Graham Audio LS5/5 (for Veltliner's closed thread): considered impressions after three months of ownership

My LS5/5s replaced Spendor SP100s, which I have owned since 1996. My SP100s were of the ‘Derek Hughes’ era, manufactured in late 1994 (they were used by Spendor at UK hifi shows, after which I acquired them). I had desired them since reading Martin Colloms’ outstanding review of the original S100 in HFNRR in 1989. During the 1980’s, I already had owned (chronologically) Spendor Preludes (a lower cost derivation of the SA2); the SP2; the BC1; and the SP1.

The SP1 never really ‘moved’ me, despite their undoubted accuracy, always sounding rather ‘box-bound’; the SP2s offered a ‘mini’ version of all that the SP100 did well and were livelier and I considered them to be more agile than the SP1s on rock & jazz material; the BC1s carried their almost magical qualities, especially in the midrange, but also offering a wonderfully natural and dynamic impression of ‘orchestral bass’, within the limitations of the design.

When I unboxed my SP100s, back in 1996, I immediately heard that same ‘Bextrene’ lower end of the BC1, accurately describing orchestral textures. The midrange exceeded that of the SP2s in precision, detail & clarity. The only deficit was a loss of a hint of the ‘humanity’ of the BC1s...yet this was soon forgotten amid the alternative dynamic strengths of the SP100.

Twenty-six years on: this period included the acquisition of the ‘correct’ Spendor OEM ‘open’ metal stands for the SP100; the ‘upgrading’ of various source components (including the addition of a CD player); and, in 2005, the move to the optimal amplification I have found for the SP100s with the Musical Fidelity kW500 integrated.(A previous MF A1000 had many virtues but lacked the drive, transparency and headroom of the kW500)

These changes progressively ameliorated a minor tendency to fullness/’cloudiness’ in the upper end of the 12” woofer, which I recall both REG & Martin Colloms observed in their original reviews.

Part of my ‘loudspeaker history’ includes a dalliance with horns (the Lecson HL1, a 1970’s design from what was to become the ‘Meridian’ team), which offered great dynamic impact and immediacy but lacked the overall charm, imaging and accuracy that the succeeding BC1s possessed in my system.

My 26 year relationship with the SP100s was briefly punctuated by a six month sojourn with a pair of Audiostatic DCIs. I had been disappointed when hearing the QUAD 63: in contrast, the Audiostatic possessed a quite remarkable transparency, which was probably its finest feature.

I enjoyed the Audiostatics for their openness and vivacity...until I began to notice the weakness of the left hand of the piano keyboard, and an absence of the ‘woodiness’ of acoustic instruments such as ‘cello and double bass...and a more general increasing awareness of a lack of ‘body’ below 300Hz.

(Perhaps the addition of a pair of modest subwoofers might have remedied this deficit?)

However, a return to the (temporarily sidelined) SP100s immediately renewed my affection for the ‘BBC balance’: gone was the ultimate in transparency but body, timbral accuracy and weight returned.

I enjoy a ‘distant’ perspective in my listening: as if in ‘the Gods’ in the Huddersfield Town Hall, listening to Messiah! (In my youth, I could only ever afford the tickets in the Gods, so became accustomed to this perspective). The BBC used to record classical concerts at the Town Hall, which has fine acoustics, and during my secondary school years I was able to get tickets...(while my schoolmates sought David Bowie, Genesis & Led Zeppelin concert tickets!)

My Graham LS5/5s were acquired about 12 weeks ago: I now feel able to describe them with a degree of confidence...

The LS 5/5s possess all of the strengths of the SP100s, together with the essence of the charming presence of the BC1. This represents a considerable accolade, in my experience, by blending aspects of two of my most favoured loudspeakers.

Their dimensions almost exactly match those of the SP100.

I have the dedicated ‘Broadcast’ oak stands, manufactured by Paul Westlake (of Westlake Audio) specifically for the LS5/5 (he has models for other BBC designs)

Amplification remains Musical Fidelity kW500 integrated (with 6 metre pairs of TriVista copper cable).

Sources include a Meridian 204 tuner, which sounds particularly remarkable on BBC Radio 3 broadcasts via the LS5/5; Audio Synthesis Transcend CD transport & Metrum Amethyst R2R Dac (with upgraded Transient 3 processing chips); Musical Fidelity M1 turntable with SME M2-9 and Ortofon Kontrapunkt A: Cyrus Signature Phono stage.

My SP100s were supplemented by a pair of original ported REL Storms (as favoured by REG to blend with BBC designs) and Townshend Supertweeters (connected out of phase with the loudspeakers, but in phase with the tweeters). These elements subtly enhanced the SP100s, but I am coming to consider the LS5/5s are complete without the addition of the supertweeter on most classical recordings, while the bass supplementation offered by the RELs blends as perfectly as I have ever experienced in my listening room.

Interconnects are solid core silver; digital connection is the late Chris Sommovigo’s original ‘Tron’ digital interconnect.

Before purchase, I had been concerned that the bass ‘roll-off’ of the LS5/5 lacked the room compensation of the SP100 (and SP2) designs: however, the lower frequencies provided by the LS5/5 in my room appear to be perfectly judged. There is certainly no ‘room boom’ here, as has sometimes been described by some owners of large three-way BBC-derived designs, nor any sense that the loudspeakers ‘overpower’ a modestly-sized English listening room: 12 feet wide by 20 feet long, with arch opening into a room 12 feet by 15 feet; speakers on the short wall, slight toe-in, positioned exactly as were the previous SP100s (images available on request)


My brother commented that the slight ‘cloudy’ overhang in the upper mid-bass that had persisted in the Spendors (and which I had come to consider to be part of their ‘character’) is absent in the LS5/5 and for a few hours one could even be deceived by the habituation of acoustic memory that the LS5/5s were unduly ‘thin’, yet one soon realised that they were merely devoid of that accustomed colouration.

Performance at low volume, an area in which the Spendors particularly excelled, is further enhanced, with a remarkably well-preserved dynamic envelope and equally well-preserved ‘top to bottom’ frequency balance (thus, apparently delightfully defying the Fletcher-Munson curve!)

The LS5/5s never produce ‘background music’, even when turned down to traditional low-level listening levels. They remain utterly engaging at all amplitudes.


I note that the original BBC paper from 1967, https://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rd/pubs/reports/1967-57.pdf

Harwood described comparison between the LS5/1, and two versions of the LS5/5 prototype, one possessing a six-inch mid (as in the SP100) and one with an eight-inch mid (as in the official LS5/5, which allowed a lower crossover at 400Hz) and that the ‘eight-inch mid’ design was preferred over the ‘six-inch’: Derek Hughes undoubtedly had sound reason for selecting a six-inch mid when he designed the S100/SP100 in the late 1980’s.


My brother visited to hear the LS5/5s: he has Avantgarde DUO Omega horns driven by a pair of EAR 509 valve monoblocks: but after hearing the LS5/5 considered them to capture ‘the essence of the musical performance’. In particular, he thought that the LS5/5 offered a satisfying ‘soundstage’ even when the listener was offset from the ideal listening position: perhaps this indicates the advantage offered by the frontal ‘slots’ of the LS5/5 design?

He also observed, having recently acquired a pair of Stax electrostatic headphones for monitoring purposes, how much the LS5/5 captured a similar experience of being able to hear exactly how a recording was assembled: yet he commented that the LS5/5’s remarkable openness and detail were very much a ‘musical’ rather than an ‘analytical’ experience. Notwithstanding this, there remains the ability to use the LS5/5 as an analytic tool, should the occasion demand. (I note that the BBC retained the LS5/5 for the calibration of microphones for many years after they were withdrawn for monitoring duties?)

I should acknowledge that I purchased the LS5/5 without audition, having full confidence that Derek Hughes would be unlikely to fail in any BBC design. Although my main concern in buying the LS5/5s ‘blind’ (or should that be ‘deaf’?) had been the lack of 'room compensation' in the bass alignment, in the event this has proven to be an unnecessary concern in my listening room. The bass accurately reproduces the texture of the 'swelling' bass of a large orchestra: on jazz, the bass is agile, rhythmic and expressive, while capturing the 'woodiness' of the double bass versus the dryer electronic sound of a 'Fender' bass.

In summary, these are the finest loudspeakers I have heard in my current listening room. They surpass the SP100 to a degree which I find is worthwhile but which in no way diminishes the excellence of the original ‘Hughes era’ SP100, with which I am certain I could happily have lived for a further 26 years had the LS5/5 not been thankfully resurrected by Paul Graham’s considerable investment and by Derek Hughes’ equally considerable technical genius.


The LS5/5 possesses an almost ‘electrostatic’ quality of openness & precision, which is quite remarkable, even at low volume. They have a degree of timbral accuracy which is both beguiling and outstandingly redolent of the natural, living and breathing tone of acoustic instruments and voices. I am reminded of Martin Colloms' definitive 1989 review of the Spendor S100 in HFNRR, in which he described it as having no significant weaknesses and that any compromises made in the design were 'entirely musical'. He described the S100 as possessing many of the finer qualities of the best loudspeakers with which he was familiar (and with which he made active comparison, supported by a listening panel) yet with a unique balance of virtues that those other 'references' lacked. This eloquent prose would equally summarise my own conclusions about the current Graham LS5/5.


In closing, I must thank my wife, Jill, for her support & considerable indulgence in travelling with me from the north-west of England down into deepest Devon to assist me in collecting my LS5/5s, and for enduring the subsequent brief visit to the Graham factory in Newton Abbott.


My apologies if I have wittered on rather too effusively here.

Equally, if there are aspects that I have failed to elucidate fully, then I shall be happy to expand upon my impressions if it is valuable.


Stephen.
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Attempting to make it legible by removing all formatting….

My LS5/5s replaced Spendor SP100s, which I have owned since 1996. My SP100s were of the ‘Derek Hughes’ era, manufactured in late 1994 (they were used by Spendor at UK hifi shows, after which I acquired them). I had desired them since reading Martin Colloms’ outstanding review of the original S100 in HFNRR in 1989. During the 1980’s, I already had owned (chronologically) Spendor Preludes (a lower cost derivation of the SA2); the SP2; the BC1; and the SP1.

The SP1 never really ‘moved’ me, despite their undoubted accuracy, always sounding rather ‘box-bound’; the SP2s offered a ‘mini’ version of all that the SP100 did well and were livelier and I considered them to be more agile than the SP1s on rock & jazz material; the BC1s carried their almost magical qualities, especially in the midrange, but also offering a wonderfully natural and dynamic impression of ‘orchestral bass’, within the limitations of the design.

When I unboxed my SP100s, back in 1996, I immediately heard that same ‘Bextrene’ lower end of the BC1, accurately describing orchestral textures. The midrange exceeded that of the SP2s in precision, detail & clarity. The only deficit was a loss of a hint of the ‘humanity’ of the BC1s…yet this was soon forgotten amid the alternative dynamic strengths of the SP100.

Twenty-six years on: this period included the acquisition of the ‘correct’ Spendor OEM ‘open’ metal stands for the SP100; the ‘upgrading’ of various source components (including the addition of a CD player); and, in 2005, the move to the optimal amplification I have found for the SP100s with the Musical Fidelity kW500 integrated.(A previous MF A1000 had many virtues but lacked the drive, transparency and headroom of the kW500)

These changes progressively ameliorated a minor tendency to fullness/’cloudiness’ in the upper end of the 12” woofer, which I recall both REG & Martin Colloms observed in their original reviews.

Part of my ‘loudspeaker history’ includes a dalliance with horns (the Lecson HL1, a 1970’s design from what was to become the ‘Meridian’ team), which offered great dynamic impact and immediacy but lacked the overall charm, imaging and accuracy that the succeeding BC1s possessed in my system.

My 26 year relationship with the SP100s was briefly punctuated by a six month sojourn with a pair of Audiostatic DCIs. I had been disappointed when hearing the QUAD 63: in contrast, the Audiostatic possessed a quite remarkable transparency, which was probably its finest feature.

I enjoyed the Audiostatics for their openness and vivacity…until I began to notice the weakness of the left hand of the piano keyboard, and an absence of the ‘woodiness’ of acoustic instruments such as ‘cello and double bass…and a more general increasing awareness of a lack of ‘body’ below 300Hz.

(Perhaps the addition of a pair of modest subwoofers might have remedied this deficit?)

However, a return to the (temporarily sidelined) SP100s immediately renewed my affection for the ‘BBC balance’: gone was the ultimate in transparency but body, timbral accuracy and weight returned.

I enjoy a ‘distant’ perspective in my listening: as if in ‘the Gods’ in the Huddersfield Town Hall, listening to Messiah! (In my youth, I could only ever afford the tickets in the Gods, so became accustomed to this perspective). The BBC used to record classical concerts at the Town Hall, which has fine acoustics, and during my secondary school years I was able to get tickets…(while my schoolmates sought David Bowie, Genesis & Led Zeppelin concert tickets!)

My Graham LS5/5s were acquired about 12 weeks ago: I now feel able to describe them with a degree of confidence…

The LS 5/5s possess all of the strengths of the SP100s, together with the essence of the charming presence of the BC1. This represents a considerable accolade, in my experience, by blending aspects of two of my most favoured loudspeakers.

Their dimensions almost exactly match those of the SP100.

I have the dedicated ‘Broadcast’ oak stands, manufactured by Paul Westlake (of Westlake Audio) specifically for the LS5/5 (he has models for other BBC designs)

Amplification remains Musical Fidelity kW500 integrated (with 6 metre pairs of TriVista copper cable).

Sources include a Meridian 204 tuner, which sounds particularly remarkable on BBC Radio 3 broadcasts via the LS5/5; Audio Synthesis Transcend CD transport & Metrum Amethyst R2R Dac (with upgraded Transient 3 processing chips); Musical Fidelity M1 turntable with SME M2-9 and Ortofon Kontrapunkt A: Cyrus Signature Phono stage.

My SP100s were supplemented by a pair of original ported REL Storms (as favoured by REG to blend with BBC designs) and Townshend Supertweeters (connected out of phase with the loudspeakers, but in phase with the tweeters). These elements subtly enhanced the SP100s, but I am coming to consider the LS5/5s are complete without the addition of the supertweeter on most classical recordings, while the bass supplementation offered by the RELs blends as perfectly as I have ever experienced in my listening room.

Interconnects are solid core silver; digital connection is the late Chris Sommovigo’s original ‘Tron’ digital interconnect.

Before purchase, I had been concerned that the bass ‘roll-off’ of the LS5/5 lacked the room compensation of the SP100 (and SP2) designs: however, the lower frequencies provided by the LS5/5 in my room appear to be perfectly judged. There is certainly no ‘room boom’ here, as has sometimes been described by some owners of large three-way BBC-derived designs, nor any sense that the loudspeakers ‘overpower’ a modestly-sized English listening room: 12 feet wide by 20 feet long, with arch opening into a room 12 feet by 15 feet; speakers on the short wall, slight toe-in, positioned exactly as were the previous SP100s (images available on request)

My brother commented that the slight ‘cloudy’ overhang in the upper mid-bass that had persisted in the Spendors (and which I had come to consider to be part of their ‘character’) is absent in the LS5/5 and for a few hours one could even be deceived by the habituation of acoustic memory that the LS5/5s were unduly ‘thin’, yet one soon realised that they were merely devoid of that accustomed colouration.

Performance at low volume, an area in which the Spendors particularly excelled, is further enhanced, with a remarkably well-preserved dynamic envelope and equally well-preserved ‘top to bottom’ frequency balance (thus, apparently delightfully defying the Fletcher-Munson curve!)

The LS5/5s never produce ‘background music’, even when turned down to traditional low-level listening levels. They remain utterly engaging at all amplitudes.

I note that the original BBC paper from 1967, https://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rd/pubs/reports/1967-57.pdf

Harwood described comparison between the LS5/1, and two versions of the LS5/5 prototype, one possessing a six-inch mid (as in the SP100) and one with an eight-inch mid (as in the official LS5/5, which allowed a lower crossover at 400Hz) and that the ‘eight-inch mid’ design was preferred over the ‘six-inch’: Derek Hughes undoubtedly had sound reason for selecting a six-inch mid when he designed the S100/SP100 in the late 1980’s.

My brother visited to hear the LS5/5s: he has Avantgarde DUO Omega horns driven by a pair of EAR 509 valve monoblocks: but after hearing the LS5/5 considered them to capture ‘the essence of the musical performance’. In particular, he thought that the LS5/5 offered a satisfying ‘soundstage’ even when the listener was offset from the ideal listening position: perhaps this indicates the advantage offered by the frontal ‘slots’ of the LS5/5 design?

He also observed, having recently acquired a pair of Stax electrostatic headphones for monitoring purposes, how much the LS5/5 captured a similar experience of being able to hear exactly how a recording was assembled: yet he commented that the LS5/5’s remarkable openness and detail were very much a ‘musical’ rather than an ‘analytical’ experience. Notwithstanding this, there remains the ability to use the LS5/5 as an analytic tool, should the occasion demand. (I note that the BBC retained the LS5/5 for the calibration of microphones for many years after they were withdrawn for monitoring duties?)

I should acknowledge that I purchased the LS5/5 without audition, having full confidence that Derek Hughes would be unlikely to fail in any BBC design. Although my main concern in buying the LS5/5s ‘blind’ (or should that be ‘deaf’?) had been the lack of ‘room compensation’ in the bass alignment, in the event this has proven to be an unnecessary concern in my listening room. The bass accurately reproduces the texture of the ‘swelling’ bass of a large orchestra: on jazz, the bass is agile, rhythmic and expressive, while capturing the ‘woodiness’ of the double bass versus the dryer electronic sound of a ‘Fender’ bass.

In summary, these are the finest loudspeakers I have heard in my current listening room. They surpass the SP100 to a degree which I find is worthwhile but which in no way diminishes the excellence of the original ‘Hughes era’ SP100, with which I am certain I could happily have lived for a further 26 years had the LS5/5 not been thankfully resurrected by Paul Graham’s considerable investment and by Derek Hughes’ equally considerable technical genius.

The LS5/5 possesses an almost ‘electrostatic’ quality of openness & precision, which is quite remarkable, even at low volume. They have a degree of timbral accuracy which is both beguiling and outstandingly redolent of the natural, living and breathing tone of acoustic instruments and voices. I am reminded of Martin Colloms’ definitive 1989 review of the Spendor S100 in HFNRR, in which he described it as having no significant weaknesses and that any compromises made in the design were ‘entirely musical’. He described the S100 as possessing many of the finer qualities of the best loudspeakers with which he was familiar (and with which he made active comparison, supported by a listening panel) yet with a unique balance of virtues that those other ‘references’ lacked. This eloquent prose would equally summarise my own conclusions about the current Graham LS5/5.

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My thanks to Robert for his efforts in noting that the text of my post had appeared on the site in a format very different from that I intended! It is my first contribution to the site. I intended my description to answer Veltliner’s question in an earlier post (now closed) concerning the LS5/5’s performance at low volume, as well as informing more broadly about the loudspeaker.
Stephen.

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@Veltliner

Thanks for a really good review.

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That’s a really nice write-up of your journey, with fine attention to timbre and texture. Thank you. I very much enjoyed reading it.

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