Graham Audio LS5/9, LS5/9f, and LS5/8 – part 3
Not only the LS5/9 and LS5/9f are similar in their presentation. All the Graham Audio speakers have a very similar sound. One could easily combine different models in a surround setup or work with one pair here and another there, without there being a meaningfully different presentation. But, there are some differences, of course.
Despite the enormous difference in size, the huge LS5/8 sounds a lot like the smaller LS5/9. Treble behavior, timbre, dynamics, that voluptuous and relaxed midrange, as well as the size of the soundstage are all very comparable but there seems to be a difference in terms of focus. With the speakers either in the same positions as the LS5/9 or LS5/9f or repositioned, I could not attain quite the same sharp focus. The biggest difference, however, as can be expected, is in the bass. With its much larger 12″ woofers, the LS5/8’s reach significantly deeper. The speakers also sound more sonorous but only when playing music that actually engages these low bass notes. And when they do, boy, do these speakers GO! 40hz +/- 3dB may not sound like an exceptional value when talking about large loudspeakers but with all the Graham Audio speakers, the bass seems to go much lower than specified. It certainly is a lot fuller than that of most other same-sized speakers. I mean, I already consider the small-ish LS5/9’s to sound quite fulsome, so imagine what the LS5/8’s can do! Importantly, these speakers’ bass heft does not influence the clarity of the midrange nor does it diminish any of the other virtues.
Their cabinets’ size really is something to take into account, though, as the LS5/8 even makes the Martin Logan ESL15A’s imposing bottoms look comparatively small. The LS5/8 is capable of 10dB more sound pressure than the two smaller models but as it became clear in my listening sessions, those extra dB’s really are not required for my domestic purposes. Bass depth and output level aside, I do not personally see the benefit of the LS5/8’s over the LS5’9’s but I should also note that I do not tend to listen very loudly.
All the Graham Audio speakers worked extremely well with the very transparent and highly refined CH Precision A1.5 power amp but its elevated price category will mean that few people will likely use this combination. A much more likely pairing would be with Lejonklou Sagatun preamp and Tundra power amps, which are also supplied by Hexagon Audio. This combination works especially well, further enhancing the speaker’s inherent relaxed nature and smoothness with impressive levels of fluidity and refinement. While I marveled at the subtlety, however, I did note that even the double Tundra Mono Amps did not really provide the solidity and dynamic impact that I felt was ideal for these speakers. An interesting alternative was provided by Bryston. Many people still think that these amps are only good for PA use but if that was even the case then that was 20 years ago. Their current SST3, or Cubed, series of amps are actually smooth, refined, and extremely musical, in addition to being incredibly powerful. When combined with the Grahams, the resulting delivery is smooth and luscious but also dynamic and powerful, all in equal measures and the Brystons’ utter neutrality also paired remarkably well with the colorful Grahams. The 4B has more than enough power already and has a more liquid presentation than its larger brother but the 14B’s tighter and more articulate sound is also seductive and it’s clear that the Grahams highly appreciated the extra power and grip.
Fed directly by the C1 DAC, I found the Graham speakers to sound tightest, most articulate and most highly resolving. Going direct is certainly not always the best solution but eliminating a preamp can have very worthwhile benefits. For instance, with speakers as tight and precise as the Paradigms, leaving out the preamp can lead to a dry and overly controlled sound. Adding the Lejonklou Sagatun to the Graham mix, the sound indeed became smoother and more fluid, and gentler as well, but I felt that the speakers did not really need this. Sweet enough, as the English say:-)
With the big Graham Audio LS5/8’s, coming from smooth and refined Lejonklou, the Electrocompaniet AW180’s sound more direct and more solid in the midrange and much more sonorous in the bass. More solid and percussive too, but this extra fullness arguably also makes the music sound a little “fatter”. Going from the AW180’s to the AW600 Nemos with the big Grahams is very similar to going from the Bryston 4B to the 14B: the bass tightens up and the entire presentation becomes more confident. However, unlike with the Brystons, I don’t feel that the EC’s basic character changes from the 180’s to the 600’s. The latter are just better! In terms of resolution, however, the Electrocompaniets don’t bring out all that the Graham speakers are capable of but even if the Brystons perform a little better in this respect, they, too don’t maximize this aspect. The CH Precision A1.5 and the Lejonklous do, but neither amps have the solidity and live-music like engaging presence in the midrange that the Brystons and Electrocompaniets have. For “rocking out loud”, I found that the Electrocompaniet amps were the best partners. Not quite as high-res and refined as the CH and Lejonklou, a little dark, and not as smooth and transparent as the Brystons but nevertheless highly engaging due to their communicative midrange and very convincing timbre as well as their impactful dynamics and their big and bold bass.
Because the Lejonklou amps only facilitate bananas I switched to a (no longer available) Lejonklou-modified Linn K400 speaker cable with banana connectors during the review, but during the amp comparisons, it became clear that the Jorma was much more refined and revealing even if used with banana adapters. The Linn/Lejonklou cable sounds full, smooth, and engaging but it also leaves out a lot of resolution and transparency compared to the Jorma. Nevertheless, the Grahams certainly don’t only sound great with a cable as upscale as the Jorma. Kimber 4TC or 8TC’s, for example, don’t quite have the Jorma’s refinement but also work incredibly well, providing all the liveliness that the Jorma’s are capable of, along with very good transparency.
After the interesting results with the various transistor amplifiers, I couldn’t help but wonder how the Grahams would perform with tubes. One could be lead to believe that their inherently relaxed character would by definition not work well with tubes but then one would not consider amps such as the Ayon Spirit III. Unusually solid, lively and articulate for a tube amp, the Ayon made the LS5/9 monitors sound absolutely great in the secondary listening room!
The LS5/8’s are considerably larger than the Xavian Perla Esclusiva’s and, not surprisingly, their bass goes a lot deeper and is also fuller. Not only the bass is different, though, but these speakers also have entirely different presentations. In a nutshell, Graham can be characterized by its luscious, sweet and relaxed midrange while Xavian has a rougher but also more forward, more lively presentation.
Sweeter and slightly more relaxed and not as superbly dynamic and energetic as with the Electrocompaniets or the Brystons, the bass was definitely still tight and the overall delivery was lively and highly involving. Clearly, tubes will work just fine, as long as they are at least as powerful as the Ayon’s double pair of KT150’s. However, as I prefer my sound to be on the powerful and dynamic side and I find the Grahams already rich enough, for me, the Bryston and Electrocompaniet transistor amps provided the most thrilling experience. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
The Graham Audio loudspeakers all have an absolutely fabulous midrange. Vocals sound incredibly natural and highly convincing and there is a superbly lyrical and immediately emotionally involving quality to their presentation that makes it easy to get lost in the music. It’s not only that the mid-band is superbly liquid, but it is also highly faithful to the source, much more so than most other cabinet speakers. They’re not the tightest or most articulate speakers around but they have deep and luscious bass and a unique, one of a kind, delivery that has to be heard.