MartinLogan Aerius loudspeaker Page 3
Even with the Levinson, however, the Aerius 2 was unkind to poor recordings: the ridiculously bright live Queen concert from 1986 (Live at Wembley, Hollywood HR-61104-2, which I recently bought to remind myself of the late Freddie Mercury's dominance of the 1985 "Live Aid" concert) literally screamed at me at anything other than quiet levels.
But such recordings were the exception. The sheer amount of unforced, musically natural detail I could hear through these speakers was astonishingly addictive. Most of my time with the MartinLogans was spent pulling LP after LP and CD after CD from the rack, following a particular musical thread. Chrissie Hynde's superbly ornamented vocals on "Talk of the Town" from the Pretenders' The Singles LP (Sire 25664-1), for example, led me to Barbara Bonney's vanilla'n'cream soprano in the Nikolaus Harnoncourt CD performance of Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate (Teldec/Das Alte Werke 2292-44180-2), which in turn led to that old favorite, the Klemperer Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem (EMI Classics CDC 7 47238 2), jumping to the lushly mysterious and moving Symphony 3 by Henryk Görecki (Elektra Nonesuch 79282-2), and finishing up with Stevie Winwood's eponymous 1977 album (Island ILPS 9494).
The Aerius's midrange was sweet and uncolored, but more importantly, voices and instruments sounded correct. I kept returning to vocal recordings: James Taylor's New Moon Shine (Columbia 46038) and Eric Clapton's Unplugged—the German LP pressing that Guy Lemcoe was kind enough to search out for me.
When he wrote about the MartinLogans, Mr. T kept returning to the phrase "truth of timbre." This they have, coupled with a surprising degree of "realness" to both sound and image—the much-overused "palpable presence."
Changing to analog source raised this aspect of the speakers' sound by more than the expected degree. Whether this was due to the second sample of the Linn Arkiv cartridge that had just been installed, to the new Cirkus bearing upgrade, or to the fact that the speakers' intrinsic performance is to such a high standard that the front-end had been the limiting factor, I don't know. (Sometimes you can't limit the variables in your system to just the subject of the review.)
The Aerius offers surprising bass weight from a speaker with a single 8" woofer. From my brief exposure to the Quest Z, I agree with Dick Olsher that its intrinsic balance tends toward leanness. Yet via the smaller Aeriuses, the warble tones on the Stereophile Test CDs reproduced with full measure down to the 32Hz band. At the beginning of Klemperer's Brahms Requiem, the downward octave jump in the double basses is easily heard, not obscured by any doubling. And again on James Taylor's 1991 New Moon Shine LP, when, at the end of each line in the chorus of "Down in the Hole," bass guitarist Jimmy Johnson drops down an octave to a dominant D to bring the harmony full circle, back to G for the start of the next line, the low note—36.7Hz—is given full measure (footnote 3).
Yet MartinLogan has not obtained this powerful bass performance by tuning the Aerius's woofer to be some sort of boom machine. Throughout the mid- and upper bass the response was exceptionally even, no single note sticking out any more than another (within the vagaries of my room acoustics, which exaggerate the 60-65Hz region no matter what I do). The Aerius's woofer is "fast," by which I mean that it does not hang over. It refrains from adding extra mud where it is not required. The bass guitar and kick drum in "Hey Nineteen," from Steely Dan's pinnacle Gaucho album, were as tight as a nut, two instruments of similar pitch acting as one—yet the speaker's low-frequency clarity allowed them to maintain their individual identities. (This track's lyric rings a responsive chord in this 45-year-old's consciousness—"Hey Nineteen, that's 'Retha Franklin, ([but] she don't remember the Queen of Soul)."
Within strict loudness limitations, the Aerius offers excellent dynamic contrast. It does reach a point where turning up the volume doesn't seem to produce much extra loudness. However, the speaker didn't sound strained until the spl was above 100dB in my room. It also has an excellent sense of pace. Willie Weeks's loping Fender-bass octaves drove Stevie Winwood's effortless vocal and strutting guitar solo in "Hold On" from his seminal 1977 album just fine, while the bass guitar and drums on Michael Ruff's new Speaking in Melodies CD (Sheffield Lab CD-35) smoked. (This album features probably the best-recorded rock drums I have ever heard, coupled with inspired use of, yes, a trombone (footnote 4). Robert Harley's drum recording on our Test CD 2 also fared well, the image of the kit being nicely set back within the subtle ambience of David Manley's studio.
Footnote 3: The addition of low-C capability to the orchestral double bass and a fifth, low B-string to the electric bass guitar are the most important developments in subterranean music making, at least as far as this bass player sees it.—JA
Footnote 4: Musician Humor: A frog and a trombone player pass each other in the street one Saturday night. At least the frog is probably on her way to a gig.—JA