MartinLogan Aerius loudspeaker Page 4
Soundstaging was generally well-focused, with no tendency for images to pull to the center. But I didn't get much of a sense of the stage extending beyond the image positions when appropriate. In track 10 of Test CD 2, for example, where I had recorded Larry Archibald mapping out the soundstage in the Santa Barbara church where we recorded our Brahms Intermezzo album, the image of Larry's handclaps should start well to the left of the left speaker and finish well to the right of the right speaker. Instead, the image of Stereophile's main man moved along a U-shaped path behind and between the loudspeaker positions. But again on this track, there was excellent depth and a feeling for the church's acoustic as Larry walked from the back of the nave up to the microphone.
In the ring with the Thiel
The natural comparison for the Aerius is the Thiel CS2 2, which I reviewed at the beginning of the year (footnote 5) and now suffers a slight price disadvantage since its recent price hike to $2750/pair. The beautifully engineered 2 2 is ST's other favorite speaker (when he can be torn away from his Advent Cheapskate Specials, that is).
Listening to the two pairs head to head, the Thiel's midbass is a bit fatter than that of the Aerius, which adds a pleasing bloom to the sound of bass guitar. It sounds rather "boxy" beside the Logan, however, with a more congested lower midrange (footnote 6), and the sound doesn't float quite so clear of the speakers. Though the 2 2's mid-treble is slightly more sibilant, its top octaves sound more airy and spacious. Its imaging is even better focused, and the soundstage thrown by a pair of Thiels is as deep and wide as that produced by the MartinLogans. Both are champions at ambience retrieval; both excel at lunging for ultimate transparency.
The Aerius's midrange character is more ethereal, the Thiel's more robust. Neither sounds lean, though the 2 2's balance is richer overall. Both make demands on the upstream equipment they'll be partnered with; neither is a rock-the-house-down party speaker. Asked to choose between them...I wouldn't.
Other than the humongous Statement system, I've heard all of the MartinLogan range under more or less familiar circumstances. It may surprise some of you that, notwithstanding Dick Olsher's enthusiasm for the Quest Z elsewhere in this issue, I feel the Aerius to be the most successful speaker design yet to come from this Kansas manufacturer. Within the limitations to be expected from its cost and size—fundamentally a relatively limited loudness capability—it is a superbly musical speaker with a surprisingly extended bass, an uncolored, detailed midrange, a transparent treble, excellent dynamic contrast, and superb soundstaging. It does lack HF extension, and the lower mids are a little thickened in absolute terms. However, the Aerius has the capability—rare in affordable speakers—of being able to grow as your system grows. It certainly wasn't embarrassed by being used with the mondo-expensive Levinson monoblocks, for example. And the improvement offered by Linn's Cirkus upgrade for the LP12 was easily perceived.
Along with the Thiel CS2 2 (and, at a slightly lower performance level, the Vandersteen 2Ce), the MartinLogan Aerius makes it harder for high-ticket loudspeakers to justify their cost of admission. Enthusiastically recommended. This mule can fly. Or at least sing!
Footnote 5: Stereophile, Vol.16 No.1, p.238.—JA
Footnote 6: This is at least partly due to a strong enclosure resonance affecting the speaker's front baffle. In a forthcoming "Follow-Up" I will investigate the effect Combak Harmonix dots have on this aspect of the Thiel's performance.—JA