning potential.
The sub's versatile equalization and room-tuning options can be implemented via the remote or the directional pad located on the subwoofer. You're probably going to want to use the remote, as the directional pad on the sub is a pain to use. You really have to press the buttons hard--at first we thought they weren't working until we exerted more pressure on the buttons--and you'll have to be sitting on the floor in front of the sub.
We experimented a bit with the sub's "Low Bass Adjust" filter and decreased the deepest bass by 3 decibels, which seemed to smooth the match-up between the satellite speaks and sub. Unfortunately, the Bravus 8D's LCD menu is much too small to be seen from the listening position, so you might need a friend to sit near the sub to make the adjustments or relay the menu info back to you. Maybe the next generation Bravus subs will have video outputs that would put the menu on your TV.
Aperion is so sure you'll love their speakers and subs they sell them with a 30-day money-back return policy. Also noteworthy, the speakers come with a 10-year warranty--that's twice as long as most speakers' warranties. Their Web site also offers floor stands, as well as wall and ceiling mounts for all Aperion speakers.
We started our auditions listening to music in stereo, and rock, jazz, and even classical music fared well, thanks in large part to the Aperion's clear sonics. It didn't hurt that the sub's muscular bass perfectly complemented the speaker's neutral tonal balance. Even when pushed hard with Amy Winehouse's Back to Black CD, the Intimus 5B Harmony SD sounded like it was coasting. We didn't have any older Aperions to compare the new models with, but if our memory serves the new speakers' treble is more refined, and the speaker/subwoofer integration is better than before.
Moving to home theater with the There Will Be Blood DVD, the sound was just as impressive. The scene where an oil well erupts was primal in its violence--and that was before the oil catches fire! The roaring inferno's sound and Jonny Greenwood's nightmarish orchestral score were truly intense. Later, when the fire is extinguished with a dynamite blast, the system's dynamic capabilities knocked us out.
The Sunshine Blu-ray Disc sounded even better. This sci-fi extravaganza about a spaceship headed to reignite our dying sun features a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The tracking shot of the massive ship was accompanied by a lot of very deep, rumbling bass, and the Bravus 8D proved itself with gusto. The score also used eerie high-pitched accents and delicate sounding bells. The purity of the speakers' treble range was exceptionally refined.
Perhaps the most remarkable of all was the way the Intimus 5B Harmony SD handled the sound of the massive spacecraft's movements as it panned from the front three speakers over to the surround speakers. The sound was astonishingly three dimensional, even as the sound passed through the middle of the room, right over our heads.
The Bravus 8D sub was in the front right corner of the room, but the low throb of the ship's engines in the back of the home theater gave the impression the small rear Intimus 5B surround speakers were large floor-standing models. In other words, the bass didn't seem to come from the sub; it filled the entire room. We had to remind ourselves that the deep bass was coming from Aperion's smallest subwoofer, which was an extraordinarily good match to CNET's 10- by-20-foot home theater room. Then again, if your room is larger or you're really into bass, you might want to move up to the Bravus 10D dual 10-inch or Bravus 12D dual 1-foot subs.
The Intimus 5B Harmony SD is an expensive system, but when you consider its extraordinary build and sound quality, it's well worth it for audiophiles and home theater fans. We highly recommend it.