PRICE $5,005 as reviewed
AT A GLANCE
Tight, detailed bass
Excellent tonal balance
Spacious, cohesive soundstage
Sub has limitations in very large rooms
Narrow tower can be unstable on carpet
With modest but significant improvements to their flagship speaker line, Aperion Audio has again hit the jackpot in offering the sort of value that’s rare in today’s increasingly pricey audio marketplace.
Six years ago, I reviewed the first version of Aperion Audio’s then new Verus Grand speaker line. While this was a considerable step up from the internet-direct manufacturer’s previous, well-regarded budget-priced models, it still offered incredible value. As I concluded at the time: “If [the Verus Grand] impresses you as much as [it] impressed me, you’ll ultimately be a winner.”
Now this Portland, Oregon–based company has a fresh lineup, the Verus II Grand. Like Aperion’s other speakers, they’re designed in the U.S. but built in China. Fifteen years ago, such an arrangement was uncommon, but today most of the world’s relatively affordable audio products (and some not-soaffordable ones) are manufactured in eastern Asia.
To allay customer concerns about buying a speaker system for which no dealer audition is possible, Aperion provides a 60-day moneyback guarantee. This includes shipping both ways in the U.S. (Alaska and Hawaii excepted). Aperion also provides a 10-year transferrable warranty (three years on subwoofer amplifiers), with reasonable limitations.
Our review system included the Verus II Grand Tower, the Verus II Grand Center Channel, and the Verus II Grand Bookshelf (used here as surrounds). Aperion also sent us the very compact Bravus II 12D subwoofer.
An Aperion system arrives like a Christmas delivery: Everything is carefully and lovingly wrapped. If you open the shipping box of each tower the correct way, you’ll find the feet/outriggers and mounting screws snuggled into the styrofoam on top. Move aside the velour and plastic bags (which protect the tower), fasten the feet to the speaker, and then turn the box over and slide it up, up, and away, leaving the speaker upright with only the velour and plastic bags left to remove. The perforated-metal grille is already installed, so there’s no risk of putting a finger through a speaker cone while you free the speaker from its box and packing material.
The other speakers are similarly packed, though their extraction is even simpler. It took me less than an hour, working alone, to unpack the six speakers in the system. But Aperion recommends that most customers find at least one helper. (After all, most customers—unlike reviewers—don’t unpack, set up, and then repack several products every month.)
The Verus II Grand models are available in either Gloss Cherry or Gloss Black, as is the Bravus II 12D sub. Our Gloss Cherry samples were even better looking than the Cherry that I recall on the original Verus Grand speakers. Those speakers had also punched above their price in the looks department. But our Verus IIs appeared to have a more distinctive grain pattern beneath their glossy layer, giving the new models a more upscale look.
Aperion isn’t overly…um…grand in describing how the Verus IIs differ from the originals. A new, patented tweeter in all of the models uses a pinned-center design (as did the originals), a variation on the basic principle behind the bullet-nosed tweeter used by a number of other manufacturers. This is said to eliminate phase cancellations (and thus uneven response) that can occur when the unsupported center of a conventional dome tweeter operates out of phase with its periphery. Aperion calls this tweeter an Axially Stabilized Radiator. There’s also an updated crossover. The claimed sonic improvements are a clearer top end (with a wider listening sweet spot), a more articulate midrange, and higher power handling.
Visible differences in the Verus IIs from the originals were hard to spot. The cabinets are aesthetically unchanged; they’re still gently curved on the sides (and, in the tower and bookshelf models, on top). Each tower is tall, slender, and sturdy, and at 65 pounds, it’s not overly heavy. The narrowness of the tower cabinet, supported by feet/outriggers that don’t extend particularly far to the sides, does raise a small concern about the speaker’s side-to-side stability on a thick carpet—particularly if there are small children, large dogs, or clumsy friends in the house. Spikes are included if you have a suitable floor for them, though I wasn’t able to use them.
The cloth-covered, perforated-metal grilles are a snug fit, but they can be removed with relative ease if desired. Beneath them is the same complement of drivers as before. Each tower employs two 6-inch woofers in a vented chamber and two 5-inch midranges, the latter above and below the 1-inch soft dome tweeter. All of the cones are woven Kevlar, and the midranges have aluminum phase plugs. These bullet-shaped devices can help smooth a driver’s frequency response and remove heat from the metal parts near the current-carrying voice coil.
The center speaker remains a desirable three-way design, with two 6-inch woofers flanking a vertically arrayed 1-inch tweeter and 4-inch midrange. Each bookshelf model employs a single 5-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter. The tower and the bookshelf each have dual pairs of high-quality terminals that are suitable for biamping or biwiring (I used single wiring). The center has only a single pair.
The Bravus II 12D subwoofer’s 650-watt (rated) amplifier drives a single down-firing 12-inch high-excursion aluminum cone driver supported by a pair of 12-inch passive radiators (one on either side). You must use either the included spikes or feet to provide clearance from the floor. There are Left/Right speaker-level inputs plus three line-level inputs: Left, Right, and LFE. I opted for the LFE input, which defeats the sub’s internal low-pass crossover when used with an A/V receiver or preamp/processor. The use of the label “LFE” for such an input is common but misleading. Typically, as in my setup, the bass frequencies from all of the main channels below the AVR- or pre/pro-selected crossover frequency and the LFE bass in the source’s LFE (0.1) channel are combined and sent to this input.
The controls on the Bravus II 12D include Level, Crossover, 2-position Phase (0 and 180 degrees), and Power. You can switch the Power control to On, Off, or Auto. (The last option energizes the sub only when it detects a signal.) You’ll also find a USB power port (presumably for third-party wireless receivers) and a switch for the appropriate source power, either 120 or 240 volts.
In my large, open-concept room, the 16 x 21-foot listening/viewing area is open to a kitchen, dining room, and hallway to the front entry. I positioned the towers about 9 feet apart, roughly 5 feet out from the short wall behind them, and angled toward my center seat. I placed the center speaker on a low stand under my screen, each bookshelf speaker near the back of the room and raised about 4 feet off the floor, and the subwoofer to the left of the left front tower, snuggled into a corner (actually, a half-corner, as the two walls there meet at a roughly 45degree angle). The sub was crossed over to the towers at 110 hertz. In-room measurements indicated that this produced a more uniform bass, in my room, than either 60- or 80-Hz crossover points.
I used a Marantz AV8802A pre/pro, driving three channels of a fivechannel Proceed Amp 5 (for the front speakers) and two channels of a five-channel Outlaw 750 amp (for the surrounds). Two Blu-ray players provided the source material: a Marantz UD7007 for music playback from its coaxial digital output and a Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD model for video sources via HDMI. As is my usual preference, I set the treble control of the pre/pro to +1 (maximum is +6) but used no other equalization for the review (neither the Marantz’s graphic EQ nor its Audyssey room correction).
The speaker grilles produced a small but noticeable loss of highfrequency air, a not uncommon effect in many speakers and one that was likely accounted for here in the design. Still I preferred the grilles removed and left them off for most of my listening.
Music, Music, Music
Because my review of the original Verus Grand speakers was six years ago, I’ll make no pretense here of a direct comparison. All I can say is that the Verus IIs can equal or better the performance of any other speakers I’ve yet heard in my current listening room (in the nearly two years since a cross-country move)—and some of those speakers were much more expensive. Even without the subwoofer, the bass from the towers was impressive. And while their measured in-room performance (from positions offering little near-wall bass support) began to die off rapidly below 65 Hz, my subjective listening contradicted this significantly. The tower’s bass was clean and tight, with just a little warmth in the upper-bass range which perhaps, in psychoacoustic terms, compensated to a degree for the deep-bass rolloff). Organ was believable (though clearly not hefty or extended enough to impress organ and bass-synth aficionados), and drums punched through with very solid impact. [Editor’s Note: Our quasi-anechoic measurements for the towers alone, which are not aided by any boundary or room gain, showed solid response down to 49 Hz and usable response down to 35 Hz, considerably deeper than what Tom measured in his room. See Test Bench on page 56.]
The midrange was subjectively uncolored and neutrally balanced, and the top end open, airy, and naturally detailed. Imaging and depth were superlative on solo voices, which were centered so precisely that I often thought the center speaker was operating for these music demos. (It wasn’t.) Superlative, too, was the performance on choral recordings, which were spread wide across the soundstage and portrayed with believable front-to-back depth. When the Bravus II 12D subwoofer joined the party, the first cut from the CD soundtrack of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World nearly sent me leaping from my chair. I wasn’t expecting this sort of bass impact, in my huge room, from a small sub not much larger in any dimension than its 12-inch driver. While any result from a main-speaker/sub setup is highly dependent on the room, I had clearly found a sweet combination. On this and other percussive bass, the Aperion combo was almost invariably crisp and tight—refuting the audiophile meme that subwoofers always produce turgid, flabby bass. The enhancement of percussive bass (much of which lies above 50 Hz) was subtle when directly compared with the sound of the subwoofer-less towers, adding some body while improving midbass clarity. But with organ, bass synth, and other very deep material, the difference was quite obvious. On a sustained, 27-Hz (measured) organ note at the beginning of Respighi’s Pines of Rome, the small Bravus II 12D energized my huge room with a power I never would have expected.
The channel-level-setting, bandlimited noise from my Marantz pre/pro suggested that the center speaker was balanced brighter than the left and right towers. But fullrange pink noise proved otherwise, apart from a small measured rise at the seating position in the region from 700 Hz to 2 kilohertz and a slightly lowered plateau in the mid treble. (Our formal measurements, not yet completed as I write this, will tell the full room-effect-free tale.) In any case, the center’s threeway design maintained good dialogue intelligibility across a wide range of seating positions, and it produced a seamless blend with the left and right towers. The bookshelf speakers, in their surround role, also did their job perfectly in seamlessly blending with the front channels, calling attention to themselves only when the material demanded it.
I was immediately impressed by the Verus IIs on a wide range of my favorite movie material. The launch of the Saturn rocket in Apollo 13 raised the roof (as it always does on the best systems), magnificently accompanied by the late James Horner’s arguably best score.
The first entry in the (now seemingly endless) Transformers franchise isn’t exactly an Apollo 13–style classic, but it does offer some of my favorite demo scenes—and they’re far from the most raucous ones. Chapter 11 runs the audio gamut, from musical cues (which include a chorus) to car engines, crashing space debris, clanking metal, and both human and enhanced alien voices. The Aperions handled all of this beautifully, and the 125-wattsper-channel power offered by the Proceed amp (all channels driven into 8 ohms) was strain-free on all of the material I watched, at as high a level as I wanted, even in my large space (ranging from –5 to –9 decibels below calibrated reference).
I continued to be surprised by how well the subwoofer supported all of the above, as well as other dynamic sources, such as Independence Day (both the good one and the resurgent one). But the sub did have its limits on both music and movies. It barked its annoyance when trying to reproduce a below-20-Hz organ note at a realistic level. And in the scene from Oblivion where Tom Cruise lands his chopper in the middle of a ruined stadium, the sub bleated so badly that I instantly punched the mute control. No damage was done, but there’s only so far you can go with a single small sub in a very big room. The Bravus II 12D is an excellent sub when used within its (substantial) limits, but it can’t work miracles.
That said, there’s more to home theater than just crashes, booms, explosions, rocket launches, and cannon shots (yes, I sampled a few of those!). Quieter, more subtle material can be just as enticing. The King’s Speech is an exceptional film with a soundtrack that rarely strays beyond dialogue and music. It culminates in a striking final scene in which King George VI delivers a critical wartime speech as the soundtrack adds a gradually rising passage from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. I love all sorts of movies, but I can’t think of any action scene that can do any better job in engaging an audience with such a simple combination of dialogue and music. The Aperions played their part here flawlessly, every step of the way.Conclusions
As I emphasized in my 2011 review of the Verus Grand lineup, the downside of internet-direct speaker buying is that you can’t listen before placing your order. Nor can you have the fun of shopping around to various (but alas, increasingly scarce) audio dealers to help you make your decision. But while speaker preferences involve more than a dash of taste—not to mention room effects that will vary from installation to installation—you have nothing to lose when you factor in Aperion’s 60-day, no-questions-asked return privileges.
I was deeply impressed by the original Verus Grand speakers. That goes double for the Verus IIs. They’re a serious bargain that can equal or even outperform many of their pricier competitors.
Verus II Grand Tower: 6 in woven Kevlar cone woofer (2), 5 in woven Kevlar cone midrange (2), 1 in silk dome tweeter (1); 8 x 43.5 x 12 in (WxHxD), 65 lb
Verus II Grand Center: 6 in woven Kevlar cone woofer (2), 4 in woven Kevlar cone midrange (1), 1 in silk dome tweeter (1); 24.75 x 9.25 (with feet) x 11 in (WxHxD), 39 lb
Verus II Grand Bookshelf: 5 in woven Kevlar cone woofer (1), 1 in silk dome tweeter (1); 7.5 x 13 x 9 in (WxHxD), 14 lb
Bravus II 12D: 12 in aluminum cone woofer (1), 12 in passive radiator (2), 650 watts RMS; 15.5 x 17 (with feet) x 15.5 in (WxHxD), 62 lb
Price: $5,005 (Tower, $1,249 ea; Center Channel, $679; Bookshelf, $779 pr; 12D, $1,049)