THE LSA 1 REFERENCE MONITOR
By James L. Darby
As the model numbers of these speakers suggest, LSA is a relatively new company. The company is named for and headed by Larry Staples, a musician who formerly owned an audio store and also was the former director of sales for Thiel Audio. LSA is appropriately headquartered in Music City, USA - Nashville, Tennessee. They have about 85 dealers in North America and 12 other countries.
Larry is not the only musician and music lover at LSA. In fact, just about everybody plays an instrument and has professional experience, much like the staff members of Stereomojo. It is good to know that the people behind the product are not just corporate stuffed suits and bean counters. Many designers say they do not listen to their competitor’s speakers, but that is not the case with LSA. “We’ve listened to 90% of the speakers we compete with, mostly the more costly ones. Our goal is to outperform all of them at a lower price. We believe we have achieved that”, said Larry.
As is our process, I spent many hours talking to or corresponding with the main players at LSA. The impression is that they are all very dedicated, knowledgeable people who are extremely passionate about music and their products. Good people. In this business, that counts for something. They warranty their speakers for 5 years.
Thirty days were spent with these speakers with various length listening sessions every single day and/or night. Estimated listening time approximately 80 hours.
The LSA 1 REFERENCE MONITORS
The LSA1 is a 2-way stand mounted monitor with custom drivers designed in house that consist of a 1” silk dome tweeter and a 6.5“ woofer.
There is a small port in the rear that made itself known in a rather interesting way. The first selection played was Tricycle by Flim & the BBs which is a jazz track that features ultra wide sudden dynamic swings of 100db. As I walked around the back of the speaker, it felt as if someone had fired a rather cool, invisible paint ball at my butt and scored a direct hit. Being alone in the room, I thought for a second the life-size cardboard standup of Elvira - Mistress of the Dark which graces my closet had come to life and was in a frisky mood. No such luck, because it happened again and it coincided with one of the 100db hits in the music. That’s when it was discovered that the spirit was actually a column of air blasting from the small port - not Elvira. The port, much like the cardboard Mistress of the Dark, is very well designed and totally silent.
Also on the back are four very high quality posts, rendering the speaker bi-wire/amp ready.
The cabinets are meticulously finished in rosewood, tapering from front to back to reduce cabinet resonance as do many far more costly speakers from Magico, Dali, and B&W to name a few. “They’re pretty!” my wife says. “They should fit in any décor”. Score 100% on the WAF.
These are not toys. You would know that the moment you pick them up. Solid and heavy for their size - like they are carved from a single block of rosewood. They easily pass the knuckle wrap test, sounding as solid as they feel. These speakers have “hi-end” and “expensive” written all over them. They even come with black veltvet custom-made covers with “LSA” embroidered on the front. Classy. Very classy. Both are available in the rosewood you see here, or a black ash. Same price for both.From their looks, quality of construction and finish, the speakers belie the fact that they sell for only $1,000 per pair.
I auditioned the LSA1's first in Room 1, the smaller dedicated listening room, and then in Room 2 - the large family room. Amplification was provided by the incredible DK Designs Reference mk III which is a massive 77 lb tube/solid state integrated. Also inserted was the Halcro MC20 with 400 wpc of Class D and the Triode TRV-45s tube preamplfier. Kimber 4PR and Kimber Select BiFocal X (both bi-wires) connected to the speakers. ICs were also Kimber Selects and Heroes. Placed several feet from room boundaries in both settings, they were given lots of room to breathe. LSA strongly recommends operating all their speakers in bi-wire mode, since they were designed specifically for that purpose. All tests were conducted in that configuration.
The LSA1's passed the “Tricycle” dynamic test easily. There was no dynamic compression or congestion as is often the case with small speakers. The 100 db sudden staccato “hits” consist of piano, electric bass, hi-hat, snare and kick drum all thwacked simultaneously. The test is not only to see if the speaker can play them at high volume without distorting or going up in smoke, but to determine if they reproduce a very wide range of frequencies so that the listener can easily identify each instrument – especially the kick and bass guitar – in their own space. They just took whatever the system fed them with no sense of strain whatsoever – a pretty remarkable feat for any $1k/pair speaker, much less a diminuitive monitor.
As impressive as that was, they are also extraordinarily capable of producing micro dynamics. They sounded wonderfully detailed and musical at background music volumes on weekend mornings while we read the paper and enjoyed some coffee. It may be that this factor was more notable than the loud stuff. It is difficult to design and manufacture any kind of product that can be very powerful when needed and yet delicate when called upon to do so. In other words, the LSA1s sounded as musical and involving playing background baroque harpsichord as they did blasting “Black Dog” or “Highway to Hell”.
NOW YOU SEE THEM…
A quality that is paramount for any speaker is their ability to disappear, but particularly for stand mounters. The LSA1s were as invisible as that column of air mentioned earlier. Uncannily so. It was impossible to locate an instrument that sounded as if it were being produced by a speaker.
What did appear was a huge soundstage that filled the front of the room. Listening to “Tutti!” , several full orchestras captured by Reference Recordings and Prof. Johnson in 24bit HDCD , the first violin section extended about four feet beyond the left speaker while the second violins and violas did the same on the right. The other sections were rendered in beautiful layers extending to the wall six feet behind. Most amazing was the sense of height. The brass and percussion were elevated well above the cabinets in perfect scale as they would be on stage. The LSA1s made it seem perfectly plausible that the Minnesota Orchestra or the Czech State Philharmonic were performing a private concert just for me. That sense of height was even more apparent on the Turtle Creek Chorale recording on the same label. The men were standing on risers with the top row voices about ten feet high. The long reverb was rendered without grain or leanness.
The LSA1's do not magnifiy the stage as do some smaller speakers, they only report the size and scope of what is on the source, exemplified by my own recordings, both acoustic analog and electronic digital. The grand piano in auditoriums and my own living room were faithfully reproduced and the completely “fake” representation of perfectly dry 24-bit samples, enhanced by computer generated reverb, simply repeated what was added – no more or no less.
Just for fun, I pulled out a pair of speakers lauded to this day by Harry Pearson for having a magical midrange and superlative imaging – the Sound Dynamics 300ti. This is a much larger speaker that truly is remarkable, though not to the degree hyped by HP. Other than a more extended low end, the LSA1 was superior in every regard. It wasn’t even close.
The very fine Vienna Acoustics Haydn Grand was stronger competition. While the Haydn costs about 30% more, the 1's were more convincing and lifelike, especially in the low bass and upper frequencies. They are also much, much more acurate and linear from top to bottom.
THE REAL LOWDOWN
I like bass. Having studied pipe organ for years and having performed on many such instruments in the US and Europe, I know firsthand the power and majesty of thirty-two foot pipes. In the case of the incredible Wanamaker organ in what is now Lord & Taylor in Philadelphia, sixty-four foot pipes. Those monsters are large enough to house a VW bug. You don’t hear them but you sure as heck feel them.
I have always cringed a bit when I read reviews that stated, “I really didn’t miss the bass” when describing speakers with restricted low frequencies. In the case of these speakers, since they go all the way down to about 37 Hz, there is not much bass to miss. That frequency will capture every standard instrument in the orchestra and all but the lowest 6 notes on a piano. But trust me, pianists very rarely roam that low and then mostly in piano solos, but never in a jazz or rock setting because he would be stepping all over the bass player’s space. The bass player would then step all over the pianist’s face in the alley between sets.
The LSA1 will not, however, reproduce that sixty-four foot pipe with a frequency of 8.18Hz - assuming someone could even record it in the first place.Timpani were robustly replicated, as were bass and kick drum thwacks in both classical and rock music. The fundamentals and harmonics of all low-pitched instruments were formed so well – dare I say it – I didn’t really miss the lowest bass.
I kept asking myself if I could, in truth, live with these speakers with no sub. Answer? In a small to medium room, absolutely. In a large room where low frequencies have an opportunity to breathe freely, I would opt for a full range speaker, but only one that did everything else as well as these.
By the way, there is absolutely no connection or subliminal message intended in this review that features references and pictures of Elvira and a really big organ....
BUT DO THEY SING?
All of the above is great so far, but if a speaker cannot convey a male or female vocal convincingly, the rest counts for nothing.
The 1's were more than convincing, they were inspiring.
When Linda Ronstadt, Laura Fabian, Renae Fleming, Roger Waters, Robert Plant or any other vocalist took the stage, they did exactly that – they took the stage. The image was forward, recessed and neutral, depending exclusively on how the singer was recorded. The speakers did not force their own perspective. Broken hearts, lust for life (or other things), longing for love or the joy of finding new love, teenage angst – all were rendered seamlessly and gloriously. These speakers have the innate ability to bypass your ears and grasp your heart, soul or both. One does not “hear” them, one experiences the music. They pull you in and cause you to forget the office, the bills, the noise and clutter of life and transport you to wherever the artists want to take you. Choose your music carefully!
SO IT’S PERFECT, RIGHT?
Of course not. Even LSA makes a Signature version of this speaker at twice the price, so improvements can be made – at a price.
Compared to much more expensive speakers, the LSA 1's lack the that last ninth degree of transparency and air of a Sonus Fabre Cremona Auditor or their ultra liquid, creamy personality, but the two speakers have more in common than differences. They both use paper cones – “We think they (paper cones) just sound more natural”, stated Larry Staples, designer of the LSA's. Images in the Auditor are rounder with more “flesh” on the vocals. The highs are more extended and crystalline and some may think they look sexier – even though both cabinets have curvaceous figures. But, as all men know, curves can be expensive. At $4,000, the Fabers will cost you four times as much for the sound and the prurient factors.
My B&W 805's exhibit a bit more midrange snap (emphasis) resulting in snare drums with a bit more pop and vocals that are a bit more forward, but not as organic. The B&Ws sound a bit more “hifi” than the 1's and overall, to me, less musical. The 805's go for about $2,000/pair.
The LSA 1's are genuine reference quality monitors for speakers anywhere near this price range. They have that indefinable quality we call “Mojo”. If I had my “druthers”, these speakers would never have left the premises. Alas, the company seemed anxious to get them back to use for other demos. Hopefully, if I beg and plead, Mr. Staples will send the LSA 1 Signatures. We may have to work our Mojo on him! Stay tuned.
THE LSA 1 IS STRONGLY RECOMMENDED FOR ANYONE WITH A SMALL OR MEDIUM SIZED ROOM WHO PRIZES ORGANIC MUSICALITY AND WHO LISTENS TO ALL GENRES SAVE ELECTRONICA OR CLUB MUSIC THAT DEMANDS ULTRA LOW BASS RESPONSE, WHICH WOULD ELIMINATE ANY STAND MOUNTED SPEAKER. LSA STRONGLY RECOMMENDS USE OF BI-WIRING WITH WHICH WE CONCUR.
BECAUSE THE LSA 1s REPRESENT AN EXTRAORDINARY VALUE IN SOUND, CONSTRUCTION AND APPEARANCE, WE AWARD THEM THE STEREOMOJO “MAXIMUM MOJO AWARD”.
LSA 1 Specifications
• Sensitivity: 88db 1w/1m (An input signal of one watt of power at 1 KHz yields
approximately 88 decibels of sound pressure at one meter; in-room measurement)
• Impedance: 6 ohm nominal (benign load for virtually any amplifier)
• Power Handling/Amplifier Recommendations: 20 to 150 wpc (Depending on room
size and volume requirements, SET amplifiers may be used in some instances.)
• Size: 13.5” H x 8.5” W at widest point x 14.5” D not including binding posts
• Driver Complement: 1” dome tweeter, 6.5” midrange/bass driver
• Crossover: midrange/bass driver crosses over to the tweeter at 2000 Hz.
For purchase or other information, call LSA toll free directly at