Review Date October 17, 2009
Overall Rating 2 of 5
Value Rating 1 of 5
Used product for 1 to 3 months
I had the chance to audition this monitor for over a month while house-sitting for a friend. I haven’t seen any online reviews for the monitor in its “Statement” version with ribbon tweeter, but there have been some blurbs about this version being one of the best two monitors under $3000 (along with the widely reviewed and highly regarded Usher Tiny Dancer). Given that, my expectations were high and so was my disappointment.
I was able to listen to a lot of familiar material over the time I was house-sitting, and on the plus side the monitors did produce very good imaging and reasonable soundstage depth. Any monitor in this price range should do that: it’s one of the primary advantages to getting a small monitor. With that said, they did not provide the sense of hall space that I have heard from other speakers in this price range. For instance, on the Cowboy Junkies album The Trinity Session (which was recorded in a church with a great sense of space) the LSA1 Statements brought the singer’s voice forward and the instruments were clear and detailed but the sense of venue didn’t come through. I’ve heard much better from other speakers (for example from the Taylo Reference Monitors or B+W 805 monitors).
They also provided good low-level detail, but again nothing that seemed to lift them above other monitors in this price range. On Paul Simon’s song “Slip Slidin’ Away” there are some backing vocals that tend to blend with his singing on poorer monitors. The LSA1 Statements did start to separate out those vocals, but it was not fully accomplished. Again, they are par for the course and not up to the standards of the best in the price range (and the over achieving Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1s do a better job at half the price).
So far, the LSA1 Statements were quite listenable, but not distinguishing themselves especially. Where my real disappointment started to kick in, however, was in listening to female vocals. I first noticed the problem listening to the classic duets of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. When Ella would come in on certain songs (such as “Can’t We Be Friends”) I would hear a veneer of distortion over vocals that I am accustomed to hearing as clean and pure (for recordings of that era). I replayed the track, and with my hand on the top of the speaker I could feel cabinet resonance getting particularly strong during her singing. The cabinets are reasonably solid, and the speakers are about 24 lbs. each, so this is not a general issue but particular to certain frequency ranges as far as I could tell. On other female vocal recordings I would periodically hear the same issue–a muddiness or discoloration that increased with the singer’s own volume (e.g. exactly what happens when cabinet resonance or bad crossover design is distorting at a certain frequency). This was repeatable and persistent. A speaker that pretends to be best in its price class (and that retails for $2500) cannot do this. It’s a fatal flaw, on top of the middle-of-the-pack performance in other regards.
Although my opinion of the LSA1 Statement was essentially cemented when I discovered its design flaw in reproducing female vocals, the issue of bass response is something that always comes up in discussions of small monitors. There are basically two approaches here: let the bass roll off as physics dictates (doing the best possible with drivers and porting to extend it as well as can be done) or add in a bass bump that gives the impression of more bass than is there. The LSA1 Statements seem to err on the side of the latter. They do an excellent job of bass reproduction, as many modern drivers and cabinet designs are able to achieve, but they also seem to give a bump to bass at certain frequencies to augment this fundamentally competitive performance. On this point, however, the observation has to be taken with a grain of salt. My friend usually does a careful job of placing his speakers in his listening room, but room interactions with bass are as much a part of the story as the speaker design itself.
The final observation that I had regarding a single aspect of the sound was that the ribbon tweeter can provide a clean and not harsh treble that is nevertheless very detailed and extended flat beyond the realm of human hearing. The LSA1 Statements have turned me on to modern ribbon tweeters, even if the implementation is critically flawed by the vocal distortions noted.
Regarding overall sound, there are two additional things that I look for in a top quality speaker: 1) are they fatiguing (a combination of subtle factors affects this) and 2) do they choke at high volume (e.g. playing a full orchestral piece without getting congested)? I found the LSA1 Statements to be more fatiguing than I would have expected. I think this has to do with their propensity to move things forward, more in-your-face, on recordings where this is not meant to be the case. I often got the impression that these speakers were pushing the music at me in a way that was jarring. I am used to highly detailed speakers that do not hide flaws or harshness in the original recording, but the LSA1 Statements go beyond “revealing.” I guess I would say that they are “aggressive” for lack of a better word. Regarding their ability to play at concert volumes, I found that they didn’t respond as well as other monitors I’ve heard in this regard. The Taylo Reference Monitors that I mentioned earlier (and that I owned for a good while) behaved like a top-notch monitor should: as the volume went up the soundstage expanded and opened but the sound did not become strained. The LSA1 Statements don’t have anything near the aplomb to stay coherent at higher volumes. Again, they don’t do badly but just average for a small, relatively pricey monitor. As the volume goes up, congestion creeps in and their artificially forward presentation makes you want to turn the volume down again. It was sad to me.
I found myself turning the volume down a lot when auditioning the LSA1 Statements, and this is usually a sign to me that a number of things are wrong.
The final observation that I would make is that in looking for information about these online I found the same speaker being offered under another branding label. The speakers are completely made in China, and it seems that the same speaker is sold under a couple of brand names. The LSA Group website claims that they modify the crossover and add lambs wool as a dampening material to make this a “statement” loudspeaker. I didn’t open my buddy’s speakers up to look for the Auricaps in the crossover circuit, but I did look into the rear port and it does seem that the stuffing is wool (or at least not the poly-fiber that I’m used to seeing). So, LSA may be tweaking the generic Chinese product, but the overall fit and finish definitely has the feel of something coming out of China rather than many other speakers in this price range that are made to a higher degree of polish.
In conclusion, given all of the deficiencies and no aspects of superiority above the best in this price range, I would strongly recommend against buying these and give them two stars for sound quality (again, in the very competitive market segment that they are in).
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