Had to make a quick road trip to see family/friends and to pick up a Modwright SWP 9.0 phono premplifier along with some Audience frontRow cables. I couldn’t wait to get back with this gear to the Graham LS3/5 speakers that arrived Saturday. Such cool looking little speakers!
For now, these posts are not complete reviews, they are more of me rambling on about what I feel and hear. There are plenty of sites and YouTube videos that will tell you everything you need to know about these speakers and cables.
My night started off well. The Zesto 1.2 phono was divine with my old Roger LS3/5A 11 ohm but when I put the frontRow speaker cables on when playing digital, it was just “good” on the Graham LS3/5 but transformed my Q Acoustics Concept 500 speakers, more realism then the old, unknown speaker cables that I’ve loved so much recently. I then moved from digital to vinyl. For some reason, the Zesto phono pre sounded boomy with my Concept 500 speakers but not with the Modwright phono pre. Thought this was very odd. I then went back to to my old beat up Rogers LS3/5A 11 ohm and the magic was back when playing Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out”, AP 45 RPM. The mylar tweeter just had this realism/magic. They have this way of effortlessly painting a beautiful soundscape and have this natural presentation with beautiful nuance/micro details. Maybe it is because I’m running an OTL pre/amp, full Berning designed Linear Tube Audio (LTA) MZ3/ David Berning ZH-230. I can only make comparisons with electrostatic speakers in the way the system disappears, sounds completely real and natural, something that didn’t happen with the Concept 500 and recently acquired Graham LS3/5 speakers. A 15 ohm Roger Gold Badge comparison coming soon and hopefully followed up by a Falcon Gold Badge and Devore O93 challenge in not to distant future. I also plan to compare all my current speakers with a Naim 82/180.
What I learned: the Berning powering the old Rogers LS3/5A 11 ohm speakers are even better with Audience FrontRow speaker cables!
Sara Bareilles “brave enough – live at the variety playhouse” singing “The Dock of the Bay” 24/196, just perfect. Her voice is so natural. The softness and touch of her voice is spellbinding. All the texture and bloom of her voice is there and is utterly natural. The piano sounds so big and realistic. Perfect tone.
Where to start. I got rid of most of the boom on the Concept 500 speakers by moving my cheap dampening panels to the corners of my room and swapping some Gold Lion tubes for some of my favorite Brimar 12AX7 tubes in the Zesto phono pre. Much better but, there was just some magic missing that I was getting out of the Rogers LS3/5A 11 ohm. That electrostatic feeling where the performers were really there, nuance and micro-details just not as natural.
I just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t liking the Graham LS3/5. They just seemed a little too forward sounding/hot. I’m using a very good set of Audience SX RCA cables between my LTA MZ3 pre and the Berning ZH-230 amp. Thought, lets step it up to frontRow RCAs. That made everything more refined. As I put it to my friends, “first it’s like a loss in resolution over SX but it’s really just refinement”. One friend says “what can seem like a loss in resolution can actually be a decrease in noise” and the other said he agreed with us on the the noise level and that he felt like “low noise level components and cables lead the listener to focus more on the ‘flow’ of the music rather then the specific sonic spectrum such as bass, mid, or high”. I agree with my friends completely. I had also been following one bloggers advice at putting the height of my ears between the tweeter and the bass driver. I temporarily put the speakers on 24″ stands which most people say is best and are the height of the original LS3/5A stands. There seemed to be a better bass foundation and it just sounded better overall. The image height didn’t seem like it was coming from the floor and maybe that’s because LS3/5A’s image so well. I then moved my Gaia 3 feet back over to the 24″ Linn Kan stands and was finally able to utilize the Gaia 3 spiked platforms as the second set of 4 finally arrived. Bam! Amazing. I’m thinking here this morning, do I really need 8k in cables to make these shine. This is ridiculous but wow, the sound I’m getting is amazing. Maybe if you get rid of all your system’s bottlenecks, power conditioner, cables, clean digital chain, you can make speakers shine that you gave up on, even ones of modest price and size. Just wish I had some Auditorium 23 speaker cables laying around here to compare. As of today, the Graham LS3/5 are now my favorite. Magic is back and I’m just getting lost in the music and don’t to want to write about what I’m hearing. Isn’t that what it’s all about.
I know you guys want to know what I’m hearing so I’ll I quickly explain. Everything is just more real and alive, more modern. Nothing is putting me to sleep in the evening when I’m tired. Like real flesh and blood music playing in front of me. Leading edges are not rolled off, advantages of an OTL amp design or maybe it’s the more modern tweeter in the Grahams. Upright bass is even more correct. I can now really visualize the instrument in the room and it isn’t just a blurry facsimile.
My friend brought over some of his Rogers LS3/5 15 ohm Gold Badge and some of my old gear. Selling some, maybe keeping some. Proac 1SC (exact ones I heard in showroom in late 80s or maybe early 90s, Father purchased demo pair), Crimson 640E Monoblocks, Naim NAC82/NAP180 and a Unison Research preamplifier.
Was up until 1:30 AM trying every combination possible, way too many. Discoveries: one of the reasons I believe the Concept 500 speakers weren’t blowing me away is these fancy Tellurium Black Diamond jumpers. I adore the locking banana plug and robust quality but maybe all those joints/connections add up to a sound quality that is not so good. I flipped the jumpers around where I could insert the frontRow bananas into the speaker terminals of the tweeters. Veil lifted!…. but, I still didn’t find them as magical as the LS3/5, LS3/5A and even the old Proac 1SC! Maybe there is hope for the old stuff like me. The other big “but”, these options seem to be lacking in the deepest bass of course. Bringing the LS3/5 closer to the side walls really helped and when the much more powerful Crimson monoblocks were used, wow, octave of more bass and so good!. From my research, looks like some people who know love these Crimsons, powerful, PRAT, musical. I tried them with the NAC82 and with the LTA MZ3. MZ3 make it the magic combo.
So what is my favorite combination and why. As of this morning, I’m loving the Graham LS3/5 with the MZ3/Crimson/frontRow(speaker cables/pre-amp)/SX sources. There is just this naturalness that I think is due to the organic nature of the Graham LS3/5 speakers. Tonality/timber seems perfect. I can hear the guitars resonate with that rich harmonic nature. I still have great leading edges. Good deep bass due to the Crimson monoblocks current/drive. Just lovely here playing Shearwater “Jet Plane and Oxbow”. There is this transient snap that I think most Naim/Harbeth lovers will recognize. How do I explain. On the song Shearwater “Radio Silence”. The snap of the drum stick on the rim of the drum, at least that is what I think it is, just has this quality like you hear that the drum stick is real wood. It resonates like it is really in the room. Maybe it’s the thin wall cabinet design. The tonality is correct and your brain doesn’t have to work so hard to process what you are hearing if that makes sense. So organic and true but can still rock! Now the music has moved on to Buddy Guy “Bring ‘Em In” and I can feel the groove of the music. That is what it’s about, not analyzing everything. I feel the emotion of Buddy’s words and deep in my bones.
The MZ3/Berning combo was beautiful with the Concept 500 speakers but I feel like the Mz3/Crimson/Graham combo just has more emotion and I’m not missing the lower octaves. I have that groove/PRAT I’ve loved since I was a kid. If does everything terrific. Do I have a holographic soundstage that goes beyond my side walls and am I walking between the performers in my head, probably not but this is a system I can live with for all genres of music.
I will be putting the Proac 1SC back in rotation as I hear some magic there with the MZ3/Crimson combo. I mainly remember it being super holographic. Those tweeters Proac made way back when were something of a marvel at the time. Such resolution. Most of the combos I used made the Proacs seem anemic in the bass but not the Crimsons. What I don’t think they have is have the natural organic nature of the Grahams. We will see.
The next update should teach you only takes one bottleneck to make you make very poor decisions. Just go back to my first HI-FI COOL post to see all the ridiculous amount of gear I’ve been through. I think back at how good the full Leben/Devore system sounded when playing vinyl. A true music lover system. Why was I so impatient in thinking my system wasn’t good enough when playing digital when my digital chain was flawed. I had no idea at the time that the Linksys router was putting its own influence on the sound when the microRendu/ultraRendu was pulling files from my Synology NAS blunting my bass. I had no idea all that noise was taking a free trip on my cables from my NAS all the way to my DAC. Why didn’t I just slow down and realize how superior my vinyl rig was or hook up a good CD transport. It happened again today. A set of jumpers was hurting the sound on my Concept 500s. I was almost led to believe all my other speakers were better. The high resolution on the Proac 1SC helped me notice the sound was off right away when switching jumpers. When I put the Soundsmith jumpers back on the Concept 500 speakers with the FrontRow speakers cables, it was breath of fresh air. I then knew how good Concept 500s were and it proved to me what all the reviewers had been saying was true.
I flipped back to the Graham LS3/5 speakers with the MZ3/ZH-230. Just everything I love. So natural, amazing tactile bass, truth of tone. That is biggest difference between the Concept 500 speakers and the little Graham speaker, the tonality just makes everything sound more real. Even the micro details have this more natural presentation in that you are fooled into really being there especially with live recordings. The magic is amazing. Maybe the fact of just moving the speakers closer to the side walls had increased the bass and made me feel more emotion. All I need to is purchase the FrontRow cables.
My thinking is the Berning is the winner for now. I do want to see how a Luxman LX-380 integrated amplifier performs to satisfy my inner desire to simplify my system. My friends and family would probably laugh at me trying to be a minimalist. Think my next step in the speaker journey will be a pair of Graham 8/1 and a pair of Devore O93 speakers. If I had to try another solid state amplifier at this point, it would be a First Watt F8 because Herb Reichert’s loved the F8/Falcon LS3/5A Gold Badge synergy. I think something was wrong with the Silver Badge model last time I tried the Falcons so I’m still thinking about the Falcon Gold Badge.
Next up, thought I would try the Silversmith speaker cables but this time with some average quality 80s music. Silversmith is supposed to be a true giant killer at any cost. I just feel like there is a slight lost in refinement, texture, something a little too smooth in the bass and it’s not as tactile. It is unreal for the price and think they would slaughter a lot of cables under $4000. Just wish I would have hung on to that last set of Auditorium 23 speaker cables to compare. Back to Audience frontRow speaker cables. Ah, there it is. Maybe with lower power amplifiers, they are more critical to speaker cables.
ABC “The Look Of Love”: listening off axis because I do a lot of work from my desk, there is that dynamic beautiful tight bass punch and soaring vocals full of bloom and resolution without a hint of brightness.
Am I crazy for loving the shoe box Graham LS3/5 9 ohm speakers? If you remember, these are the ones the late Art Dudley reviewed along side a pair of Graham LS3/5A 15 ohm and Falcon LS3/5A 15 ohm speakers which I think today would be the silver badge model. I feel honored to once own the actual Nait 2 integrated amplifier he used in his original review. He requested another from Chris West at AV Options for his LS3/5(A) challenge. He liked the Graham LS3/5A best but did say Graham LS3/5 did come “across as the richest sounding of the three, sounding especially lovely on massed cellos, and lending good tonal foundation to the vocal soloists and choir in the last movement.” As I fall for these Graham LS3/5 speakers, I wonder if Mr. Dudley would have thought the non “A” model would have been best with different tube gear, something with higher resolution then Shindo. It’s all about synergy as they say. His tube Shindo gear did come out ahead with the Grahams versus the Falcons. Maybe this is why Herb Reichert likes the First Watt F8 amplifier so much with his Falcon Gold Badge edition so that has me thinking, I need to hold on to my buddies original Rogers LS3/5 15 ohm Gold Badge until I get a First Watt F8 amplifier.
Live on LS3/5 and LS3/5A!
Digital sources: Aqua La Voce S3 D/A processor; Sony X77ES CD player, Melco N1Z Digital Music Server.
Analog sources: Vinyl: Thorens TD-124 (STS Full Renovation), Schick 9.6” Tonearm, MusiKraft DL-103 Cartridge, Auditorium 23 Standard Step Up Transformer, Zesto 1.2 Phonostage. Reel to Reel: Technics 1500, Sony TC-399, Teac X-10 (Parts), Erhard Audio Nina II Tape head preamplifier. Cassette: Nakamichi Dragon
Preamplifier: Linear Tube Audio MZ3 (Headphone Amp, Preamp, Integrated Amp)
Power amplifiers: David Berning ZH-230.
Integrated amplifiers: PS Audio Sprout 100
Loudspeakers: Q Acoustics Concept 500, Graham LS3/5, Rogers LS3/5A 11 ohm, KEF LS50.
Cables: Digital: Shunyata Venom, AudioQuest Vodka (Ethernet), CAD Audio USB II (1.1m, USB), Tellurium Black Diamond hf Digital (S/PDIF). Interconnect: Audience SX, Auditorium 23. Speaker: Unknown (help me place), Tellurium Black Diamond, Soundsmith. AC: AudioQuest Hurricane High Current, Triode Wire Labs Digital American, BPT.
Accessories: Sanus UF30 & Linn 24″ loudspeaker stands; Lovan, VTI, custom babinga equipment racks; Ayre Acoustics Myrtle Blocks; ATS Acoustic Panels, IsoAcoustic ZaZen Isolation Platforms, IsoAcoustic Gaia 3 Isolation Feet; IsoAcoustics Speaker Stands, Herbie Pads, AudioQuest Niagara 3000 Low-Z Power/Noise-Dissipation System and AudioQuest Niagara 1200 Low-Z Power/Noise-Dissipation System (Tape components). Headphone Amplifiers: Violectric V-181, AudioQuest DragonFly Red v1.0 USB Digital-to-Analog Converter and USB Adapter. Headphones: Sennheiser HD 598SE, Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear Headphones.
Room: 12′ (system wall; width), 20′ (partial wall serving as 58” tall back record wall); 36′ (total room; depth).