A veteran of AVRev.com, Jim Swantko also wrote home theater and audiophile component reviews for HomeTheaterReview.com in the early days of the publication. His focus was on mid- to high-end audio brands like Mark Levinson, Classé, Noble Fidelity, Cary Audio, MartinLogan, and Paradigm.
The $20,000 to $30,000 loudspeaker market is a filled with lots of very accomplished entries from all the top names in the game, such as B&W, Revel, Wilson, MartinLogan and many other blue-chip players. With competition at this level, any speaker company wanting to make its way into this class of audiophile speakers had better bring its A-game. Aerial Acoustics has accepted the challenge and has thrown their entry into the ring to do battle. Enter the Aerial 20T.
The $26,000 per pair 20T is Michael Kelly's statement piece and is a culmination of knowledge learned over a career filled with fantastic loudspeaker products. The most notable shift in the 20T's design is the four-inch aluminum ribbon tweeter replacing the titanium dome used on all other Aerial models. The ribbon was chosen because of its ability to deliver a clear and open sound allowing details once absent to become apparent. The rest of the drivers are all custom-designed units that are specific to the 20T, including a seven-inch composite cone midrange and a pair of nine-inch composite cone woofers. Each 20T is comprised of a separate bass and head unit. The bass unit is bottom-ported and contains the dual woofers in a highly braced enclosure, resulting in a flat response into the 20 Hz range. The head unit offers a separate air-cooled chamber in the rear of the head unit for the crossover network, shielding it from vibrations and pressures from the drivers in pursuit of maximum sonic purity. Overall construction and attention to detail shows that Aerial didn't intend to bring a knife to a gunfight with the 20T.
Features and exotic components are great, but what really matters is how does it sound? Even a quick listen to this speaker is an eye-opening experience. The most obvious characteristics of the 20T are speed and transparency. I heard much more detail from the ribbon tweeter than I had heard before from any dome tweeter, but it was never harsh or in your face. Bass was amazingly quick and articulated with punch. It's difficult to talk about individual frequency performance, however, as the 20T doesn't work that way. It presents the music as an integrated whole rather than a combination of individual components.
• The Aerial 20Ts are an absolute joy to listen to, compared to speakers priced even in the stratosphere. You can spend hours listening without fatigue, while hearing more details than you ever knew existed on the recording.
• The build quality is just fantastic and the 20Ts can be had in ten different finishes, which should work with any décor, unless you happen to live in a mud hut and, even then, you could always see if Aerial would make you something special. You never know.
• The 20Ts have a definite sweet spot when set up to their best and you will not want to share that sweet spot with anyone, even if that person is sitting in your lap. The off-axis performance is still very good, but the true magic is reserved for the one lucky enough to be dead center.
• The better the front end gear, the more rewarding the experience the 20Ts will provide. At this level of speaker investment, you should either have the budget for a major source component or already have one in your rig.
The Aerial 20T is beautifully constructed loudspeaker, which is just magical to listen to across so many varied genres of music and especially for film soundtracks. The Aerial 20Ts are fairly easy to integrate into most rooms, although they do best with large rooms and top flight electronics. Aerial designed and built the 20T to take on the best. It's easily a top contender in this segment. They are a "must audition" if you are looking to invest where the air is rare. Put the Aerial 20Ts on your short list with Revel Ultima Salon2s, B&W 802ds, Wilson WATT Puppy version 8.0s and MartinLogan CLXs, and don't be surprised if the Aerials end up at the top of the class.