We could argue whether the Seventies was the greatest decade for music (it was), but to anyone serious about hi-fi it’s also remembered for the launch of two components that would become British icons: the Linn Sondek LP12 turntable in 1972 and the BBC-designed LS⅗A compact near-field monitor in 1975. Both are still in production, both still revered across the planet, both visually all but indistinguishable from their 40-plus year-old progenitors. Yet the business sensibilities that have ensured their longevity could hardly be more different, and they are highly germane to this review. Read our Rogers LS3/5A SE Review.
Linn’s approach has been a shining example of assiduous evolution over the years to the point where the sonic objectives of the latest Sondeks rolling out of its Glasgow factory are light years removed from the slightly fat and warm presentation that so ensnared audiophiles of the day. The LS⅗A was created by the BBC to fulfil a closed space, outside broadcast brief but quickly worshiped by certain factions of the audiophile community as a kind of standmount deity with magical powers of midband realism. In contrast, it has led a backward-looking existence sustained by myriad examples produced under licence to a theoretically immutable BBC spec by a handful of British speaker brands in both original 15ohm, later 11ohm and 15ohm guise once more – some having to use ‘close enough’ drivers after KEF stopped making the T27 tweeter and B110 mid/bass unit.
This Special Edition exists to be an LS⅗A in every way, only better
Only Falcon Acoustics, a long-established drive unit specialist founded by Malcolm Jones – the man who designed, developed and engineered the T27 and B110 when he worked for KEF – has truly nailed the Holy Grail of verisimilitude with its Gold Badge edition (HFC 470), re-manufacturing the LS⅗A’s original drivers exactly as they were under the auspices of now technical consultant Jones. And, with polypropylene capacitors standing in for the original and now vanishingly scarce polycarbonate types, that goes for the crossover with its transformer style inductors, too.
True, there is a handful of well-liked LS⅗A ‘homages’, latter-day designs inspired by the old timer that seek to de-emphasise its weaknesses (no low bass, limited loudness and dynamic range) with up-to-date drivers and other respectfully taken liberties. The ⅗ Classic from Spendor and the P3ESR XD from Harbeth – both early LS⅗A licensees – are good examples. But purposely setting out to realise an ‘evolved’ version the sacrosanct BBC recipe could be considered punchy indeed – a leaf out of the Linn playbook, maybe, but possibly perceived as borderline aberrant behaviour by purist devotees.
The temptation was clearly too much for Rogers, a prolific producer of early LS⅗As and still a prominent keeper of the faith with its straight-ahead, to-the-letter 15ohm version of the pint-sized icon. But what you see here is the new, more expensive LS⅗A SE, and it exists for one reason alone: to be an LS⅗A in every way, only better. And better not in the ‘homage’ sense of buttering up the overall balance, but better by comfortably eclipsing the standard article’s already remarkable A game. And that’s something else.
Top-drawer build and finish are a given, and the open-grain Olive Ash SE is classy
Panzerholtz sounds like something you might use to scour the kitchen sink. The penny drops in English. ‘Tankwood’ is hard, stiff and allegedly bullet-proof stuff, a mix of hardwood and phenolic resin with iron-rivalling density, but none of its tendency to resonate. To begin with, Rogers made dedicated speaker stands with it, the idea being to extract more performance from the LS⅗A without touching the speaker itself. It worked so well, ‘what if…?’ conjectures inevitably followed and replacing the cabinet’s thin plywood baffle with one made from Panzerholtz ended up on the job sheet as the most practical and cost-effective modification. Radical for sure. Other finessing tweaks included giving the mid/bass driver a second coating to marginally increase efficiency and replacing the R1 and R2 resistors in the crossover with higher quality items of the same value – for reasons of tonality according to Rogers’ Andy Whittle. Top-drawer build and finish are pretty much a given with new LS⅗As and, the open-grain Olive Ash SE option supplied looks and feels appropriately classy. Almost flush sockets on the back mean cable terminations are limited to banana plugs, in this instance attached to 3m runs of Nordost Red Dawn.
Before reviewing the Gold Badge edition of Falcon Acoustics’ LS⅗A, I had imagined that it might be the sort of speaker I’d keep in reserve for whenever I need a midband naturalness reset. Truth is, I listen to them when I’m not reviewing other stuff for pure enjoyment. I’m a huge fan. So, I’m intrigued. Is arguably the first true LS⅗A 2.0 in the model’s long history a game changer or well-intentioned folly? No surprise, then, the Falcons are standing by.
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Best dinner service for this one with a Chord Electronics Hugo TT2 (HFC 468) DAC decoding digital, an Acoustic Signature Double X Neo turntable and Tom Evans Audio MicroGroove SRX+ fielding analogue with amplification provided by Electrocompaniet’s estimable ECI 80D (HFC 473) integrated amp.
First, and most obviously, the SE sounds louder than the Gold Badge for a given volume input. You’d swear it’s gained at least a couple of dB in efficiency and I’d be surprised if there hasn’t been a small measured improvement from the usually quoted 83dB. But Whittle confirms my suspicion that the impression is mostly subjective because, in a nutshell, the SE immediately seems the friskier and more resolute speaker with greater dynamic reach, as if the drivers are functioning with less loss to the cabinet – the core idea behind the SE treatment, after all.
Naturally, this has consequences, and they’re mostly enhancing. No one would ever accuse the Falcon Gold Badge of being anything less than a paragon of precision in both imaging and timing. And yet, such is the speed and leading-edge definition of the SE, that the Falcon can occasionally seem a little approximate by comparison. Playing a Tidal Master stream of Caravan Palace’s extraordinary, studio-effects driven Leena, the Rogers makes a slightly better fist of separating the various elements in a marginally broader and deeper soundstage and it does so with greater conviction and drive. It’s a more exciting listen, which is a definite plus with this track.
Yet this sense of heightened enthusiasm can sometimes tip things over the edge. Praises Go Up from Geneen White is a fiercely fast, rhythm-driven slice of old-school gospel that sounds so explicit through the Rogers it seems almost to trip over itself. Not so with the Falcon’s slightly looser and more relaxed portrayal, which restores a more natural sense of flow and impetus.
As the listening sessions wind on, the dividing lines become still clearer. Against the Falcon benchmark, the Rogers, amazingly, has the cleaner, tauter, more transparent presentation with a wider dynamic range and broader, deeper soundstage. In modern terms, the SE the superior speaker. Tonally, it’s a shade cooler and drier than the Gold Badge and the bass, such as it is, a little less well padded. And it’s here that the original LS⅗A, as represented by the Gold Badge, fights back. It’s the warmer, sweeter-sounding proposition. It has an inherent lucidity and grace the Rogers can’t quite match. Vocals – especially on vinyl via the Acoustic Signature/Tom Evans combo – sound richer and sexier, if less immaculately detailed. The Rogers SE is a phenomenally good LS⅗A, but for me the Falcon’s charm is magical and (still) impossible to resist.
That the hi-fiworld is a better place with the Rogers LS⅗A SE in it is beyond doubt. Yes, it’s pricey, but for that you get a design that, in many respects, eclipses the iconic old timer’s best game. What it doesn’t do is invalidate the sonic personality that makes the original so compelling. Best of all, there’s now a choice
HOW IT COMPARES
Rogers LS⅗A SE unquestionably has a very special skillset, but if you’re in the market for a latter-day LS⅗A, there are a few to choose from – as indeed there have been for many years. And although lacking the ‘letter of the licence’ authenticity on display with Falcon’s Gold Badge edition, Rogers itself and Sterling produce worthy designs that stay close to the original BBC recipe. Spendor and Harbeth still have some skin in the broader market, too, though their current efforts are more conscious updates of the LS⅗A rather than faithful replicas of the Seventies design and, if you’re not so much of a purist, certainly worth an audition.
Rogers LS⅗A SE
2-way standmount loudspeaker
(WxHxD): 190 x 305 x 165mm
• 19mm Mylar dome tweeter
• 110mm Bextrene mid/bass driver
• Quoted sensitivity: 82.5dB/1W/1m (15ohm)
Rogers International UK Ltd.
LIKE: An LS⅗A with more pep in its step
DISLIKE: A slight charm deficit compared with the original
WE SAY: The SE is very special and makes a strong case for being the best LS⅗A ever