Aerial Acoustics Model 5 loudspeaker Page 2
Although the 5s can be used without the stands, they're essential to getting the best performance from this loudspeaker. The stands include small insets to accept the spikes on the 5's bottom panel. Three large spikes are supplied with the stands for anchoring them to the floor. Unfortunately, Aerial has no owner's manual for the 5; you must figure out all this yourself. Not providing an owner's manual with an $1800 product is, in my view, inexcusable.
The solid-feeling cabinet is made from MDF 1" and 2" thick, with internal bracing. Wood veneer is applied to the inside of the cabinet as well as the outside, and augmented by solid wood on the cabinet edges. Three finish selections are provided (which affect the retail price). All cabinet edges are rounded for low diffraction. In addition, the foam grille is held in place without a diffraction-inducing frame. Small magnets on the foam grille are attracted to magnets hidden beneath the veneer on the 5's baffle. The mounted grilles line up well with the enclosure, but are easily knocked loose.
Overall, the Aerial 5 appears to be a solid, well-engineered product.
Every loudspeaker designer must make a tradeoff between bass quantity and bass quality. By making the bass a little underdamped or porting the enclosure, the small loudspeaker can give the impression of a fuller sound, but at the expense of overhang and the concomitant loss of "quickness" and pitch definition. Judging from the 5's sound, Aerial's Michael Kelly obviously values bass quality over quantity.
Bass extension was rather limited, even considering the 5's enclosure size. The bottom end lacked sock and weight, giving the entire presentation a bit of a lean character. Kickdrum was only hinted at, with the instrument's bottom-end impact missing in action.
But the bass I did hear was superbly articulated and detailed. The 5s had none of the mush, congestion, or confusion of many small loudspeakers that attempt to gain a little more extension by giving up bass clarity. Much of the music I like features virtuoso acoustic and electric bass performances in which the bass doesn't just establish the music's tonal and rhythmic foundation, but becomes a melodic instrument in its own right. Some of my favorite bass players include Eddie Gomez (with Steps Ahead, Bill Evans, and Chick Corea), John Patitucci, Stanley Clarke, Dave LaRue (with the Dixie Dregs and Steve Morse Band), and Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report). While I did miss the visceral power of acoustic and electric bass with the 5s, I appreciated their ability to convey all the subtleties and nuances of intricate and melodic bass playing. I've been able to sometimes overlook the 5's lack of extension and enjoy the loudspeakers' precise articulation, pitch resolution, and lack of smearing.
Similarly, the sound of the Steinway D on Robert Silverman's performance of the Liszt Piano Sonata (Sonata, Stereophile STPH008-2) was beautifully rendered by the Aerials, but didn't convey the instrument's raw power. Silverman's left hand is almost violent at times, a quality that adds to the thrill of this performance. The Aerials lacked the bass extension to fully render the magnificent sound of the big Steinway. But concomitantly, the 5s didn't turn the left-hand lines into a smeared continuum. Every note was precisely articulated, clean, and distinct. By contrast, the Tukans and Diapason Adamantes IIs tended to blur the piano's bottom end.
I should add that, before auditioning the Aerial 5s, I lived with the Genesis II.5 loudspeakers for more than two years. The II.5s are anechoically flat to 16Hz by virtue of their four 12" servo-driven woofers and integral 800W bass amplifier. I knew I would have to realign my perspectives, but I still wished for just a little more extension from the 5s. I don't think I'm being too hard on the 5s, considering that their specified -3dB point is a rather high 70Hz (-8dB at 50Hz). (This extension is, coincidentally, identical to that of the much smaller Tukan.)
But the Aerial 5's best quality was one that is vital to musicality: an open and uncolored midband. The 5 had an exceptionally neutral midrange that allowed the speaker to get out of the music's way. I never got the impression of hearing the music through a colored filter, as I did with the Audio Note Model 1 loudspeaker reviewed last month.
Going back to Stereophile's Sonata recording, the piano sound was remarkable for its lifelike timbre, lack of glare, and fidelity to what I heard live during the recording. For me, solo piano is highly revealing of midrange coloration, and the Aerials did a superb job of conveying the "piano-ness" of the instrument. Human voice, another instrument that reveals frequency-response aberrations, was also rendered with an open, unfettered quality. Many more expensive loudspeakers can't match the 5 in midrange smoothness and liquidity.
In addition, the mids had a somewhat laid-back and relaxed perspective that perfectly matched the refined bass. The result was a seamless coherence that never drew attention to the loudspeaker. For comparison, the Tukan's bass, and that of the Adamantes II, was less well integrated with the midrange.
The 5's treble performance was outstanding—I heard none of the etch and fizziness endemic to dome tweeters. In fact, the 5's treble was closer in sound to what I hear from the excellent Genesis ribbon tweeter. In addition to lacking tizz, the treble was wonderfully liquid and clean. Violins had a full measure of treble energy without sounding coarse or grainy. With the grain-free Audio Note DAC-1 and Audio Note OTO SE single-ended tubed amplifier driving the 5s at a moderate listening level, violins had a sumptuous liquidity that one rarely hears from reproduced music. When fed a clean signal (such as from the Sonic Frontiers SFCD-1 and Classé CAP-100), the 5s were capable of producing an extraordinarily musical and "un-hi-fi" sound.