GoldenEar Technology Aon 2 loudspeaker Page 2

When I listened to well-recorded singers, the Aon 2's lower midrange had a warm richness that made it sound like a much larger speaker. Melody Gardot has a somewhat thick, husky voice to begin with, and on The Absence (CD, Decca B0016816) she uses a microphone that tends to emphasize the lower region of her voice. Through the GoldenEars she sounded rich, holographic, and silky throughout her range on all tracks.

The Aon 2's low-end extension and naturalness through the midbass also suggested a larger, more expensive speaker. I always enjoy listening to bassist Chuck Israels's many solos on Bill Evans's At Shelly's Manne Hole, Hollywood, California (CD, JVC JVCXR-0036-2). Through the Aon 2 his instrument sounded woody and warm, each note surrounded by a delicate, airy envelope. The GoldenEar's bass response was also forceful with electronic rock. When I cranked up the volume for Björk's Homeogenic (CD, Elektra 62061-2), her synth bass was powerful and deep, with all pitches uniformly expressed, and no sense of compression or coloration throughout the instrument's entire range.

One of the Aon 2's greatest strengths was its ability to resolve transient details. All transients were lightning fast without losing any of their delicate subtleties, and there was never a sense of sharpness or hardness. In George Crumb's The Ghosts of Alhambra, from The Complete Crumb Edition Vol.15 (CD, Bridge 9335), percussionist Daniel Druckman plays a variety of mallet percussion, cymbals, and chimes; all initial attacks on these instruments were startling, with a shimmering decay and extended upper harmonics. Piano transients also sounded clean and convincing, particularly the rapid-fire upper-register passages of David Chesky's quirky and overcaffeinated solo-piano recording of his The New York Rags (CD, Chesky JD359). I was able to follow every note in these difficult-to-play pieces; my notes read, "crystal-clear and clean."

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The GoldenEars had the ability to unravel subtle, low-level dynamic articulation in a linear and organic fashion. At the beginning of the title track of Jack DeJohnette's Dancing with Nature Spirits (CD, ECM 1558), there's a duet of DeJohnette on mallet drums and Steve Gorn on bansuri flute. The Aon 2 revealed every gradation from ppp to mf during this passage, and I could hear the skin of each drum resonate after each attack, but without any smearing. Similarly, Evan Ziporyn's subtle fingering and breathing technique during the lowest-level passages of the solo-clarinet works on his This Is Not a Clarinet (CD, Cantaloupe CA21002), in which his horn at times sounds like a percussion instrument, were very clearly delineated. And on the Crumb recording, I was able to follow guitarist David Starobin's subtle phrasing during even the most boisterous vocal and percussion passages.

The Aon 2's high-level dynamic capabilities were also impressive, especially for so small a speaker. The opening passage of David Chesky's Violin Concerto, with violinist Tom Chiu and the Area 31 ensemble conducted by Anthony Aibel (SACD/CD, Chesky SACD288, CD layer), features some boisterous timpani passages that anchor the rest of the orchestra, which is surging in full throat before Chiu enters. My room shook at each thwack, and each drum pitch was clearly delineated with no smearing or compression. I had a similar experience with Tyler Mack's timpani passages in the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival's recording of Tomiko Kohjiba's The Transmigration of the Soul, on Festival (CD, Stereophile STPH007-2).

The Aon 2 unraveled layers of detail from even the most densely orchestrated passages. In Train, from Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach, with Michael Riesman leading the Philip Glass Ensemble (CD, Nonesuch 79323-2), there is a very busy passage in which the full-throated chorus is chugging along very fast over fortissimo electronic keyboards. Yet through the GoldenEar I was able to follow each subtle passage of woodwind counterpoint under all the other instruments and voices.

I also liked the way the GoldenEar presented each small chamber group as a coherent rhythmic whole. The three musicians on the Bill Evans disc grooved as each instrument jelled perfectly with the other two. And on what I believe is the most obscure Lennon-McCartney tune from the Beatles' early period, "Not a Second Time," from With the Beatles (CD, Parlophone PM1206), Ringo's trap set locked in perfectly with Paul's tuneful Hofner bass as a foundation for George and John's electric guitars.

One recording pulled together all of the Aon 2's strengths. My son, Jordan, turned me on to the original Broadway cast recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera (LP, Polydor 831-273-1 4 2), which I listened to several times to familiarize myself with the music prior to taking him to see the musical this past summer. I can't think of another Broadway show recording with so wide a range of frequency and dynamics. The range from ppp to fff was breathtaking through the GoldenEars, and I was taken by the silky, uncolored male and female voices, which floated holographically over the orchestra during even the most demanding passages.

Comparisons
I compared the GoldenEar Aon 2 ($799.98) with the Dynaudio Excite X12 ($1200), the Epos M5i ($899 when last offered), and the Monitor Audio RX6 Silver ($1250) (all prices per pair).

The Dynaudio Excite X12 was more delicate than the GoldenEar in the midrange and had silkier highs, but I felt that the Aon 2's highs were more extended. The Excite X12 had even better low-level dynamic performance than the Aon 2; its midbass wasn't as clean, but it seemed to go a bit deeper than the GoldenEar. Still, I thought the Aon 2's integration of bass and midrange was more coherent.

The Monitor Audio RX6 Silver went much deeper in the bass than the Aon 2, though the GoldenEar's upper bass was a bit cleaner. The RX6's highs weren't as extended as the Aon 2's, and were less delicate than the Dynaudio Excite X12's. The GoldenEar's midrange detail and low-level dynamics were very slightly better than the Monitor's.

The Epos M5i's resolution of midrange detail equaled the GoldenEar Aon 2's, but its low-level dynamics were better. The Epos's highs weren't as extended but were just as clean. And the Epos and GoldenEar were neck and neck in midbass clarity and extension and high-level dynamics.

Summing Up
GoldenEar Technology has produced a stunning achievement in the Aon 2, with strengths that are unusual for a bookshelf speaker of this size and price. And I continue to be floored by how GoldenEar's ingenious designers have been able to marry the best of ribbon and dynamic driver designs in a coherent and cost-effective package. I look forward to hearing more from this creative company.

COMPANY INFO
GoldenEar Technology
PO Box 141
Stevenson, MD 21153
(410) 998-9134
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