Save the best for last
Our German correspondent, Christian Bayer listens to the new Rogers LS3/5a model of the older Rogers LS3/5a model he fell in love with decade ago. His personal choice of the best speakers in the world is a little improved with new Panzerholz stands to boot. The best just got better.
You may think that an LS 3/5a is not the best loudspeaker on earth. Well, if I close my eyes, I swear it isChristian Bayer, Audio Quarterly
The famous Bavarian comedian Karl Valentin once said: “Everything has been said already but not by everyone.“
I will not tell you everything everybody has already said, but give you a rather personal approach of the legendary LS3/5a Monitor and huge praise of the reborn originals from Rogers.
That level of coherence and illusion was unheard to me
If we look at the most important loudspeaker designs of all time, there can be no doubt: the classic BBC LS3/5a Monitor has a firm place there. Doomed by some and loved by many, the love comes with use. I know what I’m talking about because I used to look down on them for a long time until I finally had the chance to listen to a pair about 10 years ago at a private audio meeting in Belgium. I didn’t believe what those diminutive shoeboxes could do: that pristine pair of Rogers 11 Ohm models from the late 80s delivered the goods in spades. Driven by a 22 watt tube amp those tiny giants filled the 30 sqare meeter room with ease. And not only that, they vanished completely, one of their biggest strengths given the correct room placement and support. They were positioned on the long wall of the room for perfect bass response. The result was nothing but music and a bass performance that made me look for subwoofers, but there were none. On top of that feeling of being there you could source musicians, instruments, voices, rooms almost like with no other speakers – if you wanted. But it also let you sink into the music completely. Now analyze this! That level of coherence and illusion was unheard to me.
Fast forward to 2020. Ever since that event in Belgium I am a convert and happily listen to a pair of Rogers LS 3/5a 15 Ohms from the mid 80s. So you can imagine how curious I was to review the new Rogers LS3/5a 15 Ohm Classic. Rogers, founded in 1947, was the first company to manufacture the BBC-licensed LS3/5a Monitor from 1975 on – actually a British company funnily called Swisstone did it, but that’s another story. The process was straightforward – at least on paper: the BBC delivered the specs, KEF both the B110 woofer and the T27 tweeter and the licensed companies came up with a crossover layout and a cabinet. Drivers had to be selected because their specs varied quite a bit. Therefore the auto transformers formers in the crossovers used to have seven tabs to be able to match tweeters. Rogers and Chartwell for example wound their own autoformers in house. Rogers was later sold to Wo Kee Hong Holdings Ltd of Hong Kong in 1993. In 1998 the owners decided to stop production in the UK, days when British Monitors where not in fashion. But fortunately times have changed, so please enter the new Rogers and their Head of Design Andy Whittle. He is a mechanical engineer with a long history in audio who had worked for Rogers before as Technical Director and convinced the owners to remanufacture the LS3/5as as a first new product. They liked the idea and made sure their LS3/5a 15 Ohm Classic would be as classic as possible and stick to the 1977 BBC specs: thin wall 12mm (Russian) birch ply enclosures (UK made), 15 Ohms, classical early type crossover with the typical autoformers, 110mm Bextrene woofer and 19mm Mylar tweeter with flush mounted single wiring banana jacks. Since KEF doesn’t make the drivers anymore, companies have developed different strategies to replace them. Stirling Broadcast for example uses Scandinavian sourced equivalents to great success. Rogers opted for their own drivers, built exactly to BBC specs. Whittle says he reverse engineered the original drive units in Asia, where they are now made. They are then sent to the Rogers factory in Virginia Water, south of London, where the British team applies two different layers of damping coats that are both left to dry for 24 hours after which they are pair matched. The diaphragm and the magnet system of the tweeter are also controlled, assembled and pair matched there. Finally the crossover is hand assembled with high quality capacitors and resistors in the UK, where their autoformers are hand wound like in the old days. Because Rogers make and match their own drivers, that tab on the auto former can stay in neutral position. Efficiency is about the same as it used to be with 82.5db. 15 Ohms and a benign impedance curve are an easy load for most amplifiers.
Shirley Horn really took off, when I first used them, she actually sounded like she was singing and playing from heaven
The stands for the Classics were designed by Andy Whittle and are made from Panzerholz, which is a combination of hard wood and phenolic resin. The original LS3/5a Foundation stands are made of a heavy welded steel frame filled with lead and other particles. I use those exact copies from an Italian company called Music Tools. They let the thin wall speaker do what it is supposed to do, sitting on small balls of Blue Tack. Whittle thought differently:„The nice thing with Panzerholz is that it is very good at killing any vibration/resonance and unlike many metal stands does not ring in any way. Open frame stands tend to be nice and open sounding but sometimes can lack focus and bass definition, super heavy metal stands can go the other way.“ My Music Tool stands are not ringing, but those new Rogers ones, that a company called Retrotone makes, add a natural vibe and an extra holographic quality to the reproduction that does not only suit the inherent qualities of the LS3/5a but enhance it wisely: a real cracker and they look very, very elegant. Late singer and pianist Shirley Horn really took off, when I first used them, she actually sounded like she was singing and playing from heaven.
That classical midrange peak of the LS3/5a around 1Khz depending on the maker, has shifted in the Rogers Classic. Whittle told me that there is only a little more energy around 500-800 Hz. This and the use of his bespoke stands result in a more modern and neutral sound, not quite as pronounced as with the older models but still “magical“. I can fully agree, my almost 40 year old pair sounds a bit darker in comparison, and yes, like 40 year old speakers. I also knocked on both cabinets and both cabinets produce an absolutely identical sound – did I say classical? But how do those “Classics“ sound now? I had the pleasure to completely run them in. The tweeters delivered their hard to describe sparkle right from the beginning. The woofers needed more time and sounded a bit “clumsy“ at first – no surprise being totally new. My old pair seemed to play a bit louder, maybe half a db which is part of a typical run-in-process. After about 30hrs the woofers began to open up and started to sing. “Misty“, Tsuyoshi Yamamotos legendary piano trio recording on Three Blind Mice Records, sounded just wonderful with drive, presence, attack and an astoundingly realistic bass. All the details were there and that famous midrange realism started to come into place. And that was only the beginning of the process because they kept getting better and better: finely plucked bass lines, shimmering vibraphone tones, hyper realistic vocals and the sheer scale of Eddie Lockjaw Davis´ big tenor saxophone tone soon won me over. Would you believe that the tiny Rogers lets you experience all of Ammons´ tonal grandeur with ease? Well, you don’t have to believe me, please listen for yourself.
Within the last couple of years we have seen a massive resurrection of LS3/5as and therefore have many variants of these beautiful speakers to choose from. So it was about time Rogers also contributed to the collection and they delivered. Beautifully engineered and built, with new stands that help lift the performance even further, the Rogers LS 3/5a Classic is an easy choice for me. You may think that an LS 3/5a is not the best loudspeaker on earth. Well, if I close my eyes, I swear it is. For what I cherish about music, it delivers the goods and man, am I happy to join the Rogers stables yet again: old and new dreams united.