Cambridge Audio Aero 7.1 Speaker Review
Cambridge Audio combine some cutting edge technology and old-school styling in their latest range of speakers
What is the Cambridge Audio Aero?
We have reviewed quite a few products from Cambridge Audio here at AVForums and the UK manufacturer has frequently impressed us with their innovative audio and video ranges.Whether it’s a Blu-ray player, an AV receiver, a DAC or a speaker, they have all delivered a winning combination of performance, quality and price. Recently we reviewed their Minx Air 200 wireless speaker and were especially impressed by the capabilities of their BMR (Balanced Mode Radiator) technology. These proprietary drivers replace traditional tweeters and are designed to work with conventional cone woofers to create a clear, natural and coherent sound. Now Cambridge Audio have taken that technology, built it into a traditional speaker enclosure and launched the Aero range.
These speakers can obviously be used for hi-fi but more interestingly are also intended for use in a full home cinema setup - either 5.1 or 7.1 depending on your preferred configuration. The use of BMR drivers makes the speakers more flexible in terms of placement and the range also includes a dedicated surround speaker, an increasing rarity these days, that can be run in either a bipole or a dual monopole setting. Cambridge Audio delivered the full shebang for review, with floor standers, stand-mount, centre and surround speakers and a dedicated subwoofer. So let’s make some space and find out how they sound.
Cambridge Audio Aero DesignThe full Aero package consists of a pair of Aero 6 floorstanding speakers (£499), which handle front left and right duties, an Aero 5 centre speaker (£249), two Aero 3 surround speakers (£299) at the sides and a pair of stand-mount Aero 2 speakers (£249) at the rear. The low frequencies are handled by the Aero 9 active subwoofer (£449), so a full 7.1 configuration would set you back about £1,745, which is very reasonable considering all that you’re getting. Of course if you have less space or are on a tighter budget, you could always use the Aero 2 stand-mount speakers at the front in lieu of the big floor standers and run a 5.1 setup instead.
Cambridge Audio claim that the Aero range use a design that is both classic and contemporary but, as Ed put it in a recent podcast, the word that best describes them is 'prosaic'. The Aeros certainly won't be winning any design awards but ultimately looks aren't everything and it's how they sound that matters; besides if they're being used in a home cinema, you won't be able to see them anyway. As it stands, all the speakers share the same basic design, with rather plain cabinets and detachable cloth grilles that use magnets to stay in place. The MDF cabinets are constructed using CAD techniques and critical bracing to minimise distortion and maximise sound quality. At the rear are a single pair of speaker terminals, with the exception of the Aero 3 surround speakers which we'll go into later, and all the speakers come in a choice of black or walnut. We did say that they were plain but of course it's what's inside that really matters, so let's take a closer look.
Starting off with the floorstanders, the Aero 6s combine a 2" BMR driver and two high-power 6.5" conventional cone woofers, with a bass port underneath. The speakers have an impedance of 8 Ohms, are rated for 25 to 120 Watts and each measures 240x980x338mm (WxHxD) and weighs 16.9kg. The speakers have detachable plates and spikes on the base to make them as stable as possible and foam bungs for bass tuning. The Aero 2 stand-mount speakers share similar specifications to the floor standers but only have the one 6.5” woofer. They each measure 203x370x311mm (WxHxD) and weigh in at 6.8kg. The Aero 5 dedicated centre speaker is designed to integrate seamlessly with the front left and right speakers, regardless of whether they are the floorstanders or stand-mounted versions. So again, the basic layout is similar, with two 5" woofers either side of a 2" BMR driver but it's sealed to provide more controlled bass and allow for rack mounting. The Aero 5 measures 430x150x208mm (WxHxD) and weighs 6.1kg.
The Aeros won't be winning any design awards but looks aren't everything.
The Aero 3 dedicated surround speakers use two 4" BMR drivers, one firing slightly forward and the other firing backwards. The use of two BMR drivers in a dipole configuration allows the speakers to deliver a more diffuse - and thus more immersive - surround experience in either a 5.1 or 7.1 setup. The Aero 3s measure 461x180x151mm (WxHxD) and weigh 4.8kg; whilst at the rear are wall mount fixings and two pairs of speaker terminals. Cambridge Audio give you the choice of using the Aero 3s as either the rear speakers in a standard 5.1 set or as the side speakers in a 7.1 configuration. However, thanks to the second set of speaker terminals, you can also run the speakers in dual monopole mode, which means the side channels of the amplifier are running the forward-firing drivers and the back channels running the rearward-firing drivers. The idea is to create the sense of a full 7.1 setup without the hassle and expensive of adding another set of speakers at the rear.
Finally, there's the Aero 9 active subwoofer that uses a high-efficiency Class D amplification to deliver 500W of power into a 10" front-firing driver, with a downward firing 10" auxiliary bass radiator (ABR). The Aero, which is only available in black, is essentially a large cube that sits on big rubber feet; it measures 330x340x355mm (WxHxD) and weighs 11.7kg. The Aero 9 has a frequency response from 21Hz to 200Hz, with an active crossover that can be varied from 40Hz to 200Hz and has been designed to perfectly compliment the lower crossover of the BMR-driven Aero speakers.
It's the BMR drivers that the Aero speakers use instead of traditional tweeters that make them unusual. Although Cambridge Audio do somewhat disguise their true nature, making them look like conventional tweeters, perhaps in an effort not to spook the traditional audio enthusiast. However as soon as you look closer you quickly realise that where the tweeters should be there are BMR drivers instead. These are intended to give the Aeros several key advantages over their rivals by extending the range of the driver as wide as possible. With traditional tweeters, the crossover between the tweeter and driver happens at about 3kHz, right at the point where our ears are most sensitive to any distortions or differences between the two sources. However, with a BMR driver, the crossover happens at 250Hz, far outside the most sensitive hearing frequencies.
Cambridge Audio believe that because the crossover is lower, it results in a clearer, natural sounding and more coherent audio. In addition, unlike most tweeters which are usually dome-shaped and create sound using a pistonic in-out motion, BMR drivers are flat and combine pistonic movement with surface vibration to create a wider dispersion of sound when compared to a normal tweeter. This unique driver construction allows the Aeros to deliver a more room-filling sound, which makes them more practical for room layouts where speakers might not be placed optimally for traditional stereo and surround performance. This means the Aero speakers are a lot more tolerant and flexible when it comes to placement than more traditional speakers. The use of BMR drivers also means that the Aero's woofers can get surprisingly low by concentrating the power of the conventional 6" drivers into the lower frequencies, resulting in a deeper and more accurate bass.
The full 7.1 setup represents a formidable array of speaker technology.
Cambridge Audio Aero SetupFor the purposes of this review we tested the Cambridge Audio Aero speaker package in a number of different configurations including a full 7.1 setup and a 5.1 setup with the floorstanders at the front and then with the stand-mounts instead. We also tested the surround speakers in both their bipole and dual monopole configuration, when using them as part of a 5.1 setup. The amplification was provided by a Denon AVR-X2000 and also an Anthem MRX710 with Anthem Room Correction, whilst our primary sources were an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player, an Apple TV and a Humax Freeview box.
Cambridge Audio Aero Sound QualitySince we had a total of eight speakers in for review, it did provide us with the perfect opportunity to experiment with different combinations. So we started with a smaller setup and gradually worked our way up to the 7.1 system with the floor standers at the front. We began with a traditional 5.1 setup, using the Aero 2 stand mount speakers at the front, along with the Aero 5 centre speaker; whilst at the rears we had the Aero 3 surround speakers wired for dipole use and the Aero 9 subwoofer handling all the low end duties. Our initial impressions were very positive, with the Aeros delivering a wonderfully cohesive and highly immersive listening experience. We were especially impressed by the tonal similarities of all the speakers, which made the movement of sounds around the room almost seamless. This was perfectly demonstrated by watching scenes from Gravity, were the audio is precisely steered around the sound field and actively uses the surrounds. When we switched to the sonic assault that is Pacific Rim and were just as impressed by the integration of the subwoofer resulting in plenty of low-end impact.
The Aeros combined to deliver a wonderfully coherent and highly immersive soundstage.
We then tried the same basic setup but now switched from the normal dipole setting to running the rear speakers in their dual monopole configuration. Whilst previously, the speakers had been firing the rear-back channels both forwards and back simultaneously to create a more diffuse and enveloping rear sound field, now the speaks are firing the rear-side channels forward and the rear-back channels backwards. In their bipole configuration the surround speakers proved highly effective at creating a more immersive experience, especially with 5.1 mixes for movies. We found the atmospheric sounds of the jungles of Pandora were all around us during a some choice chapters on our Avatar Blu-ray. Once we switched to the second approach, we did find that there was more precise localisation of effects for 7.1 mixes but it wasn't as immersive as actually using two separate speakers for the rear-back channels. However it certainly provides another option should be unable to position speakers at the rear or have a tight budget and the impact on the overall surround experience was noticeable.
Finally, we added the floorstanders into the mix, using them as the front left and right speakers and then trying both the dedicated surrounds and the stand mounted speakers at the rear. Again the result was a fantastically immersive and tonal coherent surround experience, with soundtracks being delivered with plenty of gusto and sheer entrainment. Some people prefer to use direct firing speakers at the rear, especially for 5.1 music mixes but certainly for most film soundtracks the dedicated surrounds, in either their bipole or dual monopole configuration, were again highly effective. The use of the larger floorstanders certainly added to the presence of the front soundstage, helping the subwoofer deliver some decent low frequency impact. Finally we used all the speakers in a full 7.1 setup that would definitely be our preferred configuration, assuming space and price aren't an issue. The Aeros worked seamless together, surrounding you and completely drawing you into the film experience. The floorstanders also proved to be an excellent stereo pair when used for two-channel listening, which is another advantage of using them for the front left and right.
In terms of negatives there was very little to complain about, although the use of the BMR drivers did mean that on occasion there was a slight loss of detail when compared to traditional tweeters. It wasn't obvious and only really apparent when doing some comparison listening but given the clarity and wide dispersion of the speakers, not to mention their tonal cohesion and placement flexibility, it was a small price to pay. The only other point to mention is that the Aeros do need careful bass management, which wasn't an issue with the Anthem MRX710, thanks to their superb ARC room equalisation software, but was more apparent on the considerably cheaper Denon X2000. The subwoofer itself was tight and well integrated for the most part but could, on occasion, struggle with the really bass heavy soundtracks, although adding the front floor standers to the equation certainly helped there. Ultimately, minor points aside, the Aero speakers delivered a fantastic performance in whichever combination and configuration you choose.
- Immersive soundstage
- Tonally cohesive
- Well integrated
- Lively sound
- Solid construction
- Great value
- Lacking detail occasionally
- Bass needs careful attention
- Not the most attractive
Cambridge Audio Aero 7.1 Speaker ReviewWhen it comes to speaker packages in this price bracket, it’s a fairly crowded market place, with options available from KEF, B&W and Monitor Audio to name but three. Thus Cambridge Audio really needed to do something different to distinguish themselves from the pack; so the decision to incorporate BMR drivers makes perfect sense. Whilst this is still a relatively new technology and changes in the speaker market are far less common than they are in video world, the results quite literally speak for themselves. Perhaps Cambridge Audio’s decision to be different in terms of the technology is why they have been so traditional in terms of the design. If the Aero range has one real weakness it’s that, although they are well made, they’re also fairly boring when it comes to their looks. Although, as we mentioned earlier, a home cinema speaker package tends to end up in a dark room, so appearances are less important than with a dedicated hi-fi speaker that might actually be the centre of attention.
Besides, it’s how the speakers sound that’s really important and thankfully in this department the Aero package definitely delivers the goods. The package as a whole is capable of providing a genuinely immersive and very well integrated soundstage that perfectly fulfils its primary purpose of reproducing film soundtracks. The tonal balance makes pans and the steering of effects almost seamless as they move around the room and the bass is very well integrated. The centre speaker handles dialogue with exceptional clarity and the stand mount speakers can work just as well at the front or the rear. The dedicated surround speakers are a welcome addition, allowing you to use them either in either dipole or dual monopole configurations, thus providing greater flexibility. Whilst the subwoofer matched the overall system, allowing the other speakers to concentrate on the higher frequencies, thanks to the lower crossover of the BMR drivers.
This lower crossover actually does result in a cleaner and more coherent sound and also helps make the speakers more tolerant when it comes to placement. We noticed this as we swapped and changed the speakers around to try out different configurations. However we also noticed that on occasion the BMR drivers did seem to lack a bit of detail when compared to a more traditional tweeter. Whilst the subwoofer does integrate well with the rest of the speakers, it’s important that the bass management is effectively implemented, especially when you add the floorstanders to the system. However, the inclusion of the larger front speakers does create a more imposing front soundstage and obviously pays dividends when listening to two-channel audio. Ultimately the Cambridge Audio Aero speaker package delivers a winning combination of performance and value, so whichever combination you choose, you’re sure to be pleased with the results as the speakers immerse you in your favourite film.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,745.00
Value For Money9
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