GoldenEar Technology Aon 3 Bookshelf Monitor (Hi-Fi+)

GoldenEar Technology Aon 3
GoldenEar Technology Aon 3 Bookshelf Monitor (Hi-Fi+)

There's an unwritten truth in audio circles: never try to import a standmount loudspeaker into Britain. OK, so this truth is subject to some serious conditions (it doesn't apply to the high-end, for example), but generally, when it comes to reasonably priced standmount loudspeakers, there are so many famous British brands (albeit, sometimes famous in name only) that trying to break the home crowd advantage is almost impossible. But, if any imported loudspeaker can achieve success in such a contended market, it's the GoldenEar Technology Aon 3.

This comes down to the guiding force behind the brand. Sandy Gross was co-founder of Polk Audio and founder of both Definitive Technology and now GoldenEar Technology, and is a man driven by a desire to make fine loudspeakers available at relatively modest prices.

The Aon 3 has a specification that belies that modest price tag. It sports a Heil Air Motion Transformer-type Golden HVFR (high velocity folded ribbon) tweeter. This driver features a thin, light, and responsive pleated diaphragm made of a "high temperature film", coupled to high-powered Neodymium magnets. Unlike conventional dome tweeters, the alternate pleats of the diaphragm push and/or pull together in unison, effectively squeezing the air between the pleats outward or drawing the air inward. This is partnered with a 177mm mid-bass driver with MVPP (multi-vaned phase plug) design sitting in a rigid free-flow cast-basket chassis, with a 25mm Kapton voice former and a high-gauss magnet.

That alone would place it among the best of breed for the money, but Aon 3 also features a pair of side-firing 200mm passive radiators, which are claimed to act more in the manner of a tuned transmission line. Finally, the speaker cabinet itself is a truncated pyramid shape, which reduces the size of the front baffle around the tweeter and reduces internal standing waves thanks to those non-parallel sides. Gold binding posts and a keyhole slot for wall hanging (should you so wish) seal the deal.

One of the strongest elements in the Aon 3 is GoldenEar's superb HVFR tweeter. It offers excellent high frequency extension, superb detailing and transient speed, and is blessedly free free from apparent edginess or problems with overshoot and ringing. It sets a very, very high performance bar that the rest of the speaker in turn attempts to match. The fact is that the tweeter is so agile and finely focused that it becomes a real challenge to build a midrange driver that can keep pace. That this is not simply a tweeter with a loudspeaker in tow shows the depth of thought that went into this design.

The secret to the midrange units is that it is in fact closer to a full-range driver. The result is a remarkably versatile mid-bass driver, on that seems to possess the speed, detail, and extension of a small driver, while also providing the kind of bass output normally associated with a much larger one. As a result the Aon 3 offers a wonderfully seamless blend between its mid-bass driver and tweeter, but also offers something more: namely, unexpectedly deep bass from what is, after all, a very compact two-way bookshelf monitor.

In practice this means you get a speaker that offers many of the virtues you would expect to find in much higher priced monitors: good midrange-to-treble balance, terrific openness and transparency, and plenty of subtlety and detail. But you also enjoy bass solidity and depth that are rare in small bookshelf monitors of any price. The Aon 3 offers enough bass that its low-end performance should satisfy most listeners, on most types of music, most of the time. What is even more impressive than the quality and depth of the Aon 3's bass is the quality, starting from the lowest frequencies the speaker can reproduce. What is more, the low end (and lower midrange) of the Aon 3 is every bit as agile, detailed, and nuanced as the speaker's midrange and top-end.

The Aon 3 deliberately limits low-end response to a respectable (and indeed, impressive) 38 Hz, so you get less low-end punch than you would from a full-size floorstander, but also get a pure, unadulterated, high-resolution sound across that frequency range. That said, there are a few caveats and set-up tips to help readers determine whether the Aon 3 might be right for them.

First, the Aon 3 has a somewhat narrow dynamic envelope; the the bookshelf monitors works well in small and mid-size rooms, it may or may not offer enough dynamic oomph to fill larger spaces. Given this is an American loudspeaker, and "larger spaces" in that context means "half the size of Switzerland", this speaker practically comes with dual nationality and is perfect for our more cosy UK and EU rooms. Better yet, the Aon 3 for the most part sounds dynamically expressive, provided you don't press it beyond its limits. Just use a judicious hand on your amp's volume control and things should be fine.

The Aon 3 require careful placement in order to deliver optimal bass. In my room the Aon 3s performed best when positioned about 60cm from my listening room's rear wall. When I pulled the speakers further out into the room, the bass lost weight and punch and became too lean-sounding. Don't settle for "good enough" bass; keep experimenting with placement until the Aon 3's serve up a balanced combination of bass depth, weight, and clarity. Also, to unlock the Aon 3's full imaging and soundstaging capabilities, plan on spending some time carefully adjusting toe-in angles and the distance between the speakers until you find a sweet spot where images seem suddenly to snap into focus and soundstages take on desirable depth and breadth. More so than many small bookshelf monitors, the Aon 3' may require and will richly reward a little extra time and care during the inital set-up process.

One final performance note: For best results, you'll want to hear the Aon 3s on good stands that position the pseakers' tweeters at ear level for seated listeners. When placed up at ear level, the GoldenEars product images that are quite realistic in height and scale, with desirable qualities of spaciousness and three-dimensionality. In other words, while there is a keyhole for wall-hanging, please don't use it.

To get a handle on the Aon 3, I turned to Ti-Ti Chickapea's Change of Worlds [Orchard Park]--a lovely old chestnut of an album. The sound of the trio embraces elements of traditional folk music, next-generations bluegrass,a nd jazz. As I listened to the Aon 3's on this album, I was struck by their speed, purity, and sheer realism in reproducing intricate and finely woven guitar lines, and by the way each plucked note seemed almost perfect in attack, sustain, and decay--so that each note seemed to lead an independent life of its own. I was also floored by the way the Aon 3 demonstrated real weight and warmth on the lower registers of the cello, while revealing its underlying richness and woodiness, which remained fully intact even in the instrument's upper registers. This sort of top-to-bottom focus and consistency, spanning the range from upper bass on through to the upper midrange, is one of the Aon 3's great strengths. I was also wowed by the accuracy and realism of the Aon 3s as they rendered the voice of the electric violin--an instrument that sounds pure, clear and at times quite incisive yet is never overly "steely" or brittle-sounding (my wife owns and plays one of Eric Aceto's electric violins much like the one used on this recording, so it's a sound I know well). Finally, I was impressed with the way the Aon 3 found the understated but heartfelt emotion and subtlety in seemingly simple vocals. Best of all, each ensemble member is head playing or singing from a precise location in a highly believable 3D soundstage that floats well free from the speaker enclosures.

If you look back at the comments I've just made, you'll see that they represent a blend of thoughts on technical performance (involving accuracy, tonal purity, and realism), but also on the speaker's ability to expose the emotional content embedded in the music. This ability to deliver both a strong technical performance and one that lets the music live and breathe is what makes the Aon 3 very special--and quite exceptional for its price.

The GoldenEar Aon 3 is a brilliant standmount that could easily pass for a far more expensive speaker than it actually is.Several things make the Aon 3 lovable: its transparency and detail, the seamlessness of the integration between its tweeter and mid-bass driver, and its very impressive bass output (for such a compact speaker). Watch out Brit-boxes, this Yankee speaker comes very highly recommended.

Type: 2-way, dual-driver bookshelf monitos with dual passive radiators.
Driver complement: one HVFR (high velocity folded ribbon tweeter, one 177mm cast-basket mid-bass driver, and two 200mm side-mounted passive radiators.
Impedance: 8 Ohms
Sensitivity: 90dB
Dimensions (H x W x D): 35.6 x 23 x 28cm
Weight: 10.4kg
Price: £1,000/pair

Manufactured by: GoldenEar Technology
Distributed by: Karma AV
Tel: +44(0)1423 358846

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