Windows 8 may be best known for its radically different new tile-based interface, but home theater gurus have a different set of features to look forward to: Specifically, how the new OS interacts with Windows 8-certified peripherals such as wireless speakers and, in time, TV’s.
The Aperion Aris, as previously reported, is the first Windows 8-certified speaker to hit the market. While our test flight encountered a bit of turbulence, the Aris wasn’t responsible – Windows 8 gets that dubious distinction.
As we’ll discuss in this review, the Aperion Aris is a cleverly conceived, masterfully executed wireless speaker. Its potential is limited only by Windows 8’s shortcomings, which we hope will be ironed out in the near future. In the meantime, it can be enjoyed for all the functionality it provides now, with the added bonus of knowing that, eventually, it will be able to do even more. Read on to learn why we think the Aris is something special in a market inundated with wireless speaker docks.
Out of the box
Among more than 50 speaker docks that have graced our home for testing over the last couple of years, the Aris is the first to have been met with genuine enthusiasm by this reviewer’s wife. It’s not that the others were hideous to look at (we thought a few of them were quite attractive, actually) it’s just that her reaction toward most speaker products can be best summed up as: “meh.” In other words, she just doesn’t care.
But the Aris had her taking an instant interest. To be certain her enthusiasm wasn’t just the result of a good mood, we asked if we could go golfing rather than help renovate the bathroom that weekend. Suffice it to say, we’re quite certain her appreciation for the Aris wasn’t due to an especially good mood.
As we pulled the Aris from its box, we were happy to see Aperion hasn’t given up on its top-notch product packaging. We didn’t find any velvet sacks this time, but the Aris was wrapped up in a soft, cloth-like sack and nestled in a cocoon of nearly-bulletproof, non-degradable foam.The Aris is simple, understated, curvy in all the right places and, perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t try too hard to look cool – it just does. It’s hard to imagine anyone taking issue with it being in their home.
The Aris uses a removable wireless network card, which comes in a separate box. Presently, only a Wi-Fi version is available, but Aperion tells us an AirPlay version of the card is coming very soon, along with a Bluetooth option. In the future, customers will be able to order the Aris with any of the three cards included, all at the same price. Pricing for cards purchased as an add-on have not yet been determined.
Other items in the box included a power cord, Ethernet cable, auxiliary audio cable (3.5mm), an attached base and some genuinely helpful instructions. The Aris does not come with a remote control.
Design and features
The Aris’s cabinet is made of brushed aluminum, which has a satiny finish and feel. It will take up fingerprints, but they remain hard to see. On the top of the cabinet is Aperion’s logo in relief, and a rubbery square control pad with buttons for controlling power, volume up and down, built-in EQ options and muting.
On the back of the Aris you’ll find a master power switch, auxiliary input jack and a PCMCIA slot for the wireless card are placed. On the far edges of the rear panel are two 4-inch passive radiators for bass reinforcement.
Peeling the Aris’ grill off (using a handy tab) exposes two 4-inch mid-bass drivers and two silk-dome tweeters. Each set of drivers is housed in its own sealed section within the cabinet. This allows the passive radiators on the rear to move sympathetically with the drivers on the front. Also on the front baffle is a series of three red LEDs, which are used to communicate the status of the speaker’s power, EQ setting and volume movement.
Under the hood is 100 watts of amplification, with 10 watts being delivered to each driver and 40 watts to each woofer. Aperion has used a DSP chip to help manage the speaker’s sound curve and provide the three EQ presets.
Setting the Aris up on our home network was a piece of cake. For those with WPS-enabled wireless routers, setup involves pressing the WPS button on the Aris, followed shortly with pressing the WPS button on the wireless router.
Setting the Aris up for those without WPS-enable routers isn’t complicated. Upon startup, the Aris acts as its own Wi-Fi hotspot. Once connected to the Aris with a laptop or mobile device, the user may enter a provided IP address into their browser to access the Aris’ settings menu. After indicating which wireless router to connect to and inputting the router’s password, the Aris will restart and connect wirelessly. Of course, you can always connect using an Ethernet cable, too.
With the Aris connected to our network, we checked to ensure it was being registered by our PCs by queuing up some music in Windows Media Player (WMP) and clicking the “play to” button. The Aris popped right up and when we instructed WMP to send the music the Aris’ way, we were getting audio in about 5 seconds.
To further prepare for our evaluation, we loaded up some DLNA apps on both our iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy tab 7.1. We chose to use iMediaShare for iOS and Skifta for Android.
Before we evaluated the Aris, we let it break in by playing music through it at a moderate volume for about 40 hours.
Before we dive into the nuance of the different ways the Aris can receive audio, we thought we’d discuss how it sounds first. After all, it doesn’t matter how the speaker works with various devices if, at the end of the day, it sounds terrible.
Fortunately, the Aris sounds outstanding – and we use that term intentionally. In a market oversaturated with wireless speakers, the Aperion Aris stands out as one of the best we’ve heard. Here’s why.
There’s a certain kind of sound to a speaker dock that works hard to sound bigger than it looks. This is usually accomplished by placing emphasis on some region of the bass so that the listener’s takeaway impression is that the speaker puts out sound so big, it defies popular theory on how much sound should come from a small speaker. The Aris is different because it doesn’t sound like it is trying to impress you. It impresses you because the sound it puts out is naturally full, balanced and well-supported, even at high volumes. Again, it doesn’t try too hard – it just does.
That isn’t to say that the Aris’ bass response isn’t impressive, because it most certainly is. But the Aris’ low-frequency fortitude comes from smart, old-school engineering rather than tricky, new-school digital manipulation. Don’t get us wrong, we’re down with the new-school sound of the Audyssey South of Market dock and Klipsch G-17 Air, but the Aris appeals to our love of simple, musical bass accomplished by smart acoustical mechanics.
Midrange response is classic Aperion: clear and uninhibited. Vocals don’t take on any coloration from boosted mid-bass as we’ve heard so often before. Instead, the Aris’ natural take on midrange pulls off a live, in-room sort of effect.
Treble response was the only deviation from what we’ve come to expect from Aperion’s speaker products; not because the tweeters’ timbre or clarity was any different, but because their dispersion (horizontal and vertical) was not as far-reaching as we’re used to. This could have to do with the tweeters’ close proximity to each other, or it could have to do with the way the tweeters’ output bounces off the speaker’s baffle. Whatever the reason, we noticed that we heard less of the high frequencies as we moved off to the side of the speaker. What this means for the end-user is that the Aris has a slightly narrow “sweet spot”. Sit directly in front of it, and the experience is similar to sitting in front of a quality hi-fi system. Walk around the house, and the speaker won’t sound quite as bright or detailed, but it will still sound heaps better than many speaker docks.
Compared to the popular Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air, we found the Aris to sound more open and unencumbered, with smoother bass response and more realistic treble. Compared to the Klipsch G-17 Air, the Aris has a slight edge on midrange, slightly less pristine treble response and bass that is just as impressive, if not quite as deep. On the whole, the Aris is one of the finest sounding speaker docks we’ve heard, with a clean, wide-open, natural sound that is faithful to the recording it reproduces.
Working with Windows
The Aris is designed to take advantage of the “play to” feature built into both Windows 7 and Windows 8. By comparison, the Windows 7 version of this feature is pretty straightforward: Bring up Windows Media Player, select the songs you want to listen to, and click the “play to” button in the upper right-hand corner of the window. If you select the Aris, you will begin hearing your music coming from the speaker in a matter of seconds.
For those using DLNA-compliant apps on their mobile devices, the experience is similar. Presuming the music on your computer is shared on the network, you can view it with your app, make a playlist if you want, and send it to the Aris. If you have more than one Aris speaker, you can even send different songs to each speaker.
For Windows 8 users, however, there are quite a few more options with even more on the way, presuming app developers jump on board with Windows 8 the way Microsoft hopes they will. From the Xbox music app, you can choose music that you have on your computer or network, or music available from Xbox live. Once you start playing the music, you can pull up the “charm bar” on the right side of the screen, choose “devices” and the Aris will be available. Click the icon and music starts playing from the speaker. Unlike Windows 7, though, the options continue.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to separate audio from video, so there’s no sending the audio from the movie you’re watching off to the speaker. The same goes for AirPlay. You’ll just have to resort to Bluetooth for that sort of thing. If you load up Pandora in Internet Explorer (it has to be the IE browser, sorry Chrome and Firefox fans) you can the audio stream to the Aris. In fact (in theory) this should work with any HTML 5 web page. Since YouTube is only experimenting with HTML 5, it won’t work this way. And since Spotify runs on your desktop (there’s no Windows 8-native app for it yet) you can’t do this with Spotify either. In fact, we could go on all day talking about what you can’t send to the Aris right now. But, in the future, as apps are created the programs we like to use every day, we should be able to send audio from those apps to the Aris. Such functionality would bring Windows 8 audio delivery to a level of convenience that competes nicely with both Airplay and Bluetooth.
Windows 8 has a long ways to go before it wins us over, and whether the public at large will ever warm up to Windows 8 is a matter of heated debate. We aren’t going to go there right now. What we will say is that the handwriting is on the wall for Windows 8 to make sharing media with its certified peripherals easier than ever before.
Aperion deserves a feather in its cap for offering Windows 8 certification so quickly, but we wouldn’t go so far as to say its of any particular value now, only because the OS feels so foreign and clunky.
That said, the Aris is a top-tier wireless speaker that was built to be versatile and future-proof (to the extent that any piece of electronics can be). Its audio performance is outstanding and reflects Aperion’s dedication to audiophile-grade sound quality. You can expect the Aris will fill all but the most cavernous of rooms with gorgeous sound. That it has a way of looking good in just about any environment is another big plus. We gladly recommend this speaker and honor it with our Editor’s Choice award.
- Powerful, natural sound
- Impressive bass response
- Easy setup
- Easy on the eyes
- Versatile and upgradable
- Bass boost EQ preset is unnecessary
- High-frequency dispersion slightly limited
- No remote control