Zemi Aria review: Audio exotica at an (almost) reasonable price

Price when reviewed

The high-end audio market is awash with products that purport to endorse a certain lifestyle. You know the sort of thing. It usually involves expensive apartments with acres of plain white walls and wood floors, lots of minimalist Scandinavian furniture, and one or two items of choice technology dotted around. The Zemi Aria is the perfect match for such surroundings.

Designed by Francesco Pellisari, a man more accustomed to producing bespoke speakers for cathedrals and other big spaces, it’s one of the most unusual Bluetooth speakers I’ve ever come across. Visually, it’s a stunning piece of design, which should come as little surprise when revered industrial design specialist Ron Arad also had a part to play in designing the front grille. Sitting atop its circular pedestal, this highly glossy, almost bowling ball-like speaker immediately draws the eye no matter where you put it.

That still doesn’t make it immune from picking up grubby fingerprints when you touch it, though, and it’s a shame it doesn’t come with a micro fibre cloth like the Sony SRS-X99 to help keep it looking pristine. Still, there’s always the option of going with a glossy white finish if you think the black one will attract too many unsightly smudges.Zemi Aria on stack of books

The metal patterned grille attaches to the front magnetically, so you can take it off if you wish to reveal a cloth cover grille below. This also pops out without much effort, and doing so exposes the Aria’s pair of silk dome tweeters and carbon composite woofer. This exposed configuration is for when you want to push the speaker to its highest volumes, but it does lose some of its subtlety as a result.

Zemi Aria: Connectivity 

Alongside the drivers, you’ll find a handful of LEDs. One set gives you an at-a-glance view of the speaker’s volume level, with three illuminated LEDs showing it’s been cranked up towards its top volume while the other shows its standby and connection status.

However, these lights don’t quite line up squarely with the exposed areas of the cloth cover, meaning they’re slightly, and rather distractingly, obscured depending on how you’re looking at the speaker. It isn’t a major issue, but it seems a bit of an oversight when there’s such a high attention to detail elsewhere. A large, all-metal remote control is also included, and this has only three buttons: power, volume up and volume down. It’s very basic, but it looks stylish and is well constructed.Zemi Aria, black, on side table

On the rear of the speaker, you’ll find a 3.5mm auxiliary jack that can also double up as an optical input. If you have higher resolution audio files, the Zemi Aria can handle 24-bit, 96kHz audio over its optical input, but only a 3.5mm analogue audio cable is included, so you’ll need to invest in an S/PDIF cable (if you don’t have one already) to play hi-res files.

There’s also a mini-USB port, but sadly this can’t be used to play music from a storage device. Instead, this is for firmware updates and for setting up Apple AirPlay via the bundled Mini USB to USB adaptor. If you don’t want to use AirPlay, there’s also Bluetooth, but there’s no support for the Bluetooth aptX codec, which is disappointing given the price.

Zemi Aria: Sound quality

The speaker has a frequency response of 45Hz to 20kHz, which might lead you to believe there isn’t much low-end presence. That’s definitely the case with some tracks, at least those that have bass notes that reach down and stay below the 40Hz mark. Here, the lower end of the spectrum is missing entirely – the Aria seems to discard the audio information entirely.

In reality, though, for most material the bass is more than good enough. Listening to A$AP Rocky’s L$D, which has plenty of difficult electronic bass, the bass remained well-controlled but still had plenty of power and bite. Turning the volume up higher, there was a little cabinet vibration, but that’s often the case with this particular track.Zemi Aria without grille

India Arie’s vocals on her cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps was articulate, and you can hear the detail of each intake of breath. Voices carried nicely over the instruments, and there was a good degree of separation between each element of the track overall. There’s plenty of volume, too, so the Zemi Aria shouldn’t have any issues filling a large room.

Zemi Aria: Verdict

Overall, the Zemi Aria looks and sounds lovely, but you are paying a premium for both. With just Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay as your wireless options, it feels a little limited compared to more fully-fledged multiroom systems, particularly when a Sonos Play:5, which is a true modular multiroom system, can be bought for less.

The Sony SRS-X99 is also a worthwhile consideration if you want more ports and connections, but if looks are your priority, the Zemi Aria certainly won’t disappoint.

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