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Audio Space LS-3/5a Bookshelf Speakers And SW-1a Subwoofer Review

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Audio Space LS-3/5a stand-mount speakers

What this review won’t be…

It won’t be a review of how Audio Space’s LS3/5a compares to the original model or the myriad of speakers that companies over the years have used, or are still using, the name LS-3/5a. Fellow reviewer Jack Roberts covered some of that in his review of the Audio Space LS-3/5a. The reason I won’t make comparisons is that I was about two years old when the original came out and I have not heard them.

So why am I reviewing them? Well, while I can’t speak to the lore of this widely viewed classic design, I am also not seduced by the fact that the design is considered a classic. No, dear readers, I am reviewing the speaker as just another two-way stand-mount against an ocean of “new and improved” two-way stand-mount loudspeakers. I have found over the years that a number of “classic” loudspeakers and amplifiers have left me completely cold. After auditioning the Quad ESL 63, Dynaco ST 70, and some Klipsch models, I kept wondering what the fuss was about. Perhaps fine in their day but these models don’t hold a candle to what is currently on the market.

The LS-3/5a appeared to me to be another one of those possibly overrated products from a glance at the spec sheet. As some of my readers know, I typically prefer high efficiency speakers, and looking at the Audio Space LS-3/5a and seeing an 82.5dB sensitivity rating, I saw a bit of a red flag. On the other hand, the 11 ohm nominal impedance suggested that they would be tube-friendly and indeed, some internet research revealed that in fact these speakers are very popular with tube amplifier owners. In addition, Audio Space’s primary business is selling modestly tube amplifiers.

But with my initial fears abated, a second set of concerns reared their head. Knowing these speakers were initially designed for recording studios, I had concerns that, like many studio monitors, they would be less suitable for home audio use. Pro speakers, while excellent tools for revealing problems in recordings, also tend to be somewhat tiring for home audio where listening pleasure and a sense of a slightly relaxed sound is more desirable than hyper detail. However, numerous known respectable home audio companies made versions of this loudspeaker, so I was a little more confident that they would fall on the right side of the musical spectrum.

Open the Box

Audio Space sent two of their employees to my apartment to set up the speakers. They noted that one wall could use treatments, which I happened to have pre-purchased, and then placed on my walls after they left.

Living in Hong Kong, apartments are fairly small and small speakers are par for the course here. The advantage though is that smaller speakers get a chance to shine. Coming from Canada, with much larger homes and rooms, I know that small speakers are not at their best when asked to fill a space they’re not really designed to fill. Apartments in Europe are not all that much bigger than those in Hong Kong, so it’s important when dealing with speakers like this that you provide a room they’re capable of filling. I would argue that my apartment and most apartments, or bedrooms in the West, will allow the LS-3/5a to shine as well as possible.

Immediately, what impressed me about the LS-3/5a was the build quality. The cabinet is real wood and gorgeous. Audio Space has kept the original appearance and they certainly have the square retro looks. Being an owner of Audio Note J/SPe and AX Two speakers, the looks fall in line with what I own. The SW-1A subwoofers serve as stands for the speakers. If I had one complaint, it would be that the subwoofers come in plain black. It would have been nice if the subwoofers came in a color that matched the stand-mounts. (Audio Space comments, “The subwoofers that we are selling here in U.S. are all matched to the Red Oak color. In Richard’s review, the pair of the SW-1A deliverd by Audio Space (HK) was an open-box item from the Kowloon store. -Pub.) Further, the Audio Space retailer and co-owner play the speakers with the grills off and that is how they set them up in my apartment. Again, being an Audio Note owner I know that Audio Note’s Peter Qvortrup hated the grill cloths interfering with the sound of his speakers to the point where he stopped selling the speakers with grill cloths, or with holes to fit grill cloths. If Audio Space intends for the cloths to be off, I would suggest making the front part of the cabinet the same as the sides for a nice aesthetic consistency.

Do they hold their own in the current market?

Yes and no. First, let me say that I am not a big fan of loudspeakers that can’t play all music at reasonably high levels. A speaker that is 82.5dB sensitive and has a recommended power handling of 30 watts and frequency response of 70 to 20kHz, is going to be limited in terms of frequency response and the ability to play at very loud levels. Indeed, I recently reviewed Roksan’s TR-5 loudspeaker which has significantly deeper bass, higher sensitivity, and power handling and it uses a very good ribbon tweeter and costs less. I could say similar things about other less expensive speakers, including my Audio Note AX Two speakers.

The LS-3/5a has a lift in the midbass to help it add weight and give the impression that it has more bass than it really does. This is not uncommon with small speakers and generally aids in the speakers’ enjoyment factor, as it would likely sound thin and tiresome without a slight emphasis. It may appear that the LS-3/5a is losing the fight and lying face down with the count at nine. After all, it doesn’t have a lot of bass, it isn’t a sensitive loudspeaker and there is a lot of competition in the world of standmount speakers in this price range. Naturally the question is “what does this speaker have up its sleeves?

First, the midrange and vocals keep it in the fight. Not a stunning revelation to LS-3/5a owners perhaps, but this speaker has to count in the “great” camp when it comes to coherence, tonality, and a lush presentation across all instruments. They do a much better job than the vast majority of speakers I have heard when it comes to sounding “real.” I was actually somewhat taken aback because I was expecting that such an old speaker design would be “less than” current designs. Perhaps the old saying “don’t fix it if ain’t broken” holds true. Indeed, while it doesn’t possess the ultimate high volume performance or bass depth or slam, it sounds “right” in a way that seduces the ears into forgiving what it lacks.

Secondly, the treble is first rate. The treble is very well extended, clean, and seamlessly integrates with the woofer. Here, it does an even better job than the TR-5 which I felt was one of the very best in the sub-$2,000 speaker class. Sax was continuously scrumptious to listen to and the speakers create a balanced soundstage with proper stereo fill. There were no holes in the stage and imaging was solid.

One interesting thing is that the speakers are not as friendly to lesser recordings as you might expect. Speakers that I tend to describe as full, rich, organic, tend to be friendlier to lesser recordings. This is not the case here as these speakers readily reveal to me their studio prowess. These speakers show up compressed recordings immediately and they are rather excellent at contrasting different recordings. Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” comes across as rather thin and brash; thankfully, not to the point of being unlistenable but you definitely hear a weaker recording. This was noticeable across a variety of rock, pop, jazz, and classical recordings in my collection.

One Response to Audio Space LS-3/5a Bookshelf Speakers And SW-1a Subwoofer Review

  1. Murray Wiseman says:

    Great article about what is really essential in speakers in particular and audio in general. It shakes up your thinking just as a listen to a late 5o’s early 60’s jazz recording might do. Yeah, plummy bass and truncated highs but boy it sure sounds good. My Dynaco A25’s, Polk Model 10’s and NHT 2.5’s are all gone but I still remember the NHT’s magic in capturing that jazz vinyl. Their extended woofers and slightly forward midrange truly complemented that midrangy, up-to-the-mike recorded sound. Ditto my Quad amps which made the midrange their focus. Sometimes it’s amazing what you don’t need to get good sound: you have to love those lousy specs–just like SET amps! I’m shopping now and am keeping this review in mind. Just one thought: I have a large room and a lot of audio writers talk about not using small speakers in a large room because they can’t pressurize the room in the bass frequencies. But if you’re listening in the near field (say 7 or 8 ft. away), then isn’t it just a matter of more or bigger subs for the frequencies under 100 hertz (to “load” the room)? Every stacked woofer Paradigm or PSB still has a 4 or 5 inch midrange driver and tweeter like the Audio Space LS-3/5a; it’s just a question of how well the little drivers can get their volume up and out into the room while getting the subs to integrate into the soundfield. Apparently easy in theory but hard in practice as people who prefer towers are wont to say. Nevertheless, in support of your review, most of us do sound better singing in the bathroom than in the living room. Towers vs. sub/sats will continue just as good two-ways will always shake up multi-driver afficianados. I’m trying to solve this equation right now with my larger room. But my little old Monitor Audios from the 80’s (with upgraded gold tweeters) still sound great in the 11×13 room upstairs. Now if only I could find a decent old-style audio salon with the answers I need….

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