MartinLogan Aerius loudspeaker Tellig part 2

The speakers are popular in France, too, from what I see by the ads in French hi-fi magazines. I should point out that the Aerius i, which retails for $2000 in the US, goes for around $4000 in France—thanks, in part, to France's killer 21% VAT. And in Britain, a pair of Aerius i speakers will set you back $l2300 (about $3750).

In the US, you get a bargain—$1995 for the basic speaker with black oak rails, single-wire. Light oak trim, please fork over $100 more. Bi-wire, gotcha for another $100. I'm not sure the oak trim is worth a C-note—the black is fine. But bi-wire is probably worth the money because you'll have the option to bi-amp, if you like. You may want to.

See-through sound
On top, you have the electrostatic panels—those see-through screens. Talk about transparency—you can see through the sound. Underneath, there's an 8" sealed-enclosure woofer. If you know the original Aerius, the Aerius i has the same dimensions but the cabinet has been redesigned, streamlined as all get-out. This is one of the most visually elegant loudspeakers in the world.

The original Aerius sounded so transparent that in the June 1993 Stereophile (footnote 1), I proclaimed it something of a steal. The new Aerius i is even more of a steal. MartinLogan has substantially improved the speaker, but has not raised the price. The bass driver is new. Designer Gayle Sanders says it offers better power handling and achieves a better blend with the electrostatic panel. Yes, it does. The crossover has also been revised.

This is a neat trick: combining an inherently fast electrostatic panel with an inherently slow—well, almost inherently—cone bass driver. It's the reason why most subwoofers work so poorly in most high-definition systems: The bass just muddies things up. Not here—unless you position the speaker so as to over-excite room boundaries. (Not too close to corners, please!)

There are some other changes, too, from the original Aerius. The crossover frequency is now set at 450Hz instead of 500Hz. Now, virtually all of the midrange is handled by the electrostatic panel. However, sensitivity is reduced—down to 88dB/W/m from 89dB. Impedance is down a tad, too—now nominally given as 5 ohms, dropping to no more than 1.7 ohms. The impedance of the original Aerius—Aerius "1" as opposed to Aerius i, I suppose—didn't dip below 2 ohms.

No big deal, you say?

Well, the new Aerius, although improved, is more difficult to drive. I can attest to that. An amp that might have marginally driven it before—like the Conrad-Johnson MV55—might not be suitable now. The superbly written instruction manual recommends 80-200W per channel. That's more or less right, but a good 60Wpc integrated like the Bryston B60 might do the job just fine.

When I auditioned the original Aerius, I thought that MartinLogan couldn't have done better for the price. I was wrong. They have done better—considerably better—with the Aerius i.

The bass is deeper, tighter, even more tuneful—now extended down to 40Hz or so. No need for a subwoofer, probably. It would probably add more boom than bloom to the sound. Moreover, the Aerius woofer is even better integrated with the electrostatic panel than before—that is, if your amp can get it up.

I found that the Conrad-Johnson MV55 had a tough time driving the new Aerius. Two MV55 amplifiers would have probably done the trick—one amp for the panels, the other for the bass. With only one MV55, the bass performance was compromised—it turned mainly sluggish, and some of the superb extension was lost (footnote 2).

So much for the bottom—it's the top where the improvements are most notable. The original Aerius could sound a little rolled on top—almost dull. The new Aerius has more top-end extension, more sparkle. That's not all. Off-axis listening is better too. Of course, it's better to deposit one's derri%#232;re in the sweet spot, but that's true of almost all loudspeakers.



Footnote 1: Vol.16 No.6, p.75.—ST

Footnote 2: Some folks suggest a combination of heaven and hell: heaven (tubes) on top, hell (solid-state) down below, where it belongs. I'm not so sure.—ST

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