Michael Kelly and David Marshall at Aerial Acoustics have come up with a new speaker model that will serve as the basis for more models to come. I have had the pleasure of listening to the first in the new breed of Aerials, and if the $9850 7T is any indication, I am looking forward to hearing what Kelly and Marshall produce next. Since the new full-range 7T is priced roughly $22k below Aerial’s well-regarded 20T V2 flagship, I was particularly interested in reviewing it. This three-way, vented-box system features dual 7.1" woofers, a 5.9" midrange, and a soft ring-dome tweeter mounted in a waveguide.
I first heard the Aerial 7T at CES 2011 and was immediately struck by its bass extension and clean, highly dynamic sound, even in challenging show conditions. Aerial shared half of a normal-sized room with Peachtree audio at the Venetian, and that means things were rather cramped on the Aerial side—especially when one considers the 7T is not a mini-monitor. Michael Kelly used an 80W Peachtree iNova integrated amp to demo the speaker as a way of illustrating that the new design need not necessarily be driven by a muscle amp. The bass extension and dynamic power coming from the Aerial CES demo, not to mention the clear and engaging overall presentation, were undeniably noteworthy.
The first time I played the 7T in my system, I was almost overwhelmed by its dynamic impact, immediacy, and liveliness. The 7T is noticeably easier to drive than my Dynaudio Confidence C1, but I had already turned down the volume several clicks as a starting point. Even accounting for the sensitivity difference, the dynamic verve, “ease of acceleration,” and control were so commanding that they made me chuckle. The 7T’s dynamics and bass are not the blunt-instrument sort, characterized by bloated, lumpy, ill-defined, high-volume thumps; rather, the 7T is much more complete in its ability to flesh out transients, delineate bass pitch, and follow the propagation of notes and track their decays. Kickdrum strikes had life-like punch as they imaged on the soundstage behind the speakers and then launched into the listening room, much as they do at a live jazz show with an unamplified drum kit. Just two speakers here, and yet strongly projected elements like classical singers, brass sections, and percussion instruments seemed to defy the boundaries of typical soundstage reproduction by allowing the entire front two-thirds of my listening room to be encompassed in the soundfield. This expansiveness is not to be mistaken for forwardness: Images were placed behind the plane of the speakers but then seemed to “breathe” into the room, taking on additional solidity as the 7T imbued them with immediacy and presence. This happened with small instruments like triangles and maracas as well as large ones.
How does Aerial do it? Extensive effort lavished on the enclosure, for starters. Putting aside the “controlled resonance” cabinet approach, most designers of dynamic-driver loudspeakers strive for a non-resonant, rigid, and sufficiently massive cabinet that will least interfere with the drivers’ own pistonic motion. Aerial addresses the trade-offs among MDF panels (which tend to flex) and stiffer materials (which tend to ring) by using eight layers of curved MDF with an important structural enhancement. The layers “are laid up wet, pressed into a precise curved shape with steel tools in a hydraulic press, and held for 48 hours until the glues are hard. This locks strong stresses into the material, fundamentally stiffening it and improving its mechanical properties.” The resulting curved pieces are veneered inside and out and then locked together with the front and back through tongue-and-grove joints and seven, full-sized, interlocked braces. So, in theory, you have an enclosure that meets the non-resonant, stiff, and sufficiently massive requirements. Each finished speaker weighs 96 pounds.
The two-inch-thick baffle uses a constrained layer approach that combines a heavily painted MDF outer baffle with an asphalt-like compound between it and the underlying cabinet front. The review sample looked fantastic in gloss rosenut with its slightly curved metallic gray front baffle and black base. There are also eight hidden neodymium magnets that hold the grille in place. Everything about the 7T—from the fit and finish, to the large spikes (or blunted footers—your choice), to the velvet slipcovers and 48-pound, MDF-lined shipping boxes—gave me the feeling that I was dealing with a well-thought-out, high-quality product.
The 1" tweeter is a ScanSpeak soft ring radiator with a custom aluminum plate and waveguide. The 5.9" SB Acoustics midrange uses a papyrus-blend cone and a cast-magnesium frame. The twin 7.1" ScanSpeak woofers use bi-laminate composite cones and also have cast-magnesium frames. Crossover points are 400Hz and 3kHz using fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley slopes. The 7T has two pairs of binding posts for bi-wiring or bi-amping. Sensitivity is rated at 89dB, impedance at 4 ohms.
I can confirm that the 7T is not difficult to drive. A friend’s 70-watt Berning ZH-270 OTL tube amp had no trouble with the 7T in my 12.5' x 17' room (or in his much larger room). This loudspeaker can be successfully mated with medium-powered tube amps, and that represents a real boon to folks who would rather not deal with a high-quality, higher-powered amp. Aerial specifies the frequency response as +/–2dB from 28Hz to 25kHz, and a –6dB point of 23Hz—and those low-end figures are completely credible.
The 7T’s overall sound is clear, lucid, and very revealing. It is transparent to upstream gear and sources, and it will let you know if something is not quite right. I think part of this ability comes from an honest upper midrange and lower treble balance, one that does not skew things to make flawed recordings sound good. There is no so-called “Gundry Dip” which softens output a little in the 2kHz to 4kHz range, where the ear is most sensitive. Alanis Morissette’s voice on “That Particular Time” from Under Rug Swept [Maverick] is highlighted in her upper register to an extent that distracts from the song as a whole—an overemphasis that I have heard with other speakers but that was laid bare by the 7T. During the review period, I made some signal and power cord changes, and each adjustment was registered to a greater degree than I have ever experienced in my system before. Listeners who are willing to put in the effort to carefully sort out system-matching and setup will be richly rewarded by the 7T’s resolution and realism.
As already mentioned, the 7T’s dynamic capabilities are very good. Couple that with taut, tuneful, articulate and deep bass, and you have the makings of a very engaging speaker. I have had the pleasure of reviewing some nice small speakers over the last year or so and am a fan of fine stand-mounted, two-way speakers, but I have to confess...I am a sucker for the authentically extended bass from a good floorstander. Mind you, I would prefer to just forgo the lowest octave if it is muddled or poorly integrated with the rest of the spectrum. Having said that, I just loved the 7T’s bass performance. The sense of weight and ease that the 7T brought to bear was exhilarating. Low bass notes in orchestral and pop recordings made the entire experience more involving, more present. Here is, for all intents and purposes, a full-range speaker that can be used successfully in small rooms—up to a point—with sufficient care in placement and room treatment. I found a spot where the 7T threw a deep, wall-to-wall soundstage and had precise imaging without bass overhang. I should clarify this more. The 7T was actually slightly recessed in the 70Hz–120Hz zone in my room, which is where bass can typically sound bloated and annoying. My room also tends to elevate bass below about 35Hz just a bit, so very low notes in the 30Hz-and-lower region were actually a little stronger with the 7T than notes in the midbass. While not strictly neutral, I tolerate this bass performance. OK, I admit to actually liking some aspects of it. The 7T did not exhibit this same slight low-bass emphasis in my friend’s larger room. The 7T has great bass anyway you slice it.
As briefly touched upon earlier, soundstaging and imaging are fantastic: deep, wide, continuous, and focused, with an apparent mid-hall perspective. Highly revealing, the 7T’s resolution also allowed me to “see” back and sidewalls of orchestral stages with greater ease than I am used to. Large and small instruments were not mushed together in an undifferentiated mass but more fleshed out and lucid. This kind of resolution helped me appreciate Stravinsky’s work even more than I had in the past when listening to Song of the Nightingale [RR]. The last two movements in particular are filled with subtle orchestration that helps explain why so many of us marvel at Stravinsky’s unique talent. Pure genius. Sometimes, I have listened to these movements and given in to the impulse to skip over some passages. Not so with the 7T. This speaker makes the little things come alive. I sat rapt and listened all the way through.
Needless to say, the Aerial 7T is fun to hear. With care in setup, it will seduce you during quiet passages and wow you during bombastic ones. Its considerable dynamic range and resolving abilities make it worthy of a place on your short list at its price level—and higher. Much of music’s natural power and appeal are well served by the 7T. Impressive, indeed.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Three-way, vented-box system
Drivers: Two 7.1” bi-laminate bass, one papyrus blend midrange, one soft ring radiator
Frequency response: 28Hz to 25kHz (+/-2dB), 23kHz (-6dB)
Impedance: 4 ohms
Power handling: 600 watts
Recommended amplifier power: 25 watts, minimum; 100W or more, recommended
Dimensions: 9.7” x 44.5” x 15.3”
Weight: 96 lbs. each
Price: $9850 (pair), Gloss cherry, gloss rosenut, and neo-metallic black
Warranty: Three years parts and labor, fully transferable
Analog Source: Basis Debut V turntable with Vector 4 tonearm, Benz-Micro LP-S cartridge
Digital Source: Ayre C-5xeMP
Phonostage preamp: Ayre P-5xe
Linestage preamp: Ayre K-1xe
Integrated amplifiers: Hegel H200, Music Culture MC 701
Power Amplifier: Garnut M-200 monos
Speakers: Dynaudio Confidence C1, B&W 805 Diamond, Music Culture RL21
Cables: Shunyata Anaconda interconnects and speaker wire, Shunyata Anaconda power cords
A/C Power: Two 20-amp dedicated lines, FIM receptacles
Room Treatments: PrimeAcoustic Z-foam panels
100 Research Drive
Wilmington, MA 01887