18 December, 2015

Graham Audio LS5/8, Audion

Graham Audio LS5/8 standmount loudspeakerL: Graham Audio LS5/8; R: Open-frame stands.

Review: Graham Audio LS5/8
Overview: Audion

One day before yumcha I went to Avantgarde HK and heard the big Zellaton (report to come). I was very pleased to also find the Graham Audio LS5/8 there. Now, that was hard to resist and the next week I went auditioning with my friend Trazom (who uses my old Spendor SP-100).

BBC Loudspeakers The history of these loudspeakers are well documented on the internet and I'd not go into it. Over the years, I have used quite a few BBC sanctioned loudspeakers, including various LS3/5A, LS5/9 (older bi-wire Rogers) and the LS5/12 (not really a BBC in-house design) (Harbeth). Although I admire them (and still keep some LS3/5A's), I didn't really use them much as I have always preferred much larger loudspeakers for the more demanding playback of large orchestral music. Hence I have also used quite a few (larger) loudspeakers (and heard even more) that can claim BBC heritage, particularly from Spendor (see my Spendor Overview).

LS5/8 This largest of BBC loudspeakers has always been a rarity, and I had never had the chance to hear them. They were active with inbuilt ss Quad amps. As the original drivers are no longer available, Graham Audio's version is an updated one. The Official Link is worth reading one and there are other useful links there. However, the must-read article is from markhennessey.

Graham Audio LS5/8 in brief Size and Weight The picture above is misleading. The real thing is huge! Yet they are relatively light because of the BBC-styled cabinets. Drivers The Audax tweeter is likely very close to the original. The Rogers woofer is replaced by one jointly designed with the reputable Volt Loudspeakers. Crossover Designed by Derek Huges of Spendor, a reliable craftsman. No better choice, imho. Press There have been few reviews, but the one in HiFi+ (site also contains a report of factory tour with LS5/9 assembled) is a good read (The TAS one is the same article).

LS5/8 Specifications
System : 2 Way Reflex
Cabinet : Thin wall construction (critically-damped) Birch plywood
Finish : Wood Veneer
Dimensions : 76cm h x 46cm w x 40cm d Weight : 34kg
Response : 40Hz~16kHz +/-3dB
Nominal Impedance : 8 ohms
Sensitivity : 89dB SPL (2.83V, 1m)
Maximum Output : Over 110dB for a pair @ 2m
Bass/Midrange : 300mm Diaphnatone Polypropylene
Tweeter : Son Audax HD 13D34H
Crossover : 1.8kHz, 19 Precision Elements
Recommended Amplifier Power : 50 to 250 watts unclipped programme

Channel Classics 25 years - sampler cd Equipment Used (see pic at bottom of article)
Preamp: First Sound (Presence Deluxe I think - not sure what level)
Amp: Audion Golden Dream 300B monoblocks
Software: I used exclusively the Channel Classics sampler I wrote about in my last article (see pic).

Brief Overview - Audion
General Although not in the limelight in this report, I'll take this opportunity to write a short Overview of Audion (official link). I came to know Audion in the company's early days (circa early 90's) when I spotted and bought (brand new) its widely popular budget Sterling EL34 amp, which was actually my first SE amp. It was good value, but I soon abandoned it for a second-hand sample of its basic stereo Silver Night 300B amp. There was NO comparison, the EL34 was not at all a match for the 300B (see my HiFi Basics I). Later, I also briefly owned its uninspiring Premier preamp. Caution I also had a good friend who owned their top-of-the-line Quarttro 845 SET amp, which had a catastrophic failure. This brings up the subject of Audion's early industrial designs, which were chic. BUT, the chassis were just too small to dissipate heat, especially in hot and humid HK. The body became hot to touch and quite a few resort to opening the thing up (not an easy task) to dissipate heat.You shall note that their current chassis are much larger in volume. Those with more inquisitive minds should also see this Taiwanese repair report (in Chinese), which exposes the less than sterling transformer construction and layout. Levels Like many UK companies, Audion products have many levels, each more expensive in component parts. But I tell you, this is a game of greatly diminishing returns - there is only so much a design can do, whatever the parts. My Thoughts Lest you think I do not like Audion, this is not so. I think, in their basic iterations, they are good designs. I haven't mentioned the sound, which is always transparent, and unlike most tube designs, with a fast leading edge and good bass control, and that is highly commendable. On the other hand, ultimately, one wishes for a touch more liquidity, compared to the best designs. As a comparison, take the EL34 Sterling, the Unison Research counterparts sound more authoritative; take the 300B SET, the Wavac is just as sharp, but overall of a higher order. However, Audion is for sure superior to many other competitors.

Listening Notes and Comments
  • Setup Since this is not my own setup, a few comments. The AMR CDP is familiar and surely a good player. As for First Sound, I am familiar with their passive preamps (not a genre favored by me), but not their active preamps. Like Audion, they are component driven, which is not my belief. Since I believe the preamp is often the heart of the system, I hedge here. As for Audion, see my Overview above, and I am sure the Golden Dream is up to the task. Also it should be noted that the speakers are quite new and may not have been run in.
    Britten: Works for voice & string orchestra
  • General Sound The very clean sound at Avantgarde (a little restrained for my taste) is reflective of their preference and surely of at least the Audion amplifier too. The CD sampler I brought is challenging in the sense that it contains a huge variety of music, ranging from the intimate to the cataclysmic, and I have played it many times in my own home. It is clear that the Graham LS5/8 is a fine piece of work, playing everything well. That a BBC loudspeaker should have a very accurate and smooth mid-band is taken for granted, but I was pleasantly surprised by the ability of the Graham LS5/8 to convey the atmosphere of the performance, something most speakers fail to do. I shall illustrate this below with selected tracks. As heard, way in-room and far from side walls, the LS5/8 is missing the very lowest notes in the orchestra and is not quite a full-range loudspeaker, but I think its spec's are honest (40-16kHz +/-3db). Dynamically I am sure it can give more with a more powerful amplifier, but I was satisfied by what I heard. Imaging is excellent and the speakers totally disappeared. Resolution is excellent and tonal balance exemplary.
    Evry Time I Feel the Spirit / Derek Lee Ragin
  • Vocal Works Miah Persson's lovely singing in Mahler's 4th is full of very subtle inflections, here caught to perfection. Thumbs up! So is the spiritual Ev'ry time I feel the spirit, unusually sung here (wonderfully) by countertenor Derek Ragin, and the seamless exchanges between him and the New World Ensemble were enticingly caught too.
  • Chamber Works Many modern speakers do not take kindly to the vibrato-less period instruments. Not so with the LS5/8. The particular approaches and colors of the various period ensembles, which could range from the acerbic to the twangy, were well caught in Bach, Vivaldi and Telemann. Rachel Podger's solo Bach, recorded in a church, has the right color and ambience clues. As for more modern works, both the tenor and horn soloists are beautifully projected in Britten's eponymous Serenade.
Image result for mahler 4 fischer
  • Large Orchestral Works This is a large room, and it is to be expected the 20 good watts at hand could not plumb the greatest depth on the demanding large orchestral Stravinsky, Mahler and Rautavaara tracks, but the performances were decent enough for one to look forward to further encounters.
  • Jazz The CD sampler has some, though not the most challenging ones. They were very well rendered, with good pace and rhythm and a good leading edge on attacks. Sorry, no rock on this sampler.
  • vs the original BBC LS5/8 In a way, there shall never be a valid comparison because the original is an active loudspeaker, which has a very different crossover design from a passive one. There shall always be those vintage fanatics who criticize anything new, but my experience is that those people usually do not know what high fidelity is about. In any case, I would be able to shed some light on this in the near future as I just discovered my friend and task-master icefox has a pair of the originals! I am going to pester him to give me an audition.
  • vs Yamaha NS-1000 I only recently got this CD but has listened to it several times on my Yamaha NS-1000 (for ancillary equipment see here). My space is much smaller and my equipment much cheaper, so these impressions reflect my personal bias: 1) in terms of the leading edge, tonal color and ambience clues, the CD sounds very similar in both setups - not surprising given that both the Yamaha and LS5/8 were monitors in their time; 2) in terms of extension and dynamics I prefer my Yamaha's, but then Avantgarde's large room surely needs more than 20 watts to do the Graham's justice; 3) as is, in one area I feel the Graham LS5/8 is superior to my current Yamaha setup; vocals and that intangible thing, atmosphere. But then, it would be a totally different story if I bring back my Western Electric to drive the Yamaha's; 4) overall I do not think the LS5/8 can surpass the performance of the Yamaha, but it should be an equal. To some, this is like damning with faint praise, but those who know how highly I rate the Yamaha (very expensive in its time) would know that is the highest praise for the Graham LS5/8.
  • vs Spendor SP-100 Trazom and I naturally mentally compared the LS5/8 with the 3-way Spendor SP-100 (descendent of the mighty BC-1) which we have both used for a long time. The LS5/8 is even larger, but I do not think dynamically it is quite as good (cabinet designs are different enough). The SP-100 subjectively goes lower. I do think the LS5/8 images a little better. Given that the Graham LS5/8's crossover was designed by Spendor's Derek Hughes, the semblance in the mid-band is uncanny, but I suspect the Graham may have a little more atmosphere. Overall, I do not think the LS5/8 can better the SP-100, but it would take some closer listening to tell. The Spendor SP-100 is also one of my favorite speakers (see my Spendor Overview here), and that says something about the Graham LS5/8.
  • The Graham LS5/8 is a mighty fine loudspeaker. Those who value the mid-band and have a need for full-range (or nearly so) loudspeakers should investigate. Those who listen to a lot of vocals and classicals should do so too. The price is not cheap, but here is something that can convey atmosphere when most modern speakers fail to do so. If you know Maria Callas' inimitable and never surpassed Casta Diva, you will know this factor is critical. Enthusiastically recommended!

  • This bulky loudspeaker is old-fashioned in looks and unlikely to have high WAF. I applaud Avantgarde's courage to distribute it.

p.s. It is not often that I pay visits to dealers. The main reason is simple: for various reasons, often their sound do not do justice to the products they carry (to cite only one: they use only the products they distribute, which often do not work with each other; in particular, the so-called "hi-end" cables , which are mostly colored and clash with other products easily). Yet, sometimes, they are the only places where one can audition. The astute listener has to extrapolate. Lest this be misunderstood, Avantgarde has two of HK's better sounding showrooms, and the staff is always courteous. I urge you to audition if interested. Make sure to audition the wonderful Zellaton too!