Instead of reaching for subterranean bass frequencies as the Triton Two does, the Aon 3 deliberately limits low-end response to a respectable (and indeed, impressive) 38 Hz, but in the process it shows how less really can be more. With the Aon 3, you’ll get less low-end punch and clout than you would from a full-size floorstander, but as a result you will be able to savor the pure, unadulterated, high-resolution sound of the Aon 3’s mid-bass driver—without worrying about a powered sub partially masking the speaker’s overall excellence.
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 narrower dynamic envelope than the Triton Two, which means that while the bookshelf monitor works well in small and mid-size rooms it may or may not offer enough dynamic oomph to fill larger spaces. The good news, though, is that 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.
Next, note that the Aon 3 requires careful placement in order to deliver optimal bass. In my room the Aon 3s performed best when they were positioned within about 2 feet of my listening room’s rear wall. When I pulled the speakers further out into the room, the bass lost weight and punch and became a bit too lean sounding. Don’t settle for “pretty good” bass; keep experimenting with placement until the Aon 3s serve up a balanced combination of bass depth, weight, and clarity.
Third, 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 desirable 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 3s may require and will richly reward a little extra time and care during the initial set-up process.
One final performance note: For best results, you’ll want to hear the Aon 3s on good stands that position the speakers’ tweeters at ear level for seated listeners. When placed up at ear level, the GoldenEars produce images that are quite realistic in height and scale, with desirable qualities of spaciousness and three-dimensionality.
Once fully dialed in, I think the Aon 3s can and do compete on a level footing with monitors several times their price. At the very least, I think many listeners would agree that the Aon 3s will, to use Sandy Gross’ phrase, give premium-priced monitors “a run for their money,” but for a whole lot less money.
To get a handle on several of the things the Aon 3 does well, I turned to Ti-Ti Chickapea’s Change of Worlds [Orchard Park]—a lovely old chestnut of an album that, for me, brings back fond memories of the time period when I lived just outside of Ithaca, NY. Ti-Ti Chickapea is a remarkable trio comprising the well-known (and incredibly gifted) jazz cellist Hank Roberts, eclectic guitarist Richie Stearns, and violinist and luthier Eric Aceto (whose firm, Ithaca Stringed Instruments, builds wonderful electric violins). The sound of the trio embraces elements of traditional folk music, next-generation bluegrass, and jazz, all assembled in a format that is reminiscent of some of the work of Robert Frisell; it’s a delicious mixture that is captured with warmth and terrific realism in this Orchard Park recording. If you listen to the ensemble perform (or perhaps I should say “transform”) a traditional song such as “Star of the County Down”, you’ll hear Stearns’ delicate and articulate tenor guitar establish the song’s basic chord structure and rhythm, and then—after several bars—hear the warm, rich, authoritative sound of Roberts’ cello taking up the lead. Soaring high up above the guitar and cello, Aceto’s violin provides beautiful treble motifs and accents, presenting itself by turns both through sweeping, fluid, fiddle-style lines and through angular and abrupt comments that are vigorously bowed. Tying all the elements together are deceptively simple yet soulful vocals from Roberts.
As I listened to the Aon 3s on this track, I was struck by their speed, purity, and sheer realism in reproducing Stearns’ 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 Roberts’ cello, while revealing the cello’s underlying richness and woodiness, which remained fully intact as Roberts explored the instrument’s upper registers. This sort of top-to-bottom focus and consistency, spanning the range from upper bass on through to upper midrange, is one of the Aon 3’s great strengths. Roberts frequently switches back and forth between arco and pizzicato playing styles, and while those techniques are obviously very different, the Aon 3s left no doubt that all the notes originated from one and the same cello. Again, the Aon 3’s tonal consistency and focus are essential. Finally, I was wowed by the accuracy and realism of the Aon 3s as they rendered the voice of Aceto’s 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 Aceto’s electric violins, 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 Roberts’ seemingly simple vocals. Best of all, each ensemble member is heard playing or singing from a precise location in a highly believable 3D soundstage that floats well free from the speaker enclosures.