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BBC LS3/5a, a recent addition to my listening setup

Last year I had to start making some changes in my listening setup. Namely, I had been using Quad ESL-63 loudspeakers for a long time, and I did not honestly want to replace them right now, but the man who did repairs for me (always acting very quickly, and solving every problem practically the same day) decided to retire. So, since such speakers may always need repair, which now may take longer, I needed competent "backup" speakers.

And, as I recently had no time to deal with my designs, cutting a story on deciding short, I settled on making a pair of LS3/5a BBC monitors. The good thing is, Falcon now offers the complete and very nice kit. And I already had their "silver badge" crossovers, which is why you will see this version here. Late Falcon's "gold badge" improves on the inductors and uses the capacitors claimed to "simulate" the polycarbonate type, which was used originally by BBC. I agree that now obsolete polycarbonate caps were more pleasant sounding than polypropylene (nowadays ubiquitous "high-end" parts, that I personally never liked very much), so once I will tweak these parts for sure. But for a start, I just left these silver badge crossover boards as they are.

So, I settled on using also the walls, the front baffle, and the damping as specified by BBC and supplied by Falcon. Dragan Pantelić and his son Oggy did nicely all the necessary woodwork, putting the cabinets together and making them look nice and cute, and then I put everything inside in one afternoon. And the pictures below show the result. You will also notice Audial binding posts and Jupiter hook-up wires.

Right when I completed one box, I was so curious to hear it, and the first check, even with screws not tightened, sounded very fine.


You will not see the tweeter metal grills here, although I did buy them, however only to prove to myself that they must be omitted. Such additions are often necessary protection for the tweeters cones in the unknown, and especially in "professional" environments where these speakers can be used, and you will often find the claims about them linearizing the falling frequency response in the upper end (and you will find this also in the original BBC LS3/5a article - - please see page 2, that is PDF file page 7). While nominally true, such a "linearizing" comes only with parasitic artifacts, which is something I want to avoid whenever possible. So I tried these speakers both with and without these grills, and I will not put them back anymore. Damping felt squares around the tweeters is on the other hand a very good idea, and they will also provide (indirectly) some kind of mechanical protection for the domes.

And now, for the sound.

As opposed to some claims, I found LS3/5a generally open (not too open), and certainly more open and with a more sense of breath than ESL-63. The resolution is great, the tone is very nice, and the attack is also decent.

On the other side, the overall presentation is not that organic, and the size of the instruments is often reduced, as you may expect, but it is still decent for speakers of this size. In fact, even the bigger classic (multi-way, dynamic) loudspeakers, so long as they tend to sound civilized and tame, often present reduced instrument size. And LS3/5a are definitively tame. The parasitic artifacts are coming mostly from the cabinet, which is somewhat needed for small speaker design too, as some kind of resonance boosting the (upper) bass is partially wanted, or they sound thin and "dead" otherwise. As a side-notice, I may add that I've spent most of the nineties listening to the Martin (San Jose) S-30 mini-monitors (whose boxes were somewhat similarly engineered).

The soundstage / sound-field / scene is wide, although not very high, and the depth is also a bit limited. Consequently, it is not ultimately precise in terms of the real 3D holographic positioning. The loudspeakers themselves however disappear as sound sources, and fill the space in between, and instruments' locations and especially ambiance can be perceived very well, and in that way, they bring a highly enjoyable experience.

The crossover cut-off frequency is calm and relatively unnoticeable, and only in some recordings the female voices (which are the most critical in this regard) do not keep their dynamics and tone constantly over the bandwidth.

But generally, the voices are very good, and I found for instance Charles Aznavour's (Tomorrow is My Turn, and similar recordings) more satisfying, better controlled, and even more rich with LS3/5a than with ESL-63.

Generally, using Audial S5 DAC as a source, and driving the LS3/5a with the Audial A20 amplifier, these speakers behave nicely with different recordings made in different times: from the 50's and 60's Vera Lynn or said Charles Aznavour (very realistic tone, atmosphere, and overall presentation), via more mature 80's studio technology (recordings such as Pink Floyd's Sorrow portray 80's very well), until the early or current digital days, where they fare well with both sub-optimal and good recordings, making them generally listenable, still clearly showing the differences (really good recordings such as Keith Jarrett's or Lars Danielsson's ones are both very natural and seductive, especially piano).

So, what I had to say was, from now on, along with the ESL-63, I will also use these LS3/5a to design Audial electronics.

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