GoldenEar Aon 2 Speaker System Page 2
Seeking Justice (Blu-ray Disc, Dolby TrueHD soundtrack) is a slightly above-average Nicolas Cage vehicle with our hero sucked into a vigilante murder conspiracy. Effects came fast and thick. Those above the sub crossover were detailed yet palatable: These speakers are dynamic performers. Bass effects below the sub crossover needed adjustment as described earlier—I was dumbfounded by how much bass output the sub could muster. Vocals were commendably intelligible, clothed in appropriate ambience, and without obvious coloration.
I didn’t intend to use the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation as demo material, but I had so much fun with it that I couldn’t ignore it. The Aons bowed reverently before Patrick Stewart’s Shakespearean enunciation and almost musical timbre even as they mocked the slightly canned quality of the mixed-for-TV string section. Remastered for Blu-ray in DTS-HD Master Audio, these 1987–88 TV episodes had more sonic good moments than bad. The Aons gave an honest account of their intermittent strengths and modest weaknesses but never allowed them to be less than entertaining.
With Hobbitses hitting the big screen, the ultimate movie demo had to be Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (DVD, DTS). Wow, I thought, where did this unaccustomed edginess come from? My bad: I started playing the movie in Dolby Digital, and the Aons didn’t hesitate to note the distinction. Switched to DTS, the soundtrack resumed its familiar splendor, and the Aons gave a definitive account of the voices, music, and effects. The movie, one of the few contemporary whiz-bang films I can watch endlessly, never sounded better. The ForceField 5 sub handled low-frequency barrages with floor-shaking confidence, though I continued to knock down the sub level.
Music for 21st Century Listeners
I’ve spent years searching for a definitive version of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, an essential masterpiece of 20th century music. The original vinyl sounds superb, but flipping sides breaks the work’s continuous one-hour spell. The SACD/CD release by the Grand Valley State University Music Ensemble (of Michigan) equals the LP’s resolution and performance and needs no flipping. What the Aons made immediately apparent was the lengthened decay of the tuned percussion instruments (xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, and piano, most of them in multiples). This altered the rhythmic flow and tonal balance in ways that were subtle and pleasing, offering new insight into the work without disrupting its essential character. The SACD has the added attraction of a 5.1-channel mix, though it’s used too conservatively, for ambience only, versus a full wraparound that would tease apart the strands of the music. Still, what the pleated tweeter and woofer/radiator combo did for this harmonically and rhythmically complex fabric was rewarding.
Donald Fagen’s Sunken Condos, a mere CD, gave the speakers and (by now fine-tuned) sub a chance to groove. With bass and drums, this system sounded way bigger than its physical size. Fagen’s suave horn charts were a continual treat, and the speakers burnished them without concealing the production’s airlessness.
And then there was Abbey Road. Compared with my reference speakers, the Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4, the GoldenEar Aon 2 lacked nothing in timbral reliability, imaging, or dynamics and had a distinct edge in dispersion. Bass response was so solid that I often ran a pair of Aon 2s without the sub. When I added the sub, Ringo’s pounding on “Come Together” and tasteful drum solo on side two became even meatier, but not over-the- top boomy, disproportionate, or unsubtle. Each beat was a series of integrated events with a beginning (attack), middle (dominant bass pitch), and end (damping). The system could stand up to high-level blasting, never losing touch with the warmth, smoothness, and texture that made me seek out the British vinyl in the first place.
Subsequent off-hours vinyl meandering had the Aons navigating some Haydn string quartets as performed in gorgeous 1950s mono by the Vienna Konzerthaus Quartet. It struck me that these speakers were as adept at low-level resolution in chamber music as they were with high-decibel rock ’n’ roll. They were boundary-busters: sensible trade-offs, no excuses. They could literally play anything I threw at them.
Because of its converging narratives—the pedigree of its founders, the distinctive blend of its technologies, and the performance of the product—the GoldenEar Technology story is catnip for a writer, a fun subject to write about. But the almost Apple-like reality distortion field surrounding the brand also makes it a sticky wicket for the conscientious critic acting as a surrogate for the reader, which is the essence of my job. The Aon 2 and ForceField 5 were fun for me to write about; would they be equally fun for you to live with? I am confident that most listeners in the market for a fairly compact speaker and powerful sub will love them, and they might even turn heads among listeners who want a bigger speaker and bigger sub. Whatever you play, just play it loud, and you’ll see what I mean.