Graham Audio LS3/5 and LS3/5A with SUB3 – Part 2/2
Listening Comparisons – LS3/5A versus LS3/5
The only differences in the specification list between the two models are that the “A” version uses 12mm plywood whereas the non-A version uses 9mm plywood and the former is specified at 11 ohms and the latter at 9 ohms. In spite of the otherwise identical specifications, there are notable differences in the way that the two models sound.
Changing from the A’s to the non-A’s, the difference is far from subtle. But because the two models have strengths in different areas, I had a hard time deciding whether I preferred one or the other. Let me start by outlining the differences as I perceive them.
The first thing I noted is a difference in tonality. The non-A model has a fuller lower midrange with a little bit more punch. This, combined with a more spacious and more 3D sense in the soundstage makes the LS3/5’s sound comparatively flatter. The LS3/5A’s, however, counter with a midrange that comes across as more linear and they have a treble that’s a little bit more spicey, although it is not any airier.
The non-A’s punchiness in the lower midrange makes certain instruments such as jazz guitar more natural and realistic as well as a little bit more expressive. Another way of putting this is that the A-model sounds leaner and the non-A model fuller. Which of the two is the more accurate portrayal remains a matter of perspective.
The non-A’s treble may initially appear to be less open, maybe a little bit rolled-off after having heard the LS3/5A’s but I’m more inclined to conclude that the A-model’s treble is a little spikey whereas the non-A model’s treble is smoother. Besides, the LS3/5’s treble is actually of better quality. It is more refined and more highly resolving, whereas the LS3/5A’s treble can be a little rough by default as well as less forgiving when there is roughness in the recordings.
Most of the observed differences take place in the midrange and treble region and the bass seems to be quite similar in character. However, even if the bass unit’s behavior is largely unchanged, the LS3/5’s upper bass does seem to be a little bit punchier than that of the LS3/5A’s. Maybe that’s because the tweeter is responsible for the bass frequencies’ upper harmonics. Due to the extra punch in the upper-bass, the bass can initially appear to reach slightly less low, but after having adjusted to the different balance, this evens out and I’d say that the two models reach just as deeply.
Listening – adding the SUB3
With tube amplifiers and combining speakers it’s good to think about impedances. Since the LS3/5 and LS3/5A are specified at 9 ohms and 11 ohms both can be used with the amp’s 8-ohm outputs. The SUB3 system is specified at 8 ohms. Normally, when two speaker pairs are electrically wired in parallel, then the following calculation can be used.
Speaker system A (8 ohms for the subwoofer) multiplied by speaker system B (9 or 11 ohms for the LS3/5 or LS3/5A) = 72 ohms. This figure is then divided by total ohms in both speaker systems, which is 17 makes 4.2 ohms or 4.6 ohms.
However, in the case of the SUB3 addition, the internal crossover is wired such that the combined impedance does not dip below 7 ohms, meaning that the amplifier’s 8-ohm outputs are still ideal.
Starting with the LS3/5, even when using different speaker cables between amp and woofers (Foilflex) and between woofers and speakers (Audio Note Lexus LX 96), the speakers lock-in right away and the sound is immediately appealing. Naturally, the bass goes substantially deeper and also feels more solid. But the biggest surprise for me is how flawlessly the subs pair with the monitors. The crossover point is clearly well-chosen and the transition absolutely inaudible. Tonally, the woofers are also an ideal match. This is the great benefit of using same-brand speakers that are made for each other. You get a natural synergy that you don’t get quite as easily (or at all) when adding a universal subwoofer.
The entire presentation also becomes bigger and clearly more spacious. Not only in the horizontal plane but sounds now also wash over me much more convincingly than without the subs. With the raised bass crossover, the speakers do not really appear any more dynamic than on their own but they do appear larger and more fully-developed.
I also tried the subs on the monitors’ outsides but that resulted in a slightly less coherent sound
While the SUB3 system pairs perfectly with the LS3/5’s in an anonymous manner, when connecting the LS3/5A’s, it becomes clear that they are not 100% without character. Of course, how could they if the two speakers sound different? Indeed, the SUB3’s match ideally with the LS3/5’s and while they are technically also a superb match with the LS3/5A’s, the subs’ sonority enriches the monitors’ neutral and flat midrange to become slightly fuller and warmer. Is this bad? I say no, not at all. The end sum is still a sound that is technically more complete and emotionally more compelling.
But I have to be honest. Even if the combined system sounds like a fully coherent speaker pair, the SUB3 woofers do not make LS5/9’s out of the LS3/5’s. To my ears, the bigger models simply excel in all areas. So, why would one take this elaborate route to achieve a more full-range sound from these mini-monitors? Well, I have it on good authority that there are plenty of music lovers out there who don’t want to part with their beloved LS3/5’s or LS3/5A’s and only wish they extended a little bit more deeply. Well, to those, I say wish no longer!
Between the LS3/5’s and the LS3/5A’s, I think some people will perceive the newly made 5’s as more natural or organic while other people will prefer the more widely known 5A’s relatively more neutral and linear midrange delivery. Personally, I’m still on the fence and switching from one pair to the other remains a matter of adjusting. The technical perfectionist in me prefers the LS3/5A’s more neutral midrange while the music lover in me is more passionate about the LS3/5’s fuller and richer midrange. I say: just listen for yourself!
The case for the SUB3 subwoofers is not at all ambiguous. They simply provide what one hopes from subwoofers but rarely gets: a meaningful extension of the speakers’ bass range in a seamless and wholly synergistic manner.
Part 1 – Part 2