Considering the Rule of Diminishing Returns.......

I have made up my mind to purchase an Aerial Acoustic system, model 7B and CC3B center. However, I really can't afford this system and am having a hard time writing out the check (or swiping the credit card).

Considering the law of diminishing returns, and utilizing the experienced knowledge base on this forum, what other options might I have that might offer 95% of the performance of the Aerials at 50% of their cost? Am I being realistic to assume such a speaker system exists?

I am 80% HT and 20% music.
I answer your question with questions.

How many have you heard?
How many "budget" systems have you heard?
If you are that skewed towards HT, I would say don't spend the $$$. Of course this is all personal opinion I'm spewing, but crashes and booms don't require the detail that I would want when I'm listening to music...IMO

I would point you towards Paradigm Reference Series speakers, Monitor Audio, Definitive Technology or something along those lines. They will excel as HT speakers, and are great for music too, but do lack some magic offered by the elite speaker manufacturers. I'm not sure what you are about to spend for the Aerials ($8K???), but you can get the ones I mentioned for $2k new. Used is also a good way to buy, but can't demo that way. Tyler Acoustics also offers quality stuff, in fact there are many different companies to buy...I just don't see spending over $2-3K for HT speakers.

My $0.02.

I agree with Mdomnick that the Paradigm Reference Series would be a good choice for an HT system. I think they blow away DefTech and virtually everything else in their price range, but then I own a pair of 100v2s so my opinion is not really to be trusted. Do keep in mind if you choose Paradigms that they are power hungry and that they are at their best at medium to high levels. Not the ideal choice if you want Barely Manbelow purring in the background.

I have two systems in my house, a 2-channel system using JMLabs Mezzo Utopias ($15K) and an HT system using the Paradigms ($2K). It is my sometime fancy to bring first-time visitors into the house, blindfold them, and lead them from one room to the other, asking them to tell me which speaker system costs 7.5 times as much as the other. Virtually no one can tell--not even alleged Golden Ears.

Does that mean there's no difference? Assuredly not! Longer term listening reveals definite differences in favor of the JMLabs. It does, however, suggest that such differences are not nearly so great as we may enchant ourselves by believing.

check out newform research or VMPS for great speakers on lower budget than the aerials.
take all the time you need, there's no justification for feeling queasy writing a check when you can do some more research and ultimately feel better about your choice in relation to the money spent.
Paradigm is pretty good, with an entirely different sound than the Aerial, brighter sounding in general.
Like everyone else I would suggest Paradigm but also even on here there are some VMPS being sold for 3500 $..RM40..I would not miss that opportunity..great deal...if you can find a second-hand RM40 then don't miss it..
An optimal compromise that might save you a good amount of money are the relatively new Energy C-9 towers. They go down to the low 30s, which will serve you well for HT even if you don't have a sub, yet they are refined enough to compete with much more expensive speakers on the audio side in case that bug ever bites. At $1300/pr. they will be tough to beat given your situation and preferences. My guess is they offer a matching center channel, but I'm not sure. Best of luck.

Energy C-9 speakers are indeed an excellent value - good call Tim! BUT, if you really dig the Aerial sound, think about a pair of Aerial Model 5 speakers (will you be using/do you already have a sub?) with a Vandersteen 2W sub. Very close to the 95% performance/50% price parameters that you have set. Happy hunting!
Check out the PSB Stratus Goldi speakers (approx $2,500 US$). They are a three-way tower featuring 10", 6" and 1" drive units. These speakers are accurate, musical and of very high power handling. Bass extension is impressive, staging and realism are really very good.
Strangely, they work very well with good (higher-power)A/V receiver's and surprisingly, shockingly better with very high resolution/higher-end seperates. They ARE NOT room/placement fussy (although placement further from room boundaries results in cleaner bass), are very well built/constructed. A perfect speaker for HT as well as 2-CH stereo.
Give em a listen, I have not heard anyone who did not really like them!

peter jasz
I'm going to assume that you've listened to a lot of speakers and have decided on the Aerials because you really like the sound, and your only indecision is the $$$. I don't own Aerials, but I'm going to encourage you to buy what you love, and if that's the Aerials, go for them. Keep them for 10+ years and you'll never regret it. Aerial makes a great product, and while it's a lot of money, over more than a decade, it's not a lot of money. And, with speakers that nice, my guess is that you'll start listening to a lot more music. You're visiting Audiogon, so presumably buying used is a possibility - I'd certainly suggest it. You'll save a lot, and if you decide you screwed up, you can get most of your money back. Some other really good options, IMO - a pair of Dynaudio Contour 1.8's with the matching center can easily be had for <$3K used, maybe even $2500 if you shop hard. Dynamite sound (I am a Dynaudio owner/lover). And, if you're really convinced that HT will remain 80% of the use, I highly recommend NHT - they make a really good dual-purpose speaker, they're high value, you can easily find them used or heavily discounted new. -Kirk
Check out the PSB Silver i's - you can find great deals on the net. The reason I mention them is that a previous poster mentioned the Golds, which I used to own before I bought my Aerials. The Golds are in fact very placement sensitive (very heavy bass - in a 14 X 21 room I had to have them 6 feet out from the back wall to get accurate bass response). But, for the money, these are awesome speakers. The silvers have the same sound and easier placement. While I love Aerials, which I still use, after you buy them you may realize how good they are and want to upgrade your electronics, and have then started out right at the beginning again (debating about more $$). Aerials like power - at least if you want over 85 decibels in a medium sized room. If you do go with the Aerials, don't count out the model 6's. The 7's cost a grand more for 6 or more Hz which you may make up with a sub anyway, and then some. If your room is less than 300 feet squared the 6's may work better, and for home theater you may not want them out far from the wall (and the TV), for which the 6's are better designed than the 7's.