Stirling Broadcast BBC LS3/6 loudspeaker

I know someone who bought, for his own kitchen, a stove intended for the restaurant trade, simply because it enhances his enjoyment of cooking. Another friend, a motoring enthusiast, has equipped his garage with a brace of tools, including a hydraulic lift, that would be the envy of some humbler repair shops. Yet another friend indulges her enthusiasm for ceramics with a potter's wheel and kiln that one might find in a well-endowed art school. Among the most serious consumers, it seems, the watchword is professional; odd, then, that professional-quality monitors don't account for an even bigger chunk of the domestic loudspeaker market.

They've had their day, of course—especially such smaller monitors as the BBC-designed LS3/5a. But today, one wonders if their relatively spartan, homely cosmetics have augured against the domestic acceptance of pro-audio speakers. Or perhaps it's the genre's resistance to faddism, kookyism, and Emir-of-Qatar levels of opulence and excess that keeps them on the sidelines of the high-end audio marketplace.

Thus it was with the utmost interest that I received an invitation, from distributor Fidelis Home Audio, to review the LS3/6 loudspeaker ($4590/pair), made in Somerset, England, by Stirling Broadcast, themselves the latest in a line of firms authorized to manufacture the BBC's proprietary designs. Although not an entirely new model—the LS3/6 designation appears to have been used by the BBC as long ago as 1970—this new incarnation was recently designed by Derek Hughes, who has created many successful designs for Harbeth and, of course, Spendor, whose name is derived from those of his late parents, Spencer and Dorothy. But that's another story.

Description
I'll tell it anyway: Just as every Cracker Jack box comes with a prize, and inside every chicken in your grocer's case is a little bag of giblets, so should every review of a BBC-designed monitor loudspeaker come with a history lesson. For it was in 1969 that Spencer Hughes, then working as a BBC laboratory technician, designed and manufactured one of the first practical plastic woofer cones—made, astonishingly, not during the workday at his BBC lab, but in his spare time, at the Hugheses' small house, using an electric room heater and a bedpost. Soon after that, Spencer Hughes mated to his woofer a very nice Celestion phenolic-dome tweeter, and designed around that pair of drivers an entire loudspeaker, intended for both professional and domestic use.

Two distinct things then happened with Hughes's loudspeaker design. First and most famously, it turned into something called the BC1 (footnote 1) which became the premier product of the nascent Spendor company. Second, the BBC forged with Spencer Hughes an arrangement in which the BBC was allowed to distill, from the BC1 design, a very similar loudspeaker for its own use. It is also from the BC1 that two somewhat more contemporary loudspeakers were derived: the Spendor SP1/2, a pair of which I owned and enjoyed during the late 1990s, and the Stirling LS3/6.

The Stirling LS3/6 does not appear, at first glance, terribly different from the Spendor SP1/2—or, for that matter, from late-production samples of the fondly remembered BC1. The LS3/6 is a three-way dynamic loudspeaker in a 25"-tall reflex-loaded cabinet of square cross-section, intended for stand mounting; 17"-tall open-frame hardwood stands, made by Resonant Woods, of Manchester, New Hampshire, cost an additional $399/pair. Each speaker is fitted with a black fabric grille that is the very devil to remove, yet to succeed is to discover and appreciate that the LS3/6's front baffle is as beautifully veneered as every other surface of its enclosure.

All of the LS3/6's drivers are manufactured in Norway (footnote 2) by SEAS, presumably to Stirling Broadcast's specifications. The smaller and uppermost of the two tweeters has a 0.75" (19mm) Sonomex dome, while the larger has a 1" (27mm) coated-fabric dome; each has a ferrofluid-cooled voice-coil and a protective mesh outer cover. The 8.6" woofer has, as you'd expect, a polymer cone 6.5" in diameter, along with a compliant half-roll surround, a ferrite magnet, a very nice cast-alloy frame, and a dustcap made not of stiff plastic but of the softest, most pliable rubber I've ever encountered. Interesting. The two high-frequency drivers are rabbeted into the front baffle; a recess is also made for the woofer's mounting rim, but from behind the baffle, in the manner of recent Harbeth speakers. The front-mounted reflex port is formed by a plastic tube 2.9" (75mm) long and 2.7" (70mm) in diameter.

314bbc.bac.jpg

The Stirling's enclosure is built from three different thicknesses of board: 5/8"-thick MDF for the rear panel, 3/8"-thick MDF for the front baffle, and 3/8"-thick birch plywood for the rets of the cabinet. All panels are veneered inside and out, to prevent warping, and all but the front are covered, on virtually every available surface, with thin sheets of damping material stapled and glued into place. The same inner surfaces are also padded with thick sheets of acoustical foam. The front baffle and rear panel are both removable—a vestige, one assumes, of the breed's history of field use, wherein frenzied techies require quick access to damaged drivers—and are held in place with 12 wood screws each. The screws are secured not with threaded inserts but are screwed directly into furring strips mounted within the enclosure: an eyebrow-raising economy in a $4590/pair loudspeaker that is otherwise exceptionally well crafted.

The Stirling LS3/6 speaks to the world courtesy of two pairs of gold-plated brass terminals, with gold-plated links that can be removed for biwiring. A 6" by 9" circuit board, fastened to the inside rear panel, holds the crossover components: six chokes of varying size (two of them quite large), six film capacitors, and six resistors. I also spotted two sets of miniature jumper switches, both marked "+0.6dB." Interesting.

A word about the packaging: brilliant. The carton and packing for the Stirling Broadcast LS3/6 appear to have been designed by someone with an understanding of physics, some practical experience in sending and receiving large consumer goods, and a distaste for overkill. The carton is spare but sturdy, the packing simple and smart. It works—and it appears as though it could withstand repeated use. Support literature, on the other hand, appears to be nonexistent.

Installation and setup
Perhaps it was good design, good luck, good instincts, or some combination of all three—whatever the cause, the time I spent setting up the Stirling LS3/6s was brief and untroubled. Blessedly, their stands required no assembly, apart from screwing optional spiked feet in the threaded inserts at the bottoms of their feet. (I ultimately uninserted them and settled instead on the comparatively unfussy sound of the wood stands resting directly on my wood floor.) And because thin rubber pads were pre-installed on the top surfaces of the stands, I didn't ever have to subject myself to the drudgery of rolling little bits of Blu-Tak into pea-size balls, as one must do with virtually every other stand of this sort.



Footnote 1: I have been told that the C in the model designation BC1 stands for Celestion; I have no idea what the B stands for, but I would like to think that it's bedpost.

Footnote 2: After opening the cabinet and making note of the labels on the drivers, I began my research by Googling the words Norway and tweeter; my first several hits pointed to a November 25, 2013 article in The Local: Norway's News in English, with the headline "POLICE IN NORWAY ARREST RACIST TWEETER." Interesting.

COMPANY INFO
Stirling Broadcast
US distributor: Fidelis Home Audio
460 Amherst Street (Route 101A)
Nashua, NH 03063
(603) 880-4434
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COMMENTS
Bill B's picture

Maybe it's just me, but Art over-uses italics in his reviews.  I don't care for the extra elbow in ribs tone.

Regadude's picture

Complain much? Geez, too much italics. Call the cops dude! no

tmsorosk's picture

I didn't see a problem either .

commsysman's picture

Is there anyone who actually thinks this ugly poorly-made speaker system is competetive with the excellent speakers you can buy now for $4500?

Why does the Stereophile staff keep trying to drag these old British monitors out of the grave, where they should remain buried?

While they may have been good in their day, we don't need a history lesson on them every few months. The reviews of various rebirths and iterations of the LS 3/6, SP 3/X,etc. etc, ad nausem seem to never end!

The description of how well the packing boxes are made is interesting; it sounds as if the packing boxes are made better than the speaker enclosures themselves. That is a new manufacturing strategy. Maybe they are designed to sound better if they are never unpacked.

Let's focus review articles on what is the best for the money in a given price range; that certainly does not apply here. This might be a mildly interesting speaker if it cost around $1500 or so, but the price is outlandish for what you get.

I would be interested in a comparison between these and a pair of Vandersteen 2C speakers, which cost half as much and almost certainly sound better, or one of the PSB or other popular modern speakers such as the Synchrony One.

It annoys the hell out of me when the only speakers the reviewer compares to the reviewed speaker are obscure rare models that less than 1% of the readers will ever have heard. How are such comparisons useful to the reader? It's like doing the review in French because that is the reviewer's favorite language.

It would be very helpful if Stereophile had a rule that revewers MUST compare a speaker to some recently reviewed or very well-known speakers so that the reader has some chance of interpreting the comparisons in a useful context.

Regadude's picture

D'accord, vous n'aimez pas ces hauts-parleurs. C'est votre opinion, et je la respecte. Mais, pourquoi ce cher Art ne pourra pas faire quelques test d'équipements en français? Son sens de la répartie se transmettrai très bien dans la langue de molière.  wink

John Atkinson's picture

commsysman wrote:
this ugly poorly-made speaker

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but poorly made? I don't think so. Or, as Art would say, I don't think so, :-)

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

RyanJL's picture

These speakers are beautiful.

Not everyone wants the now-ubiquitous 8" wide, 42" tall floorstander these would compete against. They certainly look better than some of the plasticy ones you mention.

Bill B's picture

Yes indeed, my comment about italics is kinda petty, but it's in the context of direct comments on his article, so it's in the right place at least. It goes to Art's tone in his columns, which is sometimes a bit condescending toward those who don't share his vintage preferences. But whatever. I essentially agree w commsysman above about art's tendency to just review and compare ultra-niche items to other ultra-niche items. 

corrective_unconscious's picture

I agree these sorts of speakers seem expensive for what you apparently get. I guess Spendor and Sterling and Harbeth really have some magic going on in their driver and diaphragm construction.

What is objectively more weird is going from about an 8" woofer to a 1" tweeter when there is a .75" tweeter present. Those three driver choices leaves a large dispersion discontinuity at the first crossover from the relatively big woofer to the first tweeter, when it could have been avoided.

Could have been avoided even if the design objective of these boxes is to get that first crossover happening above sensitive 3k or so. Does it really have to be above 5k or wherever?

tmsorosk's picture

I have to agree with commsysman for the most part . Because I'm a member of an audio club i get to hear many speaker incuding the above , and although there not my cup of tea there is something to be said for these units when listening to single instuments or small intimate ensembles . The midrange has an uncongested purity that many costlier speakers can't match . They may not do well in all sonic perimeters but for those that have specific music listening tastes they can be quite enjoyable . 

xyzip's picture

Wow, there is a reason that nobody reads these comment sections.

Doesn't seem too much a stretch to say that some of the comments here seem a little petty & trollish. 

Dudley talks about other fairly well known highend speakers, and other relatively classic speakers (something about harbeth, devore, spendor, altec, that are unheard of ? ..did he miss something you purchased lately? ).   The requests for specific comparisons ---  does anything suggest 'similar-to-vandersteen' about these? can't have been, say, the size of the baffle---  are kind of far fetched. 

The review's rundown on construction specifics may be grounds for further discussion:  does the lack of  threaded inserts indicate corner-cutting or does roughly doubling the metal content by doing so disrupt some other part of the strategy...  either way, the reviewer isn't saying these are poorly constructed.  ("Exceptionally well-crafted" doesn't seem equivocal.)  The commenters are sure they're not, though. 

Which brings up an interesting point;  the commenters seem to have pretty set objections to the methodology, as well as the actual equipment here.  For his part, Dudley says how he evaluated these speakers pretty succinctly.  The commenters aren't saying whether they have ever seen these speakers, let alone heard them or given them weeks worth of dedicated listening.  

All in all, good review, AD.  And commenters---  can't say for sure, but the general public might get the idea that audiophiles are ever-so-slightly more petulant than average people if you stick with this approach.  Italics? Writing in French? Freedom-fries, anyone? 

Let's all cringe along together:  the Audiophile Troll must be the most delicate troll on the internet.  Princesses of the practice, in fact. 

Carry on, everyone. 

 

Regadude's picture

Nobody reads the comments section. Well at the very least, there is me and you xyzip...

How is writing in french petty? It was a tongue in cheek, but sincere response to someone who was complaining. If you could actually read french, you would have realised my comment was not petty at all. 

Freedom fries? What's your point? 

"Carry on, everyone."

Carry on we shall.

SimplySpeaking's picture

The author writes "...garage with a brace of tools, including a hydraulic lift..."

A brace, in the sense I assume he somewhat intends, means two somethings. He might as well as shared the other item of garage equipment to spare us the agonizing guessing game of figuring out what additional item might make a humble garagiste envious. Perhaps an espresso machine?

..And veneer prevents warping? Seriously?

John Atkinson's picture

SimplySpeaking wrote:
veneer prevents warping? Seriously?

Yes. MDF that is veneered on only one side will warp. For long-term stability, the MDF sheet should be veneered on both sides.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

chtgrubbs's picture

Yes a board veneered on only one side is prone to warping due to the different expansion/contraction characteristics of the veneer material and the substrate.

Doctor Fine's picture

In a world of over hyped super crispy annoying speakers here come the British with somewhat retro designed glorious open sounding actual classic speakers designed for the music lover.

In truth I am somewhat angry that the modern well educated over technical platoon have no offerings which do anything to move the soul the way these out of date conservative British relics seem to do.  And do consistently.

I recall John Atkinson and Art Dudley both drooling over the Harbeth mini BBC monitors which easily and eerily replicate an approach done well over a half century ago by Altec, JBL and other truth talkers..  Except the Harbeths were in miniature.

So here's the deal you modern marvel guys---cough up a design--even ONE that makes the soul juices of a gumbo crayfish cajun bayou lovin music sophisiticate go mad with lust.  Where in fact is LUST nowadays? Seems to me that LUST has gone a missing along with soul and cool and a lot of other words and concepts...

I would argue much has been  lost in time except for  these timeless "correct" speakers of great pedigree.  Pedigree is a word lost in a world that worships dumpster diving garbage encrusted late comers that wear gold encrusted gold teeth and tatoos.

Me and my brothers and sisters that love music do not need such tacked on congestion.   We prefer the open sound of the best of the best.

Try and compete you deaf modernists---we are all waiting with baited breath...

Regadude's picture

Doctor Fine wrote:

"So here's the deal you modern marvel guys"

Who you talking about? Iron man? Hulk? I am more DC. Gimme Batman and Superman anytime! 

Doctor Fine wrote:

"Where in fact is LUST nowadays?"

Where?! If you saw me watching a Katy Perry video, you would see a ton of lust in my eyes, on my face, in my pants...

Starbucked's picture

$4590 for these boxes with specs: 45 - 17k at 87 db.

I just bought new, German made Elac BS 53.2 bookshelves with a range of 46 - 25 k at 87 db.

They are smooth, transparent and image well. Look great too.

I paid $325. Once again: 325 dollars. I've heard stirling, and yes, they sound very nice. As do my $325 Elacs. Think the $4300 difference is just absurd

corrective_unconscious's picture

Even if these British box type speakers cost a lot and are curmudgeonly in various ways, and even if the Elacs you mention are fine for you, that was a preposterous deployment of "specs" to make your claimed point. Yours is not the worthiest troll I have encountered on the internetz in the past five minutes, or ten years, I am afraid.

JBLMVBC's picture

At this $4,500 price, one can truly design and build a DIY high efficiency studio monitor with real professional drivers that would blow this new old thing away: for instance 2226 JBL pro 15" bass driver, Compression Midrange 2426+2370 and a lovely Fostex T90A super tweeter...cool

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