Legacy Aeris Floor-standing Speakers Review Highlights
I first heard the Legacy Aeris speakers at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in 2012. They were in an enormous room in the lobby area of the Marriott. This room is not forgiving of speakers in any possible way. But the mighty Aeris speakers did not back down from the challenge.
They filled this room with a marvelous sound that was beyond anything I would have expected from a pair of home audio speakers regardless of their pedigree. The Aeris’ were able to do this because they are big, they are bad and they have what may be the most advanced room correction system in the history of consumer audio. I knew right then and there that I wanted to get a pair in my system for a full evaluation.
Legacy Aeris Floorstanding Speaker Highlights Summary
- Best bass of any full range speakers I have reviewed
- Flexible set up options for just about any environment
- Sound terrific at low volume levels
- At their best with classical, acoustic and bass-heavy music
- Music plays with a satisfying weight
- Great choice for techno-savvy owners
Introduction to the Legacy Aeris Floor-standing Speakers Review
Legacy’s founder and chief designer, Bill Dudleston, is a real pioneer in the audio industry. He is constantly working on new innovations that set his products apart from the rest of the crowd. You won’t find him stamping out a bunch of boring copycat products. He will leave that up to the other guys out there.
LEGACY AERIS FLOORSTANDING SPEAKER REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: 6-Driver, 4-1/2-Way Floorstanding Speaker
- MFR: 18 Hz – 30 kHz, +/- 2dB
- Tweeter: Dual Air Motion Tweeter System – 1″ AMT Super Tweeter & 4″ AMT Tweeter
- Midrange: 8″ Titanium Encrusted with 6 lb Magnetic Structure
- Midwoofer: 10″ Accordion Edge with 10 lb Magnetic Structure
- Subwoofer: 2 ~ 12″ Spun Aluminum Diaphragm, Aura Neo Motor Mass Loaded
- Loading: Single 12” Down-Firing Passive Radiator
- Internal Amplification: 500 watts per Active Subwoofer Driver
- Crossover Frequencies: 80 Hz, 2.8 kHz, and 8 kHz
- Sensitivity (2.83V @ 1 m): 95.4 dB (In-room)
- Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms
- Recommended Amplifier Power: 60 – 500 watts
- Inputs: 1 Pair Gold-Plated Binding Posts
- Weight: 171 Pounds/each
- Dimensions: 58″ H x 19″ W x 17.5″ D
- 11 Available Finishes
- MSRP (Pair): $19,925 for Standard Finishes
- Legacy Audio
- SECRETS Tags: Legacy Audio, Aeris, Wave Launch Processor, Floorstanding Speakers, Main Speakers, Full Range Speakers
The kinds of advancements Legacy implements with their products represent new ways of thinking about speakers and how to achieve an ideal audio performance. This means that Legacy must develop many of their own technologies.
So when they started thinking about a speaker system that would sound great in any room, they didn’t just buy any old off the shelf room correction system. No siree. Instead, they invented their own system.
And it isn’t just the Wave Launch processor I am talking about. I am talking about the Aeris speakers in conjunction with the Wave Launch processor algorithms and how they embody a holistic system approach to a speaker product that theoretically can sound the same irrespective of the environment it is placed in. Is it perfect? No. Is it excellent? Yes. Does anybody else out there have anything quite like it? Nope.
A brief explanation of the Aeris system is a speaker with a carefully shaped radiation pattern (inherently dipolar in the midrange transitioning to a cardioid down to 50 Hz) that comes with a proprietary DSP system that is used for room correction as well as providing time alignment of the various drivers.
The speakers themselves are built around some extraordinary drivers which include a titanium encrusted midrange, AMT tweeters and dual 12” powered subs. Each sub is driven by an onboard 500 watt Ice Power amp for a total of 1,000 watts a side and the speaker system’s native sensitivity is 95.4 dB in room. Oh and the bass extends below 20 Hz in case you were wondering.
Design and Setup of the Legacy Aeris Floor-standing Speakers
I didn’t set up these speakers and you won’t have to, either. That’s because the purchase price on the Legacy Aeris speakers includes dealer installation. The dealer will come to your house, unpack the speakers, set them in place, make all the electrical connections and then optimize the Wave Launch processor to match the speakers to your room.
The Aeris speakers arrive calibrated as a matched pair via the factory presets of the Wave Launch processor. The unit is a sophisticated Digital Signal Processing (DSP) unit that goes between your preamp and power amp. It provides 8 bands of parametric EQ, graphic equalization, delay on the internal mixer and electronic crossover control between the upper and lower speaker units. This component is used to time align the speakers and correct for the actual room resonances. It naturally converts the audio signal to digital, performs the DSP chores and then converts the signal back to analog before heading off to the amp and speakers. The processors are natively 24 bit / 96 kHz.
The way it works during set up and calibration is that the technician has an electret condenser microphone that gets placed in the prime listening position. The mic has a USB interface and it is plugged into a tablet hosting an FFT analyzer app. The tablet displays the response curve on its screen. The test signal is a looped pink noise track on CD that is played through the system. The Wave Launch processor is controlled via a separate laptop that plugs into the front panel also via a USB cable.
The technician then goes about tuning the system to the room by manipulating the gain and the equalization within the Wave Launch processor. The whole process takes anywhere from 45 minutes to maybe an hour and a half for the most difficult rooms. Watching the technician work reminded me of watching somebody tune a piano. It takes patience and requires a certain amount of give and take to get the best results. The key benefit of the process is the stereo pair is again carefully matched just as it was at the factory. Thankfully, my room is already very good and so the time to set up my system was on the lower end of the range mentioned above.
The processor has several memory slots and the tech will upload a series of overlay EQ curves that can be activated through the front panel interface or with a laptop connected through the USB port. The curves are pre set to offer more bass, less bass, more presence, etc. This is a quick and handy way to dial in the sound you want depending on the music you are listening to. All that is required is a tap of the enter button, and a turn of the jog wheel on the front panel.
I had a tube amp in play when we first set up the speakers. Later I switched to a much heftier solid state amp. The gain was different between the two amps and so I needed to adjust the mixer settings to keep the sound in balance between the subs and the upper units. This was easy enough to do. (An aside – even though these are very sensitive speakers, they still preferred the 300 wpc solid state amp over the lower powered tube amp.)
Then one day I wanted to play with the equalization and I found this to be much more technically challenging than simply adjusting the gain on the upper units. I bet recording engineers would love this product. I am not a recording engineer so I was a little put off by the software interface. Then I found out that the guys from Legacy will Skype with you and walk you through any adjustments you want to make in the processor. I didn’t try this service but I will definitely take advantage of it next time.
Legacy recently announced the new V speaker system. This system comes with Legacy’s own Wavelet processor. This processor replaces your preamp and DAC while providing more advanced functionality than the Wave Launch processor. This eliminates one signal conversion for digital sources and is a much more substantial and better looking component than the Wave Launch processor. New Aeris systems will ship with the Wavelet and existing Aeris owners can purchase an upgrade for a nominal cost.
Now for a few words on the design of the speaker system itself: Aeris is a 6-driver, 4-1/2 way speaker system. The design revolves around the 8” titanium encrusted midrange. This driver is equipped with a 6 pound magnet structure and it can cover over 7 octaves with a natively flat, efficient response pattern.
The system has two Air Motion tweeters. One is 4” and the other is a 1” super tweeter. These tweeters are nearly indestructible with adequate amplification and have a clean, airy sound.
The mid bass driver is a 10” low-compliance driver with a 10 pound magnet structure. This driver and the mid are low compliance designs (Legacy calls them “accordion edge”). This is the appropriate driver design for the free air, dipole arrangement of the Aeris’ upper unit.
This brings me to the subwoofer system. This comprises two 12” subs each driven by its own 500 watt amplifier. There is a down-firing 12” passive radiator on the bottom of the cabinet but the subs are also vented through the open space in back of the cabinet. I am not 100% clear on the technical details of the bass system but I know that Legacy claims this system in concert with the Wave Launch processor offers the best possible fidelity for a bass system including real stereo separation for as deep as our hearing can localize the bass. And 1 kilowatt per side is nothing to sneeze at.
What does all this mean? It means that I nominated these speakers for the Secrets 2014 Bad Ass Award. These speakers can move some serious air and they have the best bass performance I have heard from a pair of full range speakers.
All this is in a substantial cabinet structure. Each speaker’s net weight is 171 pounds. Bring a friend if you want to move them. The guys who set up these speakers had them toed in to fire straight at the prime seat. I played around with this and wound up with the speakers firing much more straight ahead as this tamed a bit of an upper mid prominence that would creep in from time to time.
The Aeris speakers are available in over 10 different finishes. My review samples were the black pearl. This is a super high gloss black finish with silver and gold micro-flakes imbedded. And don’t forget that the crossover is visible and can be lit up via some blue LED’s in the top part of the cabinet. There is no front grill. I was really pimpin’ with these speakers in my system!
The Legacy Aeris Floor-standing Speakers In Use
I found that the Aeris speakers performed best on music with copious bass (electronic, dance, hip hop or reggae) and on music with acoustic, brass and woodwind instruments. The Aeris speakers were not nearly as satisfying with pop music. My theory on this is that they were just too revealing of the compressed, noise-shaped offerings represented by most of the pop recordings I listened to.
If I owned a pair of Aeris speakers, I would probably try and dial in a response curve I could invoke to take off some of the hard edge from the recordings that fell in this class. (The manufacturer suggests a 45 Hz bump and a shallow shelf from 2.5kHz and 8kHz. Now included as a Wavelaunch factory preset dubbed “Pop Rock”, this setting is useful for recordings mastered to be heard above road and wind noise in an auto.)
That isn’t to say that all pop recordings sounded less than stellar over the Aeris speakers. Some pop music is actually well recorded and those albums were very satisfying. A great example is the latest release from Keb’ Mo’, “Bluesamericana”. The version of this album that I have is a Redbook CD. Being a new release that is well engineered, the bass is first rate. Through the Aeris this means the bass was an unshakeable foundation; clean, rhythmic and pitch-perfect.
But don’t think the Aeris’ are a one-trick pony as they may well have the best fidelity from top to bottom of any speakers I have had in my system. I could hear it all. Take “Move” for example. The mids, highs and bass were all in balance and every part was so incredibly alive from a dynamic standpoint. That’s the greatest strength on this song. The transients and dynamics were so uncannily realistic that it was nothing short of amazing.
The ragtime style tune “Old Me Better” was quite useful in evaluating the ability to reproduce the horns and woodwinds with a natural timbre. Guess what? The Aeris passed this test.
I found the Aeris speakers in their best light with classical works. An excellent example would be the SACD remaster of the RCA Living Stereo album of Beethoven Violin Concerto in D and Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor with Charles Munch conducting Jascha Heifetz and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This disc is representative of masterful works and equally amazing performances.
Despite that the Aeris speakers were highly efficient and I had 300 watts per channel up top along with 1,000 watts per channel down below, I really didn’t listen much at high levels because the satisfaction factor was extraordinary even at lower levels than usual. At low levels, the Aeris’ were able to recreate all the grandeur of the big music hall. But they also impressed me in other ways on this recording.
Beginning with the first track and continuing through the entire album, I could hear a clear sense of the lead violin’s wooden body. This violin had the sound of real strings and none of the grunge that can spoil the sound and make the presence of the instrument synthetic. Meanwhile the natural timbre of all the other instruments was as good as one could hope for. I was thoroughly impressed by the way all the speaker’s drivers worked together with no obvious coloration as the music plied the registers. Through it all, the Aeris demonstrated their strength in rendering real instruments in a natural setting.
I found another pop recording that sounded excellent over the Aeris and that was the 1971 original pressing of Cat Stevens’ “Teaser and the Firecat”. These songs were written and performed with a high level of love and emotion so I wanted to see if the Aeris would effectively convey these qualities.
For me, the strongest argument in defense of room correction is that each recording’s spatial qualities remain unique because the room is a less substantial part of the equation versus systems without room correction. This was a big reason why I found that “Teaser and the Firecat” sounded new and fresh over the Aeris’ despite that I must have listened to this album 10,000 times on my Dad’s Klipschorns when I was in High School.
I’ve always been smitten by the sound of the guitars on this album and I was pleased with the Aeris’ ability to render all the dynamics and harmonics in the recording but the real story was how great the rendition of the percussion was. There are a lot of percussion parts in these songs and the Aeris’ were able to sort through them and retain a natural sense of attack and decay.
I also love Cat Stevens’ mellower songs like “How Can I Tell You”. He has such a knack for the ebb, flow and inflection of an emotive performance. And this was where the Aeris really pulled me into the music. Gone at this point was any hint of the old audiophilia nervosa. Sure it took some time and effort for me to dial things in to my liking but now it was the purest form of musical enjoyment and the music was all I was thinking about. Most of all however was the way the Aeris handled the vocals – they were transparent and harmonically accurate.
The big and bold closer is called “Peace Train” and it brought a tear to my eye. I still don’t get why we have so many wars when most everybody I know is a total peace lover. <sigh>
I still needed to try out these speakers on a movie or two. One new movie that had a lot of promise was “The Amazing Spiderman 2”. I watched it on Blu-ray and let my Oppo BDP-105D handle the D/A conversion.
I loved the Electro character in this movie. (The associated mid bass effects and electrical noises were amazingly intense to the point of being tangible over the Aeris’). But the movie was hampered by the cocky, arrogant attitude that Spidey had. His attempts at humor were largely puerile. I don’t like my Spidermen to be overtly cavalier. I prefer a humbler Spiderman.
Performance-wise the Aeris speakers exhibited an excellent power envelope throughout its response – all frequencies seemed to have a proper energy balance. This is different from a flat response and seems to be associated with how much air is moving at all the different points along the response curve. In other words, these speakers can move a lot of air at all frequencies and this lent a satisfying weight to the sound.
Another strong suit was the reproduction of voices. There was a surprisingly seamless blend among all the drivers that were involved in reproducing the vocals. You could clearly hear that Spidey was talking through a piece of cloth, for example. And simple things like the sound of a cell phone vibrating were as realistic as all get out.
Of course, the Aeris’ are large and full-range speakers so the big action sequences were scintillating. They were huge, loud, dynamic and free of distortion. Just right for a movie like this.
The Legacy Aeris Floor-standing Speakers On the Bench
All below measurements are in-room response. Because of the Wave Launch Processor being in the system, the frequency response test was performed with the microphone at ear height at the prime listening seat. This deviates from my usual practice of taking the frequency response measurements at 1 meter. The distortion measurements were on-axis near field measurements with the microphone tip precisely 1′ from the driver under test.
The first test I ran was a 1 kHz sine wave at 90 dB SPL. THD measured just 0.19% with the first harmonic being 73 dB below the test tone.
Still tested at 1 kHz, but bumping up the SPL to 100 dB, the Aeris’ THD rose to 0.33% and the first harmonic in this case was 63 dB below the fundamental.
The next test was 5 kHz and 100 dB. The THD was very low again at just 0.33%.
This plot shows the response of a 10 kHz sine wave at 100 dB. The AMT tweeter achieved this level of output at just 1.39% THD.
The titanium encrusted driver produced this 100 dB signal at 500 Hz with a very low THD reading, just 0.15% and the first harmonic was 70 dB below the level of the fundamental.
Then at 250 Hz and 100 dB, the main driver produced an exceptionally clean output with a measured THD of only 0.12%.
This plot is the output from one of the two subwoofers in the left channel which yielded 100 dB at 24 Hz with a THD of 6.61% which is below the audible limit of 10% THD (in the low bass).
In trying to find the limits of this sub, I ran the above test at 120 dB and 32 Hz. I found the limits of my room before the sub showed any signs of distress. And the amazing result was a distortion measurement of just 0.59%. This is the best low bass distortion reading of any full-range speaker I have ever tested and it just demonstrates why this system was capable of live sound pressure levels without audible strain.
The room-corrected frequency response is remarkably flat as one would expect. There is a little rise on both ends of the spectrum but this is probably one of the flattest curves I have ever measured from a full range speaker particularly when one considers it is an in-room measurement at the listening position.
Conclusions about the Legacy Aeris Floor-standing Speakers
The Legacy Aeris speakers had a number of positive qualities. Voices and other midrange elements were low distortion with natural timbres. These aspects of the midrange blended well with the light and airy treble response. And speaking of blending, the Aeris’ maintain a consistent voice through all these regions of the response despite that the drivers are representative of diverse technologies.
But the Aeris’ best qualities were in the bass. The bass was deep, clean and tuneful. The advanced room correction winnowed out most every response anomaly including any trace of floor bounce. This provided by far the flattest response I have heard in my room. The bass also lived up to its billing as having excellent stereo separation. And don’t forget that I measured less than 1% THD at 120 dB and 32 Hz!
Of course these speakers are also extremely flexible with the Wave Launch processor which makes them a perfect fit for just about any room. The software interface would certainly appeal to the most technically savvy users and audio geeks. I don’t always like to fiddle with sound systems so I hoped for a more user-friendly control scheme. But the new Wavelet processor is here now and that will make adjustment easier for the end user.
In conclusion, the Aeris speakers have a satisfying weight in the sound. They can move lots of air at all frequencies. But ironically I didn’t listen to them at high volumes very often. They sounded great at low and mid volume levels. This is one clear trait of all the great speakers. Don’t forget that they are under $20,000 a pair. This is a lot of money to be sure but it isn’t that much compared to some of the crazy expensive speakers on the market. Legacy gives you real quality, technology, innovation and value when it comes to fine high end speakers. Plus this includes dealer delivery and set up.
So I think these are speakers that every audiophile should seek out for an audition at some point or another. It will give you a chance to hear speakers that let the room melt away. And who knows, perhaps you will wind up ordering pair for yourself.