Lansche Audio 5.1 loudspeaker Page 2
My Lamm M1.2 Reference monoblocks were more forgiving of the Lansche's treble than were the MBL Reference 9007s or Classé CT-M600s, but it was still difficult to come to terms with the speaker's balance. I did some experimentation with the Classé CP-800 preamplifier's DSP equalizer and found that an octave-wide dip of 3dB centered on 3500kHz actually brought the Lansche 5.1's tonal balance into a more optimal, er, balance. While the midrange unit's low-pass rolloff was well sorted, the bottom of the horn-loaded tweeter's passband basically appeared to be around 3dB more sensitive than the upper part of its range.
Which was how things stood when I got an e-mail from Henry Dienn. Lansche had made a running change in production to the crossover between the 5.1's midrange unit and tweeter, and Dienn wanted to return to upgrade my review samples.
The return of Henry Dienn
Stereophile's long-standing policy is that when we are sent a review sample, it is representative of current production of that model. In circumstances such as this, while we will accept new or upgraded samples, we will report on our overall experience of the product (footnote 1). Henry Dienn assured me that my samples were from very early production, and that all 5.1s in the US would also be modified, as well as my review samples.
It seemed appropriate, therefore, for Dienn to return to modify those samples. He removed the rear terminal panel of each and replaced its crossover board with a new one, which, among other changes, places a resistor in series with the tweeter's step-up transformer. After some listening to ensure that the surgery had been successful, Dienn continued on his way. I continued my listening.
Listening: Part Two
The change to the crossover wrought a considerable improvement in the Lansche 5.1's tonal quality, with the midrange and treble now in better balance. I changed the tweeter jumper to "+1dB" to give a full measure of top-octave air but without rendering the low treble too bright. There was still a touch too much sibilance in speaking voices, which also reduced image depth in this region, but that was the only noticeable coloration remaining. Pink noise sounded smoothest on or just below the tweeter axis; when I raised my ears above that level, I could hear a narrow band of brightnessand when I stood up, a distinct hollowness.
Before the upgrade, French Impressions, Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk's new disc of music for violin and piano (CD, Sony Classical 8697-82026-2), superbly engineered by Richard King, was presented with the violin sounding very upfront against a rather laid-back piano. With the new crossover, the violin moved back, to more obviously share the same acoustic as the piano.
In absolute terms, while the more even low-treble balance had the benefit of no longer emphasizing the shelved-down low frequencies, it was a change of amplifier that brought out the best overall sound quality from the Lansche 5.1. While Audio Research Corporation's Reference 150 tubed stereo power amplifier, reviewed elsewhere in this issue by Erick Lichte, didn't exert quite the control over the low bass in "Nightwalker" that the solid-state Lamms had, the ARC brought the mid- and upper bass into a more natural-sounding relationship with the midrange. With the Lamms replaced by the ARC, the left-hand register of Denk's piano on French Impressions now sounded better balanced with Bell's violin. The big orchestral bass drum in Malcolm Arnold's overture Beckus the Dandipratt, with the composer conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra (24-bit/176.4kHz ALAC file, transcoded from WAV file, Reference HR-48), now had impressive weight, with enough control that I could still perceive the slight downward shift in pitch as the struck drum's sound decayed.
Even with the tubed Reference 150, with its lack of upper-bass warmth the Lansche 5.1 was unforgiving of lean-sounding recordings. Christian McBride's thin, midrange-dominant double bass in some tracks of Sonny Rollins's Road Shows Vol.2 (ALAC rip from CD, Emarcy B0015949-02) was too lean, even though electric bassist Bob Cranshaw sounded appropriately phat on his tracks. Similarly, Keter Betts's supple, well-recorded double-bass introduction to "Desafinado," from Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd's Jazz Samba (24/192 ALAC file, HDtracks, Verve 11170), was presented with an optimal combination of weight and definition.
But oh, the space the ARC amplifier brought to the party! The orchestral stage in Watford Town Hall with the Arnold overture was wide, deep, and stable, the brass instruments sounding off the theme at the start unambiguously higher and farther away than the woodwinds that echo them. The same sense of scale and depth was apparent in the Fidelio Audio recording of the Scherzo of Dvorák's Symphony 9, From the New World, performed by the Youth Orchestra of the Americas conducted by Jean-Pascal Hamelin (24/176.4 ALAC file, transcoded from WAV file downloaded from dCS; no longer available, but the complete symphony is available from HDtracks, as well as a CD, Fidelio Audio 29, from ArkivMusic.com). A bonus with this track was how delicately the lightly struck triangle that punctuates the movement's midsection was resolved by the Lansche's Corona tweeter. (Spectral analysis reveals that this triangle has content extending almost to 30kHz, which is good, but also that there are some low-level idle tones present between 36 and 72kHz in this recording, which is not so good.)
These speakers loved piano recordings. Robert Silverman's empathetic performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Sonata 2 (CD, Stereophile STPH019-2) may be an early-1990s digital recording, but with the Lansche's clean, tight bass and airy high frequencies, the intertwining of melodies and accompanying figures in the slow movement acquired a luminous glow.
This tweeter did cymbals better than any other I have heard. Too often, the metallic swish that follows the ping of the stick hitting the bronze sounds too much like white noise. Through the Lansche tweeter, the distinctive character of each cymbal's swish in "Too High," from Stevie Wonder's Innervisions (24/96 ALAC file, HDtracks download, Tamla), was readily discernible. The subtle changes in the sound of Billy Drummond's brushed ride cymbal in the first verse of "The Mooche," from Editor's Choice, was laid out for inspection without sounding exaggerated in level. The downside to this treble clarity was that the too-small size of the recording venue for Robert Silverman's complete traversal of the Beethoven piano sonatas (OrpheumMasters KSP-830, no longer available) was also made clearnot because the Lansches sounded bright, but because the reverberant clues in the soundstage were more readily audible.
The way in which individual echo returns were unambiguously placed in space, as on that 1980s audiophile favorite "Die Tänzerin," from German singer Ulla Meinecke's Wenn Schon Nicht für Immer, dann Wenigstens für Ewig (24/192 rip from LP, RCA 426124), was addictive. (It's difficult not to play a game of "count the echoes" with this recording.) And the repeat-echoed effects in Trentmoller's "Nightwalker" were positioned unambiguously and stably outside the speaker positions. This is superb stereo imaging.
I finished my auditioning of the Lansche 5.1s with "Ascension Day," from Talk Talk's Laughing Stock (ALAC rip from CD, Polydor 847 717-2). Talk Talk's sonically sophisticated explorations of space and groove were a perfect match for the Lansche 5.1s. The depth of the ostinato cymbal and snare-drum figure; the combination of definition and sufficient weight on the double bass; the sheer palpability of Mark Hollis's voice; the way I could hear deep into the complex mixthese are what you get when recording, amplifier, speakers, and room work together toward the common goal of musical fulfillment.
With its elegant proportions, beautifully veneered and satin-finished enclosure, black-anodized baffle, and the horn concealing in its depth the yellow-lilac tweeter flame, the Lansche 5.1 looks both striking and worth its price of $41,000/pair. But its sonic character will place restrictions on both the room and ancillary components with which it will be used.
I suspect that, like some Magico models and even Acapella's High Violoncello II, the Lansche 5.1's low-frequency alignment is optimized for speed and articulation rather than warmth. This speaker will definitely work best in rooms with solid enough construction for the low frequencies to be reinforced by the "room gain"; it might sound too lean in a typical American house of frame-and-drywall construction. Increasing the woofer's sensitivity by 2dB or so may well make the 5.1 less fussy in this respect. With the solid-state amplifiers I had to hand the Lansches sounded clean, detailed, and transparent, but the system didn't properly jell until I drove them with the tubed Audio Research amplifier. Only then could I properly appreciate the magical qualities of that "singing flame" tweeter.
And magic that tweeter hasa purity and a transparency that need to be heard to be appreciated.
Footnote 1: Back in the day, we used to refer to this as "Bud Fried Rule," after the late Irving "Bud" Fried, who was notorious for revising his speaker designs during the review period.