Rare these days in that it's a purist company producing amps, speakers AND turntables, Loth-X is a darling of the single-ended-triode/horn-loaded crowd. Its credibility is indisputable, up there with Wavac and Edgarhorn and Living Voice and the other tube/horn crazies you usually find at the breakaway show at the St Tropez in Las Vegas. Only Loth-X exhibits at the officially-CES Alexis Park...which tells you that it distances itself from the SET crowd, if only geographically and politically. But there's more: this Singapore-based brand actually makes stuff normal people can afford, and yet it still adheres to the 'Code of SET'. Even in the entry-level £400-per-pair Ion BS1 loudspeaker.
'BS', he said in Beavis' best voice. Stop laughing: just as the Germans will have to live with the name T&A, so do the Singaporeans have a lot to learn about English slang. Whatever, the speaker is categorically not 'BS' because it does everything it should, while offering unbelievable value for money. Not bad for a specialist audio import, eh?
In a sense, the Ion BS1 is a horn-surrogate for those who cannot afford any of the true horns on the market, or who simply cannot house something other than a bookshelf/stand-mount speaker. Aside from deviations such as the teensy Zingalis, most horns tend toward the biggish. (Even I, the Horn Hater, have to admire Loth-X for their show of Non-Political Correctness in this age of downsizing.) And small the BS1 is, though its exceptional depth-to-width ratio makes it hard to find suitable stands. Each 26lb unit occupies a space of 8x11 3/4x15 3/4in (WDH) - narrow but rather deep and, as a result, uncommonly elegant for a budget speaker.
Veteran designer Stephan Stamm fitted the BS1 with Loth-X-manufactured drivers consisting of a crossoverless 6in paper cone woofer and a 1in cloth diaphragm, fluid-cooled tweeter. The woofer runs full range, with the tweeter coming it at 10kHz, with only a single polypropylene capacitor running in series with it. This minimalism should, in theory, produce a sound damned close to a full-range driver as regards transparency. This sums up the Loth-X speaker philosophy: 'Multi way systems are a compromise; loudspeakers should be based around single, low-mass paper drivers.'
Unusual, too, is the bass-reflex cabinet, which features a topology the company calls 'bass labyrinth' and which strikes me as something in-between a transmission line and a horn. Whether it resembles them or not, it does provide precisely what you'd expect from a company which makes single-ended triode amps and big horn speakers: high sensitivity and convincing bass. Confirming this, the BS1 is rated at 94dB/1W/1m (but it typically measures a shade more at 95dB/1W/1m) and - more importantly for some - it shows a genuine 8 ohms impedance with negligible deviation. When idling, it measures 7.8 ohms, where nominal 8 ohm speakers typically measure around 6 to 7 ohms. As far as frequency response is concerned, the seemingly optimistic 55-20kHz is backed up by a surprising amount of weight and extension from what is unashamedly regarded by the producer as a bookshelf speaker.
In practice, the BS1 will frighten no amplifier I can think of, just what you need when your amp of choice may be a 97-ounce weakling good for only single-figure wattage. I used it with the EAR 859 single-ended triode, Quad's QC24 and II-forty, venerable Rogers Cadet III and even with my latest acquisition, the 28-year-old Marantz 1060 integrated. Set-up seemed pretty straightforward once I'd heard from Joe Roberts, the US distributor, who cautioned me, 'Cables seemed to have as much effect on the tonal presentation as the amp and I found it difficult to generalise because the wire choice was wholly amp dependent.' How true: I used ART wire (the stuff which looks like it was commandeered off a clothes iron), Harmonix and Kimber Select, attached to the BS1 via gold-plated multi-way terminals in a recess at the back. Bless' em: they only accept single wiring, a bi-product of the crossoverless topology.
You know what I'm going to say: they sound best with valves, And why not? They were designed with and for tubes, and they're distributed here by the people who handle Croft. (Apparently, small Croftware works a treat with the BS1.) Given any excusive to turn raw and aggressive, BS1s will, so keep them away from crude transistors and edgy digitalia. From the outset, you will hear horn colorations, the speakers being nasal enough to turn Dino into Durante, but the ear grows used to it if you have patience and an open mind.
There's reason to persevere: the BS1 sounds bigger than it has any right to, its soundstage is eerily deep and wide, and - best of all - it has a mid-band oozing warmth, with a natural flow which favours unplugged material. And there's a lusciousness which complements female vocals and strings, provided the nasality doesn't bother you. (I mean, how the hell can you make the Everly Brothers sound nasal?!?)
Don't even consider these if you use transistors: trust me. But if you've been trying to squeeze decent levels out of a gutless tube amp, not just modern SETs but also vintage 10- or 15-watters like the old Cadet, then the BS1 will appear as salvation. (Let's face it: the surrounds in 40-year-old speakers are rarely in a fit state.) But remember, when you audition the BS1, to factor in the sound of the wire. These speakers may be among the easiest loads going, but the susceptibility to cable variations is both a boon and a curse: you get fine-tuning potential but also mismatching potential. Doesn't matter, though. At 400 per pair with a 5-year warranty, you can even risk buying them from a dealer network of, uh, three.