Graham Audio BBC LS5/9 loudspeaker review

The Graham Audio BBC LS5/9 loudspeaker has been re-designed by Derek Hughes in the tradition of past exceptional BBC designs!

I have always been partial to the sound of the foremost BBC designed or derived loudspeakers for most of my career as an audiophile. This, in part, was because the first time I had heard both the Chartwell Ls3/5a and Spendor BC1 loudspeakers around 1973, I came away with a different and novel idea as to what sound accuracy in music reproduction should be.

Although that was many moons ago, I still have a strong inclination to bring out these speakers as long-term reference checks. Not surprisingly, I am always amazed, after 40 years, at how they perform and can provide such immense listening pleasure.

What made the BBC speakers special?

Ever since the early sixties (and earlier), BBC speakers were designed with the utmost in careful engineering as well as extraordinary quality control in the manufacturing process. The BBC speaker development operation was wonderfully free of commercial pressure. They were just after speakers that fitted in with their standard environments and produced a sound as close as they could get to live instruments, speech, and of course, music. They also happened to be in a position to audition performers and orchestras to make true “live” comparisons possible while spreading listening evaluations across many people… musicians, consumers, and engineers.

They demanded that the closest replica of “live sound” was the ultimate goal of their design philosophies and as a result, many BBC “legendary” loudspeakers were born. It’s hard to think of anywhere that speaker development was pursued so comprehensively. And so, we might conclude, that these BBC designed or derived loudspeakers were the forerunners of the high-end audio revolution in the early seventies; if not immediately here in America, then most certainly in Britain and Europe.

The Original LS5/9

The LS5/9 was designed by the BBC Research Department as an active speaker system and originally manufactured under license by Rogers (most notable for their indelible LS3/5a mini-monitor). Design of the LS5/9 (28 litre) started production in 1983 and regrettably, it never saw service until the 90’s The loudspeaker was intended to be used in locations where the much larger LS5/8 (109 litre) was deemed to be inappropriate. The BBC Design Report makes fascinating reading and is well worth downloading.

Original Drive Units

As one of the aims of the BBC engineers at the time was to produce as close a sound quality match as with the LS5/8; consequently they chose the same Audax HD13D34H 34mm fabric dome (now replaced by the Audax TW034X0) for its upper mid-high frequency range. The BBC fitted a metal grille for protection, which was intended to support the weight of the complete loudspeaker! This assembly was designated LS2/12. As for the Ls5/9’s bass unit, its development was a matter of some in-house research, and the resulting design made by Rogers shared the die-cast chassis and distinctive transparent polypropylene cone.

Graham Audio BBC LS5/9 loudspeaker no grille

GRAHAM AUDIO and the NEW LS5/9

This family-owned British company, based in Newton Abbot, south-west England have always regarded that the classic BBC loudspeaker designs offer levels of neutrality, transparency, and realism that have been harder to find today, even while acknowledging many of the most prestigious and newest loudspeaker designs being produced in America and Europe.

Graham Audio’s relatively new American Importer ‘On A Higher Note’ is overseen by audiophile and President Philip O’Hanlon; quite obviously, after some close talks with him– a music lover and an adamant audiophile!

Designer Derek Hughes (son of Spencer and Dorothy of Spendor) having administered the exact, original BBC specifications, has now implemented a full line of these classic BBC loudspeakers; being recreated using the most updated and sophisticated drive units.

The loudspeaker uses a bespoke 200mm bass/midrange polypropylene driver that was developed in conjunction with Volt Loudspeakers to allow these drivers to meet the original 1983 BBC specifications. This involves the use of a substantial die-cast aluminum frame and a massive motor assembly, allied to a diaphragm formed from a selected grade of polypropylene and matched to a high-quality rubber surround. Each bass driver is hand-assembled and tested by Volt.

The tweeter is a selected version of the Audax 34mm soft dome, (yes-still available) which is protected by a that strong metal grille. Graham’s sophisticated crossover network blends the units and equalizes the overall response (amazingly well) for optimum performance in free space.

The cabinet still uses the now “classic” and legendary BBC “thin-wall” construction and is manufactured in the UK from high-quality 9mm birch plywood. All joints in the cabinet are reinforced with hardwood batons to ensure long life and total air sealing. These panels are mass-loaded as historically, this ensures the resonances are moved away from the critical mid-range region, and a layer of Rockwool held in place by fabric provides air damping. The speaker’ grille – machined from a single piece of 9mm birch plywood – is held in place by concealed rare-earth magnets. Graham Audio advises keeping these grilles on—as this is how the speakers were voiced. I can vouch for the fact that the speakers do need that grille kept on!

While the Ls5/9 loudspeaker is a smaller version of Grahams’ current and larger BBC model, the LS5/8, the 5/9 2-way reflex-loaded system can handle large amounts of clean amplifier power, even while its stated sensitivity is on the moderate side at its 87db rating. I was able to easily and safely apply my PS Audio M700, 300-watt monoblocks with these speakers without any sense of hesitancy at all.

Set Up And Sound Quality

As is customary when new loudspeakers are introduced into my listening room, some room placement and tweaking were inevitable, and so it was with the LS5/9’s. With a small amount of repositioning, the speakers ended up at close to 4 feet from my front wall to the speaker baffle and approximately 3.5 feet from each sidewall.

The speakers were installed on some custom-made open-frame metal stands I had on hand that can seat a variety of loudspeakers of the LS5/9’s intended size and height. Graham Audio does provide its custom stands that are specifically made for the LS5/9 loudspeakers that are available for the offering. (manufactured in the USA by Gig Harbor Audio, just outside Seattle).  

The final height of the speakers in my listening room fundamentally ended up placed on 19” high stands (although Graham recommends 24” stands which would place the tweeter closer to the axis with the listener’s ears and though the bass weight would be slightly reduced, the sound should be a little better defined) The loudspeakers were spaced at 8.5 feet apart in my 14-foot-wide by 26-foot-long listening room. Customarily, I place my listening seat 10-11 feet back from the speakers. Admittedly, because of its size, it took a good while to get this space treated quite well acoustically.

Theoretically, The LS5/9 monitor was intended for relatively close-up, near field listening and monitoring with the speakers aimed directly at the listener. On a personal note, I always angle any quality loudspeaker system in towards my listening seat, (ears); more towards an isosceles triangular formation– sitting a bit further back, rather than in the so-called, equilateral triangle “ideal”. As such, a sharp and accurate stereo image will be possible if the loudspeaker design will enable as much. Factually, it is not possible with any known loudspeaker system to reproduce a firm stereo image in all parts of a given listening area.

Graham Audio BBC LS5/9 loudspeaker side view

With some reference-quality associated equipment (listed below) and some of my customarily dedicated analog and digital program sources, the overall quality of the LS5/9 did not disappoint.

The fine integration of the new drive units, as well as the speaker’s sturdy cabinet and build, enabled these small monitors to belie their size. The speaker’s sound was open and detached from their boundaries, with total finesse, audible detail, and immense transparency along with an authoritatively large sound stage. The LS5/9 maintained almost complete neutrality throughout its frequency range; this being a mandatory design factor and demanded of a speaker with the LS5/9’s pedigree.

Male and female vocals were quite beautifully reproduced with a clear, smooth, and sultry midrange reproduction with vocalists such as Rene Fleming,( PCM audio in a WAV container, mezzo soprano Janet Baker, and an illustrious, sonically marvelous recording by Elly Ameling. The fine overall balance and blending of the midrange to the upper mid/treble was invitingly unctuous and predictably, what you would expect from a BBC licensed design.

What was abundantly clear from long listening sessions is that from about 300hz to 1khz, the speakers are extraordinarily flat and confirm the quality of the speaker’s excellent vocal reproduction as mentioned above. This continues to a wonderfully clean, unfastened, and translucently natural midrange response. The polypropylene bass/midrange driver is overtly smooth and well-integrated into the lower treble region with a beautifully defined subtlety and clarity that is the hallmark of outstanding driver integration. From there, the sound proceeds to incrementally merge into the treble, which shows fine amounts of special depth, detail, and fine ambience in the listening room.

However, along with this fine mid to upper treble detail comes a hint of “leanness” to the upper mid/treble frequencies with some program material. The Audax HD13D34H had a small tendency on single and/or massed violins to sound a touch thin on or about the 1- 1.5 kHz range, although I would not call it “bright” per se. The LS5/9 treble had some characteristics of the very early (and still classic) Celestion HF1300 used in a few other notable BBC loudspeakers of that time. Nevertheless, the ‘good old’ Celestion was quite possibly a touch smoother, and more delicately extended in practice, although maybe a bit “brighter” than the Audax.

Somewhat surprisingly, the L5/9’s overall bass response was much tighter and stronger than I would ever have expected from a loudspeaker of its cabinet size — even with its predicted, slight rise in the bass response in the 50 to 100hz range. This rise inevitably gives the speakers a welcomed and richly more powerful perceived lower bass response. Accordingly, bass fundamentals of the Ls5/9 were discerned with extraordinary amounts of transient impact even though the speakers would generally start to roll off at approximately 45hz.

Double basses are very well reproduced and there is no trace of that “one-note” boom that some box speakers display. One of my newest analog 180-gram vinyl recordings of Vladimir Ashkenazy playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 In G/ with Solti displayed a deep, resinous, and incredibly powerful sonic representation from these loudspeakers. The double bass part often forms a stable foundation over which the rest of the orchestra’s notes can resound and the Ls5/9 was by no means shy about how they represented themselves on this recording.

The speaker almost always kept full control over electric bass guitars as well as the full orchestral bass drums firm intonations. It never seemed strained or compressed nor did it cave into huge power reserves from the amplifiers it was engaged with. Let’s just say the LS5/9 was able to easily play clearly and consistently at sound pressure levels too high for one to imagine.!  

Stereo And Tonality

The LS5/9 stereo image characteristics are nothing short of sensational, which has traditionally been another trademark of most BBC designed loudspeakers. Traditionally, satisfactorily wide and well‐focused stereo images tend to result from loudspeakers with low diffraction, and where the driver outputs are well integrated in phase and amplitude and have respectably uniform frequency responses on and off-axis. Speedy resonance decay rates and resulting low coloration will expedite the perception of “image depth” in cases where the corresponding qualities are also present in the recording.

Graham Audio BBC LS5/9 loudspeaker back view

Similarly, the LS5/9’s can throw out the exact locational effects of soloists, (when angled in properly) full orchestral sections and most entertainingly, centralized vocalists, particularly when the recording is executed properly. The accuracy of the stereo imaging and fabulous depth perspectives of the particular performance is part of the great sensation and enjoyment of this loudspeaker. Like most of the current and larger loudspeaker designs in vogue now, the speaker allows you to locate and hear the actual recording studio and/or concert hall ambience as close as possible as to how it was recorded.

Quite characteristically, instrumental timbres are executed superbly. (Here yet another notable insignia of BBC loudspeakers). This was made clear with many of my live CD recordings, PCM audio tracks of concert download CD-r rips as well as streaming music from my Inuous Zenith Mk.3 player/server; all of which were used during the testing.

Many otherwise superb loudspeakers can sometimes adulterate instruments like horns, bassoons, oboes, cymbals, and clarinets, particularly when displayed far back in the depth perspective of a loudspeakers sound stage presentation. Contrastingly, the Ls5/9 was quite exemplary at recreating all the above sound characteristics, particularly when the program material was recorded in a live, concert hall setting.  

Closing Notes

There is no doubt that the redesigned BBC LS5/9 loudspeaker is a dramatic transducer particularly if your main love is a superb mid-range, especially vocals, and supreme stereo imaging and depth perspectives. Additionally, the overall bass response of this design barely leaves anything to be desired, even for those audiophile skeptics who believe that to recreate a full, accurate bass response—a larger loudspeaker with multiple drivers must always be better! In the case of the Ls5/9, nothing could be further from the truth.

These 2-way reflex-loaded monitors are overtly captivating and musically rewarding in almost every way possible. Considering the age of the original design, Designer Derek Hughes has done an exceptional job at recreating a “somewhat” new, mirror image of this classic BBC loudspeaker. In that sense, they are a great value and a singularly unique and harmonious high-end loudspeaker!

REVIEW SYSTEMDigital ~~ Audio Note (UK) CD3.1×2 player /Wyred 4 Sound 10th Anniversary DAC/ Innuos Zenith Mk.3 server/streamer ● Analogue ~Rega Planar 6 Turntable/RB300 arm / Ortofon Cadenza Bronze cartridge / Amplification ● Peachtree Audio Nova 300 (2019 (preamp) / PS Audio Stellar M700 monoblock amplifiers / CIA Audio 100S stereo amplifier ● Loudspeakers ~ Spendor BC1/, Sterling LS3/6 BBC monitors/ Quad ESL 63-USA ● Cables – Conditioners: Mad Scientist “Black Magic” USB cable/ Inakustik AC-3500p power station & LS-4004 speaker cables, AC-2404 reference Air Power Cord/ Silversmith Audio ‘Fidelium’ loudspeaker cables/ Audio Note (UK) Lexus bi-wired speaker cables / Wireworld Eclipse 8 interconnects & Electra 7 power cords/ Audio Art 1 e” AC Power Cord.

SPECIFICATIONS:  System: 2 Way Reflex
Cabinet: Thin wall construction (critically-damped) birch plywood
Finish: oak or cherry (standard) teak or rosewood (premium), or ebony Macassar veneer (super premium).
Response: 50Hz – 16kHz +/-3dB
Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
Sensitivity: 87dB SPL (2.83V, 1m)
Maximum Output: Over 100dB for a pair @ 2m
Bass/Midrange: 200mm Diaphnatone Polypropylene
Tweeter: Son Audax HD 13D34H
Crossover: FL 6/36, 24 Precision Elements
Recommended Amplifier Power: 50 to 200 watts unclipped program Dimensions: 11 ½” (28cm) x 11” (27.5cm) x 18 ½” (46cm) H
Weight: 31 lb (14kg)

Graham Audio BBC LS5/9 price ~ $6799 USD

U.S Distributor:

On A Higher Note (distributor of excellence) www.onahighernote.com
phone +1 949 544-1990 fax +1 949 612 0201
info@onahighernote.com
P.O. Box 698San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693

WEB: http://grahamaudio.co.uk/ ~

Graham Audio Ltd.Ringslade House
Ringslade Road
Newton Abbot
Devon
TQ12 6PT


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