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AEON Monitor review

May 28, 2007
A review of AEON, a 2-way active nearfield monitor with a very wide frequency response (30 Hz to 30 kHz).
    Back in the early eighties I purchased my first ever pair of near field studio monitors, manufactured by a famous Japanese company, they rapidly became the world wide reference for mixing and recording. Within just a few years it seemed that where ever I flew I would find a pair to work with. It marked a revolution in the way we mixed records, at last the freelance engineer was freed from the problems of differing large monitoring systems that were often totally different in performance and very rarely calibrated in a precise manner.

    The only real disadvantage was that the sound of the speakers changed with different amplifiers and different rooms. There were a few competitors in the field as but the Japanese model dominated the market until the 1990's when active (self amplified) monitors started to appear. The "built in" amplifier was an enormous step forward, the problems of differing amplifiers had gone forever. Matched amplifiers and speakers not only optimized performance but made for rapid and easy installation for the freelance engineer. The next evolution was incorporating filters for the speakers treble and bass performance to compensate for the positioning of the speakers on or close to the reflecting surfaces of recording consoles or the acoustic qualities of different rooms. There are now new market leaders and the field has expanded to include numerous makes and models but one thing is certain, the near field studio speaker has now become an essential part of studio equipment and almost every engineer has his favorite. In my opinion, the principal role of a near field monitor system is to give the engineer a reference that approaches how people will hear the results of his work in a domestic environment. Some people may spend time to sit and really listen your mix on good speakers but the chances are it will more probably be on headphones in the metro, in the car, the supermarket, elevator, discotheque or cinema etc. etc. Your mixes have to sound good in all these places.

    The public usually listen to music at much lower levels than we do in a studio environment where we seek a sense of precision and detail across the widest range of frequencies possible. The human ear is much less sensitive to high and low frequencies at lower levels and so engineers tend to exaggerate and stretch the frequencies at both end to compensate resulting in a more exciting sound at lower listening levels. The bass can still be felt and the groove of the high hat is still there !

    The dosage of highs and lows in a mix is a constant dilemma for mixing engineers, we have to consider constantly how and where our mixes will be consumed and take care not to over compensate in one direction or another. The mix has to remain musical and dynamic, the arrangement has to be respected and the public, artists and producers satisfied it's a demanding task at the best of times.

    If you listen to your mix loud there is a good chance it will sound exciting but making it work at lower levels is in my opinion the key to a good mix. Those famous Japanese speakers I mentioned earlier were renown for a strong medium presence and a limited high and low range frequency response. Consequently engineers naturally exaggerated these two areas resulting in dynamic punchy mixes that sounded good at normal domestic listening levels and were the key to the success of the vast number of records. There are differing schools of thought concerning speakers, should they sound simply good to listen to or should they be a real acoustic reference ? During the past thirty years we have seen a major revolution in the way people consume sound, the hi-fi cult of the 60's and 70's has given way to a world of ghetto blasters, boom boxes and i-pods that often give 'sensational " sound with added lows and highs rather than the true sound of the musicians and singers we record.

    Professional speaker manufacturers are well aware of this trend and have tended to release models that are very flattering in the high and low frequencies to seduce the potential buyer. The new generation near field monitors often sound great but are they really the accurate reference that mixing engineers need to make a good record ? When you mix you need to know not only "where you are" in terms of frequencies but also how the results will sound outside the studio in the real world, that is why the essential quality I look for in a near field speaker is truly flat and even response. The APS Aeon gives me the performance I am seeking. It's powerful enough to impress any musician or client and precise enough to work in a really detailed manner at low levels. The Aeon has a flat response from 30Hz to 30kHz. and provides exactly the kind of control reference I am looking for whether I am recording drums and bass, a philharmonic orchestra or mixing a pop record. The treble level and bass roll off controls give me the possibility to fine tune the speakers to my taste in different rooms and installations.

    An amplifier of 150 watts drives the custom built bass woofer and a dedicated 70 watt serves the high definition titanium tweeter. The Aeon has a sophisticated optical speaker protection circuit incorporating a three color warning LED system thats light the logo on the face of the speaker indicating power status and bass and treble overloads.

    An easily accessible fuse on the back panel protects the amplifiers from eventual spikes or power surges. A nice extra touch is the input sensitivity control, (variable from 30db to 10db in 7 individual steps) an elegant solution to input level problems that we can find in different situations that has been ignored by most of APS's competitors. There is even a ground lift switch to avoid any earth loop or hum problems that may be found in certain circumstances. Full magnetic shielding guarantees that the speaker won't distort or interfere with images when used in proximity to video monitors or damage sensitive recording materials. Another useful and rare feature is the inclusion of a fully balanced line out XLR socket for multiple or parallel speaker set-ups.

    As a final touch the people at APS have made the Aeon available not only in the traditional matt black but also in a natural walnut finish and a range of custom colors including a famous Italian sports-car red ! For over 30 years I've been making records in dark studios surrounded by grey and black hi-tech facades. That's why I have chosen the red model to brighten up my mixing environment. Feeling fine in a good looking environment is an important part of making a great record too in red they look real sexy !

    To conclude, I find the APS Aeon an excellent working tool for the mixing engineer, They incorporate the flat response curve reminiscent of many early English reference monitors yet have the mid-range punch and detail at low listening levels I need for modern mixing.

    Steve Forward
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