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GR Research LS9 Loudspeaker Review

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My first impression when I unpacked these and moved them into the system was “holy crap these are big and heavy”. They sat in their huge crates for quite a few days as the 100º temperatures went well pass 10pm, and dragged from days to weeks. Venturing out to the garage to look for a tube, cable, or some other part meant that another shower would be necessary. When someone bitches about Texas weather, they usually aren’t thinking of the tornados, though tornados really do suck. No, most Texans are thinking of the summer of 1980, and now the summer of 2011. Just uncrating and moving the LS9’s from the garage to the listening room took a couple of hours. I had to give myself a few breaks from the heat, to wipe the sweat off me, and the speakers. If not, I can assure you that a busted speaker cabinet would’ve been the result. I was able to unpack, move and set them up by myself, but I’m 6’3”, weigh 300 lbs and do a lot of physically challenging labor. It took all I had. I’d recommend that you have several friends come over for a “listening party” unpacking.

After they were in the room, they did look rather imposing in profile. Big enough in fact for me to take a big bone, club another primate to death, then fling the bone into the air. Though not as square and boxy as Arthur C. Clarke’s monoliths, they are still quite intimidating when viewed in profile. On the other hand, if toed-in to the listening position, and with the speaker grills in place, they are quite svelte. My wife gave up a long time ago, but didn’t think they looked any bigger than the Maggies or Alpha LS I have, even though the LS9s are appreciably larger than both. After living with big Maggies, then Danny’s Alpha LS (the granddaddy of the LS9), the LS9s were a visual improvement; or that’s what I think she said. One minor problem with the design is that the speaker grills did not want to stay on. They are flush with the bottom and if you don’t have spikes or stands, carpet will prevent the grills from staying on. It’s my understanding that a set of stands are available, and they are recommended for those with children. I’d opt for the stands since these speakers are quite thin side to side, and very tall. Front to back, you really have to push hard to make them tip. But, if you are pushing from the side, it doesn’t take much effort to cause them to lean, then fall. You really don’t want these to fall.

Massive Quanta

Most of the listening was done with the Melody Valve Hifi electronics (see upcoming review). I mixed and matched a little, mostly to verify that the speakers were transparent enough to hear the differences between the various ways of amplifying a signal. I can say with absolute conviction that you’ll be able to tell the difference between transistors and tubes in the seat of your pants; in this case, the transistor amp being an older Parasound that would be okay with less revealing speakers. Just switching the power amps from tube to transistors produced scads more bass with the LS9. But, it’s a two-way street. Along with the bass came the hallmark of much transistor gear: slightly sterile, two-dimensional sound. If I were forced at gunpoint, I’d choose the dimensionality and detailed mids of tubes over the bowel-loosening power of solid-state. There are tubes and transistors that can do both, but I don’t have them in the system right now.

It’s remarkable how much detail the LS9 can convey without breaking a sweat. Power compression in speakers is something you really don’t notice until you hear a speaker that doesn’t have it. The only other speakers I have heard that don’t compress and distort like hell when asked to perform at quasi-realistic levels are my own Alpha LS, the DALI Megalines, multi-way horns, the big Maggies, and the Sanders ESL panels (the panels, not the woofer portion). When someone offhandedly says something about realistic levels, you need to determine what he/she considers “realistic”. Any classically trained singer, woodwind or brass instrument can come into the vast majority of listener’s systems, playing as loud as the system can cleanly play, and “cut-through” easily. I’ve been in the chorus, standing over the percussion section of the Dallas Symphony, performing Carmina Burana, and the sheer acoustical shock of a simultaneous gong and bass drum whack, only ten feet away, readjusts what you consider loud. Obviously, musicians get a fair dose of sonic abuse, but at the time it really doesn’t seem that loud. There is a point, though, where it can make my heart skip a beat, and it’s pretty breathtaking, literally, to have your heart skip a beat because of sound. In my experience, an interesting thing happens as distortion creeps up: so does your perception of loudness. And that’s the key. A couple times I surprised myself with the LS9. I’d go to another room and be shocked by the prodigious bass, even on the other side of the house. You’d think that the bass would be overblown, but in the room, it was all integrated, well blended from top to bottom, and it didn’t sound “loud.” It sounded appropriate.

Getting back to the details: Because there is so little work being done by each individual driver, detail retrieval is first rate. Not as good as some single-driver horns, but single-driver horns have limitations that the LS9 don’t. Compared to dipole planars, the LS9’s have superior detail in most situations, depending on power compression of the amp, wall treatments, etc.. I heard plenty of detail from the LS9 that was lost with the various panel speakers I’ve auditioned. One of the secrets to a lines source’s success is that it will partially eliminate floor and ceiling bounce as a sonic contributor. As frequency decreases, the sound because less directional and will bounce off the floor and/or ceiling, but it’s not very audible because it’s competing with a massive speaker. I don’t think it has much affect at all on the radiation pattern to the sides of the speakers. When I checked with Danny, he said that side-walls are still important, though floors and ceilings are less so. Break up large uncovered areas with something, maybe a valet stand, ladder, ironing board or big stick with a blanket, or heavy drapes. I’m lucky to have a room where side walls are not an issue.


GR Research LS9

2 Responses to GR Research LS9 Loudspeaker Review

  1. Joe Lepo says:

    I found the discourse on these speakers both educational and inspiring; I was working on editing a scientific manuscript and had to just STOP and read the whole post. This is not a good thing… or maybe it is. It reminded me of my teenage obsession with Klipsch-horns; loved all the technical detail. My home theater is not even close in quality to the AVS forum posting of featured HT that used these speakers. But my friends, family and I enjoy my system immensely and I am afraid serious upgrades are in my future.
    Thanks for this.

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