Aperion Audio, the Internet direct loudspeaker manufacturer from Portland, Oregon, has been making a serious run on the competition, challenging the likes of Paradigm, Definitive Technology, PSB and more for the title of the best affordable loudspeaker. Whether or not you believe an Internet direct company like Aperion Audio can take on the likes of Paradigm or Definitive Technology in terms of overall sales is irrelevant, for where it counts - sound quality - Aperion has just thrown down the gauntlet with their newest flagship loudspeaker - the Verus Grand Tower Speaker.
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Retailing for $899 each ($1,798 per pair), the Verus Grand Towers are a decidedly upscale affair, clad in your choice of two finishes: medium gloss cherry and high gloss black, both of which are exquisite. My review pair came finished in medium gloss cherry, which I found to be equal in quality and appearance to the far more expensive Revel Studio2s that were my personal reference for years. The Verus Grand Tower Speakers measure in at 43 and a half inches tall by eight inches wide and 12 inches deep. They weigh 65 pounds apiece and feature thick aluminum outrigger feet and spikes, which screw into the bottom of the speakers themselves. The Verus Grand Tower Speaker's cabinet curves gently from the front baffle on back to the rear, though it doesn't form a crease; instead it plateaus leaving room top to bottom for the Verus' dual rear ports and four five-way binding posts.
Behind the fabric clad magnetic grills rests a one-inch ASR Tweeter sandwiched between two five-inch woven Kevlar woofers or midrange drivers, both of which have Aluminum Phase Plugs. The ASR, or Axially Stabilized Radiator, is Aperion's latest silk dome tweeter technology, which allows for the tweeter itself to play lower into the midrange, thus lowering the crossover point easing the load on the midrange drivers around the 1.8 kHz mark. Furthermore, the midrange drivers' aluminum phase plugs allow for greater power handling and dynamic range, which coupled with the new ASR Tweeter and D'Appolito driver arrangement should make for a more coherent and involving sound - at least according to Aperion's designers. Rounding out the bottom end of the spectrum are dual six-inch woven Kevlar drivers. The Verus Grand Tower Speaker has a reported frequency response of 45 - 20,000 Hz (+/- 3dB) and 35 - 22,000 Hz (+/- 6dB) with an impedance of six Ohms and a sensitivity rating of 92dB, making the Verus full-range enough for average sized rooms and capable of being powered by just about anything on the market today.
Consumers looking to build a home theater speaker system around a pair of Verus Grand Tower Speakers should note that Aperion Audio also offers a matching center channel speaker, the Verus Grand Center Channel Speaker ($699), as well as a bookshelf speaker, the Verus Grand Bookshelf Speaker ($299 each). As for a subwoofer, there is currently no "matching" Verus subwoofer. Aperion recommends using their Bravus subwoofers to round out the Verus Grand Tower Speaker's bottom end if you feel it necessary.
Lastly, all Aperion Audio speakers, including the Verus Grand Tower Speakers, come with a 10-year warranty, full price trade-up commitment, risk free 30-day in-home audition and free shipping within the lower 48 states and Canada.
The Verus Grand Tower Speakers arrived on my doorstep courtesy of FedEx in two custom cardboard boxes, which despite some obvious shipping damage kept the speakers inside in perfect condition both physically and operationally. The speakers themselves were wrapped in Aperion's trademark blue/black velvet sheaths complete with gold rope trim. I've talked about Aperion's pride of ownership factor before and I was pleased to find their commitment to detail intact with the Verus Grand Tower Speakers.
Unpacking the Verus Grand Tower Speakers is an easy enough job for a single person, though an extra set of hands wouldn't hurt. Once out of the box I assembled the metal feet and screwed them to the bottom of the Verus speakers themselves before beginning the process of placing them in my room.
I moved my reference Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamond loudspeakers and placed the Verus Grand Tower Speakers in their place, approximately two and a half feet from my front wall and three feet from my side walls with roughly eight feet between them. However, this setup proved to be less than ideal because of the Verus' rear ported design, resulting in me having to move them an additional foot out into my room and an extra a foot and a half in from my side walls to achieve the best possible sound throughout the Verus' frequency range.
I connected the Verus Grand Tower Speakers to a variety of electronics ranging from the super affordable, a $500 Onkyo receiver, to a high-end separates system consisting of Classe's new Delta Series stereo amplifier and Classe Omega dual chassis pre-amp. I even did a few late night listening tests using my esoteric Decware single ended triode amplifier, which spits out a meager two watts per channel into eight Ohms. All of the various system configurations were wired using Transparent Reference cable throughout and relied on the same source components: my AppleTV/Cambridge Audio DacMagic combo and Sony ES Blu-ray player.
Out of the box the Verus Grand Tower Speakers sounded a bit muffled and decidedly heavy in the bass and lower midrange with barely any high frequency extension and detail. I went ahead and let them "burn-in" over a weekend, putting about 18 hours on the odometer before sitting down for my first listen.
I began my evaluation of the Verus Grand Tower Speakers with some two-channel music courtesy of Filter's album, Title of Record, and the track "Take a Picture" (Reprise). Via my Onkyo receiver the sound quality was solid, possessing a fairly robust bottom end complimented by a smooth, grain-free midrange and a fairly delicate high frequency response. While the performance was good - okay better than good - there was a bit of low end detail and control that was absent and the high frequencies seemed to lack a bit of extension and air, two things that are not uncommon with budget oriented loudspeakers.
When I played the same track back via my reference setup comprised of Classe's new Delta Series amplifiers and their Omega pre-amp, everything - and I mean everything, changed. The Verus' bass firmed up considerably, exhibiting far more control, texture and weight with a nice rhythmic quality that was lacking via the Onkyo receiver. The low-end performance had far more impact, which grounded the performance nicely and provided contrast to the Verus' midrange and treble performance. Speaking of the midrange, the vocals were sublime, though a touch relaxed, possessing a sound indicative of tubes at times. The midrange as a whole was clearly the Verus' strong suit for it sounded natural in its scale, weight and detail, though it seemed a touch overpronounced in comparison to the Verus' top end performance. The Verus' high frequency response was smooth, non fatiguing and largely grain free, though it lacked that last ounce of weight and extension beyond the front baffles creating a somewhat laid back presentation overall, which bodes well for a wide range of musical tastes, especially those which may encompass low resolution audio files or downloads.
In terms of soundstage the Verus' was shockingly good, possessing tremendous depth with good separation and detail between the various instruments. On the flip side the soundstage width wasn't as open, extending barely beyond the speakers' edges, though for their design and asking price I wouldn't consider this a fault.
Next I fired up an old Genesis favorite "No Son of Mine" from their greatest hits album Turn It On Again (Atlantic). The opening metronome sound effect hung in space outside the physical boundaries of the right speaker amidst a stark black background, which was a haunting but altogether cool effect. The accompanying guitar out of the left speaker followed suit; it too hung in space, free from the speaker itself. The pulsating bass or "heartbeat" rang true, dead center of the soundstage with tremendous impact and weight.
I was impressed at the Verus' ability to clearly and cleanly delineate between the opening elements, allowing them to evolve on their own, unmolested by the other. Collins' vocals have always had a "pinched" quality to them and despite the Verus' propensity for a touch of midrange accentuation, they didn't sound altered or unnatural. Instead the Verus preserved Collins' trademark sound beautifully. The vocals, like the before mentioned elements, took up residence dead center of the soundstage and stood in stark contrast to the sounds emanating from the left and right speakers and even stood out a few audible feet from the pulsating kick drum strikes happening directly behind him.
When the song kicks into high gear the Verus' retained its composure and soundstage delineation, compressing only when pushed to the speaker's limits. The cymbal strikes, while non-digital sounding, did lack a bit of air and top end sparkle but they were never fatiguing. Dynamically, the Verus are quite special, possessing very quick reflexes, especially in the lower registers.
If I have any complaint about the Verus' it's that it takes a bit of volume to get the various elements to play in perfect harmony with one another; nothing excessive or uncomfortable, but a touch higher than I was expecting. Set the volume to low and the Verus' low end goes a bit soft and loses the snap and taut detail needed to ground the midrange, which at lower volumes simply takes over, for the tweeter needs the "juice" in order to breathe life into the performance. On the flip side, throttling the volume will result in compression, though the Verus' can play far louder than a lot of speakers in their class so you really have to push it to get them to misbehave.
Also, when pushed to the ragged edge the Verus' performance doesn't fall apart or become offensive - it actually becomes a performance of omission, for the tweeter simply doesn't have it in its nature to beam or glare, and the bass while a bit tubby will not overtly distort or bottom out. Again, I'm talking about extremes here.
I ended my two-channel evaluation of the Verus Grand Tower Speakers with Dido's "Thank You" from her debut album No Angel (Arista). This track proved to be the best showcase of the Verus' potential, proving yet again that the quality of the recording can have a profound impact on your equipment's overall performance. Are you listening iTunes? What immediately jumped out at me was that the soundstage extended well beyond the left and right speakers and at times sounded very much like a multi-channel performance. Dido's vocals sat within the Verus' butter zone in terms of its relationship between the speaker's midrange and high frequency performance, possessing beautiful warmth and weight accentuated by surprising air and extension that made every verse feel intimate and nuanced. The bass was sharper still, possessing even more detail and dynamic "pop," especially with the drum kit, which sat way back in the soundstage, yet wasn't overshadowed at all. Speaking of percussion instruments the opening congas were amazingly lifelike in their presentation and possessed such dimension that I could almost "see" the musician's hands striking their taut skins.
Overall, "Thank You" proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Verus Grand Tower Speakers weren't just good budget speakers, but good speakers period. While the Verus have their idiosyncrasies, they do a lot exceptionally well. They're capable of surprising bass output for only having two six-inch bass drivers, which was evident in my demo of Dru Hill's "How Deep is Your Love?" from The Best of Dru Hill (Def Soul). Even though the Verus utilizes a silk dome tweeter amidst an industry consumed by unique metals and diamonds, its high frequency performance is rather refreshing, luring you into the performance instead of beating you over the head with it. While the midrange is obviously the Verus' party piece it can quickly become its Achilles heel too.
And that got me thinking.
A lot of budget-oriented gear tends to accentuate the midrange or focus heavily on it for it's the sound listeners' seem to be attracted to the most. If vocals sound natural and inviting, we tend to want to hang around and listen to a song or two. If they come off as lean, harsh or nasally then we become turned off. It's the reason we now describe sound as being warm or lush; it's because we like it that way. But you can have too much of a good thing, and with the Verus - mating it with the wrong associated equipment, no matter what the cost, can effect their overall sound greatly. This isn't an anomaly exclusive to the Verus, though I believe that because of its D'Appolito driver array, the coherence the Aperion designers were after relies heavily on the customer's choice of associated equipment. It's not wholly about power with the Verus (I powered them nicely using a mosquito watt single ended triode amp as a test). It's about your system's overall voicing.
And your personal tastes of course.
I ended my evaluation of the Verus Grand Tower Speakers with Martin Scorsese's Aviator starring Leonardo DiCaprio on DVD (Miramax). I didn't have a full Verus system on hand, so I watched the film in two-channel mode only. The dogfight sequence near the film's beginning was larger than life, with room filling sound that was grand but also very nicely composed and complete with plenty of subtlety, texture and nuance. Though I did not have a subwoofer on hand, I never felt as if I was lacking the bass department, thanks to the Verus' terrific bottom end capabilities. Dialog was natural with a dash of warmth that felt appropriate given the film's period nature. There were a few instances where I felt as if I could've used a bit more top-end zing, like in the scenes where Hughes, played by DiCaprio, testifies before Congress and the violent camera flashes, bulb pops and lens changes are designed to assault Hughes' and the audiences' senses, but it wasn't a deal breaker, for I ultimately watched all three hours of the film without stopping.
Overall, the Verus Grand Tower Speakers proved to be as adept at movies as they were music, proving to me that they can easily pull double duty as both an audiophile loudspeaker as well as a home theater one.
Competition and Comparisons
The sub-$2,000 speaker market is rife with competition and noteworthy speakers from the likes of Paradigm, Definitive Technology, Bowers & Wilkins and more. At or near the Verus Grand Tower Speakers' $1,798 asking price you have the Bowers & Wilkins 683 floorstanding loudspeakers, which are very high-end sounding for their $1,500 asking price, though they're not quite as elegant looking as the new Verus towers. However, the 683s come complete with Bowers & Wilkins' trademark sound and cachet that only comes with building speakers over the course of decades.
Another competitor has to be the Definitive Technology Bipolar SuperTowers, which range in price from $599 to $1,499 each and feature a similar driver array and compliment but pack internal powered subwoofers. Though, like the 683s mentioned earlier, the SuperTowers aren't finished, in terms of d�cor, to the standard the Verus has set.
Lastly, there's Paradigm's SE Series floorstanding loudspeaker, which retails for half the price of the Verus and has looks to match, not to mention sound quality, though they won't plunge as deep or play quite as loud.
For more information on other comparable floorstanding loudspeakers or to find out if floorstanding loudspeakers are right for you and your system, please check out HomeTheaterReview.com's Floorstanding Speaker page.
At the extremes, the Verus isn't as extended as some of the competition, possessing a slightly rolled off top end and a somewhat heavy bottom end that if pushed too hard can become a little unruly, though not fatiguing. Within its limits the Verus is a solid performer, possessing a rich, full midrange, open treble and solid bass response that is ample enough for most average sized rooms. Though for true, full-range sound reproduction you're going to want to mate the Verus to a subwoofer.
Through lesser components or ones already possessing a rich, full midrange the pairing may prove too much of a good thing for the Verus' midrange is already pretty pronounced and a touch warm. The Verus' "voice" suits vocals and a wide variety of music and movie genres nicely but can become a bit overpowering if mated to the wrong components.
Even though the Verus' feature a lifestyle oriented design and footprint their rear-ported nature does require them to be placed out into your room a bit more than, say, front-ported designs to ensure accurate bass response. Placing the Verus to close to your front wall will result in over accentuated bass, which muddies their otherwise well-balanced sound.
Lastly, I fear the Verus Grand Tower Speakers' "affordable" status may actually keep them from reaching their true potential. Via an affordable home theater receiver, the kind I would imagine many Aperion customers to have, the Verus Grand Tower Speakers sound good, but they sound like what you'd expect a lot of speakers in their class to sound like. However, mating the Verus with more upmarket components, like my Classe separates, revealed that the Verus are capable of oh, so much more. Aperion has done such a good job with the Verus that they do sound good with affordable gear but there is a lot more speaker resting behind its Aperion Audio everyman persona and price tag that I fear few will hear it for the standout performer it truly is.
For just under $1,800 a pair the Verus Grand Tower Speakers from Aperion Audio are a budget audiophile and home theater enthusiast's dream come true. They look far more high end than any other Internet direct offering, sound as good as some of the best in the business and can be delivered straight to your door for a 30-day in-home audition. What is even more amazing is that if you're willing to pair the Verus with more up-market components they'll reward you handsomely.
There are a few areas where the Verus do reveal their budget roots, mainly at the extremes and in a slightly over accentuated midrange (which I find common in a lot of D'Appolito arrays), but overall they're hard to beat - especially when you consider their sub $2,000 price tag. For the audiophile on a budget or the home theater enthusiast looking to lay claim to a more refined, high-end sound then I recommend taking advantage of Aperion Audio's 30-day in-home trial on new pair of Verus Grand Tower Speakers for I doubt many will send them back.