Aerial Acoustics Model 7B loudspeaker Page 2
The sound was so smooth, so grain-free that I found myself relaxing more, letting the music just come to me. (Of course, the rest of the equipment, especially the latest version of the Convergent Audio Technology SL-1 Ultimate preamplifier, made a major contribution here.) Highs were sweet, with no hint of added brightness or sizzle. The midrange sounded very neutral with both amplifiers; the distinctive characters of individual singing voices were well preserved, with a minimum of "hi-fi" artifacts. Transients were generally crisp and clean, but just a bit on the polite side compared to the Hales Transcendence Five or the Dunlavy SC-IV/A. No box speaker can escape having some degree of boxiness in the sound, but the right cabinet construction can reduce this to a low level. The Aerial 7B's box resonances seemed extremely low—all that attention paid to having a rigid enclosure and constrained-layer internal damping has clearly paid off.
Calling the Aerial 7B an "easy-listening" speaker should not be taken to mean that it's suitable only for Mantovani Plays Ferrante & Teicher's Greatest Hits. It had no problem handling the thunderous dynamics of Frederick Fennell's latest Dallas Wind Symphony release (Marches I've Missed, Reference Recordings RR-85CD), played pretty loud (footnote 1). Just looking at the speaker, with its modest size and less-than-giant woofers, you might not think that power handling would be one of its virtues, but it is. And, unlike some speakers that wake up only when played loud, the 7B did not lose its dynamic feel at the much lower levels that comprise most of my own listening.
In overall tonal balance, the Aerial 7B was on the warm and laid-back rather than the lean and forward side. Detail and transparency did not fully match those of the Hales Transcendence Five or Dunlavy SC-IV/A, but was certainly creditable given the differences in price (50% more for the Hales, 100% more for the Dunlavy). Bass extension in my room reached the mid-20s before rolling off, which represents outstanding performance.
Other than a peak of 5-6dB at around 50Hz—which I've observed with other speakers in this room, so it probably represents a room mode—the response was quite smooth from 200Hz down (footnote 2). The bottom end was better controlled by the Bryston 7B-ST (no relation!) than by the Sonic Frontiers Power 2. With both amplifiers, the bass was subjectively somewhat on the generous side and not ideally taut (the Dunlavy SC-IV/A is much better in this respect), but was not noticeably "slow"; bass drumbeats did not lag behind the rest of the music.
Aerial has an optional foam insert available for the 7B's rear-firing port, but these were not provided with the review pair. When I queried Michael Kelly about this, he told me that the insert is not recommended unless the speaker is placed right against the wall (also not recommended). I tried stuffing a rolled-up sock (100% wool, black) in each speaker's port; this made the bass leaner but also slowed it down and impaired extension. The socks were promptly returned to their rightful place (top drawer, right rear).
I have left till last discussion of one of the Aerial 7Bs' major assets: soundstaging. With the speakers set up in my preferred "widescreen" mode, the soundstage extended from outside the side walls and to way beyond the back wall. The sound was open, airy, and quite detached from the speakers. Closing my eyes, I found it almost impossible to localize the speakers as sources of sound. The specificity of images within the soundstage was not quite a match for the Dunlavy SC-IV/As, but the Aerial 7Bs' soundstage held up better for listeners outside the central sweet spot.
Based on my more extended experience with the Aerial 7B, I have to say that the hypothesis initially based on my informal observations has been confirmed: Aerial Acoustics makes some very good speakers. The 7B offers top-level engineering and craftsmanship at a fair price. While there are speakers with tighter bass and even greater transparency and detail, the 7B is always true to the music, and its sonic personality would particularly complement systems that would otherwise sound lean, cold, and clinical.
The 7B's $4000/pair list price (assuming you don't go for one of the exotic finishes) puts it right in the middle of a price range that includes some superb loudspeakers—like the Hales Revelation Three at the lower end, and the Energy Veritas v2.8, Hales Transcendence Five, and Aerial's own Model 8 at the upper end. The Aerial 7B is a distinguished addition to this select group.
Footnote 1: During the first 5 seconds of track 8 of Marches I've Missed, the peak SPL measured at the listening seat with the RadioShack meter (C weighting, fast response) read 104dB. Given that this meter is known to underestimate the actual peak levels by several dB, I'd call that pretty loud.—Robert Deutsch
Footnote 2: Absent was the 100Hz dip observed with the Hales Transcendence Fives in approximately the same positions—see the June '99 Stereophile.—Robert Deutsch