Over the last 6 decades, the key principals of loudspeaker design have remained virtually consistent. Sure, new technologies have been introduced – dual-concentric or ‘single point source’ drivers being one of the key innovations – and advancements in manufacturing have allowed us to produce smaller, more efficient speakers. But broadly speaking, the principals of loudspeaker design have remained the same.
Until, that is, the introduction of the BMR (balance mode radiator) driver. Unlike traditional tweeters, which consist of a pistonic cone (a cone that moves back and forth), BMR drivers utilise technologies found in flat panel speakers. Essentially, the entire, flat ‘cone’ portion of the driver vibrates. This, combined with the standard pistonic action, creates a speaker that not only acts as a tweeter for high frequency sounds, but that can also handle mid range frequencies. This allows the crossover point between woofer and BMR to be lowered considerably – in the case of the Aeromax, it’s 250HZ. This is an area of the audible frequency range where our ears are less sensitive – and therefore we hear less distortion the transition between drivers becomes much less apparent.
Unfortunately, such technology comes at a price – until, that is, Cambridge Audio introduced their Aero range. The award-winning Aero range were the first affordable speakers to utilise BMR drivers – and they were a resounding success. However, Cambridge Audio isn’t slowing down – and, roughly a year after the introduction of the original Aero, they’re back with the Aeromax. Refined (and better-looking), the Aeromax speakers are designed to take BMR technology to the next level.
So, what’s new?
The Aeromax speakers feature an array of improvements over their predecessors. A new 4th generation BMR driver, utilising patented bending wave principals compliments the custom-designed 6” woofers, drivers specifically designed to work optimally with the BMR drivers. High grade, oxygen free copper cabling guarantees a pure signal from the new gold-plated audiophile speaker terminals to the new crossover with upgraded components, and onto the driver units.
The cabinets have also been reworked, too – new internal bracing adds weight and rigidity, and the speakers now come in luxurious, high gloss black or white.
The Aeromax 2
The Aeromax range come in 2 flavours – the Aeromax 2, a stand-mount speaker (and a rather large one at that), or the Aeromax 6 – a floor standing model. For this review, I opted for the Aeromax 2 – which is the best option if space is at a premium in your listening area.
The Aeromax 2s come packaged in a large, surprisingly weighty box – firmly held in place by large, full-size polystyrene blocks. Cloth bags protect the high gloss finish of the speakers, with their magnetic grilles provided in separate bags and slotted neatly into designated slots in the polystyrene.
You’ll also find a bag containing too foam port blocks, used to block up the large front-mounted bass ports. A further bag contains some documentation, a cleaning cloth (useful, as the gloss finish is a magnet for dirt and fingermarks), and a pair of gloves to use when handling the speakers. The gloves are a gimmick too far – sure, they protect the finish, but a couple of finger marks can easily be wiped away in less time than it takes to put them on.
Lift the speakers from their cloth bags, and they’re not as weighty as they first appear – in fact, given their size, they’re surprisingly light. The cabinets feel sturdy, though there is some audible internal resonance when the sides of the cabinets are tapped.
The rear of the speakers feature a single set of speaker terminals, protruding roughly 2CM from a rubberised terminal block. Many manufacturers choose to indent their terminals – as Cambridge Audio should’ve done here. Leaving the terminals sticking out so far makes them susceptible to damage – and it’s not very aesthetically pleasing, either.
The fronts of the speakers are better in this regard – the BMR driver, and the 6” woofer situated directly underneath, are surrounded by rubber trims. The large bass port also features a rubber trim – there are no fixings in sight, as has become the norm.
You’ll notice the absence of grille fixings on the front panels – that’s because the grilles (should you choose to use them) are held in place by magnets hidden inside the wooden front panels. This is a common feature on modern speakers – and it’s a nice feature to see here.
Unfortunately, said grilles aren’t of a particularly high standard – they’re cloth-covered plastic affairs with some of the weakest grille magnets I’ve seen. They stay in place, but slide off easily – particularly when a deep bass line causes the cabinets to vibrate. The grilles don’t feature large openings for the drivers, either – instead, the plastic frame feature a grid of holes for the sound to penetrate through. The shape of the grille leaves a large opening underneath for the air from the bass port to be released. I found the grilles coloured the sound, so I left them off – and recommend you do, too. (not to mention – I became pretty frustrated with picking them up off the floor during testing)
Thanks to the horizontal vibration of the BMR driver, the Aeromax 2s aren’t as fussy about positioning as other speakers. In fact – you can place them almost anywhere and achieve a broad, expansive sound stage with excellent stereo effects and instrument positioning. This makes them great for rooms where furniture or room shape makes optimal positioning of traditional speakers difficult or impossible.
That said – I placed the Aeromax 2s roughly 2M apart, angled inwards roughly 15 degrees towards my listening position. Throughout testing, they remained roughly 60CM away from a wall – though thanks to their front-ported design, you can place them close to a wall without fear of the bass becoming overpowering.
The Aeromax 2s were tested using a complete set of Cambridge Audio components – the excellent 851C feeding the 851E/W Pre/Power Combo with material from both CD and high resolution material from a Stream Magic 6 connected via the optical input.
It was immediately apparent from placing Shinedown’s ‘the sound of madness’ in the 851C’s CD tray that the Aeromax 2s certainly have a unique sound signature. Unfortunately, it’s not one that copes well with loud, hard, explosive rock. Devour powered along, the 851W giving the Aeromax 2s all the power they could ever need. But they didn’t bite – instead, they presented a messy, disjointed wall of sound, underpinned by a flabby, bloated bass line. Not a good first impression, then.
Switch to something quieter (with arguably better mastering) such as Doug Macleod’s BBC Sessions, and the Aeromax 2s begin to settle down – Dougs soulful voice and outstanding guitar work delivered with precision, backed up by the light tapping of his left foot on a hard wood floor.
Eric CLapton’s ‘looking at the rain’ is well-presented also – with a beautiful sound stage and vocals hanging in front of the listener.
To some Paramore – and the track ‘the only exception’ taken from the recently released hot topic exclusive brand new eyes vinyl. The acoustic guitar is delivered delicately and precisely – and the harmonised vocals are simply beautiful.
However, The Aeromax 2s fail to deliver the emotion of the track – in fact, the entirety of the brand new eyes album is rather bland and emotionless through the Aeromax 2s. As is evanescence’s ‘hello’ – a track that will bring even the toughest guys to their knees. Heard through the Aeromax 2s, though, you get the sense that Amy Lee is poring her heart out to a hostile crowd in the town’s least-popular pub.
Spin Shinedown’s ‘Somewhere In The Stratosphere’ or Queen’s ‘Rock Montreal’, and the Aeromax’s demonstrate excellent sound staging. that is, until things get busy, and that beautiful sound stage and the exquisite tones of Zach Myers and Brian May’s guitars are drowned by a cacophony of shrill, unorganised noise.
If your music collection consists of quiet country, soul and blues, the Aeromax 2s may be the speakers for you. Similarly – if space is at a premium, and you struggle to optimally position traditional speakers in your listening space, these are worth a look.
However, they struggle with poorly mastered material, and don’t take well to higher volumes or complex musical arrangements either. When the going gets tough, while other speakers will stand up and accept the challenge, the Aeromax 2s will crumble.
There are some design flaws, too – those protruding speaker terminals, the not-so-magnetic grilles, and – the grilles themselves. I applaud Cambridge Audio for bringing BMR technology to the masses – it’s great to see a company innovating in what has been a fairly still market. However – the technology still needs some work to keep up with the tried-and-tested competition. 5 stars for effort – but for execution? I’ll leave that for you, the reader, to decide.