Aerial Model 5B loudspeaker John Atkinson on the Sound

John Atkinson on the Sound

When Robert Harley reviewed Aerial Acoustics' original Model 5 for Stereophile in April 1997, he concluded that this moderately sized, stand-mounted, two-way, sealed-box speaker sounded "super-smooth, uncolored, and had a top-to-bottom coherence rivaling those of much more expensive loudspeakers." However, he did note what he felt to be the speaker's shortfalls in soundstaging and bass extension, as well as an unassuming character that gave the music "a certain reticence that made me want to turn up the volume."

The original Model 5 combined a 1" titanium-dome tweeter from MB, featuring a wider-than-usual roll surround to enhance the unit's dynamic range, with a 7" polypropylene-cone woofer custom-made for Aerial by Vifa in Denmark. The Model 5 was revised a couple of years back, the primary change being the replacement of the MB tweeter with a similar titanium-dome unit from SEAS and the substitution of a damped laminated fiber for the polypropylene woofer cone.

The original Model 5 cost $1800/pair; in the Smooth Black finish, the 5B costs $2200/pair, which means that the 2009 speaker costs considerably less in real terms than the 1997 edition. (The dedicated stands cost $700/pair.)

Following his write-up of the Aerial 5B, John Marks sent me the review samples to be measured (serial numbers 052741 and '2). As I have been working through a series of reviews and Follow-Ups on stand-mounted speakers in recent issues—the PSB Imagine B in June 2009, the Spendor SA1 in August, the Totem Mani-2 Signature and Acoustic Energy AE1 Mk.III Special Edition in October—I gave the Model 5Bs a listen in my room.

As RH had found with the original 5, the 5B needs more drive than you might have expected. Its balance remains on the polite side of the fence, though with such overcooked recordings as Lyle Lovett's Live in Texas (CD, Curb MCAD-11964), which sounds as if it were mastered with the notorious "10(dB) at 10(kHz)" EQ, there was still plenty of treble energy apparent. Compared with the Acoustic Energy AE1 Mk.III Special Edition, the Aerial's highs were more believable, though image depth was not as well developed as with the AE1 or the Totem Mani-2. The imaging was solid and stable, however—Rickie Lee Jones was unambiguously placed to the left of Lovett in "The Boys of North Dakota," and the individual instruments of my first recording of Attention Screen, Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile SPTH018-2), were stably positioned in space, with natural midrange tonalities.

I was consistently impressed by the grain-free nature of the 5B's high frequencies. Even though the analog tape hiss on the SACD of Byron Janis's recording of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concertos 2 and 3, with Antal Dorati and the LSO (Mercury Living Presence 470 639-2), was more obvious than it had been through either the Spendor SA1 or the PSB Imagine B, the quality of the Aerial's high frequencies was cleaner than either of the other speakers.

At the other end of the spectrum, the warble tones on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) were reproduced pretty much in full measure to 63Hz. The 50 and 40Hz warbles were noticeably weaker, however, and while the 32Hz tone could be heard, those lower in frequency were missing in action. The quality of the low frequencies, however, was excellent, with good definition. The octave leaps in the synth bass line on "I Love You," from Daniel Lanois's Shine (CD, Anti- 86661-2), were well defined; however, when compared with Totem's Mani-2, the Canadian speaker reproduced the weight of the instrumental line in a manner the American speaker couldn't approach.

Summing up
The Aerial Acoustics Model 5B is an overlooked gem. The cost advantage of domestic manufacture means that its cabinet can be a little larger than those of the imported competition, which Aerial's Michael Kelly has exploited in the form of a sealed-box woofer loading, with its advantages of bass control and in-room extension, rather than the ubiquitous reflex loading.—John Atkinson

Aerial Acoustics
100 Research Drive
Wilmington, MA 01887
(978) 988-1600