Aerial Acoustics Model 5 loudspeaker Page 3

I once got a call from a reader looking for advice on purchasing loudspeakers. He told me that he wanted the treble to be "like little needles coming at me." The Aerial 5s aren't for him. You get no etch, hyped detail, or sonic fireworks with the 5; just an honest smoothness that sounds more like live music than any other loudspeaker I've heard near the 5's price range.

By contrast, the Tukans had more life and vibrancy in the midrange and treble, but a less clean and ultimately more fatiguing presentation. The 5s were far more polite, refined, and laid-back.

The 5s' soundstaging was good, but not superlative. I heard clearly defined images between the loudspeakers, but less sense of openness, transparency, and air than from the Tukans. In addition, the presentation didn't have quite the spatial resolution—where instruments were within the acoustic—as the Tukans. The Adamantes IIs also presented a larger sense of space, particularly depth. Although the Adamantes IIs had a similar overall perspective to the Aerials, they better resolved layers of depth in naturally miked recordings—Mike Garson's The Oxnard Sessions, Volume Two, for example (Reference Recordings RR-53CD).

The Aerials went loud gracefully, maintaining their smoothness on peaks at moderately high listening levels. Their overall dynamic contrast was good, but I felt that microdynamics were a little subdued. Transient detail—percussion instruments, the attack of acoustic guitar strings, the instantaneous sound of drumsticks hitting drumheads—was somewhat muted through the Aerials. This impression of not hearing sharp transient attacks was greater at low listening levels. When I turned up the volume, I heard more dynamic impact and microdynamic contrast.

In fact, throughout the auditioning I had the feeling that the 5s needed to be turned up before they came to life. I'm not talking about sensitivity and the need for amplifier power, but the impression that the little Aerials only opened up at highish listening levels. The 5s were reserved almost to the point of being staid, needing a little amplifier kick to come out of themselves and become more expressive. It was as though the 5s were afraid of doing anything wrong (and they do very little wrong), in the process sounding as though they were holding something back. That impression also goes for openness, dynamic expression, and soundstaging—all of these qualities improved as the volume was increased.

I'm glad I was able to listen to the 5s with the 105Wpc Classé CAP-100 integrated amplifier before finishing this review—the 5s really lit up with some solid amplifier power behind them. In fact, the presentation took on newfound dynamic impact, bass control, and musicality with the CAP-100. My impression of the 5s "holding something back" was somewhat ameliorated by substituting the Linn Majik (33Wpc into 8 ohms, 60Wpc into 4 ohms) with the Classé. Nonetheless, the Aerials still sounded better at higher listening levels. The 5s apparently need some solid output power behind them.

Before moving on to the Tukan, I must reiterate what a clean, uncolored, and smooth presentation the Aerials provided. The smoothness wasn't a dulling of the sound, but a lack of the edge, tizz, grain, and other artifacts we usually hear in reproduced music. Make no mistake: the 5's midrange and treble were world-class.

I can heartily recommend the Aerial 5 and Linn Tukan loudspeakers—but for different reasons. Although the two loudspeakers had very different sounds, I found myself enjoying music through both of them.

There is no question that the Aerial 5 is the more refined and accurate loudspeaker—as it should be, considering that it costs more than twice as much as the Tukan. The Aerial was super-smooth, uncolored, and had a top-to-bottom coherence rivaling those of much more expensive loudspeakers. Its soundstaging was less spectacular than that of the Tukan, and the 5's limited bass extension won't suit all listeners. Moreover, the 5's unassuming character gave the music a certain reticence that made me want to turn up the volume.

Nonetheless, the Aerial 5's neutrality, coherence, and smoothness are quite an achievement for any loudspeaker, never mind one that costs less than $2000/pair. I must reiterate the 5's need for a substantial power amplifier: Don't even think about running the 5s with fewer than 50Wpc.

Aerial Acoustics
P.O. Box 81248
Wellesley Hills, MA 02181
(617) 235-7715