Certain visitors to the Rogers room at the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January may be forgiven for their unavoidable double-takes. Just as it's impossible to proof-read your own writing because you'll subconsciously insert the odd missing letter, so did Rogers bank on a similar effect with this little bombshell: the new LS3a. Yup, there's a '/' and a '5' missing, but it stopped me and every other LS3/5a fetishist dead in our tracks.
Then I noticed the driver complement, the rear port, the flush baffle, the conventional grille material, the minuscule increase in dimensions. I looked at the show card again. Caught it the second time, 'LS3a', and emphatically
Move ahead a few weeks. Back in the UK, I run into John Bell. John, a mover-and-shaker in the used hi-fi underground, also happens to be one of the two or three most knowledgeable and fervent of LS3/5a supporters. He also has some history with Rogers, he's a good buddy of LS3/5a maven Andy Whittle [now MD of Exposure] and he's a pragmatist. When John asked if I would be interested in looking at the LS3a, I replied him, bluntly, 'Is it any good?' John was non-committal, only telling me, 'Try it.'
I'm always miffed by charlatanism, and I particularly loathe the exploitation of my beloved LS3/5a with bogus surrogates - even if it's just via misleading nomenclature. John, too, has seen it all LS3/5a-wise, and is as passionate as any about its revival. Sadly, Rogers isn't the only manufacturer of post-modernist LS3/5a clonettes guilty of this little wheeze.
Some might see 'creative badging' as cute or canny; I don't. This speaker would have to stand or fall on its merits, as I quickly ruled out any DNA link to the LS3/5a. £499-per-pair small two-ways are plentiful, generally of decent performance if of serious manufacture and saleable in huge numbers without any deception as regards heritage. It had its work cut out for it, even without the baggage imposed on it by a cynical marketing hack.
With the speakers sited on top of IF stands, I compared them to Rogers 15 ohm LS3/5As and PMC DB1+, the latter costing over £100 more per pair. Note that a good pair of LS3/5As will set you back £500-£600, or up to a grand for 'preferred' models, e.g. Chartwells, so the comparisons don't favour the LS3a. Neither, though, are they outrageously unfair due to price.
Hand on heart: I wanted to dislike these from the moment I saw them. OK, OK, so it's unhealthy for an old fart to get emotional about inanimate objects, but that's the way I am. And I have too much emotion invested in the LS3/5a to stand by while one of its previous licensees plays mind games with the heritage. Audio is
Only this time, I have to say, 'Not bad. Not bad at all.'
It's an impressive little spud, the LS3a, well-made, pleasingly finished and so easy to drive that retailers will love it. In fact, everything about this speaker is easy, including set-up and positioning. They liked a bit of toe-in, but also worked well with the speakers firing forward. What toe-in does is act like a dial-in control for increasing or decreasing stage depth proportional to stage width. If you like a panoramic soundstage but aren't a fetishist about depth, fire them straight ahead. If you prefer more front-to-back, '3D-ness', and don't mind a reduction in absolute stage width, toe them in. Simple - and a matter of taste, though a hard-nosed purist would prefer to drive him- or herself crazy tweaking it to the millimetre.
As for stands, good ones are a given, and the LS3a the sheer rigidity and neutrality of the IFs. I used them with a tiny amount of Blu-Tack in-between speaker and top-plate, and connected them to assorted amplifiers with Transparent cables. Sources included the Musical Fidelity X-Ray v3 and Quad 99CDP CD players, and the SME 30 turntable with SME Series V arm, Transfiguration Temper V cartridge and EAR 834P phono stage.
Because this pair was brand new, I ran them non-stop on repeat mode for 96 hours before sitting down for close listening. Periodically checking in on their progress showed that they benefited from some burn-in, sounding less constrained and more 'dynamic' after the first 50 hours. After double that, they were even more fluid and better able to handle hot transients.
There is a pay-off for this attention, despite the sheer simplicity of the positioning and system matching. Once run-in and matched to a sympathetic amp, the LS3a turns out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing. While initial impressions hinted at less finesse than some might prefer - a trace of edginess with massed strings, mild 'shouty-ness' to close-mic'd vocals - this never proved to be an issue save for solo playback of particularly fragile instruments like flute, or recordings with innate sibilance. If you love to wallow in 1970s West Coast rock, avoid these unless you happen to be driving them with a single-ended triode and an Ortofon MC from the Macmillan era.
But they can deliver the goods most of the time. Keb' Mo's is one of the finest-sounding CDs I've ever heard, with vast dynamic range, exceptional lower octaves, and above all, Keb' Mo's voice and slide guitar work. The former is textured and rich, with lots of character to reproduce for true authenticity, while the latter is both liquid and twangy. Better still, this CD possesses scale that you would never expect from a much-derided format. When heard through a thoroughbred system (think WATT Puppy and huge tube amps), the effect is breathtaking.
Astonishingly, the LS3a was able to reproduce most of the scale, the weight of the bass and percussion (this CD excels in the lower registers!), and a convincing spread of instruments with a precise matching of the locations as presented by the WATT Puppy set-up. OK, so scale was marginally reduced, but it remained impressive, even including correct image height.
As for the vocal textures, the small Rogers delivered all but the throatiest parts, not quite turning Keb' Mo' into a , but missing a trace of warmth. The lack of absolute refinement was evident in the way that Dobro sounds should have a truly metallic rattle to them. With the LS3as, the effect was artificial because of slight exaggeration in the treble. (Which is what you need to get rid with 300Bs of if you have the complete Linda Ronstadt, Eagles and Jackson Browne in your 'most played' cabinet.)
Confession time: if this speaker had arrived the cod-BBC pretence, I would be telling you that it fits nicely between the bargain-basement Wharfedale Diamond and the more robust PMC DB1+. So stop reading right here and give them a listen if you're shopping in the sub- 500. But if you despise the loathsome spin of an Alastair Campbell, historical revisionism and marketing bollocks, shake your fist and curse Rogers under your breath. go give them a listen. Like I said, 'Not bad. Not bad at all.'
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Sidebar: To Be, Or Not To Be...An LS3/5a
Hardly. Here you have a German-made speaker (yup, another Brit-brand gone foreign) that's marginally larger - mainly in its depth - than an LS3/5a: 197x302x194mm (WHD) vs 190x298x160mm. Around back, there are gilded multi-way terminals for bi-wiring and a small port at the top; around the front, a 1in soft-dome tweeter above a 5in woofer of indeterminate material, but probably a modern composite.
Because it's a more modern design, this speaker worked like a dream with medium power; I used the all-valve PrimaLuna Prologue 2 and the Class-A transistor Marantz PM-4 amplifiers. I'm sticking my neck out here, but I'll wager that it sings with the revived Rogers E-20a and E-40a valve amps. Rogers itself specifies 30W-60W amps, which includes their two E-models, with nominal power handling of 50W and a maximum of 80W. This is conservative, as I hammered the crap out of them with 100W of Mac power from the McIntosh 2102, with nary a splinter nor shard parting from the carcass.
John Bell rushed over with the first pair to arrive in the UK, and published details were minimal, e.g. the crossover point, cone material, etc. But there was a product sheet which revealed that frequency response is a nicely flat, 60-22kHz. Sensitivity is low-to-mid by today's standards at 88dB/1W/1m, but impedance is an easy 8 ohms, with a peak of 35 ohms a 2kHz and a low of 6 ohms in the upper mid-band. And nobody would mistake description for an LS3/5a. KK