BBC LS3/5a loudspeaker 1989 Rogers version part 2
But what a relief, after most of the speakers reviewed in the last issue and this one, to hear instruments and voices presented with the correct spatial and sonic relationship to one another. So many designs will present violins as being louder or more forward in the soundstage than the violas, or vice versa. Via the LS3/5a, the inner voices of the orchestra were presented in the correct musical relationship with the lead (though the bass line was, of course, weakened.) Of all the speakers in this review group, the '3/5a was the only one to fully convey the tonal differences between different pianos.
The soundstage presented by the Rogers was wide and deep, but, more important, absolutely stable with frequency (apart from a slight propensity for soprano voice to project forward in the mix). The image of a centrally placed voice, which on perfect speakers will have no width whatsoever, was about as narrow as I have ever experienced. With the Bruckner Symphony 4 extract on the HFN/RR Test CD, there is a tendency for the image to pull to the sides with some speakers; the LS3/5as had adequate centerfill without a commensurate narrowing of the stage.
A recent purchase of mine is the Hyperion recording of Cathedral music for an all-male SATB choir and organ composed by Victorian composer Sir Hubert Parry (CDA66273). (What a joy of the global marketplace that it is possible to find recordings of such obscure but so quintessentially English music (footnote 4), even in the depths of New Mexico!) Recorded by Tony Faulkner, an almost perfect balance has been struck between the body of the choir, the soloists, and, when appropriate, the organ, all set within a convincing cathedral acoustic. Of course, to reproduce the power of a pipe organ is beyond the capabilities of the LS3/5a, but the delicacy of imaging and the natural tonality of the voices when reproduced via this miniature, coupled with the correct balance struck between the direct sound and the reverberation, draws the listener into both the recorded acoustic and the music.
The main faults concerned dynamics and clarity. There was a consistent diluting of the dynamic contrasts inherent within music, leading to what was, on occasion, rather an uninvolving sound. And the retrieval of treble detail was only average compared with the standards set these days by such similarly balanced box speakers as the Acoustic Energy AE1 and Monitor Audio R952/MD. On the Gluck track on the HFN/RR Test CD, for example, the most transparent speakers allow the listener to discern that it was raining during the taping, with the soft sound of raindrops hitting the roof apparent beneath the sound of the flute and piano. Via the decade-old LS3/5a pair, the sound of the rain merged into the background microphone hiss. Cymbals, too, lost some of their unique metallic character, acquiring too much of a white-noise tonal quality.
There has been considerable evolution in miniature loudspeaker design since 1976, the year I first heard the LS3/5a, particularly concerning transparency, HF smoothness and clarity, and overall dynamics. Such models as the Celestion SL600 and '700, and the Acoustic Energy AE1, compete head-on with the LS3/5a in these areas and come out clear winners. But at less than half the price of even the least expensive of these, the old 'un is still a contender. Used with high-quality tube amplifiers, it will excel in the reproduction of program having a limited dynamic-range requirement; chamber music, for example.
At less than half the price of the similarly bass-shy AE1, the BBC design still has one of the least colored midbands around, throws a deep, wide, beautifully defined stereo soundstage, and actually offers a lot of performance for what is now a relatively affordable price. The Spica TC-50 is its natural competition in this approximate price region, but the two are different enough tonally that they will appeal to different tastes and work best in different systems. In its latest incarnation, the LS3/5a is provisionally recommended in Stereophile's Class C, with confirmation awaiting my auditioning of the new samples.—John Atkinson
Footnote 4: Listen to the Parry setting of William Blake's "Jerusalem" to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be English.