Opinion: Back to the Future - LS3/5a Mini Monitor
David Price travels back in time to when he first heard a BBC LS3/5a loudspeaker, and celebrates the latest Falcon Acoustics version…
I heard my first ever BBC LS3/5a loudspeaker in the late nineteen seventies, when out ‘on tow’ with my father, who was visiting a friend of his who owned a pair. I was a spotty, punk-rock obsessed teenager who was in the process of saving up £4.10 to buy the Boomtown Rats’ latest LP. I didn’t know much about hi-fi, other than the fact that I rather liked the idea of it, and wanted one for my very own…
At that time, the LS3/5a wasn’t really on my radar – I was lusting after a pair of massive Wharfedale E90 floorstanders – yet I had read in my dad’s hi-fi magazines that this little BBC monitor was a studio-quality reference monitor. I was desperate to hear what such a thing sounded like. Dad’s friend kindly cued up Bach’s 5th Brandenburg Concerto on his Ariston turntable, turned up the volume on his Quad pre-power and sat back to let me listen. If I’m honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of baroque-era classical music then (or now), but it was still a fascinating moment – because that midband was simply the best I had ever heard.
I immediately ‘got’ the LS3/5a, understanding what the design was trying to do. After the brief shock of its lack of deep bass, I began to hear its many fine qualities. I was struck by how natural, smooth and sophisticated the music sounded, and particularly impressed by the timbre of the strings. I was doing Music O Level, and so heard my fellow classmates practising their violins on an almost daily basis. I asked if he’d “got any pop”, and out came his copy of The Beatles’ A Hard Days Night – the most modern LP in his collection, apparently! Again, I heard a spookily clean, open and pure rendition of the vocals, drum work and guitars – and little in the way of low bass, even if the upper bass guitar notes were crisply carried.
That impromptu demo made a lasting impression on me. Just one year later, I bought my very own first pair of loudspeakers – the Videoton GB3. This was the poor man’s LS3/5a, or so its makers claimed. Truly tiny – with a cloth dome tweeter and 125mm paper coned mid/bass driver rammed up close together – it also had no low bass, but possessed a particularly couth and sophisticated midband. When I outgrew these five years later, I bought a pair of Linn Kans – another spiritual cousin of the LS3/5a, also with a sealed infinite baffle cabinet, albeit a lot more ‘rock and roll’ in its voicing.
In short, this little BBC mini-monitor enticed me into the wonderful world of hi-fi, and taught me how to listen. I learned from an early age that if a speaker has a clean midband with fine phase coherence, it doesn’t matter if you lose the bottom octave of bass – because your brain can make up for that later. What it can’t do is make a silk purse from a sow’s ear in the midband. The fact that the LS3/5a doesn’t ask it to try is its abiding strength.
So it was fascinating to audition the new Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a. It’s the tightest, tautest, cleanest and most dynamic version of the BBC monitor I’ve yet come across. Other incarnations that I have heard over the years have been a little softer, saggier and less detailed. When I bought my Linn Kans in my early twenties, I had decided the LS3/5a was just a bit too middle-of-the-road for my tastes. Now, thirty years on, I still wouldn’t say they’re ideal for blowing the roof off my house to Metallica’s Enter Sandman. Yet the Falcon Acoustics version is better at loud, dense rock than I had thought. Interestingly though, I no longer think of this speaker as a paragon of transparency and neutrality; put it against a high-end modern loudspeaker, and you’ll realise it delivers a slightly romantic, sepia-tinged sound.
Fascinatingly though, it’s still lovely. This classic mini monitor no longer has pretences of unparalleled transparency, yet is still a profoundly nice thing to listen to. This is especially the case if you’re sick of the forward, fizzy, forensic sounding speakers of today; many audiophiles have realised that they no longer want the crashing hi-hat cymbals from Van Halen’s Jump permanently etched into their cranium. The LS3/5a will never do this, but will always give orchestral and acoustic music a lovely airing. Quality, not quantity – as someone once said – is this BBC mini-monitor's mission in life, and what a life it has been.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.