Graham LS5/9 Loudspeaker

A Superior Small Speaker

Equipment report
Graham Audio LS5/9
Graham LS5/9 Loudspeaker

Music Itself: Examples
Listening to the LS5/9 gives the immediate and lasting impression of honesty. There is a sense that, yes, this is what the recording really sounds like, quite exactly. How pleasing this is, of course, varies with the recording but, as I’ve stated, truth to the recording is the idea here. The LS5/9s remind one rather persistently that most speakers today are not designed, or at least seem not to be designed, to sound exactly truthful so much as to sound like what the customers will think is good. This honesty was there with the speaker as it arrived, but my small EQ tweaks improved it enough that I am going to talk mostly about how it sounded that way.

A certain type of purist might object. But everyone who is really interested in exact tonal character must have noticed by now that essentially every speaker can be improved by a little judicious adjustment, especially for room effects but also further up where the room is having less influence.

Back to the sound. Let us consider the Bach/Sitkovetsky Goldberg Variations arranged for string orchestra that I have discussed so often. This recording was made using ultra-neutral B&K (now Danish Pro Audio) omni microphones. There is not a lot of stereo precision, but there should be a very accurate representation of the tone of string instruments heard relatively close but not super-close. On the LS5/9s, the bass was perhaps a little loose though there was enough of it for proper fullness, even though the extreme bottom of the music is missing. But the tone above, where the music really is in this case, and in particular the violin sound were very realistic. A keen-eared violin appreciator would notice the effect of the narrow band lift around 1.5kHz, which made the violins sound a bit more nasal than should happen without the EQ. But this was a relatively small error, and moreover it was easily EQ’d out. And whether it was EQ’d out or not, one had a real sense of the tonal identity of the instrument, much more so than with most speakers, where something like a generic violin sound is all one can expect.

Moreover, the music had a remarkable coherence. There is no crossover like no crossover, and the LS5/9 reaps the benefit of no crossover at all until the one at 2.8kHz to the tweeter (third-order slopes). The sound is all of a piece, with no sense of division anywhere. The instruments speak with their unique and undivided voices.

Detail was superb. In the magical nineteenth variation, when the harpsichord plays in the background, the harpsichord sound was clearly evident and correctly presented, with no blurring over from the more prominent instrumental parts. The sonic picture was highly resolved in musical terms—one could hear the individual parts separately, but without losing the sound of the whole.

This was, in short, really good and really realistic—those two things being largely the same on a recording like this. It is not easy to explain this truth-to-source in words, since it is really a matter one needs to hear. But above the bass, one really feels one is hearing through to the mike feeds—to the immediate real sound—without any hype of high treble to fake transparency. This is a truly well-behaved speaker, with minimal resonant coloration and (above the bass) a clean decay.

Turning now to another one of my standbys, Freddy Kempf playing Rachmaninoff’s transcriptions of Kreisler’s Liebesleid, the piano sounded very piano-like. But there was a little less “glow” to the sound than sometimes happens. Since “glow” is usually a kind of resonant behavior, this seems likely to be associated with non-resonant, low-coloration sound. An ideal speaker rings less than all others!

Similarly, Janne Mertanen’s extraordinary Chopin recital recording was very realistic—and very attractive. The LS5/9 is really impressive in the “compactness” of its presentation, in the sense that it is not ringing or producing resonant colorations. And on both these recordings, as well as all the other piano recordings I listened to, there was unusually good reproduction of the micro-structure of the piano’s sound—of its attack and complex decay. This is presumably part of the pay-off of the BBC damped-wall enclosure, with its reduction of narrow-band (“high Q”) resonances.

Familiar orchestral material was also convincingly done, surprisingly so for such a small speaker. The LS5/9 goes loud without strain to an impressive extent. Its dynamic capacity is quite remarkable. And the strong bass down to 50Hz gives a sense of bottom-end support, even though the real bottom octaves are missing. This is one small speaker that does not sound like a toy. And, of course, one was constantly gratified by the correct balance and tonal character of the overall sound.

On Christopher Tin’s “Waloyo Yamoni” (from Music from the Left Coast, a recording on which I am playing), the voices were superbly clear and articulate and at the same time very attractive—as they should be. The multi-miking was obvious but not thrown in one’s face. Altogether, this is the recording almost exactly as I think it, in fact, sounds. And the amazingly realistic recording of the opening title song of High Noon on Unicorn’s Western Film World of Dimitri Tiomkin sounded even more startlingly real than usual.

The Dvorák Legends, with Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, sounded very convincingly like an orchestra. What HP used to call the orchestral gestalt was captured surprisingly well for a small speaker. One might in one’s audiophile inner self note that the tweeter was slightly rougher than some of the exotic items around nowadays, but one could well imagine that in a direct comparison with live, the LS5/9 would score well indeed.

The LS5/9 is intended for relatively close-up listening with the speakers aimed at the listener. It is intended, in effect, to reproduce the stereo imaging that was actually recorded. The image focus of in-polarity mono signals is superb and the out-of-polarity version—two channels in opposite polarity—is perfectly directionless. This test worked about as well with the LS5/9s as with any speaker design that I have encountered. This means that the speakers are going to image correctly. And in the intended setup, they vanish absolutely as sources on centered material.

The speakers seem to have minimal diffraction. One of the things that people do not always know about the BBC school is that the engineers worried about diffraction. Actually even in the AR, et al. days of the 1950s, people knew about diffraction (diffraction is nineteenth-century physics and even earlier). The Spendor BC1 for example had foam around the edges under the grille to avoid high-frequency scattering by the edges.

Another thing that people seem not to know about the general situation of imaging is that in recent decades designers have been using diffraction, perhaps unintentionally, to create a “soundstage.” This is the primary reason that narrow front speakers have a “good soundstage”—diffraction off the narrowly spaced edges.

The truth is that real spatial information, information that actually exists on the recording, is reproduced as a collection of images. A real “soundstage” is made up of a lot of individually imaged small events, which fit together to create an overall sense of space. Anything else is just sound off the walls or early diffraction effects. A speaker like the LS5/9 is reproducing what is really there on the recording, not just tonally but also spatially when listened to as intended. The LS5/9 operates very much as a true point source; it is quite flat; and it has minimal resonant colorations and minimal diffraction. Just exactly how could it fail to image correctly? There is no way it could not work, and it does work.

This is not to say it will not produce images outside the speakers. Like any correctly working speaker on a phasey recording from widely spaced microphones, it can produce images that are not between the speakers on account of energy that is out of phase between the channels—a sort of junior version of the reverse-polarity test. This is somewhat hokey—correctly made stereo is supposed to be between the speakers—but people seem to like this, and there are quite a few recordings around of this sort. The LS5/9 will reproduce them as they are.