There comes a time in all music lovers lives when they wonder, “Couldn’t this sound better?” If you listen at your computer and still use inexpensive computer speakers this question probably pops up on a regular basis.
If you are ready for a giant step forward in sound quality, AUX has a speaker system for you. It promises to rock your world and relegate doubts about how good your music can sound to the back burner of your consciousness.
Features and Design
AUX sells exclusively through its own Internet web site. The company’s offerings are collaborations between founder David Kuller, and the Italian audio design firm Outline, which designs, builds, and maintains all AUX’s products. Guido Noselli, Outline’s founder, spent more than three years developing the first generation of the AUX Out 400 products. The goal was to create “a sound system small enough for the desktop yet dynamic enough to make digital music come alive.”
Its second-generation desktop product, the Classic, consists of three pieces: two satellite speakers and a woofer. The woofer houses a single 5-inch diameter, long-throw driver, along with three amplifiers and preamp. The amplifiers use a specially designed class D amplifier with a highly efficient switching power supply that draws almost no power in standby mode, and even during peak output uses less current than a 100-watt incandescent bulb. The amplifiers are capable of delivering 200 watts to the woofer and 100 watts to each satellite speaker.
AUX Classic Satellite Speakers and Subwoofer
The satellite speakers employ a single 4-inch driver to cover frequencies from 150 Hz to 18 kHz. Using only one driver for this entire range has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages include the absence of a crossover. Two-way speaker designs typically use midrange and tweeter drivers with some kind of electronic crossover to hand off frequencies from one driver to the other. Crossovers introduce their own set of distortions including phase shift, time distortion, and dynamic compression. Eliminating the crossover makes the upper midrange (where the crossover typically resides) more unified and cohesive. But having a single driver makes it more difficult for a speaker to have even dispersion through its entire range, especially at the driver’s frequency extremes. “Full-range” drivers also typically have less upper frequency extension than a tweeter. Finally, most full-range drivers exhibit substantial phase shift at both ends of their frequency range. The sonic problems caused by a crossover in the midrange are moved to the upper and lower extremes of the single driver.
Having only one driver has another major sonic advantage: It’s a point source capable of creating a far more phase-coherent stereo image. Especially when you are listening nearfield, the differences in physical location between a tweeter and midrange/woofer in a conventional two-way monitor are more exaggerated, so the sonic disparities between the sounds coming from each driver are magnified. With a single driver, the physical separation between tweeter and midrange doesn’t exist.
Physically, the Classic system resembles a large concert hall sound system that has been shrunken by a witch doctor. Given that most of Outline’s designs are for concert venues, this makes perfect sense. Rather than design outside its comfort zone, Outline has created a miniature version of one of its concert systems. All three of the Classic’s speaker boxes utilize a vented cabinet design with a front facing slotted port along the base. This arrangement increases a speaker’s efficiency and augments its low frequency capabilities. But instead of humongous boxes, the Classic has a system whose combined volume, when the satellite speakers are nested into the woofer’s enclosure, of only 16 ½ inches wide, 8 ¾ inches tall, and 11 ¾ inches deep. The satellites by themselves measure only 4 ½ inches wide, 8 inches high, and 4 ½ deep.
AUX Classic Desktop Speakers
AUX makes the Classic in a number of finishes, and the type of cabinet finish has a significant affect upon its price. The least expensive finish, called “stage black,” is a textured semi-gloss black, which sells for $1,300. Glossy white “Alpine White” and glossy black “Piano Black” go for $1,500. Multi-layered bright Ferrari red “Competition Red” costs $2,250. Finally, AUX offers a custom leather finish in your choice of colors and textures for $3000.
The Classic has provisions for two line-level analog inputs that can be selected from its credit-card sized remote control. The remote also lets you adjust the overall volume, bass level, mute the output, and put the Classic into standby mode. The remote control uses infrared rather than radio frequency signals, so it requires a line-of-sight between the front of the Classic’s woofer cabinet and the remote for to operate. The receiver’s angle of acceptance is wide enough for you to successfully bounce the remote’s signals off a wall.
Unlike many systems which make you supply your own cables and wiring, the Classic comes complete with everything you need to set it up. Inside its environmentally friendly packing (no foam, just recyclable cardboard), you’ll find one long and one short pair of speaker cables, one RCA to mini-stereo analog input cable, one RCA to RCA cable, one mini-stereo to mini-stereo cable, and an AC cable. Be forewarned that the speaker cables aren’t exactly audiophile-grade, but they will get you started. We were able to substitute some Audioquest cables with small banana plug terminations for the original speaker cables, but many higher-end speaker cables with robust terminations won’t fit the Classic because its spring clip-type terminations are really designed for bare wire, not spade lugs or oversized banana plugs.
We listened to the AUX Classic system is several different rooms and environments. On acomputer desktop, we tethered it to a 160 GB iPod and a MacPro hooked up via USB to a High Resolution Technologies MusicStreamer+ USB to Analog DAC, so we could access our entire iTunes library. Then we moved the Classic into a workroom, where we could listen from farther away. Once more, we used a 160 GB iPod as well as a Dell Latitude D620 hooked up, via USB, to the MusicStreamer+ USB to analog DAC as sources. Eventually, we tested the Classic in a kitchen where we used it as a countertop radio. Here, we used the iPod as well as the analog feed from a Sonos ZP90 wireless music server. In every case, we had access to my entire iTunes library, so we could audition the same reference material.
Classic is as Classic Does
First let’s look at what the AUX Classic does well. It has adequate power to play very loudly in a computer desktop situation. Up to (and past) our pain threshold, the Classic sounded clean with no signs of audible distortion. One of AUX’s stated design goals was to create a dynamic speaker system that wouldn’t compress musical contrast. The Classic system succeeds admirably in this regard. Regardless of the type of music, or music file, the AUX Classic did an excellent job of preserving the music’s dynamic subtleties.
Because of the single driver, the satellite speakers in the Classic system image extremely well, meaning they place all the instruments in specific spots from left to right between the two speakers. Not only do the Classics deliver a superlative lateral image, they also preserve a sense of front-to-back depth on some recordings. For instance, the Classic did an exemplary job of retaining all the spatial information from live concert recordings from the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra.
Many speakers sound good at first listen, but after a couple of hours they wear out their welcome. Yet, even after a full day of listening at substantial volume levels, we didn’t feel bludgeoned or tired of listening to music. The Classic system has a neutral, relaxed and musical presentation that makes your tenth hour of listening just as satisfying and enjoyable as the first.
As we moved the AUX system into larger rooms, and listened at greater distances, its dynamic and power limitations became evident. You can’t expect a small three-piece system to successfully energize a large room. But the AUX Classic can produce more than adequate sound pressure levels in small and even midsize rooms, if you don’t ask it to put out 95 dB levels ten feet from the speakers. Five feet away, it can play loud enough to rock out regardless of the room size.
Because the AUX Classic uses a single driver in each satellite speaker to produce everything from 150 Hz on up, we wondered whether it could deliver adequate high frequency extension. It can reproduce almost as much high frequency as a decent silk dome tweeter, but only if your ears are within 15 degrees of the center of the driver cone. Once your ears get too high, too low, or too far off to the side, the driver’s limited treble dispersion becomes all too obvious, and the sound takes on a hooded quality. To maximize their treble extension, the AUX Classic satellite speakers must be set up at ear-level.
We were also concerned that the AUX Classic’s small 5-inch subwoofer would not be able to produce much in the way of deep bass. The published specifications list a 30 Hz bottom, but we found that to be optomistic. Depending on placement, 60 to 80 Hz is a more real-world figure. Sure, you can turn up the bass levels via the remote control, but increasing the bass doesn’t give you deeper bass, merely more volume in the upper bass region of 80 to 150 Hz. If you demand gut-adjusting low bass, the AUX Classic ain’t gonna float your boat.
Almost a Winner
The AUX Classic speaker system isn’t for everybody. First off, it’s not cheap. For the price of its least expensive version, you can buy more conventional speaker systems designed specifically for desktop audio workstation use from NHT, Dynaudio, Focal, Alesis, Mackie, Genelec, Adam, JBL, and scores of others. But if it is set up correctly, with the satellite speakers at ear height, the Classic can perform at a very high level. Is it better than these more traditional speakers? That depends on what you’re looking for. The Classic can image superbly, and has a very neutral and uncolored natural timbre. Best of all, doesn’t fatigue the ears, even after hours of listening. It may not have as much treble or bass extension as other speaker systems, but its midrange is so good that you may not mind the slightly truncated frequency extremes.
If you have a mind to use the Classic as a room system or a table radio, you are wasting your money. Although it can be used this way, its best features will be lost. The Classic’s best use, by far, is to surround you with great sounding music while you sit at your desk.
- Solid construction
- Unique design, and neutral harmonic balance
- Can produce high SPLs
- Precise imaging
- Easy set-up
- Satellite speakers need to be at ear-level for best sound
- No low bass