The credentials of the Grahams are great – reworking a BBC design using the original Audax soft dome tweeter, recreating the midrange/bass unit with component manufacturer Volt, and tweaking the crossover for meeting the BBC specifications. Certain changes were also made in keeping with the times – using the more durable and friendly Rockwool rather than foam for internal damping. And who better to consult with than Derek Hughes, son of Spencer and Dorothy (SpenDor).
Being a fan of the BBC/derived designs, I looked with eager anticipation at the Grahams LS5/9. I have owned the Spendor S100s, then moved to the sprightly and relatively smaller Harbeth Compact 7ES3 (still my main room speaker) and now adding a Graham for use in the bedroom (how I whined to my wife and got lucky, having bought the review sample). The BBC speakers are said to reproduce voice accurately, and since that is the core of music, they make wonderful natural sounding speakers generally.
Placement and Amplifier matching
The Grahams also seem easier to drive and mate well with the 15WPC Leben 300xs. With the Leben/Harbeth combination, there was a tendency towards a slightly woolly bass with the Leben, which didn’t do justice to either component. While Graham recommend an amp of 50-200W in amplifier power, and there are other reviewers who recommend more powerful amplifiers, this combination kept me happy – as have a few others who have been happy with relatively low power tubes too. However, with the Clones 25i, which is a better match for the 7ES3, the LS5/9 sounded a thinner. Is it the greater transparency of the Graham that manifests this way? Perhaps. Synergy is key. With the Harbeths, fast, powerful and sweet amps seem to work best. Grahams seem to work with a broader range (including my relatively warm Leben), but demand higher quality.
That also comes into play during placing the speakers as well. The Harbeths are less fussy overall, and normally, when listening to music weekends, I don’t even bother to position them. So perhaps I don’t get the best of the speakers, but it is so damned immersive! With the LS5/9 however, it needs careful placing – apart from the fact that you should place it away from the walls. The noticeable impact is most in the bass, where it can go a bit “thud, thud”, especially in pop.
Sound of Music
The best one word description of the LS5/9 is “coherence”, a word that my internet friend Wojtek Pacula (editor of Highfidelity.pl, a bilingual internet based review site) first used to describe the speaker in his review. What does it mean? To me, through the Graham, every bit of music seems connected to the whole, but with all the bits laid out. So when I listen to the CD of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 John Barbirolli with New Philharmonia – EMI with the famous Adagietto (a love letter by Mahler to his wife Alma), the main melody is the focus, but the interaction between the strings/harp plucks is well captured. Or when I listen to Paul Desmond’s Cool Imagination –Bluebird, the alto jumps into your face. Or King Curtis’ bluesy Soul Meeting -Prestige, the bass and rhythm bounce along so beautifully – the tone of the tenor and Nat Adderly’s trumpet striking.
The presentation is not in a bad way of a forward in-your-face presentation that will make you want to lower the volume. It is really a strange and lovely effect –and in a way like a live experience – at a concert hall, you watch the soloist for the main voice, but if want, your eyes turn and you can follow what the accompanist does. That’s what the Graham does. It is really a neat act. For a relatively small speaker (bigger than bookshelves), the bass quality and quantity is satisfying. I am not a bass freak – just need enough scale and impact to lay a foundation to the music, rather than floor me with the sound waves hitting my chest. Smaller bookshelf speakers I tried had the midrange magic, but I eventually found them too lightweight. This speaker comes in between in size between the smaller bookshelves and the relatively larger Compact 7s and sound right to me.
Been listening to a lot of Dvorak’s 9th Symphony Kubelik – DG prior to a Dutoit led Symphony Orchestra of India concert (and the concert itself, my oh my, spectacular) and it all sounded right. Sound stage is good, especially laterally, and each instrument has its place in the musical whole. The treble was soft and perhaps a little rolled off. So what it meant is that sibilance was well under control, and sound was always sweet. Take massed strings for example (the Barbirolli earlier) or solo violin (Paganini Caprices by James Ehnes – Onyx). With the Grahams, to use an expression from my preteen daughters, they are “OMG! Awesome!” – both body and string tone. However, the treble was incisive enough to let the triangle sounds come through the recording mix clearly.
BPD, my friend, who was here for an afternoon listen, berated me on the placement (he is Parsi, see!) loved them. Anil (of Hifivision.com) also liked the sound – in fact, with him around, we messed around with tubes, changing from NOS RCA to Russian Military Spec tubes – cleaner grittier sound with his Lee Ritenour, 6 String Theory – Concorde album that he dug. Faster sound, said Anil.
LS5/9 vs. 7ES3
How does it sound in comparison to my Harbeth Compact 7ES3s? They are different in a few ways and similar in some. The similarity is with both of them being very musical. The music flows through so that you are relaxed and you can listen to both the whole day (bless the neighbors’). They are able to satisfy at reasonable volumes.
The Grahams have a greater amount of clarity. My better-half described it as Harbeths with greater clarity. Listen to Ella Fitzgerald The Songbook – Verve and see how the voice is spotlighted with all the emotions conveyed beautifully. How every word is intelligible! Or hear the great G.N.Balasubramnaian singing “DhikkutheriyadaKattil” – Saregama, and see if you don’t cup your hand to your forehead like a Bharatnatyam dancer.
On the whole, Harbeths are more forgiving of poor quality recordings, whereas the Grahams are more revealing (and with well recorded classical music, hence more rewarding). This does not come at the cost of musicality. The Lennon-McCartney-Harrison vocals on Beatles are lovely. The tone of the piano is superb, laying bare the closely miked Argerich – Chopin Preludes – DG originals on occasion but Prelude No. 7 has so much colour and emotion in less than a minute.
At the price (₹460,000.00/Pair), they are not inexpensive. However, they have an addictive quality to them, which lets you hear glorious music. Uncolored, me impressed!
- DAC: Mytek 192 DSD/Line Magnetic 502CA
- Amps: Leben 300xs/Clones 25i
- CD players: Teac, Oppo
- Cables: Symphonic Line, Mogami, Oyaide, Hitachi
Graham Audio, United Kingdom
Graham LS5/9, Loudspeakers
Distributor: Nexus Audio Video, Mumbai
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: +91 9819727055
Matching stands available