Once upon a time there was a speaker brand called Duo Acoustics. It never really changed the world (or bothered giants like KEF et al) but it produced some nice (and affordable) kit.
Then the company morphed into AIVN, and is now into its second generation of high-end speakers.
I unboxed these babies under no small amount of pressure. Apparently the brand is on tenterhooks to see just how its products do in this review. This is because, despite the fact that its operation can be visited by appointment to hear any system, and that it offers a seven-day free trial for any prospective buyer for those who cannot get to visit them, good word of mouth is key to generating a buzz about its boxes.
AIVN only sells direct to the public. This rankles with its rivals, who will advocate the necessity of buying equipment from a specialist dealer network. But AIVN's approach is perhaps indicative of how every aspect of home entertainment is now changing.
Of course, the other supposed benefit of a direct-to-public sale is that the company can keep prices low. With no dealer margin to support, these speakers come in at less than £1,300 for the 7.1 set tested, and under a grand for the 5.1 system. It seems remarkable given the physical impact these boxes have. I confess that when taking them out of the pack, it proved difficult not to feel a frisson of excitement. This is a gorgeous-looking package, and I'm not the only one to think so.
All those who have passed through my lounge during their audition did a double take - and thought they must have cost a fortune. There is something very sexy about piano black and rose wood...
The AIVN 88s come with active wireless rears or can be custom-ordered with regular passively-driven rears. The set includes one pair of pretty stands. If you want more sets of stands, they go for £140 a pair.
The tweeters sit behind a sturdy, metal mesh grille. With the four surround speakers, a loading tube is built into the top of the speaker. Their skinny cloth and wood grilles are held on by hidden, embedded Neo magnets. The AIVN logo itself is inlaid into the black shiny finish on the front - it'll only be seen when these grilles are off, which I'd recommend.
The rear of each of the five speakers bears one set of very good-looking gold-plated binding posts. The reflex ports are curvy gas-flowed things and you can see some wadding inside the speakers when you peer up the ports.
The speakers' main drivers sit beneath the tweeter in the front baffles, lined with a conical ring of black anodised aluminium. Chrome trim, echoed around the tweeter housings on both sats and centre products, gives them a particularly pleasing finish. I suspect they wouldn't look out of place in an oil sheikh's palace - and are all the better for it.
Cable-phobes will be pleased with the V-88Wi wireless speakers, which come with a transmitter. Like the Crystal Audio system recently examined, they use 2.4GHz. Unlike the Crystal Audios, the wireless is not added-on but is built-in. You power them up and they receive their music via the transmitter at the front end, plugged into the rear channels' outputs.
My current favourite demo disc is Transformers. The Dolby Digital (and DD Plus track on HD DVD) represents the current state-of-the-art in action-orientated sound design. With monstrous use of the LFE and dramatic front/back/side pans it's the perfect torture test for any home cinema.
Overall, the sonic characteristic of AIVN's V-88 system is best described as analytical and aggressive. The metal cones really chop the details out, and they never once lost imaging as the film steps up into a channel-hopping miasma of sounds. The bit in reel one, when an unauthorised helicopter arrives at an airbase only to reveal itself as a disguised aggressor-bot thing - and duly proceeds to blow everything up - is monstrously entertaining.
The sheer attack and power these enclosures can create is immediately impressive. There's no shortage of taut, fast LFE. Once set, the subwoofer delivers a rigid bass substrate for the action. Those looking for a system seemingly born to belt out high-octane action movies need look no further.
The subwoofer stands on steel feet above the floor and is ported to the rear, with simple phono inputs and a phase control knob. There's nothing extra, though, like speaker inputs or pass-thru sockets. Crossover frequency and volume are selected via the natty six-button remote. You can mute the woofer or switch it off from the remote, too.
This sub has a 12in driver, driven by a 180W amplifier. The front drop bears a small display with two simple ladder indicators. In frequency mode you'll be looking at the crossover frequency as the blue lights go up; in volume mode, the higher up, the louder.
There are no mentions of any protection circuitry for the sub in the company-provided blurb. Although it really works well within its limits, you can sail past those limits and deep into distress sounds of overload all too easily. This may be due to the deep-breathing design sounding so good. It's too tempting to wick up.
This is impressive, as 180W isn't really offering much headroom compared to some mad-amp subs on the market. I suspect that this is the same amp used in the wireless sats but without the controls. However, for the price it is astonishing, and if you are not a hooligan and want genuine quality for your cash, then this sub is well worthy.
The system is also reasonable with multi-channel music. One of my stock trials is Boys II Men's Yesterday, which was delivered with an engaging 'sitting on the stage amongst them' ambience. The track requires realistic vocals to work and it's horribly easy to hear if something is amiss. While lacking some high-end subtlety, it's always entertaining.
Give 'em a try
This good-looking 7.1 array is well worth an audition. It looks gorgeous and if your budget is limited I would have no qualms pointing action-movie-loving buyers in their direction, or even the 5.1 equivalent.