Stirling Broadcast BBC LS3/6 loudspeaker Page 2
The overall balance of the Stirling LS3/6 was a shade lighter than that of my reference loudspeaker, the much larger Altec Valencia: The Stirling didn't extend as far into the bass range, while its highest-frequency driver, though not the least bit bright, was forthright in reporting the treble content of my recordings. For the first day and a half of the Stirlings' residence in my system, those trebles were just a bit grainya quality that then receded, leaving in its place a treble range that sounded natural, smooth, and downright pretty. And from that time forward, regardless of which of my amplifiers were in use, the Stirlings played recorded music with what can be described only as exceptional clarity and openness. For example, when driven by my 25Wpc Shindo Corton-Charlemagne monoblocks, the LS3/6s gave a lovely, explicit reading of Lorin Maazel and the Vienna Philharmonic's recording of Sibelius's Symphony 5 (LP, Decca SXL 6236). And the sharply limned chords at the end of the final movement showed that the Stirlings' cleanness came, in part, from their very good way with note decays, and their resistance to overhang and smearing.
Given their provenance, I expected to hear from the Stirlings a steady supply of natural-sounding voices and lush, warm strings. I wasn't disappointed on either count, yet I admit to being more amazed by a quality that I didn't expect: EvenI would go so far as to say especiallywhen driven by my 10Wpc Shindo Cortese amplifier, my review pair of Stirlings delivered a surprisingly satisfying degree of touch for a loudspeaker that even the most optimistic, generous-spirited audio maven would consider of no greater than moderate efficiency (footnote 3). On the famously fine recording, by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, of Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra (CD, RCA Living Stereo/JVC JMCXR-0007), the gently tapped drum at the opening of the second movement was the first hint I heard of the Stirlings' prowess in this regard. The many pizzicato lines for strings that follow in this and subsequent movements had a pleasantly nice sense of impact: not as much as one would get from a very efficient loudspeaker, such as the DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96, the Volti Vittora, or the Altec Valencia, but far more than I'm used to hearing from a stand-mounted monitor of more conventional design.
The LS3/6's reproduction of singing voices was wonderful. "Never Will I Marry," from the classic Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley (LP, Capitol SM1657), presented Wilson's distinctive voice with color and without coloration (likewise Adderley's alto saxophonealthough I wish the double bass had exhibited the depth, weight, snap, and temporal sharpness that I hear through my Altecs' big, taut woofers). The no-less-distinctive voice of tenor Peter Pears sounded similarly fine in a 1961 recording of Benjamin Britten's first, second, and third Canticles, with boy alto John Hahessey, horn player Barry Tuckwell, and the composer at the piano (LP, Argo ZRG 5277). The Stirlings also did a lovely job with the notably rich piano sound on that recording. With other, less decidedly rich piano recordings I heard a slight lack of power and volume in some left-hand notes, but that may have been more a function of my room's mildly raggy power response in that range.
String tone was also wonderful through the Stirlings: naturally warm, rich, and well textured, with the same amount of digging in one hears from the attack components of such sounds in real life. A new reissue of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, recorded in 1961 by Ernest Ansermet and L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (LP, Decca/Speakers Corner SXL 2292), was sensational in that regard, as was the even more distinctly textured but less up-front recording of Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht by the Ramor Quartet, augmented by violist Edith Lörincz and cellist Zsolt Deàky (LP, Turnabout TV 4032 S).
With the Prokofiev I also noted the Stirling's good overall dynamics and apparent power-handling capabilities, the speakers remaining very poised and relatively uncompressed during the raucous climax at the end of the fourth movement. Yet expectedlyvirtually unavoidablythe Stirlings compressed dynamic extremes far more than my Altec Valencias. The floor tom in the opening of "7 Chinese Brothers," from R.E.M.'s Reckoning (LP, IRS SP70044), sounded more like a polite tap on the table than the forceful strike that it is, and the rhythm guitars throughout the Quintet of the Hot Club of France's Hot Jazz collection (78rpm shellac, Victor HJ6) lacked the tactile quality heard through very efficient loudspeakers.
The Stirlings' spatial performance was engagingly good, and although their overall sense of scale was smaller than I'm used to, the LS3/6s exhibited greater-than-average degrees of specificity of placement and stage depth. One of the most entertaining examples I noted was at the beginning of the original recording, with Michael Riesman and the Philip Glass Ensemble, of Glass's Einstein on the Beach (LP, Tomato TOM-4-2901), with speaking voices emerging, directly and very clearly, from the left and right speakers, while other voices were strung between the two channels in a curved line that extended a considerable distance upstageall, I presume, as the producer intended. And in the forthcoming reissue, by the Electric Recording Company, of the stereo recording of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, by violinist Leonid Kogan and Constantin Silvestri conducting the Orchestre de la Société du Conservatoire Paris (Columbia/ERC SAX 2386), the spatial relationship between soloist and orchestra sounded convincing without exaggeration (although, again, the whole of the thing sounds bigger through the DeVore Orangutan O/96s and Altec Valencias).
I suggest that the LS3/6 buyer resist the temptation to move his or her listening seat nearer than usual to a room boundary in an effort to maximize perceived bass response: In my room, it seemed that overall balance, musical and sonic detail, and smoothness of response were at their best when my listening seat was just slightly farther from the speakers than the distance between the speakers. Whether or not one is an imaging fiendand I most certainly am notit seems to me that, when the Stirlings' spatial performance was dialed in, so, too, were most other key aspects of their sound.
Compared to my memory of the Spendor SP1/2 loudspeakers I used to own, the Stirling LS3/6s were considerably more impactful and present, with a more up-front spatial perspective. Love them though I did, those older loudspeakerswhich I drove with electronics by Naim, a brand rightly known for superb musical timing and dynamicscould, with some records, fade into the wallpaper.
In any event, it must be said that the Stirling LS3/6, though no Altec Valencia in the Department of Touch and Impact, was never dull, never boring, and, in my system, never less than enjoyable.
Another comparison: My friend Sasha Matson recently traded up to the Harbeth 30.1 monitor speakers (ca $6000/pair). In his room, the Harbeths played with greater bass extension and bass power than the Stirling Broadcast LS3/6s. Yet back home in my room, the less-expensive Stirlings were no less natural, no less explicit, no less musically enrapturing overall. And as for value, I came away from my experience of the Stirlings with the impression that the LS3/6 is a solidly good buy.
Can very accurate, very neutral, very professional be very fun? Yesand here's your proof. Heartily recommended.
Footnote 3: High efficiency being defined, for my purposes and those of most hobbyists of my acquaintance, as a propitious combination of high electrical sensitivity, high impedance, and benignly flat phase-angle curve.