BBC LS5/5? I’d never heard of it until it was announced on my Facebook feed that the LS5/5 was Graham Audio’s new flagship speaker—so new, in fact, that there were only two pairs in existence. One of them would be showcased that evening in a Montreal audio shop, Art et Son, for the model’s official North American launch.
Equipped with a single listening room, Art et Son is a small boutique situated in Montreal’s Mile-End district. When I entered the store’s lobby, I immediately recognized Philip O’Hanlon of On A Higher Note, Graham Audio’s North American importer, by his trademark bowtie. I asked him if he chose Montreal for the LS5/5’s launch for business reasons. “No,” he replied, in his Irish brogue. ” I just love coming to Montreal.”
The human voice was the acid test for BBC designs; above all else, the speakers had to realistically replicate the voices of the famous artists who appeared on BBC broadcasts. Voices belonging to artists such as Louis Armstrong and Aretha Franklin had to sound authentic. Get that right, went the dictum, and the rest would fall into place.
In that respect, of the BBC designs that had been brought to market—including the iconic LS3/5a—the 3-way LS5/5 was considered by the Beeb to be their best. But then something happened: Rock & Roll. The LS5/5 couldn’t play the devil’s music loud enough, so away it went, and in its place the BBC developed the more powerful LS5/8, its first loudspeaker to use polypropylene cones rather than paper or Bextrene ones.
Graham Audio’s LS5/5 ($15,000 USD/pair) plays 9dB louder than the BBC version. My first thought when I saw it was, “It kinda looks like a Harbeth 40.1.” My second thought: “What’s up with the slot down the middle?” According to the BBC’s research, the addition of the slot allowed the speakers to perform as a narrower source, creating a wider horizontal dispersion pattern and resultant sweet spot. Improved vertical dispersion also made the speakers easier to position in a room.
The crowd that had gathered to hear the LS5/5s was small but enthusiastic. Wine flowed freely. Bonhomie reigned. We sat in rapt silence as O’Hanlon and Rob Sutcliffe, Art et Son’s owner, took turns addressing us. The speakers were so fresh from the factory, Sutcliffe told us, that they had not yet had a chance to be broken in. Still, connected to a modest system comprising NAD, Exposure, and Gold Note gear, with cabling by UK’s Titan Audio, what I heard was pleasingly full-sounding.
The speakers projected a big, finely layered picture, reinforced by good bass weight. Bass response is said to go down to 40Hz. This being a BBC design, it is in that crucial midband, between 400Hz and 2.5kHz, where the LS5/5 performed most of its magic, delivering great tone, warmth, and a level of intimacy that made tracks like Karan Casey’s “One I Love” and London Grammar’s “If You Wait” heart-aching.
As I said my goodbyes, I asked Sutcliffe what it was about Graham Audio speakers that made him choose to represent the brand. “I just love how they sound,” he said. I couldn’t think of a better answer.
The LS 5/5 is expected to start shipping in the fourth quarter of this year.
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