Aside from a few outlining exceptions, there aren’t many loudspeakers that have a storied history as long as the BBC’s LS3/5a. This british two-way started its life as a complement to the production arts for TV and remote recording, but eventually found its way into the hearts and minds of audio lovers across the globe.
It has metaphorically passed through many hands on its way to the subject of today’s LS3/5a review. The BBC has licensed the making of the LS3/5a over time through a rather rigorous set of parameters which has been skillfully executed by a large number of manufacturers – not excluding KEF. The standmount (or mini monitor) is now being produced by the careful hands of Jerry Bloomfeld and Falcon acoustics for US distributor MoFi. Why the LS3/5a review? In Jerry’s interview with The Occasional Podcast (which I highly recommend you check out if you are interested in this speaker) he alludes that it simply sounded the best out of everything the BBC licensed at that time. Packed with a sonic allure that inadvertently drives both near-field benefits and small room compatibility, the LS3/5a is known for centering its collective acoustic chi around the human voice. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the interview was unpacking the units and discovering how small the speaker really is. Portable? Not so much. Its overbuilt cabinet puts priority on sonics and not weight, so clearly early BBC producers must have had some fun lugging them in and out of mixing vans for remote locations.
Underneath the front cover lies a a mishmash of absorption material and velcro to keep things together, so from this reviewer’s perspective, the LS3/5a looks its best when dressed with its protective screen on, rather than off – an unusual proposition in the world of hifi speakers. Still, when presented the little audiophile legacy Mofi edition does sit fairly well on stands or desktop, with just a dash of vintage feel kept along for the ride. The design is a closed box, with a two way “infinite baffle” powered by one .75 inch soft dome tweeter and a 5.4 inch plastic driver crossed over at 3 kHz.
As I sit down to listen, I am struck by how much sound is coming out of such small speakers. With the right program material, these really do sound bigger than they look by quite a bit. Appearance wise, they say desktop speaker, but soundwise they convey something more substantial.
This is with music with plenty of separation however, an easy to define bass instrument and minimal midrange outside of vocals. With this sparser or at least well-arranged pop material, they have a surprising sense of linearity at modest volumes. Bass gives the impression of being plentiful, and the midrange and treble balanced, even in difficult environments.
Dynamics and resolution are on par for the price, with sparser recordings really taking on a lot of texture, but it’s really the harmonic structure that stands out and seems to give a really rich and rewarding sound in the upper midrange. Turn these speakers up a bit though and the curve begins to reveal itself – a slight u-shape, though without the obvious bass bump of some other LS3/5a speakers I’ve heard before. These are definitely a speaker capable of playing dense, modern mixes capably.
Once you play a wider variety of music on them however, they do begin to reveal their proclivities – they may stray a bit from the classic US-based thinking of hyper-detail and mega-air treble. There is a specific kind of vocal-centric music they do. At high volumes and with funk music for example, they really show off their heritage as vocal monitors to be used in a nearfield setting.
Sitting closer, and with vocal-centric music, they do seem to come alive even more, with the inherent liveliness of sitting so close counteracting the u-shaped tuning to a certain degree. In this situation there’s an even sweeter and more clear presentation of 2khz and voices sound even more harmonically dense and seductive. Combined with the fact that you simply don’t need much volume at such close listening positions, it’s easy to hear what made this monitor excellent for its intended application.
So how do we locate this speaker at the price point? It’s a bit more expensive than some very good entry level speakers, yet for the serious audiophile ready to spend significant money on a pair of larger modern speakers, it’s not necessarily going to satisfy. From my vantage point, there are a few types of customers that these make sense for.
The first is the vintage-phile who wants to assemble a classic system, especially in the UK style with an old tube or early solid-state receiver to get a quintessentially LS3/5a Brit-Fi sound. In this sense, these are fairly priced in the context of modern offerings. Another might be an audiophile who has a modern main rig, and wants a small speaker with some classic credibility for a secondary system, or who wants a desktop setup that bucks the modern active-monitor trend. A small, warm desktop amp with these would offer a very different take on desktop sound than many of the flatter, but also more forward and more pro-audio ‘flat and analytical’ focused monitors from the likes of Neumann, Genelec or Focal.
The Falcon LS3/5a reviewed here is one of those speakers where I think the product on offer is totally fair – right on par for the price, but also offers additional value for the enthusiast who really understands and craves what this style of speaker offers. This is one of the most capable LS3/5a variantes I ever heard.
So the LS3/5a lives on, both in the hearts and minds of vintage collectors, but also on store shelves and websites from Falcon acoustics. It has stood the test of time for many based on its sonic laurels alone (partnered with a conievent size). It sheds some of the glitz and glamour of the high end of audio for something a little more acoustically tangible. While the fit and finish of the MoFi edition isn’t bad overall, the small rectangular box won’t win any industrial design awards anytime soon. But that was never its intended purpose. The practicality of the original intent drove the BBC to lay down some solid R&D for a good handful of speakers, and the LS3/5a was one that rose to the top, and for good reason. Small rooms and nearfield listening be blessed, lovers of a bygone day reminisce. If you are looking for a nice desktop speaker or just something with a vintage vibe to complement a turntable, the MoFi LS3/5a by Falcon Acoustics might likely be your cup of Earl Grey.
More info: Falcon Acoustic’s LS3/5a MoFi Edition