Aerial Acoustics Model 8 loudspeaker Page 3

Kelly left worried. I don't blame him: A manufacturer wants a product to work well under review conditions. He doesn't want to have to rely on the reviewer's ability to extrapolate from a less than ideal listening situation. Part of what makes speaker reviews crap shoots is the room interaction, but that holds true for you too: When you listen to a speaker in a showroom, how much does that really tell you about how it will sound in your room? Kelly left troubled by the bass overload and what he felt was my overly damped room. "We voiced this speaker for a more 'lively' room," he told me.

I spent a few months with the 8s in my room, following my normal review procedure. At the same time, I made plans with my audiophile buddy Greg Hersh to audition the 8s in his dedicated listening room, which is about the size of Montana.

Be careful what you wish for...
Having in my listening room a full-range speaker—one that gets that last octave of deep bass—like the 8 forced me to consider the issue of whether a full-range loudspeaker driven by a single amplifier is preferable to a bass-limited system augmented by a powered subwoofer that allows you to "dial-in" the deep bass.

While taking the bottom few octaves out of the equation affords you greater placement flexibility and allows you to concentrate on imaging and soundstaging, blending a subwoofer with your main speakers can be a real pain—as can be the loss of transparency you suffer sifting the bass from the signal through the subwoofer's crossover. In a small room, or one with problematic acoustics, a bass-limited speaker/subwoofer combo is clearly the best way to manage room-mode problems.

In my room
Even in the nearfield position where I did my listening, the 8's overall timbral balance was "pear-shaped": gently on the rich, sweet side of neutral even when cranked up to +100dB levels, where they really started to come alive. Like some other large speakers, the 8 delivered best at high volume. This was a speaker I wanted to play loud because it's a visceral system that comes at you with body punches, not spikes to the head. The 8 never strained or constricted when reproducing large-scale dynamic events, and didn't get hard, brittle, or bright when pushed. That's because they couldn't be pushed—like a big V-8, they just cruised, no matter what obstacles I put in their way.

Aerial's 8 didn't "suggest" deep bass, it delivered it with total authority. There's no substitute for a large driver moving lots of air, and the 8 was a genuine pants-flapper, combining dynamic power with impressive control and speed. Along with rendering explosive bass events like kick drums and timpani with ease, this meant that the 8 swung subtly on acoustic bass. I got notes, not "bass."

With the exception of what I'm sure would be a slight bit of "ripeness" in the midbass in whatever room you put them in, the 8's top-to-bottom balance was as smooth, coherent, and neutral as I've heard from a large speaker system. From the lower midrange on up, it was free of discernible coloration or sonic prejudice. Kelly's game plan assures it. If serious peaks or dips show up in the measurements, I'll be surprised.

The large midrange driver easily coped with its assignment: 250Hz to 2500Hz. As a Virgo woofer in pairs, the Vifa delivers clean response down to 30Hz; in the Aerial 8 it was cruisin' all the way. Rolled at 24dB/octave at 2500Hz, it's cut off from the action before high frequencies cause the relatively large driver to beam.

The MB Quart tweeter sounds ultra-smooth and pure, clearly a low-distortion device that doesn't ring anywhere near the audio band. Anyone who thinks "metal dome means metallic sound" will have to eat their words after listening to the 8.

Despite their large size, the 8s did an outstanding job of disappearing, leaving a large, transparent, three-dimensional soundstage that reached from the floor to about 6' up. Most new listeners' first comments were along the lines of, "They sure image well." In this regard, the 8s surpassed the 10Ts in my room. Nearfield, the 10Ts produced a narrow horizontal window of an image—like a video screen of sound.

You can listen to the 8s for every aspect of speaker design: driver integration, vertical and horizontal dispersion and power response, image size and focus, soundstage presentation, timbral authority, large- and small-scale dynamic contrasts, transient speed, attack and decay, cabinet "overhang," the rendering of inner detail, distortion and noise—all are handled competently. The Aerial 8 is like that kid who sat a few rows in front of you at school—so well-behaved you almost forget he's there.

Isn't that what you want from a speaker? When you play a recording of a small ensemble—like Bill Evans' live sets from the Village Vanguard, or Mel Tormé's Live at Marty's set, or large orchestral works, or hard rock, or string quartets—you just want the speaker to get out of the way and deliver the musical goods. That' what the 8s did: they handled every musical curve-ball I threw at them. They're not speakers designed specifically for rock or for orchestral music or for string quartets. The 8s delivered all music with a vibrant, harmonic richness.

Still, there's the issue of taste. The 8 is a polite-sounding speaker in the stereotypical British mold. If you're a "first event" kind of guy or gal and you like your sound "exciting" and on the slightly fast and crispy side, you'll find the 8 somewhat sluggish and uninvolving—a bit too rich and sweet. If you like lots of air on top and you need a speaker that delivers the very back of the soundstage way back there in space, while delineating every layer of instrumental image like a piece of baklava, the 8s won't enthrall you. If you need to sit in the front of the hall to get into the music, if you can't laugh at a comedian from the balcony, this probably isn't the speaker for you. If you crave that first event of bows scraping strings when a massed string section digs in, you'll wish you could crank up the "detail" button. If you like to stick your head down singers' tonsils and listen for the phlegm, the 8 isn't your kind of speaker (footnote 2).

Footnote 2: I'm turning my taste into a cartoon here so that those of you who should consider buying a pair of 8s won't be put off simply because—as should be obvious by now—the speaker isn't my idea of a great time emotionally, even though I know intellectually that it's an outstanding achievement at any price, and especially for less than $5000/pair.—Michael Fremer
Aerial Acoustics
Box 81248
Wellesley Hills, MA 02181
(617) 235-7715