For as long as I have known Sandy Gross (co-founder of Polk Audio and founder of both Definitive Technology and GoldenEar Technology), I’ve observed him to be a man driven by two impulses. One is an impulse to experience and savor some of the finer things this life has to offer: good conversation, fine art, fine music, fine dining, and, of course, fine audio equipment. But the other is an impulse to make at least some of those things—specifically, fine loudspeakers—available to people of relatively modest means. How these twin impulses play out in real world terms involves some very interesting design choices, to say the least.
On one hand, Mr. Gross has the means, the ears, the technical resources, and the know-how to build true ultra-high-end (and thus, ultra high-priced) loudspeakers, should he ever wish to do so. But while I am aware that Mr. Gross has explored and carefully weighed that option, it is one he has never chosen to pursue (I suspect because it would mean building products that only a well-heeled few could afford to own). So, Gross has instead done what may be an even better thing, which is to dedicate himself and his successive companies to building loudspeakers that offer near ultra-high-end performance, but at decidedly down-to-earth prices. A great case in point would be GoldenEar’s new Aon 3 two-way bookshelf monitors ($999.98/pair), which are the subject of this review.
As Sandy Gross tells the story, the genesis for the Aon 3 (and its slightly smaller and less expensive sibling, the Aon 2) came on a business trip when he was visiting a prospective GoldenEar dealer to demonstrate his Triton Two tower-type speakers. During the visit, the dealer invited Gross to listen to an expensive pair of two-way monitors (think $5000+/pair)—monitors of which the dealer was greatly enamored. Recounting the event in a conversation with me, Gross observed that he found the premium-priced monitors to be “really very good,” but after a few moments of reflection he thought to himself, “if GoldenEar really put its mind to the task, I’ll bet we could build a small, high-performance monitor that would give these pricey speakers a real run for their money—and for a fraction of the price.” To make a long story short, the Aon 3’s (and smaller Aon 2’s) are precisely the speakers Sandy Gross had in mind. Are they truly able to compete with products several times their price? In a word, yes, though with a few minor caveats, as you’ll learn in a moment.
GoldenEar Aon 3 Technical Highlights
• One Heil-type Golden Ear HVFR (high velocity folded ribbon) tweeter. The tweeter features:
o A thin, light, and responsive pleated diaphragm made of “a high-temperature film.”
o High-powered Neodymium magnets.
o A unique drive motion where 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.
o The principles of this type of tweeter design were pioneered many years ago by Dr. Oskar Heil, who termed his version of the driver the “Heil Air Motion Transformer.”
o A plethora of sonic benefits are claimed for the Heil-type driver including, “greater control,” “smoother, more extended response,” “vanishingly low distortion,” “dramatically improved dynamic range and detail,” and “superb dispersion characteristics.”
• One 7-inch mid-bass driver with MVPP (multi-vaned phase plug) design. This driver features:
o A “rigid free-flow cast-basket chassis” where the concept is to minimize chassis flexing while also minimizing reflective surfaces behind the driver cone.
o Proprietary computer optimized cone topology.
o A “high-gauss” magnet assembly.
o A 1-inch high-temperature Kapton former voice coil assembly.
o The driver is said to provide “extremely extended resonant-free linear frequency response characteristic,” with an eye toward providing both resolution and transient speeds compatible with the extremely “fast” HVFR tweeter.
• Dual, side-mounted 8-inch planar low-frequency radiators.
o By positioning the radiators on opposite sides of the Aon 3 cabinet, GoldenEar achieves what it terms an “inertially balanced configuration” that minimizes cabinet vibrations (because inward and outward motions of the two radiators effectively cancel each other out).
o The passive radiators help extend low frequency response.
o According to GoldenEar, the Aon 3’s passive radiator system “performs like a well-tuned transmission line, but with superior transient performance and control.”