Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a loudspeaker Page 2

Forget sissy foot tapping. I believe completely in the value of involuntary lap drumming, head bobbing, and ecstatic fist pumping. These actions signify that I am in sync with the music, that I got my ears wide open and my mojo workin'. And when I find myself synced up and delirious, I play the same records over and over. (Yes, I was that neighbor you hated.) I've been playing, over and over, David Byrne's Eno-produced score for Twyla Tharp's The Catherine Wheel (LP, Sire 3645), and especially the penultimate two tracks, "What a Day That Was" and "Big Blue Plymouth (Eyes Wide Open)." I used the new Vinnie Rossi LIO integrated amplifier (review to come), and when I got to the "(Eyes Wide Open)" part I babbled like a fiend in a forest. My feet stomped, my head swayed back and forth, my fists pounded—and at the end, when the synths kicked in, my cheeks were soaked with tears. "See the little girl with her eyes rolled back in her head . . ."

These little speakers didn't just open my ears. True to their legendary status as the first box speaker that could actually image, the Falcon LS3/5a's projected—on a spectacularly big, airy soundstage—crystalline images that were sharp and sweet. Big orchestral recordings were so gigantic I could feel the expanding kettledrum waves tickling the walls of concert halls.

Bright emitting tubes
I've had the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a's for several months and have powered them with every amp in the house. They played enjoyably well with all—with one exception. Class-D made these hyper-responsive, 15-ohm speakers sound dry, slightly hard, and more generalized than I like. Class-D amps awoke that napping bass bump and turned the slightly rising treble into a distraction. The LS3/5a has always been an exceptionally amp-friendly speaker, not because it makes mediocre amps sound good, but for quite the opposite reason: The LS3/5a excels at letting you hear exactly what your amp really sounds like.


Like all previous LS3/5a's, the Falcons sang their best with lower-powered class-A or class-AB amps. A supersweet, unusually liquid-sounding, class-AB MOSFET amp—such as the 25Wpc Vinnie Rossi LIO integrated—could bring this antique design into the 21st century. The Falcon-Rossi combo delivered lively, grainless magic, and showed me just how neutral and "invisible" these minimonitors could be. But . . .

Like dogs begging for treats, what the 15-ohm Falcons really wanted was a tube amp with a 16-ohm tap.

My 22Wpc Line Magnetic LM518 IA amp, with its 845 tubes, responded perfectly to that desire. The minute I hooked it up, the Falcon's tone colors doubled in saturation. Steve Davis of Big Ear Consulting, Falcon Acoustics' US importer, says he uses a PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium EL34 power amp, which—unlike PrimaLuna's DiaLogue Premium HP integrated, reviewed by Robert Deutsch in Stereophile in December 2014—has 16-ohm taps. I've used my 30-year-old Rogers LS3/5a's (serial nos. 23035A/B) with single-ended 300B and push-pull 2A3 amps and have never felt a need for more juice. I didn't have one to try for this review, but every push-pull, 6BQ5/EL84 amplifier I used sounded LSD-spiderweb spectacular! Push-pull 6L6/5881 tubes + LS3/5a is a classic combo I can almost guarantee you'll enjoy. Meanwhile, my Line Magnetic LM518 IA tubed amp made such rich, strong, fantastically detailed, super-lively sound that I used it for all of the listening described below.

The scene was rockin'
Remember 7" 45s? Remember Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash" (Garpax 45-44167), originally released in October 1962? As I hunkered down in my candlelit Bed-Stuy bunker, the surreal vision of the Line Magnetics' thoriated-tungsten–bright emitters and the vivid sounds of Boris and his Crypt-Kickers took mesmerizing hold of me. This is a weird recording. The drum kit is strangely small and distant, but the boiling, bubbling beaker hangs directly in front of my face. Pickett's voice was more richly toned and tangible than I ever dreamed possible. Even the little drum kit sounded quite real.


Countless times I have played a mono recording of Vladimir Horowitz attacking Beethoven's best-known piano sonata, "Moonlight," Op.27 No.2 in c#, with full-tilt romantic vigor (LP, RCA LM-2009). Each time, I hear something new. With the Falcons and Ortofon's CG 25 DI II cartridge, I discovered a meteor shower of startling dynamic contrasts. A couple of times I felt as if flashbulbs were going off. The Falcon LS3/5a is less than a foot tall, but the pair of them gave Horowitz's piano a vivid, large-scale presence. Microcontrasts and microdynamics were as good as I could imagine. When I played this recording through the KEF LS50s—designed in homage to the LS3/5a—they couldn't match the Falcons' light-speed–free expression, transparency, or tonal purity.

Not long ago, a friend played me McLemore Avenue, Booker T. & the M.G.'s mostly instrumental riff on the Beatles' Abbey Road (LP, Stax STS-2027). It sounded so smooth, liquid, and Hammond B3 colorful, I felt I was sliding along a greasy Memphis sidewalk in 1970. My friend's hi-fi is beyond eccentric. It includes an old SoundCraftsman equalizer and some PP-6L6–powered Ampex "suitcase" speakers, and it made McLemore sound like a reference recording to die for. Once I got my head outa the back cover—it shows a drunken black man ogling a white chick's legs—I realized that every rhythm change, every snare pop, every Donald "Duck" Dunn bass riff was dripping in irony and sarcasm. By the time I made it through the three Beatles medleys on side 1, I was convinced that I had to go home and buy this LP on eBay—that night.

When my "Near Mint" Stax beauty arrived, I immediately played it. It sounded like crap. The tone was sour. The rhythms were not ironically funky. I was already writing for Stereophile, so occasionally, after installing a new amp or speakers, I would pull out McLemore Avenue to hear if it sounded better. It never did.


Until right now. Listening to it and looking at the cover, I feel as if I'm seeing the whole of 1960s white America through the eyes and heart of a black man. In reverie, I'm standing on the corner of East McLemore and College Avenues. I can see Stax's "SOULSVILLE USA" sign, and I finally understand what I was once too young to grasp. Why is my mind suddenly opening up? Because the Falcon LS3/5as are doing their righteous thing.

Today, McLemore Avenue sounds way better—and much less distorted—than it did at my friend's house. Steve Cropper's guitar is alive, talking beautifully and tangibly present. Booker T. is holding a B3 chord until I completely grasp its meaning. The Human Timekeeper (Al Jackson Jr.) is pounding it down for human rights. And the Falcons are demonstrating that Memphis soul always sounds best, and box speakers always sound their least peculiar, when the tonal balance and boogie factor are sly, sultry, and right on!

I felt a little naãve for even attempting to tell this story. At this point, there's precious little to debate or describe about the merits of the BBC LS3/5a minimonitor design. And surely, the world doesn't need yet another long review of yet another licensed incarnation of it. The only relevant question is whether or not Falcon Acoustics' LS3/5a is better than earlier LS3/5a's in some unmeasurable but listener-tangible way. Could this 21st-century incarnation, made by a couple of old farts, possibly play music more accurately or more enjoyably than my 30-year-old Rogers LS3/5a's, and all the Harbeth, Spendor, Chartwell, etc. iterations that came before it?

I doubt I'm qualified to fully answer that question—I haven't heard them all. But I do know that the Falcons make my old Rogerses sound a tad drowsy and fuzzy, like a cartridge with too many miles on it. (Perhaps I'm responding to a fresh tweeter with a slightly stronger response.) The Falcon is livelier and sings more clearly than any other LS3/5a I've heard. To my ears, this new, hypercrafted edition seems more "invisible," better toned, less "miserably" distorted or "peculiar" sounding, than any other moderately priced loudspeaker I've used in my home—ever.

The Falcon LS3/5a has returned me to my roots, and served as a powerful reminder of the joys and beauties that a simple, accurate, easy-to-drive loudspeaker coupled to a charming low-powered amplifier can provide.

I never experienced the original red-tape BBC prototypes. I can only imagine what they may have sounded like. But I've used and enjoyed many different variations of the LS3/5a, and can say, with relative Herbcertainty, that the Falcon Acoustics might just be the best production LS3/5a ever made. Only time and the legions of LS3/5a faithful can say for sure.

Falcon Acoustics
US distributor: Big Ear Consulting
Ormond Beach, FL
(800) 752-4018

dalethorn's picture

I bought the ca. 1975 version after reading Holt's review. I particularly remember the phrase "minimum recommended power 25 watts". He noted that maximum power was also specified as 25 watts. I eventually traded them off, fearing I would blow the little drivers at some point. Not an irrational fear given that the pair the seller loaned me (until a new set came in) had a blown driver.

Edit: If I had the original pair today, I'd put them closer to the wall (maybe 12-15 inches) and EQ down the bass hump, which would lessen my anxiety about over-driving them. Once you hit that sweet spot with these little speakers, they'd be almost like the theoretical point-source, having a terrific soundstage.

LS35A's picture

than any other speaker, by far. Even today it's still a favorite.

If you'd told me in 1975 that in 40 years they'd still be being made I'd have said you were crazy.

But in a small room they are still a really nice speaker.

Venere 2's picture

The staples are a nice touch… Really ugly speaker! As good as they supposedly sound, they look like a 99$ DIY project.

RBrooks's picture

No boxes,No horns,No ribbons,No electrostatics,No distortion.
The author of this article thought rather highly of Siegfried Linkwitz Speakers.
As do Steve Guttenberg and Nelson Pass.

audiocaptain's picture

Just wanted to say a big thank you for doing this review. It is a classic and important piece of Audio History that every music lovers deserves to know about. Great writing - Thanks Again! BEC

dce22's picture

Quote : "They played enjoyably well with all—with one exception. Class-D made these hyper-responsive, 15-ohm speakers sound dry, slightly hard, and more generalized than I like. Class-D amps awoke that napping bass bump and turned the slightly rising treble into a distraction. The LS3/5a has always been an exceptionally amp-friendly speaker, not because it makes mediocre amps sound good, but for quite the opposite reason: The LS3/5a excels at letting you hear exactly what your amp really sounds like."

Translation : "I did not try class d amp on this speaker but this is what i think it will sound"

No class d amps were noted in the associated equipment section, message to Herb you need to tell people what kind of class d amp you were using if you were using one in the first place so people need to stay clear of it.

LS35A's picture

Yes, I also was taken with the implication of 'all class d amplifiers are the same' here. Obviously not true.

supamark's picture

Literally the first component listed under the integrated amps, the Hegel H160, is a class D amp. [flame deleted by John Atkinson]

John Atkinson's picture
supamark wrote:
the first component listed under the integrated amps, the Hegel H160, is a class D amp.

The Hegel doesn't use a class-D output stage. But Herb has been recently using the Rogue Sphinx, which does use Hypex class-D modules.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

jporter's picture

The Magnepan 1.7 is $200 less than this speaker. The Paradigm 15B is $600 less. The PSB Imagine B is $1200 less. Monitor audio has their silver series. All of these sound great and just look so much nicer than the Falcon. I have not heard the Falcon speaker, but those staples are just awful.

audiocaptain's picture

This speaker is made to be played with the grills on. The staples are there to hold the velcro firmly in place and work a great deal better than little plastic nipples or other securing methods. You never see these, ever, in normal use. The image is just to show the original T27 and the B110 drivers.
Although there are other lesser priced speakers they are not authentic classic LS3/5a's.

Venere 2's picture

Authentic, a word that is so elastic that it can be stretched to encapsulate everything that is good and worthy of owning. Even when it is not true.

I did not need to be told the speakers were meant to be played with their grills on, and that the grills would hide the staples. I believe most people picked up on that as well.

And yes, there are lesser priced imitators that claim the lineage of the LS3, and are not truly "classic" and oh so authentic LS3s. But remember, there are also numerous other designs from a myriad number of speaker builders in this price range. Maybe they can't claim the authenticity of nostalgia and the good ole days, but they offer much better build quality, aesthetics, and most importantly great sound.

supamark's picture

[flame deleted by John Atkinson]

This speaker is aimed at a specific, small, market segment (not you obviously, but nothing in Stereophile is). As to build quality, from the photos at least, it looks both exceptional and faithful to the original speaker.

WM's picture

Falcon should be commended for their effort; its one of those rare designs which isn't expensive but has huge 'cred' appeal.. it could easily be in the pages of Wallpaper magazine, if it isn't already

jimsusky's picture

This review arouses no small bit of nostalgia in me. Shimeks Audio (in Anchorage) claimed to have sold more Rogers LS3/5a loudspeakers than anyone else in the world for several years running (so advised, they said, by Rogers). This was undoubtedly a function of the Trans-Alaska-Pipeline construction boom that had started about 1973 (startup was ca. summer 1977). But it was also a function of first-class setup and salesmanship. Terry Shimek could sell the legendary “freezers to Eskimos” (which was not a slur in those much thicker-skinned days).

Shimeks extracted $650 from me as a college student in the Summer of 1978,
which I later discovered was $50-$100 more than stateside retail. Invoking CPI-U we get a 2015/1978 ratio of 3.7 and a current value of $2400 I also dropped $200 (actual retail this time) for the kit version of the Hafler DH100 preamp.

(the SSA informs me I made $1900 that summer – thanks be to Mom who amply subsidized my education, room, board, beer, and audio that year).

By 1978 Shimeks was actively pushing moving coil phono replay with direct-drive turntables, both with stock tonearms and retrofitted with Grace tonearms along with decent solid state electronics (Audio Research and Mark Levinson came a bit later) – their demos with the Rogers monitor were ridiculously compelling – with 3D soundstages that extended well beyond the loudspeakers.

They had a trick which became de rigueur for me – stands with back-tilt. The LS3/5a always imaged well sitting straight up-and-down – but with a 25-degree tilt a good soundstage became cavernous with unparalleled instrumental focus. I was so intoxicated by that effect that I suspect I ignored the tonal-balance tradeoff.

(still I suggest that Herb Reichert give this a try and report back in a Follow Up)

That midrange! Lady singers never sounded so sweet in your living room. That definition! Acoustic guitars were transparently rendered – one could readily hear fingers, picks, nylon, and wound steel. We readily learned microphone techniques – and soon had disdain for mediocre and indifferent production.

Several years later I was lent a fellow student’s uncle’s Bryston 3B and Audio Research SP-3 for only a few hours of alchemical magic with my BBC’s. Rickie Lee Jones was playing when my roommate walked in. He was stunned, stopped dead in his tracks and listened. With astonishment he said “it sounds like she’s in the room!” (thus independent, unsolicited confirmation of electronic wizardry).

Reichert is right – big speakers mostly get in their own way – few of them make that kind of holographic magic.

jimsusky's picture

I always liked the look of the speakers undressed - and dogmatically believed that the grills could not improve the sound.

MGM's picture

I built a pair of these Falcon LS3/5as and would broadly agree with the findings.
They are definitely brighter than my own, but one quickly adjusts to this
The friend I built them for for is extremely happy with them.

Casmar's picture

I have had mine for the past twenty eight years. With all their idiosyncrasies, they were the only constant units in my Hifi for all these years. The most fascinating aspect is how they sing in one room and pale by comparison in another.

Doctor Fine's picture

I guess there are too many riches available nowadays.
I bought the Spendors which can now be found for around $600 mint on Ebay.
And THESE were Herb's favorite 3/5 a few years ago.
At $600 the value is off the charts...
I will keep mine forever and I could easily afford to "upgrade."