Stirling Broadcast LS3/6

An Oldie But A Goodie

Equipment report
Stirling Broadcast LS3/6
Stirling Broadcast LS3/6

One of the grand chapters in the history of audio was the BBC research program some decades ago into how to make speakers with a truthful sound. The BBC had the worthy idea that it would be good to know exactly what its broadcasts actually sounded like, and it undertook to develop speakers that would do the job, commercial models not being sufficiently accurate nor reliably identical. The BBC was in effect seeking the absolute sound before there was The Absolute Sound. The most famous speaker to come out of this program was the popular LS3/5a. At least this was the most famous in the U.S., where it joined the Volkswagen as something to show that one was European-with-it. But the best speaker that came out of the BBC program in those days—the late 1960s and early 1970s— was the LS3/6, the BBC version of the speaker marketed to begin with as the Spendor BC-1.

The detailed history is a bit convoluted. In summary, Spencer Hughes, who was working in the mid -1960s for the BBC research program, developed vacuum-formed Bextrene cone drivers and designed the BC-1 speaker around one of them as a bass/mid driver. (The company name Spendor comes from Spencer plus Dorothy, his wife’s name.) The BBC refused the speaker at first, this being a time when, in looking for loudness for rock, it was losing its otherwise mostly good sense. (The BC1 was not a large-signal speaker.) But respect for quality prevailed and the BBC decided to offer for license in their LS series their own version of the BC-1, the LS3/6. The LS3/6 was essentially the same speaker as the BC-1. You can find Spencer Hughes’ own description of the history at bc1story.pdf. Long time passing!

When TAS started up in 1973, attention was naturally drawn to the BC-1, with HP calling it “the one and only.” On a personal note, I bought a pair of BC-1s not long afterwards—my first really serious speakers, and my reference when I joined the TAS staff.

The BC-1 and thus by implication the LS3/6 acquired an almost legendary status. Later speakers from Spendor also earned rave reviews and high reputations. But somewhere in the back of the mind’s ear, to borrow HP’s phrase, the midrange in particular of the BC-1 remained something of a standard—to this day.

Now, Stirling Broadcast, well known already for reissuing the LS3/5a, has undertaken to reissue a modern LS3/6. Almost poetically, it asked Derek Hughes, Spencer and Dorothy’s son and a distinguished speaker designer in his own right, auteur in particular of the remarkable Spendor SP1/2, to undertake the design work. And design work was required since the drivers of the original BC-1 are no longer available and have not been for some time. This was more than a touching gesture. Derek Hughes is in a unique position to understand what was involved in making a speaker to match the LS3/6 specifications. And match it it does. The Stirling Broadcast LS3/6, in fact, earned on test by the BBC an official license, all these decades later, as meeting the specifications of the original licensing of LS3/6. (The BBC policy was and is to offer its models under license to any manufacturer who will undertake to produce the speaker as specified.)

Of course the question uppermost in mind must be whether this is just a charming exercise in nostalgia, a Proustian remembrance of things past, or whether it is a loudspeaker of excellence and vitality in today’s world. I say with no hesitation at all that it is the latter. No speaker today could be the unprecedented phenomenon that the BC-1/LS3/6 was when it first appeared, redefining as it did what was possible in low coloration for box speakers. But the Stirling Broadcast LS3/6 is a great speaker without question in my mind by contemporary standards, as well as a worthy tribute and successor to the original. (Hereafter, I shall just call the speaker the LS3/6 since historical discussion is now largely concluded.)