About a month after CES 2012 last January, I stopped by to an audio shop near my house just to see what they currently carry and shoot the breeze. There, I had the opportunity to listen to a speaker demonstration from a Scandinavian company called System Audio. The speakers just arrived, no break-in was done at all and they were connected using Pioneer Elite SC-57 and whatever speaker cable they had laying around. Through that brief demonstration, I was surprised with the sound quality from a pair of slim tower speakers. I remember clearly when I asked the company’s rep the MSRP of these speakers because to me they sounded like a near-$4,000 Dynaudio that I know real well. Imagine my surprise when I learned that they are priced at merely CDN$2,000. Even more surprising that the drivers are made by Vifa / Scanspeak, the same driver manufacturer for Dynaudio. Better yet, to me at the very least, they employ soft dome tweeters that in my personal opinion sound far less harsh than even Infinity Super EMIT / EMIT folded ribbon design, let alone the traditional aluminum dome tweeter.
I sat back and listened as the rep from System Audio played some of his favorite demo tracks on the Aura 30. While the environment in the listening area is not optimal for a speaker demo, I remember how nice it was just to listen to some great and great sounding music. I recall the Aura 30 sounding wonderful with a large and layered soundstage. I immediately asked about getting a sample for review and after a couple of months of waiting, a pair of SA Aura 30 arrived at my house.
The System Audio Aura 30 Listening Tests
For my listening tests, I was using an Anthem MRX-700 Receiver, Pioneer Elite SC-37 Receiver and NAD C316BEE Integrated Amp. As sources I use NAD C 546BEE CD Player (with built-in Wolfson WM-8740 DAC) and Pioneer BDP-LX55 Blu-ray Player. All cables and interconnects are from Kimber Kable. I also ran the speakers with Anthem Room Correction (ARC) and Advanced MCACC (for the Pioneer receiver) which, as per usual, really smoothed out the bass response in my listening room. I deactivate my subwoofer and do the tests only using 2.0 and 5.0 system.
The first thing that struck me when listening to music, regardless of the receiver/integrated amp I use with the SA Aura 30 is their amazing sense of imaging. The Aura 30 are able to recreate a large soundstage but at the same time they provide an exceptional amount of accuracy and multi layered details. I never found myself focusing on one speaker or the other, but instead I was always engrossed in the sound that was beautifully positioned in front of me. At times, the imaging spread so wide I thought I’m listening to a surround track. Every track from Emilie-Claire Barlow’s The Beat Goes On CD sounds alive. The vocal is forward and intimate without any hint of in-your-face brashness of many speakers of the similar price range. Double bass sounds like… double bass. Every bass drum kick I can hear not only the bass-drum frequency but also the mallet hitting the drum skin. Impressive from speakers which enclosure is only 6-inch wide, 40-inch tall and 8-inch deep. Even more so from a system that is this affordable. The Aura 30 woofers produced a mind bogglingly realistic bass response that blended with the music without ever overpowering the performance. Details in the music and in Emilie-Claire Barlow’s voice were abundant and the SA Aura 30 just disappeared into the background.
Playing my collection of Tony Bennett CDs, the SA Aura 30 easily allowed Tony Bennett to be center stage in my listening room. Vocals were exceptionally textured and notes lingered effortlessly as he sang his great songs. There was clear placement of instruments in the soundstage. From the detail in the acoustic piano, to the snap of the drums and double bass plus at times the orchestra, the SA Aura 30 did an amazing job of bringing to life the warmth of these wonderful songs with Tony Bennett. The SA Aura 30 speakers have the ability to virtually put the musicians in my room. If only I can have a direct comparison of Mr. Bennett and Ms. Barlow performing live to the recording. I guess since I will never be able to do so, playing their recordings through a pair of SA Aura 30 is a good enough substitution.
I was really amazed at how I could listen to the SA Aura 30 literally for six hours without experiencing the listening fatigue that often happens with far too many speaker systems, regardless of listening volume. I attribute that pleasing experience to the soft dome tweeter and the complex crossover design of the SA Aura 30.
For high resolution music content, I played the must-have Blu-ray disc titled Chris Botti in Boston. Even if you don’t know who Chris Botti is, go out and buy this Blu-ray Disc now (well, after finish reading this article, of course). This concert was performed with the Boston Pops Orchestra in 2008 and features performances with artists such as Sting, Josh Groban, Yo-Yo Ma, Katherine McPhee, and Steven Tyler to name a few. In addition to gorgeous video, the disc contains a reference quality 7.1 channel (96 kHz/24 bit) Dolby TrueHD sound track. There is easily something for everyone on this disc. On the chapter, where Katherine McPhee performs “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with Chris Botti, the SA Aura 30 (with the SA Aura 1 for the rear channels) formed an expansive soundstage which showcased not only how good the performers are, but also the greatness of the recording and the reproduction capability of these speakers. On the chapter where Chris Botti and Steven Tyler perform a rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile, the SA Aura 30 captured the coarseness but expressive voice of Steven Tyler wonderfully and interplay astoundingly with Chris Botti’s trumpet performance. The SA Aura 30 rendered each note from every vocalist and instrument with ease. The high notes never sounded harsh and the long, slow notes from the trumpet and the picking on the guitar would effortlessly linger in the room and then quietly fade until another magical note took their place. The overall experience was just mesmerizing. I was really pleased with how well the SA Aura 30 were able to create a strong, natural bass response without subwoofer without any feel of anything lacking from the sonic range. I was also impressed with how well the SA Aura 1 blended into the sound stage.
I’ve never had the luxury of having a separate room for music and another for home theatre, and always felt that speakers that perform for music should do just fine for movies as well. I was definitely not disappointed with the SA Aura 30 when it came to movies. Using various Blu-ray Discs such as The Adventures of Tintin, Step Up 3D and Hugo, the SA Aura 30 performed well in terms of bass response and overall vocal clarity. The movies’ dialogues were produced with great detail and neutrality. I was constantly shocked at just how much bass was coming from these relatively small towers. The SA Aura 30 had zero trouble producing incredible bass and grabbing my attention from scene to scene. From the mayhem of the chase scene in Tintin, the crashing of buildings, to the pounding synthesizer bass lines in Step Up 3D that could be felt throughout the room, the SA Aura 30 managed to effectively recreate these movies in all their respective glory.
It was Ole Witthøft, who founded System Audio A/S back in 1984. For a long time he had been looking for some really good loudspeakers and as a musician he knew how music should sound. As a musician, I completely agree with Ole Witthøft. Speakers tend to be very honest or very musical but nothing at a sane price level can do both in a balanced manner.
Too many speaker manufacturers approached the speaker design from the market surveys, statistics, opinion polls and other methods of letting the attitudes of the consumer guide a company (and that is a very misguided effort driven by the bottom line). Some speaker manufacturers approached the speaker design purely from psychoacoustic / scientific standpoint (and there is nothing wrong with that). However, it seems like System Audio is one of only three speaker companies that approached the speaker design based on music and wanting to produce speakers that they themselves want and are proud to own. I find this approach fits perfectly with my personal philosophy. To put it simply, I like these speakers so much to the point that not only I want to keep these speakers but I feel that I should work for this company.