Everyone wants a rocking stereo. Some of us, myself included, are willing to pull out all the stops at seemingly endless cost to maximize our performance and listening pleasure, while for many, this is simply not reality. The massive size and weight of top-end audio components make them highly impractical to transport. Small-apartment or college dorm dwellers also have space requirements that make such systems impossible to own. Outline, an Italian concert speaker maker, has designed what they think will fill this niche with
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their line of Aux speaker systems. Their new design comes in three forms: the Level, a wall-mount system that doubles as a shelf, the Box, which is a squared system designed to be portable (comes with a case/bag), and the Classic, the subject of this review, a uniquely styled satellite subwoofer system designed to be a high-performance desktop system. The Classic starts at $1,300 in a flat stage black and can go as high as $3,000 in leather. My set came in the gorgeous competition red finish and retails for $1,750.
The Classic has an interesting design, consisting of two single-driver satellites and a ten-sided subwoofer. The subwoofer houses four 100-watts-per-channel digital amplifiers, two to control the woofer and one for each satellite. The industrial design of the Classic makes it a very flexible system. The ported satellites can be positioned vertically or horizontally and, when horizontal, can be placed with the drivers firing perpendicular to the surface or angled up at the listener, allowing you to contour the system to your usage. Since the satellites use only a single driver, they can be placed any way you want without affecting imaging.
The subwoofer has both line-level RCA stereo inputs and a mini-jack for iPod and computer audio use. You can not switch the inputs but have options for setup. On the subwoofer's control panel are volume and power, as well as a switch to allow bass level control, power receptacle, fuse and wire posts. The system comes with a small IR remote that controls bass and system levels, as well as a hush feature to quickly diminish the volume and a power switch. A large pack of stick-on rubber feet and power cord are included, as well as two different lengths of speaker wires and three connection cables, mini-jack to mini-jack, mini to RCA and a stereo pair of RCA interconnects, so all you need to make this system rock is some kind of source.
The Classic is designed to fit together into one unique shape. The satellites, when vertical, measure eight inches tall, four-and-seven-eighths inches wide at the front and three-and-five-eighths inches wide at the rear and between four and four-and-a-half inches deep. In the center of the rear are the clip-in posts for the included speaker wires. The front of the speaker has a port that runs the width of the cabinet and the grilles are a black metal honeycomb mesh that is very strong to the point you can barely dent it in with your thumb. The cabinets are rounded off at the edges; mine came in a beautiful metallic red paint.
The woofer is equally as interesting, 14 inches at its widest by eight inches tall and 11 inches deep. The shape is unusual at best. When combined with the speakers, the system makes a parallelogram, with the top and bottom and front and rear faces parallel to each other, while the sides spread out from back to front. When you pull out the two satellite speakers, the subwoofer has two divots in the left and right fronts that allow it to be placed flat on its side or back, allowing you to aim it in several ways to adapt it to your usage.
As the Classic is a desktop design and I was in need of new computer speakers, it made perfect sense to start with it there. I rearranged the space under my desk to allow the subwoofer to fit in the corner and shuffled around some things on the desktop to fit the satellites. I chose to place them vertically, as space is an issue on my desk. I ran the included speaker wires to the subwoofer, plugged it into the wall, connected the system to the headphone out of my Mac Pro and was up and running. Actual connections took only a few minutes; it took me far longer to make room at my desk for the system.
I cued up some music from iTunes and spent some time tweaking the set-up. I should have read the manual prior to installation and followed what it said, as my first impression wasn't that good. When I turned up iTunes to max and turned down the Aux Classic system to let my computer volume control handle the volume, it began to fall into line. A little tweaking of the bass output level and things really came into focus. Later, I took the system into my bedroom and placed it atop a dresser to see how it handled the different position.
I just received Maynard James Keenan's new project, Puscifier: V is for Vagina (Puscifier Entertainment) and loved the groove and depth of bass this album offers, as well as the light vocals and piano, so I started out with this. From the opening track "Queen B," I was impressed by the way this little system could reproduce lush deep bass at low and even to fairly loud levels, while keeping the vocals and subtle background details in check. "Momma Sed" is a bit different, with delicate guitars and vocals, and the Aux Classic gave me a wide and deep soundstage with solid dynamics. I did find at high listening levels that the system compressed. This didn't surprise me from small satellites, but at my desk, I never wanted more volume than the system could output. The last song of the album, "Rev 22.20 (Dry Martini Mix)," is my favorite and a wonderful test song. On a variety of musical tests, from quiet male vocals to deep bass lines and light piano, the Aux system kept it all together.
On Morphine's Like Swimming (Dreamworks), "Potion" gave me a lively jump, even if the sax lacked just a little sizzle. On the title track, the Aux system kept the bass in line, but gave me a little less weight to the vocals than I like, although it did quite well with this garage-level recording. On my favorite song on this album, "French Fries with Pepper," the system again kept everything well-placed, but still lacked a little weight to the vocals.
Moving on to a slightly better recording, I cued up Keb Mo's The Door (Sony) and was pleased to hear the Aux Classic did quite well with this album. The delicacy of Keb's guitar on "Loola Loo" was very good, as the rapping on the guitar case came through realistically. Keb's vocals were clean and clear. "Stand Up (And Be Strong)" is a faster and more complex song. Everything was well-portrayed, with a bit more blurring in the bottom end than I would tolerate in my reference system, but it did well all in all. "Change" gave me a large soundstage and kept the solid bass I had grown to expect of the Aux system.
When I ran this system in my room atop a dresser, I found I had to run the volume at higher levels than in the near-field listening environment of my desktop. I found the compression at higher volumes to become more apparent in a larger room when used as a tabletop system. My bedroom is pretty large and this system would not have satisfied me in an environment of that size, but had it been smaller, say, dorm room-sized, I could have been happy with the output of the Aux.
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