A classic BBC mini monitor and audiophile favourite is not only revived but revitalised
Who could have anticipated this even a year ago? One of the most beloved of all loudspeakers, the legendary BBC LS3/5A, was finished. Period. Stalwart fans of the product – Doug Stirling, for example – issued limited runs, but who could imagine that the speaker might suddenly reappear as a commercial venture?
Well, it has... and it hasn’t. A percentage of the hard-core, fire-breathing purist audience will continue to blather on about ‘It ain’t an LS3/5A if it isn’t 15ohm/doesn’t say Chartwell/doesn’t have BBC badges/doesn’t have KEF drivers/delete as applicable’. That wasn’t going to happen, because neither KEF nor Harbeth have any intention of putting back into production the drivers needed to make the speaker. While the 11ohm, bi-wire crossover could be replicated, and the cabinet and the Tigon grille material sourced to complete the product, the drivers were simply no longer available.
Many of you might think, ‘Then it ain’t no LS3/5A.’ But let’s not be too hasty: if it looks/walks/sounds/smells like a duck, then it is a duck. And this speaker is an LS3/5A (not a duck), unless you are so masochistically, self-abnegatingly puristic that you can’t allow a little flexibility to return this much-loved speaker to the fold.
Thank goodness for lateral thinking. Some years ago, a controversial American designer challenged anyone to hear the difference between his outrageous valve amp and anything else they could name, once he’d ‘voiced’ his to sound the same. He was pooh-poohed, but those who thought about it admitted that he was on to something. After all, isn’t fine-tuning a new product the act of ‘voicing’ it? A resistor here, a wire change there?
MADE HERE TOO
So, thought the revivalists, if the drivers no longer exist, why not find substitutes and then voice them so they’re indistinguishable from the originals? Using the talents of LS3/5A wizards Andy Whittle and John Bell, Rogers has done just that. And they did it using European-sourced/specified drivers, in UK-made cabinets. And assembled right here in England.
In four years’ total secrecy Whittle and Bell laboured hard to recreate the crossover, source the finest cabinets (remember, they had access to the results of the LS3/5A shoot-out we ran some years back, and knew which specific LS3/5A to emulate) and find some Tigon grille material. Which Bell said was crucial: ‘We could not believe what a difference real Tigon made when compared to a substitute. And a grille couldn’t be voiced like a driver.’
Whittle and Bell talked me through the project. According to Andy, ‘Assembly and construction… we opted for the best. The cabinet and baffle are both birch ply, none of that dead-sounding MDF. They’re made in the UK and the whole speaker is assembled here. This should keep the traditionalists happy.’
Narrowing down the choice of possible drivers they selected two, which they’d prefer not to be named. ‘Let others do all the work if they too want to replicate the LS3/5A. We used a highly-regarded 19mm soft dome tweeter with the usual Beeb phase correction/protection plate. The woofer is EU-sourced, too.’
According to Bell, the voicing (and, it must be said, a huge investment from Rogers’ parent company) made the entire project feasible. Whittle described it as an ‘Easy brief: to make something that sounded as close as possible to the original. In practice, it was a bit more difficult, despite a number of attempts. Getting a response curve to match the original LS3/5a’s was quite easy, but getting the sound was not, so a number of drive unit combinations were tried until we hit on the woofer that sounded closest to the original B110.’
Less problematic was the crossover, which Whittle states ‘is more or less identical to the original – same order slopes. The inductors have slightly different values to allow for the differences in the drive units, and there is an extra bit of resistance on the tweeter because the new tweeter is more sensitive than the T27.’
ON THE NAIL
From here on, this is the easiest review I’ve ever had to write: simply put, they nailed it! Imaging was absolutely identical: wide, deep and virtually emulating a point source. Bass had that same, funky bump, but I swear they factored in a trace more control and extension. Maximum SPLs? Measurements may dictate otherwise, but, wholly subjectively, they seemed louder.
It was an uncanny experience, playing them side-by-side. Far more revealing would be a test in front of a pack of LS3/5A users who were not told that they were hearing a speaker without KEF drivers. Would they be ‘fooled’, if that’s the appropriate word? I have no doubt: the same realistic voices, just as the Beeb requires for on-site monitoring of spoken-word programming. Detail and warmth without a shred of the clinical. The only doubt in my mind? That I was hearing them at their best…because they were so new.
Like the original, these will grow sweeter and ‘looser’ with age. Devotees such as Paul Whatton and Peter Roberts genuinely believe a few years’ usage helps. But I’m confident of what I heard, though the review sample might have had only 100 hours on them. Keb’ Mo’s voice had the same textures, presence, character of the mid-1970s Rogers 15ohm model, his Dobro the same twang. Carolyn Hester? Crystal clarity. Aretha? All the power she can muster. Johnny Winter’s guitar? Biting, fast, liquid when it needed to be.
Then there’s the pricing. Alas, there was a decision to go pan-European, so the speakers cost more than you’d find on eBay. But there is one small consolation: what you’ll be buying will be brand-spanking-new. But the punch line to all of this? The very day I submitted this review, I learned from John Bell that they had sought, and have received, BBC-approval. Or, to put it another way, quack-quack-quack.
Running these in a dozen permutations, against 11 and 15ohm models, single-and bi-wired, with solid-state and valve gear, playing both CD and vinyl, there was an inescapable conclusion: they have not only succeeded in cloning the LS3/5A, they’ve made it go slightly louder and deeper. I can say but one thing: I’ve placed an order for a pair without hesitation.
Originally published in the May 2008 edition
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