Aerial Model 5B loudspeaker Page 2

On the basis of only the above, and admittedly relying on recent memory of the HL-3P-ES2 rather than a side-by-side comparison, I think Aerial's 5B is a very valid alternative to the Harbeth descendant of BBC's original shoebox. The Aerial has incrementally but noticeably more bass—and wonderfully controlled bass at that—and, arguably, a more neutral midrange and treble, in comparison to the Harbeth's slight romantic sweetness and/or warmth. But the Aerial is by no stretch of the imagination cold—at all.

The one criticism I can imagine some listeners might make of the Aerial is that its treble did not at all call attention to itself. This was not a speaker that gave me big doses of analog tape hiss. That, in and of itself, might lead some people to characterize its sound as "warm," but I don't think its midrange sounded anything but very natural. Another nice aspect of the 5B was that there was no noticeable timbral change between standing and seated listening. Hand in hand with that, the midrange and treble were superbly well integrated.

A quick listen to Consortium Vocale Oslo's Exaudium Eum (SACD, 2L 43SACD), the chant SACD I raved about in December, this time through Luxman's category-killer combo of DU-50 disc player and L-505u integrated amplifier, showed a much deeper, somewhat wider and taller soundstage than did the Carat I57, with even better retrieval of low-level information. Mated to the Luxmen, the Aerials were the champs at "disappearing." The sound was smooth and natural, with first-class coherence. The music was just there. Of course, that laurel wreath must be shared with everyone who worked on that amazing SACD.

The Tallis Scholars' re-recording of Allegri's Miserere (CD, Gimell CDGIM 041) was startlingly clear and crisp through the Aerial-Luxman chain. There was no trace of the muddiness that can result from an overported enclosure, or from an excessively self-damping polypropylene driver. The 5Bs (with the expensive Luxman combo, but not with the affordable Carat) decoded the Miserere's distant semi-chorus and high soprano as well as has any pair of speakers I can remember hearing that track through, and better than most. Quick listens to Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony's recording of Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem (CD, Telarc CD-080092), and Otto Emanuel Olsson's Jul, from Oscar's Motet Choir's Cantate Domino (CD, Proprius CDP 6672), demonstrated excellent dynamics, and established that the 5B's bass, while not delivering anything near the full bottom octave, was at least past the point of "There's just not enough bass here."

David Gray's White Ladder (CD, RCA 69351-2), a perhaps underappreciated major-league pity party (while naming it one of my "Records To Die For" for 2006, I commented that it should come with a label warning that combining it with alcohol late at night might result in your drunk-dialing old girlfriends), sounded rich and full at moderate volumes, a trick many small speakers just don't seem capable of. The Aerial-Luxman combo excelled at delineating reverberation tails and other artifacts of production. I apologize that I haven't yet given the Luxman combo the space it deserves, but hear it if you can: Extremely careful listening suggests that the DU-50's switchable Fluency DAC (for PCM only, not DSD) does have a phase response different from its default Shannon DAC. That the Aerial 5B could let me get that deeply into things means that it honestly earns the designation "monitor."

Horses for courses: Aerial Acoustics' 5B is probably a more sensible all-around choice as a location monitoring speaker (by which I mean, not augmented by a subwoofer) than any descendant of the BBC LS3/5A I've heard—with the proviso, of course, that I have yet to hear Harbeth's forthcoming upgrade of the HL-3P-ES2, the HL-3P-ES3, and don't expect to until some time after this has been published. Which puts off any wrapping-up for at least one more column.

To sum up: Aerial Acoustics 5B: Just great to listen to. Aerial 5Bs plus Carat I57 blows my intended budget by about $500 but makes for a very respectable system. Staying within the budget nets you the Aerial 5Bs plus the Arcam Solo Mini CD receiver, which comprise a surprisingly decent-sounding system. Blow the budget big-time and get the dynamic duo from Luxman—for which my admiration only increases—and you get one heck of a system.—John Marks

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