Aerial Acoustics Model 8 loudspeaker Page 4

Now that's in my room, driven by big-transformered tube amplifiers. What happens (aside from getting a hernia) when you haul the 8s into a much bigger room, drive them with big Rowland solid-state amps, sit farther away, and crank them up even louder?

Greg's dedicated listening room
What a difference tripling or quadrupling your listening space can make! Greg's room is gigantic compared to mine—over 28' wide and about 20' deep to the listening position, which has another 8 to 10' behind it filled with fiberglass batting. The 8s looked and sounded cramped in my room. In his, they almost got lost!

Well, not really—just by comparison. Greg has Martin-Logan CLSes driven by the Rowlands, Entec powered subwoofers, and a recently refurbished and retubed Audio Research SP11 Mk.2. Sources are a VPI HW-19 turntable/Graham 1.5t combo (which I fitted with ceramic armtubes equipped with the Transfiguration Temper and Spirit cartridges), and a modified Philips-based CD player.

I was quite familiar with Greg's CLS/Entec combo, but we played a set of my demo records through them anyway, including Classic's Lt. Kije/Song of the Nightingale LP with Reiner and the CSO (RCA LSC-2150), Dead Can Dance's Into the Labyrinth (4AD DAD-3013), The Missouri Breaks soundtrack (UA LA 623-G), a 45rpm 12" British pressing of Pete Townshend's and Ronnie Lane's "Street in the City" from Rough Mix, Mel Tormé and Friends at Marty's (Finesse W2X 37484), and Ry Cooder's Jazz (Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-085).

With the sound of the 8s fresh in my mind, what I was hearing from the CLS/Entec combo might as well have been music from another planet: a totally different but equally compelling presentation. Much more "event-oriented" and detailed, far faster and snappier, the CLSes created a picture that was "see-through" transparent to the event, but, by comparison, also much thinner. Instruments were like fleshless skeletons: transient and fundamental first and foremost, harmonic overtones somewhere against the backdrop. And the Entecs produced "bass" that didn't seem connected to what the CLSes were doing, though that was more a matter of proper "dial-in" than anything else. (I've heard this combination blend better before.)

It was far easier to set up the 8s in this large, well-damped space. We ended up with the speakers about halfway into the room, which still put them more than 12' away. Now the speakers provided a far better top-to-bottom balance, producing a big, room-filling soundstage and superlative instrumental focus, though still not a great deal of depth. With the big woofers now free to move a lot of air without overloading the room, the overall presentation sounded more relaxed and spacious.

Nonetheless, my overall take on the 8s didn't change that much. The strings on Missouri Breaks were still too warm, not "wiry" enough for my taste. Brass on Jazz was still on the warm side, burnished but lacking bite. And there was still an overabundance of lower midbass that gave the speaker a noticeably warmish character. Live at Marty's is a nightclub recording full of "room sound," but the room's boundaries got lost, as did the electricity of the moment. The "there" of the recording wasn't there because the top-end air and transparency my ears crave were missing. (My ears were measured in an anechoic chamber a few years ago; unless I was being flattered, they're reasonably flat to 15kHz.)

When it comes to loudspeakers, there are many versions of "the musical truth." All you have to do is walk around CES for a few days to hear that. Electrostatic, planar magnetic, ribbon, and moving-coil loudspeakers each have unique sonic characteristics regardless of what their measurements show. And tastes vary; what some find unbearably aggressive and bright, others find exciting, detailed, and just what they're looking for. Speakers that sound "real" to some audiophiles sound hopelessly syrupy and overly romantic to others.

I'm quite certain that John Atkinson's measurements will confirm that the Aerial 8 has been superbly designed, engineered, and built. I'm sure its behavior will be exemplary from every measured angle, though I suspect something will show up to confirm a slight excess of midbass energy. On a cost/performance basis, the Aerial 8 is one of the finest loudspeakers I've come across. I can't think of many speakers that offer this kind of full-bandwidth dynamic performance and build quality for $5000/pair. I don't know how Michael Kelly can afford to sell the 8 for so little, or why other manufacturers have to charge so much.

If you like the airy, exciting front-row experience you get from reach-out-and-molest-you speakers, the 8 won't be your choice. But if you prefer a more polite speaker in the British tradition, one whose riches you have to reach in and grab, you'll find the Aerial 8 to be a musically honest, outstanding performer well worth considering. Just be sure you've got plenty of power to drive them, and a large, preferably lively room in which to place them. And if your gear must do double duty as both a music system and a home theater, the 8s are the first speaker you should audition.