Greetings, AA owners! I recently purchased a pair of new (to me) Model 8's with the 8B crossover modification.
I had wanted to purchase a new pair of 7T's but the Wife Approval Factor (WAF) was very very low due to the retail price of new. Even with a very nice discount offered by an authorized dealer it was still No Go so I continued to peruse various local and online used outlets in the hope of finding a nice pair of Aerial Acoustic speakers. I even took the opportunity to call Michael Kelly @ Aerial Acoustics a bit to discuss his various models. When I saw the 8's come up on a local audio store I immediately ran down to audition them. The dealer also had a pair of Vienna Acoustic Strauss speakers to audition so I A/B'd the pairs to attempt a reasonable comparison. Here are my impressions of both from my notes taken during that audition.
• Vienna Acoustics Strauss
• Aerial Acoustics Model 8 (with the 8B crossover modification)
Sending the electrons to each pair of speakers was a Vincent SV-236MK hybrid amplifier and a very nice Cary CD-306 transport. The Cary may be a bit dated but was ahead of its time considering the formats it supports and a very highly regarded Burr Brown DSD1792U 24-bit, 192-kHz Audio D/A converter. I was concerned that the Vincent was a bit under-powered for the test but I didn't plan on seriously pushing the speakers to ear bleeding sound levels and I was certain it would be sufficient to demonstrate the sonic differences between the two speakers.
I fired up the Vincent, the Cary and inserted my first disc, Rob Wasserman's "Duets" and fast forwarded to track #6, featuring Jennifer Warnes and her rendition of "Ballad of a Runaway Horse", an exquisite piece with subtle harmonies, a definitive bassline and the sweet purity of Jennifer's voice, all mixed to perfection. This track is so good that it is used to perform what is known as the "Sumiko Master Set", a step by step speaker placement process. It is a wonderful track that I am very familiar with and provides me that point of reference I can use to make objective comparisons. If you can find the CD, it's worth getting simply for that one song.
Next up was Emmylou Harris and some tracks from her "Luxury Liner" album including "Making Believe", "She" and "Tulsa Queen". Emmylou's band at the time was one of the best out there. The breadth, variation and depth of their sound was truly amazing and they were the perfect backdrop to Emmylou's unique vocal style.
Lastly, I broke out the rock and roll, playing several tracks from Chickenfoot's debut CD, coincidentally named "Chickenfoot". The group consists of vocalist Sammy Hagar (ex-Van Halen and Montrose member), bassist Michael Anthony (also an ex–Van Halen member), guitarist Joe Satriani, and drummer Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. An eclectic bunch to be certain, however, some good music came from this group including the raucous "Oh Yeah", the thump of "Get It Up" and the softer but edgy "Learning To Fall" . Rumor has it that a third album may be in the works.
Now, on to the speakers.
The Vienna Acoustics Strauss is a high-performance, large scale floor standing speaker. A 1" domed tweeter, a pair of 7" dual midrange drivers and the side mounted 10"woofer make up the speaker array in the bass reflex cabinet clad in a light beechwood veneer.
Sensitivity is a respectable 91dB and the recommended amplifier input power range is a versatile 50-400 watts, with the speakers requiring 4 ohms. Providing a wide frequency range of 27Hz to 30kHz, these speakers could very well prove to deliver a full sonic experience.
The pair I auditioned obviously had been well cared for with no obvious damage to the fabric covers, cabinets, cones or bases. One small nick on the back side of the cabinet above the wire connectors was all I could find during a close inspection.
The Strauss is a big speaker compared to my Vienna Acoustic Mozart, but visually very similar sporting the same beech colored cabinet as my pair and the arrangement of the tweeter and dual midrange drivers in the face . The biggest visual differences are the side mounted 10" woofer, the one inch wider face, 5 inch deeper cabinet and an overall height difference of 8 inches.
So how did the Strauss pair do? In a word, "Respectable".
The detail, depth of sound field and imaging were good but not knock me over good. The speakers never exhibited the spatial imaging that makes a good pair of speakers disappear, leaving you alone with the music. I was always aware of the fact that there was a big pair of speakers in front of me. They tended to be harsh at the upper frequencies and seemed to lose the detail at the upper end, sounding as if the soundwaves were having their own sonic war, colliding and competing for space at the tweeter and immediately in front of the speaker. It's as if the smooth electron pipe ended with a perforated nozzle that scattered the notes, creating incoherent, conflicting and harsh streams of sound. Suffice to say the Vienna's became fatiguing pretty quickly. Basically I was listening to a larger version of the speakers I currently own which in the final analysis was not much of an improvement.
I surmised the amp was letting the side down but this wasn't the time to swap amps and invalidate the comparison.
I moved on to the Aerial Acoustics Model 8 speaker pair, another set of large floor standing speakers. The 8B modification performed on this pair consists of a crossover network built on two large glass fiber circuit boards and upgraded components. The Danish-built cabinets are produced in perfect mirror-imaged pairs using the finest veneers finished to a very high standard. In addition the veneers are book-matched for symmetry on each side which lend to the striking and tasteful appearance. The pair I auditioned was enclosed in rich rosewood, a $600 upgrade when new. Also included were the substantial bases and adjustable spike kit. A thorough inspection of the cabinets revealed one small nick in the cabinet in the rear, near the 5-way connector panel. The rest of the cabinet areas and bases were in excellent condition.
These are a smidgen larger than the Strauss, coming in at just a bit over 1 inch wider and 3 inches deeper but just under 1" shorter. They would definitely loom over my Mozarts but in a very good way. I'm glad my room is large enough to entertain the thought of putting something of this size in that space.
Boasting a frequency range of 28Hz to 22kHz and a sensitivity of 86dB, they compare well with their competition but come to the party with a completely different set of material specifications. Starting at the bottom, the 8 features a +10"-diameter woofer incorporating a 2" voice-coil and a large magnet in a 61-liter rear-ported box tuned to 19Hz. The large midrange driver is a 7.1" multi-fiber paper cone unit. The tweeters, a custom built 1" titanium dome design, were sourced from MB Quart company.
As the 8B's are rated up to 300 watts at 8 ohms (6 ohms nominal), I was still worried about the test results given the rating of the amplifier in use for this listening session. However, I must give credit where credit is due. The Vincent never wavered in its mission to provide usable power. Obviously I'd give the speakers a full 300 watts plus some headroom just to extract their best performance.
And what about that performance?
In a word, Outstanding! Regardless of the music's demands or the power available, the detail, depth and spatial imaging of these speakers is beyond reproach.
These speakers truly do disappear and never intrude on your listening pleasure. Even at higher dB levels, the reproduction of each voice and instrument is distinct and well defined. The 8B's reproduced the sound of Emmylou's voice as if she were standing right in front of me with the band just a few steps behind and to both sides of her. The most amazing aspect of these speakers is the high levels of transparency and clarity they exhibit, some of the best I have ever heard. They render every detail of the music in a very natural and pleasing manner.
The 8B's were able to produce a bigger, deeper and wider soundstage than the Strauss speakers despite what the specifications would indicate. When playing the lower frequencies, the 8B's produced tight and well defined bass whereas the Strauss seemed to be straining to reach those lower levels. The 8B's layering and center fill was rock solid with a presence that brings you in and invites you to listen for hours on end.
I could not find, nor hear, one flaw with the Aerial Acoustic 8B's sonic performance during the test, despite the power limitation. Either the amplifier used was totally incompatible with the Strauss speakers or the 8B's are just that much better. In my experience, the Vienna Acoustic mid-fi line tends to break down at the upper end of the frequency range so I cannot, in good conscience, lay their failure to impress at the feet of the Vincent. Rather, the Aerial Acoustic 8B is that good of a speaker that the difference between the two pairs was immediately and easily noticed.
I was so impressed with the used but well loved pair of 8B's that they now grace my listening area, providing what may prove to be hours, days and years of musical enjoyment.
I've been listening to these speakers for several weeks now and all I can say is I did the right thing in selecting them!