Review: Aerial Acoustics Aerial 9 Speaker
Most recently, I had Maggie 3.6's with a lot of tweaks and I loved them. I supplemented them with a REL sub.
Then several things happened -- my baby started to walk then run then throw balls...and even though the Maggies were in a room to which he didn't yet have access, I knew there were problems ahead. And a remodel was going to make my room too small for the Maggies. Ah well. They are now in a very good home on the east coast and I'm sure their new owner is enjoying that incredible Maggie sound.
New speakers were in order.
I listened to a lot of smaller wood boxes and they were fine, but bigger wood boxes sounded better to me. I tried to love the Aerial 7's or 8's, the Joseph 33 or the Proac 38's. I listened to Soliloquy's (owned and loved the 5.0's), Triads, and others. While they were all plenty great, I was still missing my Maggies and I needed something richer, fuller, bigger. I kept coming back to the 9's. I've owned Hales speakers and liked those, but the top end broke up at volume and they taxed amps. I almost owned Revels and have spent a lot of time with them, but something has always stopped me short of the purchase. Cost? Looks? Not sure. I think that they sound great but I have some concern about Harman (probably irrational) being a soul-less place and I just could never get myself to love the Revels. Similarly, I have heard some great sound come out of Avalon Eidolons and the Vandy 5A, but I'm not up to the price of the Eidolons or the 5A, and the lesser models are not nearly as interesting as the flagships -- to me. And neither were going to fit in my remodeled smaller room.
I didn't want to buy my speakers used. I don't know why, but I like to be the first owner of my speakers and my cd players. The rest can be used, no problem -- especially cables and amps. I was going to go with something carried in my neck of the woods, but luckily for me, that was pretty much everything I wanted to hear, save a thing or two.
Okay...so I kept coming back to the 9's. And I eventually bought them.
I've had them for about a month now. They were almost new demos, so they are at or close to fully broken in.
I heard them with Theta gear -- much better with my setup. They were paired with the Enterprises, not Theta's best IMO. But they were still great.
I auditioned them with the following:
-female vocals: Fiona Apple, Norah Jones, Jessye Norman (Carmen), Joni Mitchell (early stuff), and Kathleen Battle (baroque), Badi Assad
Sweet and clear. Clean as a whistle. No uncomfortable sibilance.
-complex heavily orchestrated nightmare music: Mr. Bungle, Wagner, British electronica
Easily picked apart passages that had the potential to soudn congested.
-fat bass music: Leftfield, MC 900 Foot Jesus
Superlative bass, but not plummy fat like older Aerial designs.
-baritone men: Johnny Cash, Crash Test Dummies, Tom Waits (early and later)
Not a hint of discontinuity between drivers as these guys ran their limited range.
-tenors: the "three," Chet Baker
See "female vocals" above but add a fat checkmark next to the box that says "vocals in perfect scale with accompaniments"
-lots of jazz, Brazilian and chamber music
Pulled a little of everything from my collection to ensure that the speakers would work for all the music I would play through them.
AND...the speakers are outstanding.
Strengths (not in order): wonderful at low volumes with plenty of drive (probably the result of 4 woofers a side) and really wonderful at mid-high volumes. The tweeter is well behaved even when the going gets loud, something not true about Hales, Josephs or the Maggies. The bass is tight and full, but I still supplement with my REL, which tells me that the bass is real to 30Hz, not bloated in the mid-bass range. They are very very beautiful -- outstanding rosewood matched veneers -- my wife hated the Maggies, laughed when she saw the Revels and the B&W Nautilus series -- and she really likes these. Efficient as could be, so I'm never past 1 o'clock on the dial -- can't go there no matter how amped I'm feeling -- so my amps are always coasting easily. Vocals and percussion have plenty of pop -- I really feel the tom toms and the kick drums, and snares have a frighteningly live aspect that wasn't true in anything else I've owned. They do all music well, and I've thrown a lot of stuff at them. My tastes run the gamut. They are not terribly placement or room sensitive -- I still have the big room and they are well placed now, (room is 24 x 20 x 7, and speakers are about 4' from rear wall, 7' apart, very slightly toed in, 6' from midpoint between the speakers to listening position, and nowhere near the side walls) but the degree of change from random placement to optimal was far smaller than with most speakers I've owned. Excellent dispersion -- a real downside with Maggies, the one person sweetspot. Now three of us can sit on a couch without feeling ripped off, and even people to the sides of the couch are having a good experience.
Weaknesses? Hmmmm....they don't soundstage or do that ultra 3D on vocals like the Maggies, but nothing I've ever heard did except for some very pricey Martin Logans. I suspect other electrostats do the same, but nothing else -- I don't care what reviewers say. Wilson WP7's don't, Eidolons come pretty close but still don't....I just think that no dynamic speaker can do what a 6x2' panel can do. Maybe some huge dynamic speakers like Pipedreams or Genesis 1's, but those are not in my pricerange, or my future. There's no single characteristic that stands out, so I can't shock my friends the way I could with the Maggies (that "floating" sound) or the Hales (can you say "subterranean"), but I'm not really sure that's a weakness -- I think it means that there is nothing that will become annoying or obvious over time.
So, no real weaknesses except as compared with the Maggies, and as against the Maggies, they do a lot of things better.
With the Maggies, I never got my fix of big big music. I preferred to listen to loud rock or big classical in the car. No longer. With the Maggies, I listened alone a lot. Now I listen with friends and my wife.
Would I buy these if I were Bill Gates? Probably not. I'd have a decked out designer room and I'd go listen to Alexandria X-2's and other megabuck speakers that I have not even heard. Am I aware of another speaker in the 10K range that I would prefer? Nope.
I listened to and admired a lot of speakers, and of course, I never got to do A/B side by sides in my house with my gear, so who knows -- something unimpressive in the shop might have sounded much better in my house. In fact, the Aerials sound a lot better in my house than in the shop. Even the two guys who delivered and set up the speakers agreed that my room and equipment were better suited for the 9's than theirs.
The Josephs or the Revels would have been great, I'm sure. The Proacs would have prompted changes in my associated gear and I didn't want to do that. The Avalons short of the Eidolon and the Vandersteen 3A's were not enough for me, but again, I'm sure they would have provided tons of satisfaction.
I remained curious about the Meadowlark Blue Heron and some of the Silverline products, but I got sick of looking and that mattered as much as anything. The Sonus Faber Cremona seemed appealing, but every review said it's better with the grilles off, and I have little kids, so I didn't bother to track them down.
Does this mean that the Aerials are my last speaker? Well...after all the stress about the remodel that was going to cost me half my listening room (it would have ended up at 12 x 16 x 7 -- not bad), we've decided to move to a bigger house, and it will be a long time before I can afford to buy gear, so these babies are with me for the foreseeable future. The new room will be 15 x 22 x 8.5 -- and I think the 9's will do wonderfully well there. Funny how things turn out -- had the house come first, I'd still have the Maggies, but all in all, the balance tips in favor of the 9's for me at this point in my life so it must have happened in this order for a reason.
Here's the real real bottom line. In the decade or so since I went full-on audiophile (i.e., stopped buying equipment manufactured by anyone my friends had ever heard of), I've never gone so quickly from "listening to my new piece of equipment" to "listening to my music." The Aerial 9's are fun and I'm finding that I'm listening about twice as much as I did with the Maggies, and not so analytically. I'm feeling kind of like I did back in high school with my Sansui 5000A and my Dual (automatic) turntable. And that, dear reader, is very good.
Rogue 99 Magnum w/NOS tubes
Linn LP-12/Ekos/Lyra cartridge
Acoustic Zen Silver Ref/Satori Shotgun
JPS power cords
Hales Transcendence and Revelation lines
a lot more