Review samples provided by Hexagon Audio
Retail starting prices in the Netherlands (per pair, incl. 21% VAT):
Graham Audio LS5/9 – 4.200 euro
Graham Audio LS5/9f – 4.600 euro
Graham Audio LS5/8 – 8.700 euro
Audio Origami PU7 gimbal bearing tonearm: 2.900 euro
Graham Audio loudspeakers are built in the UK under the supervision of Derek Hughes. Starting at Spendor, Derek updated the designs of the LS3/5A and the LS3/6 for Stirling Broadcast. In recent years, he has been working with Graham Audio, where he was responsible for reviving the LS3/5A, LS5/8, and LS5/9. All the Graham speakers are designed according to the thin wall construction method using birch plywood and many of them are manufactured and tested in accordance with BBC specifications.
The speakers offer convenient adjustments for treble output. With the BBC-derived monitors, this is done with solder clips and with the LS5/9f, this can be done at the flick of a switch.
The LS5/9 monitors are manufactured under license from the BBC while LS5/9f floor standers are based on the same design but with liberties taken in some aspects. Most obviously, their cabinets deviate from the typical BBC fashion by having the screwed-in panels on the rear sides rather than on the front. The BBC never developed floor-standing models and I’m not sure what this change does to the sound but, in my opinion, it certainly makes them look much prettier. At 89dB (2.83V, 1m) versus 87dB, the floor-standing model is 2dB’s more sensitive than the monitor model. Their larger cabinets also result in an extended frequency response of 40Hz to 20kHz, ±2dB whereas the stound-mount models are rated at 50Hz to 16kHz, ±3dB. In both cases, a 200mm Diaphnatone polypropylene woofer and a 34mm Audax HD13D34H tweeter are employed. The recommended amplifier power is 50-200 watts and during my listening tests, it was indeed confirmed that the speakers sound best when driven by a healthy dose of power. The LS5/8, finally, are also made under BBC licensing and may appear to be of a similar size in photos but at 76cm by 46cm by 40cm their cabinets are actually considerably larger. These may be monitor designs but really, they are larger than some floor-standing designs. Designed in conjunction with Derek Hughes and Volt Loudspeakers to sustain higher sound pressure levels, the LS5/8’s feature a huge 12-inch bass driver along with the same 34mm Audax tweeter that is used in the LS5/9 and LS5/9f. The LS5/8 was originally conceived as an active design, but the new passive crossover reportedly improves on the resolution and imaging of the original design while still conforming to the demanding BBC license. According to the manufacturer, the LS5/8’s design retains the same balance and midrange clarity of the LS5/9 while offering an extended bass response and greater authority at a high level in larger rooms. As I would find out later, the speakers do indeed sound extremely similar, except in the bass, where the LS5/8 monitor actually sounds more like the LS5/9f floor-standing model.
The notched connectors offer only a very small contact area when using Spades. It works well enough, but for a better and more reliable connection with a wide range of spades, I had preferred a larger flat surface area. The manufacturer commented that they use bananas exclusively.
The initial listening was done with the resident Antipodes CX music server, CH Precision C1 DAC and CH Precision A1.5 amp and later with the Lejonklou system still using the C1 DAC as well as a Linn LP12 turntable with the Lejonklou Slipsik phono stage that were both kindly provided by Marco Oudheusden of Hexagon Audio because my Origin Live turntable for away for an upgrade.
Besides Graham Audio and Lejonklou, Hexagon Audio also has turntable arms in its portfolio which leads to this LP12 being outfitted with an Audio Origami PU7 gimbal bearing tonearm. The interesting thing is that this particular LP12 sounds entirely different than the LP12 that I reviewed years ago: smooth, warm, & relaxed instead of thin and forward. The player is pretty much the same version and the exact same cartridge was used so go figure how much of an influence the arm has!
Finally, the Graham Audio speakers were also listened to using the very powerful Bryston 4B and 14B Cubed amps and the Electrocompaniet AW600 Nemo mono monsters. The speaker cables used are primarily the Jorma Trinity but the Lejonklou-modified Linn K400 cable and the Kimber 8TC were also tried. For comparison, I used Kroma Audio Carmen, Martin Logan ESL15A, and Paradigm Persona B loudspeakers.
Going from the very clean and neutral Paradigm Persona B‘s to the Graham Audio LS5/9’s is a bit like going from a sports car to a limousine. Most notably, the LS5/9’s are more relaxed and considerably warmer. The LS5/9’s presentation is also big and lush. Centrally-placed instruments and vocals are quite distinctly focused but otherwise, the imaging within the soundstage is not incredibly specific. Nevertheless, the stereo panned sounds hoover effortlessly and freely around the speakers and a manner that is reminiscent of the way that full range Apogee magnetostatic speakers handle imaging.
Another aspect that is reminiscent of those Apogees is the LS5/9’s bass performance. Even-handed, deep and lush, it lacks tightness and punch, not only when compared to the Persona’s but also when compared to many other recent speakers. This may prove a dividing factor for some people but it really also is a matter of personal taste, especially since this kind of behavior in the bass does match the speakers’ behavior in the midrange and treble perfectly. Speaking of which: upon first glance, the tweeters do not seem to be anything special but they behave absolutely non-intrusively. Very well-behaved, well-resolved but never edgy or forward. I don’t hear the same amount of resolution as with ribbons or electrostatics but the treble behavior is highly refined, sweet and forgiving, and always gentle. I suspect that with this aspect alone the speakers will already win many hearts.