Speakers are hugely important to what we do as engineers. I can hear the collective "Duh!" — as you all read this. This has only recently become a revelatory "Aha" moment for me. I'm certain this has something to do with the fact that I only really work at my own studio, and I've had the same HiVi Swans M1 speakers for the last 18 years. Until very recently, I was extremely happy with these boxes and the drivers in them, mostly because of the real-world quality they impart, due to the ribbon tweeters they sport, and also because they are flat and unflattering in response. So I almost hate to say it, but they have been dethroned by one of the subjects of this review — the APS Aeon. When a pair of these sexy, modern speakers arrived from APS, I was instantly defensive, and while I was looking forward to auditioning them, I had no question they would go back in the box after review time and head back to Poland. Wrong.
When I started at Ultrasuede Studio in Cincinnati during the ‘90s, I was blown away by the way music sounded in the control room. It was a classic LEDE (live end, dead end) room designed by Jeff Cooper. We had the ubiquitous NS-10Ms as well as a pair of mid-level Tannoys with a subwoofer, and the room just sounded fantastic. I would bring in records I liked and marvel at the detail I was unable to hear at home. It was a time of great wonder for me as a young engineer. I then spent the next six years trying to get the mixes I made there to "translate" — to an assortment of living rooms and automobiles and such — with varying levels of success. I figured this was the job, and trudged forth. When I moved north, I set up studios in the various apartments and practice spaces I rented, while I looked for a spot of my own. When I finally found the space I am in now, spending the money on a professionally designed control room was perhaps stupidly low on the list. I had grown accustomed to working in adverse conditions, and I certainly couldn't afford the many thousands of dollars required to pay for proper architectural drawings. So I settled on treating the room with plenty of DIY absorbers, filling the space with lots of things that diffuse the sound, and keeping my speakers, ears, and gear at a good distance out from the walls. It's a setup that's actually quite suited for nearfield monitors, but still, you have to work hard to get sounds right, and things don't just sound amazing right away, like they did at Ultrasuede.
Perhaps because of all this, mixes I do here at High Bias tend to translate to the Honda or Ford environment a little easier. And that's one of the reasons I never really think about speakers. That — and the insane price tag attached to "professional monitors" — made the thought of upgrading my speakers a non-issue for me. That is, until four rather heavy boxes arrived from Poland. These contained two different pairs of APS powered monitors. I unboxed them late at night before the next day's session, setting them up in a matter of minutes — the 8'' woofer Aeon pair in my control room, and the 7'' Klasik pair in my B Room. I listened to Coltrane's A Love Supreme through the Aeons and went to bed stoked on the sound.
The next day, I had a session with High Bias extended family member Zach Saginaw, who records and performs as Shigeto. Some of you may remember him from my past reviews. He makes stellar music loosely on the fringes of ambient and hip-hop, but he plays damn near everything, so it's all fair game when he's here. On this day, he brought along a band of straight crushers. Ian Finkelstein was on Wurlitzer and keys, Charles Trees on synths, Brennan Andes on bass, and Josef Deas on keys and bass. Shigeto was on drums. The purpose of this session was to gather fodder for an upcoming Shigeto album. We tracked live for about eight hours, capturing about five hours of straight music! I got to listen to the Aeons for hours. This session took me from a "we'll see" standpoint, to thinking these speakers are some of the best I've heard, regardless of price. Throughout the day, I was blown away by the detail and accuracy I was hearing from them. I have a crazy Sunfire True Subwoofer Mark II here that is nothing short of burly. I had turned it off to get a better picture of the low end I was hearing from the Aeons. There was one moment, when I was standing halfway back in the room, I was so sure the sub was on, but when I double-checked, the subwoofer was indeed off. The bass extension I was hearing was actually coming from the Aeons. Seriously, the Aeon is only −2 dB down at 30 Hz. I sat and listened to these speakers for hours that day. Despite the fact that I hadn't yet mixed one note on them, by the time everyone left, I was really taken.
Lyrans is a group of local Detroit legends who make music best described as both cerebral and visceral. David Shettler plays modular synth, drums, and keys. J Rowe plays drums and percussion. And David Hurley plays a table full of weird noise-makers, as well as various acoustic and electronic instruments — all with pedals in line. The above description in no way depicts the true insanity of the setup these guys bring. In real life, it looks like the back cover of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma after a tornado, if Tangerine Dream had found the remnants. Sonically, this isn't too far off either, as the music ranges from austere and funky, to super spaced out, and back to krautville — sometimes all in the course of one jam. That day, Brian Ellis, who you may know as the wizard behind the keys for Egyptian Lover for the better part of the last decade, was at the helm, subtly steering the situation at hand and laying down burner synth leads over the band's long-form sonic tapestry of sequenced landscapes. The session went far and wide for ten hours or so, and yet again, I had the great pleasure to listen to the Aeons all day. Because of the nature of the session, I could freely move around the room, and I appreciated how the speakers filled the space and sounded great no matter where I stood or sat. By night fall, I was completely sold on the Aeons as a tracking tool, and I was now keen to knock out some mixes on them.
Mega Powers is the brainchild of Detroit heads Eddie Logix and Phil "Pig Pen" DeSharnais. Their vibe ranges pretty severely from banger R&B tracks, to ambient interludes, and to Balearic excursions. These guys are both established producers, and their product is of utmost quality and potency. It's fun as hell to mix stuff that's this eclectic, but it's also challenging, since the methods often change with the tracks. Having the Aeons on my side made this a breeze. Their intense accuracy made decisions happen faster, and I spent less time mucking about. Stylistically, the songs seemed to take shape and sound natural with very little adjustment. In the past, this had been a challenge for me — but not on this day with the Aeons!
Jenny Junior and Jackie Rainsticks sound like Nikki Sudden fronting The Slits with Lisa Simpson on saxophone. The sound is at once infectious, and both naive and familiar — best summer jams ever! I was lucky enough to mix their new album produced, by Ann Arbor rock genius Fred Thomas. We ended up recording some sax and vocals and percussion too. The informative nature of the Aeons proved valuable on this session as well. I was able to get out of the way of the songs, technique-wise, and let the recordings speak for themselves — not always easy for us engineers.
I also mixed the entire new Chris Bathgate record on the Aeons. For those unfamiliar, Chris makes extremely ambitious music that often incorporates modular synth, Dobro, Moog bass, and drums. We tend to make decisions early when recording, so it was downright pleasant hearing the tracks come together so quickly through the Aeons. Chris is here at High Bias almost as much as I am these days. He does sessions on his own now, and he remarked that he finds the Aeons to be super accurate as well. The only other critical listening that happened for this album, other than in Chris's van, was on the Aeon's little brother, the Klasik. The Klasik pair that I received has taken a permanent spot on stands in the B Room, which is pretty much just a mixing desk with a modular synth.
It seems infrequent that the smaller speakers of a line are as telling as their larger siblings. The Klasik, on the other hand, offers the same kind of accuracy and detail as the Aeon — it just doesn't get as loud. It does however, have a flat frequency response, down only −2 dB at 35 Hz! The two models, by the way, share identical electronics and components in their crossovers, and use the same cellulose paper in their woofer cones. The Klasik comes with an aluminum dome tweeter, while the Aeon can be ordered with a titanium or fabric dome tweeter. I could totally mix a record on a pair of Klasiks, but I just have the Aeons in the control room because I need their ability to go higher in volume, for doing overdubs in the room.
I arrived at recording as a trade, coming from a musician's background. Before that, I was just a lifelong music fan and obsessive enthusiast. Often, my first impressions and instincts as an engineer are informed by this perspective. When the picture isn't clear, it can be confusing at first. Whereas a more technical engineer would instantly hear that an overabundance of 200 Hz in the bass needs to be reined in, it takes me a while to identify a solution. The APS Aeon and Klasik speakers showed me that, given an extremely clear picture, this job is much easier. In other words, these speakers get me to the desired result faster, saving me time — which is a valuable commodity for any engineer. And the sometimes ego-damaging reality of second-guessing my work has been lessened, thanks to these speakers — which is priceless.
Build quality of these APS speakers is top notch, and the cabinets are shockingly solid. I should also mention that both models have an insanely versatile input-sensitivity and room-response section. Honestly, my control room is big enough that I never even looked at the back of the Aeon to adjust anything, but I did take the Klasik pair on vacation to a cabin "up north," and the Klasik's flexibility in setup really made the whole thing enjoyable. Also worth mentioning is how attractive these speakers are. They come in an amazing seven colors of choice!
I love Poland — maybe because I'm Hungarian. From the first time I went on tour in that country, I was really taken with the people there. I'm thinking this is no coincidence. You look at what the folks at APS offer — at this price point — and you can see that they're doing it out of true passion. I love their Aeon and Klasik speakers, and I'm gonna be buried alongside them! For sales inquiries in the U.S. and Canada, contact Timbre Studios www.timbrestudios.com.