Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a 2024 Limited Edition Loudspeaker Review

Posted on 16th April, 2024

Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a 2024 Limited Edition Loudspeaker Review

David Price auditions what is arguably the ultimate mini-monitor that money can buy…

Falcon Acoustics

LS3/5a 2024 Limited Edition

£7,995 (around US$9,900) [export-only]

Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a 2024 Limited Edition Loudspeaker Review

There is something intangible about the sound of an LS3/5a that is so perfectly, organically right. So much so, in fact, that for many audiophiles, this excuses the iconic BBC mini-monitor's failings, such as lack of bass extension and limited maximum output level. A great many music lovers cherish this design, not least because its magic midband reaches the parts that other small speakers cannot. It has a charming, engaging, and satisfying sound that has spawned a whole hi-fi subculture centred around the delights of small speakers. Enthusiasts talk endlessly on audio forums and/or down the pub, arguing about which small speaker is best and, indeed, which version of the LS3/5a is king.

To my ears at least – with which I have heard seven or eight differently branded versions over the past four decades – the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a that I reviewed a few years ago has remained the best until now. The LS3/5a story has been well told, not least by StereoNET, so we shall not go over it again here. But what's interesting about the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a 2024 Limited Edition on test here is that the company has thrown the proverbial kitchen sink at it.

According to managing director Jerry Bloomfield, it is the best version they know how to make and will ever make. It is by far the most expensive version on sale, too – but Jerry believes there's a market for it. Such are the desires of some LS3/5a aficionados; they want the best and are prepared to pay for it. As to the ethics of this, I say 'let the market decide' – no one is forcing anyone to buy it, and Falcon continues to make the standard version for far less money. As far as all loudspeakers are concerned, it's different strokes for different folks.

THE LEGEND

Being an officially licensed LS3/5a, it naturally uses the legendary B110 midrange driver and T27 tweeter designed by Malcolm Jones at KEF in the early nineteen seventies. As StereoNET readers may know, Malcolm later came out of retirement to work for none other than Falcon Acoustics, where he set about remanufacturing these drivers to the very highest specifications. So, any Falcon LS3/5a is already off to a good start.

Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a 2024 Limited Edition Loudspeaker Review

Over the years, the LS3/5a has been made under licence by several companies, including Rogers, Chartwell, Harbeth, Spendor, Audiomaster, RAM, Goodmans, KEF and more recently, Stirling Broadcast – plus, of course, Falcon. By the way, the latter is an excellent source of OE spares for existing LS3/5a models and supplies premium quality drive units, crossovers and other bits to enthusiasts from all around the world. “We are the only LS3/5a manufacturer that sources all parts and components in the UK and EU to give the best quality and consistency possible”, Jerry tells me.

He continues: “We wanted to produce a Limited Edition for 2024 to show what we had learned about the LS3/5A following decades of association, research and manufacture. It's a technical reference point. Falcon makes the only genuine new B110 and T27 drive units available, and we wanted to demonstrate the best possible sonic results that we know can achieved using the best components and parts available with this iconic BBC design. We also knew from what we had researched and learned since 2019 that we could now improve on our Kingswood Warren Edition.” Only fifty pairs of the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a 2024 Limited Edition will be made, and they are sequentially numbered, with two reference pairs being kept for company use. “Based on our experience with the Kingswood Warren Edition in 2019”, adds Jerry, “this Edition is export-only.”

He wishes to underline that, like all Falcon Acoustics LS3/5as, the 2024 LE model is officially BBC-licensed. “The number of LS3/5a clones on sale has now reached 108, at the last count. As a result of this, at a recent meeting with the BBC, the corporation signalled to me that it's stiffening its approach and resolve considerably. They have indicated that they plan to be now pursuing misrepresentation, fakes, fake claims and misuse of their intellectual property, trademarks, etc., far more rigorously to support LS3/5a licensees and protect the BBC's heritage.”

UP CLOSE

As you would expect, the 2024 Limited Edition is the standard 305x190x165mm [HxWxD] size, weighs 5.4kg and is an infinite baffle design. The 110mm KEF B110 Bextrene midrange driver and 19mm T27 SP1032 mylar dome tweeter are naturally specified, with thick strips of felt surrounding the latter to reduce secondary waves reflected by the cabinet edges. Whereas the standard version sports 12mm thick damped Baltic plywood cabinet walls, the 2024 LE has a 9mm damped cabinet as per BBC Research & Development originals, but with a sealed back for better sonics. It's finished in exquisite natural English Burr Elm veneer, with a grille made of 1975-vintage Tygan cloth woven in Yorkshire, England.

Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a 2024 Limited Edition Loudspeaker Review

The crossover has received a lot of attention on this new limited edition. It uses a gold-tracked Arlon 25N purple multilayer printed circuit board, which is said to have a low dielectric constant for maximum signal transfer properties, and machined gold connection pins for the same objective. UK-made polycarbonate capacitors are fitted using a film that has been out of production for over a quarter of a century. “What's left – not a lot – has been incredibly expensive to get hold of, so this really is the last opportunity to hear what the BBC intended the LS3/5A to sound like”, says Jerry.

It sports US-made Ohmite NI Audio Gold resistors and Falcon close-matched UK-manufactured BBC R&D-spec transformer inductors. The latter are roughly double the size of standard production inductors and are said to have better saturation characteristics and lower distortion. Internal wiring is TPE-insulated fine multistrand oxygen-free copper, with Falcon Rose Gold plated binding posts. Jerry says: “We faced real challenges sourcing materials, particularly in relation to Arlon25N PCB material, and inevitable Polycarbonate capacitor film, which is now no longer possible to find – we were lucky with that! Refusing to compromise on what you're doing hardly made life easy for us…”

Because Jerry wanted to produce what he calls “a no-compromise” classic, he decided to manufacture the 15 ohm version of the LS3/5a. In 1988, the speaker's nominal impedance dropped to 11 ohms, but Falcon Acoustics has replicated the original version because the company was already producing correct and graded versions of the higher impedance B110 and T27 drivers. The frequency response is quoted as being 70Hz to 20kHz, ± 3dB, with 83dB sensitivity (2.83V @1m).

Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a 2024 Limited Edition Loudspeaker Review

The last trick of the tail is the presentation case that comes with the 2024 Limited Edition, which is really rather special. It's an Italian-manufactured burnished leather-wheeled pilot-style case with a Falcon Acoustics logo, which is fully lined inside and has a removable protection section. Jerry says that this means you can use the case for travelling, but if I bought a pair, then I am not sure that I'd want to subject my beautiful and bespoke LS3/5a case to the vagaries of an airport conveyor belt or a taxi boot.

SOUND QUALITY

By today's standards, the standard BBC LS3/5a is a fabulous but flawed loudspeaker. Its original design remit was to be a near-field monitor, often used in outside broadcast vans (i.e. in very limited spaces). It was also commonly used in radio studios, monitoring spoken voices and light music at relatively low volumes. That explains its small size, limited bass, and power handling. This, in turn, predisposes it to certain types of listening rooms and, indeed, programme material. Put simply, the LS3/5a will never be much good in wide open spaces and/or playing heavy rock, sub-bass infused techno or church organ music that extends down to 16Hz.

Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a 2024 Limited Edition Loudspeaker Review

However, place the LS3/5a in a small-to-medium-sized room, give it a powerful amplifier (I used a 550W per channel Musical Fidelity M8xi) and put it on sturdy but small, 24-inch frame stands (I used Linn Kan mk1 stands), and now you're talking! This wee speaker excels in this sort of space, and it is when that magic midband and overall musical coherence come to the fore. The standard Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a is an excellent performer in this context, sounding fast, dynamic, punchy and engaging whilst having that trademark 'BBC' evenness and lack of nasties. It images very well, goes loud convincingly when called upon so to do, and shows little sign of distress until you really crank up the volume.

Does the new Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a 2024 Limited Edition improve on this already impressive showing, then? In a word, yes. It's not a dramatic, night and day transformation, yet – annoyingly, considering the far higher price – this version brings real, worthwhile improvements. Cue up the clean, modern pop of Empire of the Sun's Walking on a Dream, for example, and you're soon aware that the smooth, delicate and natural-sounding midband has subtly opened up without removing any of the original LS3/5a's magic. There's a more intricate and better resolved feeling to it as if a slight veil has been lifted, and you can now peer further into the mix. There's an ever so gentle shift in its tonality, too, as the speaker sounds fractionally sweeter in the midband and treble – or perhaps more accurately, less tonally dry. It's as if you've lightly touched the 'plus' button on your TV's colour saturation setting.

This is the main change that the 2024 LE brings, and because it's right at the heart of the music, you pick up on it very quickly and never let go. This combination of added delicacy and sweetness is so lovely to listen to – the improvement is unarguable and tugs at your very heartstrings. Yet there's plenty more to take in. Spin up the powerful classic rock of Asia's Sole Survivor, and you're instantly impressed by the fast and sinewy presentation. This LS3/5a seems to be able to accurately track every 'nook and cranny' on the music's rhythms – from the phrasing of the lead vocals to the superb rock drum work. This speaker sounds so expressive – so lucid and fluid – in the time domain that you're left marvelling at its rhythmic dexterity. This has always been an LS3/5a strength; thanks to its light, stiff cabinet and infinite baffle design, it retains far less energy than most speakers and, therefore, has less of a 'capacitative' effect on the rhythm. Yet the 2024 LE takes things to an even higher level – as it is so snappy sounding.

Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a 2024 Limited Edition Loudspeaker Review

Another precious thing about the new 2024 Limited Edition is its soundstaging. Again, the stock version is very good indeed; however, this new and (much) more expensive version apparently takes the music further out of the box and gives an even more accurate portrayal of where each instrument in the mix has been positioned. It also seems to improve subtly in terms of depth perspective, as you get an altogether more immersive sound when playing recordings like XTC's Great Fire. This melodic slice of new wave is of a surprisingly good technical quality, and this little loudspeaker underlines the fact.

This track is also an excellent testament to the 2024 LE's dynamic prowess. You're never going to get a JBL Everest-style punch in the lungs from an LS3/5a, but this version is the most expressive sounding I've come across. It pushes hard, even at highish volumes, without overt sounds of compression and can impart sudden changes in volume with surprising alacrity. The soaring middle eight of Rose Royce's Wishing on a Star showcases this brilliantly, with the singer's vocal inflexion really coming right out at you. The LS3/5a is the last speaker that I'd expect to be fun with soul music from the late seventies, yet so it proves.

Of course, low bass is conspicuous by its absence on this little BBC mini monitor. It just doesn't have the cabinet volume to bother the lowest couple of octaves, but this new version certainly brings a better-defined upper bass. The speaker's excellent cabinet conspires to make its bottom end really crisp and propulsive with repetitive, beat-driven classic dance music such as Henry Guzman's On The Move. With transient-driven material like this, this LS3/5a is rip-roaring good fun – as any listener will attest.

THE VERDICT

This is an extremely expensive loudspeaker and the most costly LS3/5a yet made—as far as I'm aware. Yet it is surely the best-sounding version that I have ever heard. Forget the exquisite build and finish; the truly stellar thing about the Falcon Acoustics 2024 Limited Edition is its performance. There's something enchanting about the way it makes music that leaves you wanting more. For a select and fortunate group of prospective purchasers, it's an absolutely essential audition. Instant classic status beckons.

Visit Falcon Acoustics for more information

    David Price's avatar

    David Price

    David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.

    Posted in:Applause Awards 2024 Loudspeakers Bookshelf / Standmount Hi-Fi
    Tags: falcon acoustics 

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