It started as a question: how much speaker does one really need? That question spurred a challenge, which was to determine whether a two-way bookshelf speaker, retailing for less than $500 per pair, could be enough to achieve a convincing home theater experience. The parameters were simple: the speaker in question had to be a two-way design featuring a one-inch tweeter mated to a single six- (or so) inch midrange driver and retail for less than $500 per pair. The companies that were contacted and that agreed to participate (so far) in my little experiment are Aperion Audio, Paradigm and RBH. The purpose of this experiment is not to judge each speaker against the competition in order to choose a winner, as that would be foolish, for sound quality is (largely) subjective. The purpose of this experiment is to see if each speaker can effectively recreate the cinematic experience in one's own home. Obviously, because of the limitations put forth by this experiment, there is a budget aspect to this equation, as all the aforementioned brands' offerings must retail for less than $500 per pair, or no more than $1,250 for a five-speaker surround sound setup. What of the benchmark? Well, it's been set by JBL Pro's Cinema 3677 speakers. Let's begin ...
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Internet-direct retailer Aperion Audio was the first to answer my call and, as a result, sent me five Intimus 5Bs for review. The Intimus 5B is the largest bookshelf in the lauded Intimus line, as well as the most expensive, retailing for $430 per pair. At $430 per pair, the price for five matching 5Bs totals $1,075, plus applicable taxes, though shipping is free, both ways.
The 5B, like all Aperion Audio loudspeakers, comes complete with a 30-day in-home trial for you to determine firsthand if they're right for you and your setup. The 5B itself may be basic, but it is still rather handsome in its appearance. Its typical rectangular shape is given a bit of upscale flare though its use of finish, which is gloss piano black. Gloss piano black also happens to be the only finish offered on the 5B at this time, which suits my tastes and needs just fine. Still, for a two-way budget bookshelf, the 5B is rather large, measuring 12 inches tall by six-and-three-quarter inches wide and eight inches deep. It's hefty, too, tipping the scales at 12 pounds. Around back, you'll find a single pair of gold-plated five-way binding posts, which are recessed, mounted below the speaker's sole port. Between the port and the binding posts are two quarter-inch threaded inserts to help facilitate wall or ceiling-oriented speaker mounts. There is also a quarter-inch threaded insert along the bottom for stand-mounting, too, which is a very nice feature and uncommon touch.
Behind the removable grille rest two drivers, a one-inch silk dome tweeter and a five-and-a-quarter-inch woven fiberglass bass/midrange driver. The 5B's reported frequency response is 80Hz to 20kHz (+/- 3dB), with an impedance of eight ohms. Sensitivity is stated to be 87dB, which is a little on the low side for a simple two-way, though Aperion claims amplifiers (or receivers) capable of churning out 25 to 200 watts will be sufficient to satisfactorily power the 5B.
Unboxing and setting up five matching 5B speakers is an easy enough job for one person, though it's always more fun (not to mention quicker) with two - just saying. Because I'm looking for sonic uniformity across all of the five channels in a 5.1 setup, I will not be employing any special-made center-channel speakers or rear/surround channels, of which the Intimus line offers several. The reason for this is simple: I don't like center channels, as I find most sound different than their main counterparts, if for no other reason than their orientation is different. Also, there are no center-channel speakers in true cinema installations - just speakers - so it stands to reason there will be no center channels in my tests either.
I began by putting three matching 5B speaker across the front of my stage in a left/center/right configuration. I placed them directly atop my JBL Cinema 3677s, but inverted them, so that the tweeters were at the bottom, with the mid-bass driver resting above. I used a simple computer mouse pad under each to provide a small measure of isolation between the 5Bs and the JBLs, though it was largely to protect each speaker's cabinet finish. Both would never play simultaneously, which somewhat negated the need for copious amounts of isolation. This put the tweeters not only in line with the JBLs, but also in line (plus or minus an inch) with my seated ear height. Since high frequencies are far more directional than all other frequencies, this was the best setup option I had for my room. I removed the grilles, as the speakers would be firing through my 120-inch Elite Screens' AcousticPro 4K projection screen. The speakers themselves sat approximately three feet off my front wall with a good 18 inches to either side of the left and right channels. The center, obviously, was mounted dead center, which in my room placed it about six feet in from each side wall. My front wall is treated using GIK Acoustic Tri-Traps in the corners, with Monster Bass traps resting between.
The rear channel 5Bs were mounted to my ceiling using Monoprice speaker mounts (MB-03), which are rated to hold up to 33 pounds. The 5Bs were mounted sideways and in line with my first row of seats, albeit eight feet in the air. In a 5.1 channel setup, the surround speakers should be aligned with your listening position, not behind, as it is sometimes mistakenly believed. Speakers should only be placed behind the listening position in seven- (or six-) channel setups.
All of the 5Bs were wired using bulk 12-gauge speaker cable from Binary, a SnapAV company. I used Emotiva's UPA-700 ($499) as my amp of choice for this test, which was connected to my reference Integra DHC 80.2 AV preamp. I could've gone with Emotiva's UMC-200 ($599) or Outlaw Audio's Model 975 ($549), but didn't for reasons I'll explain later, though both are phenomenal choices for a system such as this. Source components were relegated to my trusty Dune-HD Max, as well as Oppo's new BDP-103 universal player. All of the cabling, minus speaker cables, came by way of Monoprice.
The reason I went with my Integra over another AV preamp is because it allows me the ability to run both consumer and cinema systems, albeit not simultaneously, with relative ease, since it has both balanced and unbalanced preamp outputs. This allows both my review systems to be largely the same, minus the amplifier(s) and speakers, of course. Cabling is the same throughout, as are their distances.
For the .1 of my 5.1 setup, I relied on SVS' superb SB13-Ultra subwoofer ($1,599), which was EQ'ed using Room EQ Wizard, with resulting filters being fed to a Behringer Feedback Destroyer Pro. I EQ'ed the SB13-Ultra from 10Hz to 100Hz, since not all of the speakers had the same reported frequency response. Having a linear response would allow me to set the varying crossover points inside the Integra without having to worry too much about whether or not I needed to re-EQ the SVS subwoofer.
Lastly, though it would have no bearing on the 5B's (or JBL's) sound quality, I relied on my SIM2 Nero for visuals.
Read about the performance of the Intimus 5B bookshelf speaker on Page 2.