Of all the audio gear I came close to buying over the last forty years, I probably got closer to a pair of LS3/5as than anything else. I’m reminded of that constantly in the presence of the new Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a MoFi Edition loudspeakers, and I wonder what might have been.
Quick flashback sequence. It’s the early nineties, and I’ve just figured out that I love most BBC-designed loudspeakers. I’m pretty set on a pair of Spendor S20s, the precursor to the SP3/1 that’s still being manufactured. I’ve auditioned them twice and I brought a checkbook. I have one last minute question for the dealer—I noticed on the price sheet that Spendor still made their version of the LS3/5a, and they still sold for a crazy, unbelievably low $750/pair. (The S20s were closer to $1100.)
My dealer, the legendary Gene Rubin, advised me to stay with the S20s, I remember his reasons, that he felt the LS3/5a offered sort of a dated, vintage sound that didn’t quite match the S20s—which I already knew I loved. He thought I’d be happier, and that was enough for me. I was happy. Those Spendor S20s were mine for many years, and they opened the beautiful, refined and informative world of British hi-fi. But still—what would have happened if I went with the $750/pair Spendor LS3/5as instead of the S20s? Would I still have them? Would I be still one of those anglo-audiophiles listening to Elgar records on my Linn LP-12 and my Naim NAP250 and NAC52 preamp?
The Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a MoFi Edition loudspeakers are now in my home, sitting on those massive granite SRS stands from Acora Acoustics and hooked up to a stunning $16,000 tube integrated amplifier and a $4500 phono stage and a $4500 cartridge, all from South Korea, and yes, these cheeky monitors are suggesting that the sound would have still been this good many decades later. Not to labor the point, but they might have mentioned how much speaker money I would have saved over the years by just staying true to my LS3/5as.
What would I have missed, outside of everything below 70 Hz? Not a lot, I suspect.
What’s a MoFi LS3/5a, Anyway?
If you listened to the Occasional Podcast where Brian Hunter and I pretend we’re experts on “Brit-Fi,” you’ll remember that the BBC used to license their loudspeaker designs to no more than six companies at a time. That’s why you see LS3/5as from all those different companies such as Rogers and Chartwell and Goodmans and Harbeth and all the others.
Falcon Acoustics has been a licensee of the LS3/5a for the last few years, and they’ve been able to do something that hasn’t been done for a while—manufacturing drivers from scratch to meet the original specs. Over the last couple of decades we’ve seen versions of the speaker that had close approximations to the original KEF drivers, but for many that wasn’t authentic enough. Falcon has come up with the best solution for keeping these BBC designs alive—they don’t have to worry about managing an ever-shrinking inventory of original parts.
That’s where MoFi comes in. MoFi Distribution scooped up US distribution for Falcon Acoustics a few years ago. That’s the biggest reason why I’ve been able to hear a pair of new LS3/5as on several occasions since coming aboard PTA in 2018—that Falcon/MoFi connection, and their steady presence at high-end audio shows.
Jonathan Derda of MoFi explained the basic purpose of this MoFi version: “We wanted to offer the lowest priced licensed and authentic LS35/a by making this a direct to consumer limited edition.”
Here is what’s special about this Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a MoFi Edition:
“Hand-built in Oxford, England by Falcon Acoustics, the MoFi Edition Monitors are a limited run of the legendary LS3/5a speaker. Manufactured under license from the British Broadcasting Corporation and built in accordance with their rigid specifications, Falcon speakers are the only LS3/5a on the market that faithfully replicates the original BBC design published in October 1976.
“Available in an exclusive Black Ash cabinet and utilizing Falcon’s proprietary hand-built drivers and filter networks these speakers offer not only a stunning fit and finish but a sound that will make you swear you’re in the recording booth.”
Here are the specs of the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a, as a reminder:
System type: Two-way infinite baffle (sealed box)
Frequency response: 70Hz – 20kHz ± 3dB
Sensitivity: 83dB for 2.83V © 1m
Nominal impedance: 15 ohm
Bass/Midrange Driver: 138mm Falcon Acoustics B110 – Graded and Computer Matched.
Tweeter: 19mm Falcon Acoustics T27 – Graded and Computer Matched.
Crossover: Falcon Acoustics FL6/23 (BBC Design) Graded and pair-matched components throughout.
Crossover Frequency 3Khz: 3Khz.
Cabinet: Selected grade Baltic Birch Ply, Beech battens, internally damped.
Dimensions: 305mm H x 190mm W x 165mm D
Weight: 5.35 kgs each
I’m not a huge fan of cutting and pasting specs on my reviews, but I know these little details are what LS3/5a fans crave. Falcon Acoustics has always paid particular attention to these people, and they’ve gone to extreme lengths to get the details right.
Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a Set-Up
Initially I hooked the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a to the Jeff Rowland Design Group Model 125 power amplifier, which is a tiny jewel of an amp that is currently changing my mind about class D amplification. These tiny speakers, along with that tiny amp and the equally tiny JRDG Capri S2 preamplifier, have really energized the ideas I’ve had about the physical size of gear and how that is or isn’t related to performance.
How small can you go and still be musically satisfied—at least in a smaller space like an apartment or a smaller room? The Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a, along with the Rowland amps, might be the answer. The entire system is remarkably tiny in size, but music filled the room in a smooth and unbelievably engaging way. I consistently heard lots of detail, and I was happy until the Allnic Audio T-2000 integrated amplifier arrived.
To be fair (yeah, I love that show too), the Allnic is several times the price of the FDRG amps, not to mention several times the weight and several times the volume. We’re also switching from class D solid state to KT170s run in triode mode, so there should be differences in the sound.
With the LS3/5as hooked up to the Allnic, with Furutech Speakerflux cable, the tissues came out. Everything sounded so lovely and thoughtful and moving. I then mounted the Koetsu Urushi Black onto the Technics SL-1200G turntable, via the DS Audio headshell, and through the Allnic Audio H-5500 phono stage and I started thinking about all those regrets, all the decisions I should have made, and maybe I should’ve been a lawyer, I don’t know. Finally, I put the Koetsu SUT into the chain, and that was it. The floodgates opened. I started confessing to my miniature Schnauzer Lucy all of my fears, and…
What I’m trying to say here is that the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a MoFi Edition loudspeakers, with the Allnic and the Technics and the Koetsu, was one of the most beautiful systems I’ve heard in a long time. I’m still reeling.
The Three “Flaws” of the LS3/5a
There’s a general attitude, bordering on common knowledge, that surrounds the supposed shortcomings of the classic LS3/5a. It kind of goes like this: They don’t go loud. They don’t go deep. The lowest frequencies have been juiced a little, giving the upper bass a slightly “tubby” sound. If you can get around those three things, the LS3/5a might be right for you. Because the rest is so extraordinary—the realistic midrange, the stunning imaging, and the mind-boggling soundstaging—that’s not a tall order.
Let’s take a closer look at each one of these so-called flaws. First of all, I don’t play music that loudly these days. It’s not so much that I’m getting older, it’s just that my idea of the optimal volume for each recording tends to be lower than those around me. I want to hear everything that’s going on, but I rarely want it to be louder than that. With the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a MoFi Edition in the system, I never once required more volume than I could get. Maybe if I was back in Colorado, living at 6,000 feet, I would. But at 400 feet above sea level in Portland Oregon, these little gems filled my room with balanced, natural sound on a very consistent basis.
How about deep? The Falcon Acoustics LS3/5as go down to about 70 Hz, which is historically consistent with this design. That’s not a lot—I usually feel like I need about 45-50 Hz in a monitor before I can say the low-end is satisfying enough for long-term ownership. But here’s the basic secret of the LS3/5a: it was designed for near-field listening. I’m not saying the Falcons aren’t satisfying in more conventional placements, but you will want just a little more bass to complete the dynamic picture if you’re sitting across the room from them. Many subwoofers have been specifically designed for use with them over the decades, after all.
As I spent more time listening to the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5as, I found myself gradually scooching my listening chair closer and closer to the speakers. I knew what I was doing and why, but it was still thrilling to witness the transformation of the sound. The bass filled out. The detail increased. It was certainly a more immersive presentation, but this is where you discover why the LS3/5a is so desirable and such an enduring legend—something that isn’t as common with loudspeakers as it is with amps and turntables and such. (I will give a shout out to the Quad ESL-57, the other obvious choice for this kind of listening.)
Finally, there’s the tubbiness. I’ve heard the tubbiness before in earlier editions of the LS3/5as, especially in the ones with 11 ohms impedance instead of 15 ohms like the Falcon. I decided a long time ago that I’d rather have that, with a gentle and prudent roll-off, than a complete shutdown of all frequencies below a certain fixed point—something I’ve heard with more modern two-way bookshelf monitors. It’s often the difference between hearing a suggestion of bass information and hearing nothing it all. Pick your poison.
This is where the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a MoFi Edition seems to have the edge over almost every other LS3/5a I’ve heard. Not once did I think the upper mid-bass or the lower-upper bass or the lower mids were that tubby with the MoFi version. While the deepest bass delivered by the Falcons may have been down a few dB, it was clean and well-defined and, quite frankly, unexpected. Putting the Falcons on a pair of $5000 solid granite stands may have helped in that regard, but it’s still entertaining to hear this low-frequency quality coming from such a small enclosure.
That’s not the first time someone has said this about the LS3/5a, by the way.
Listening to the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a MoFi Edition
I decided I liked the low frequencies of the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a just fine once I heard drummer Florian Arbenz’s new CD, Conversation #1. Arbenz is a fantastic drummer and a generous leader, and his kit can put out a lot of low frequency energy from the ground toms as well as the kick bass. I was almost giggling when I heard the air getting pushed around the room, fluttering and rebounding off the floorboards, blooming out into the space between these tiny transducers and just a handful of feet in front of my nose.
Here’s a testament to the LS3/5a’s legendary skills at imaging and soundstaging—I was getting flanked by a lot of sound, almost 180 degrees’ worth with certain recordings. Recordings that were heavy on percussion, such as Shelly Manne’s Sounds Unheard Of, offered incredible detail merely because of all that extra space.
I will say one thing about the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a, as well as any other version of this monitor—it’s the kind of speaker that might change your tastes in music when it’s in your system. I discovered this while I was first exploring BBC monitors in the early ‘90s, that you tend to put away the Led Zeppelin and the pipe organs and the 1812 Overture and you tend to focus on string quartets and jazz trios and perhaps some solo piano. Nothing wrong with that—the LS3/5a always had a specific market, right?
That’s not as bad as it sounds, and not meant to be any criticism. Instead, I was so in love with the way the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a treated intimate, quiet music that I ceased to believe that I was listening to a $2000 pair of monitors that were no bigger than the proverbial British shoebox. These instantly transformed into a sound usually reserved for big money systems built around well-designed two-way monitors.
Which they are.
The question I have to ask about the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a Mofi Edition, on behalf of me and everyone else reading this, is whether or not I could live with these as my main reference speakers for the rest of time. I asked myself this question over and over while the MoFis were here, because most of the time I was under their spell and ecstatic over the fact that this kind of happiness only costs $1995 and only weighs around eleven pounds each.
Other times, I thought that I would probably need more bass to truly enjoy all the music I love. The near-field listening sessions knocked my lower bass priorities down a rung or two, but there were times when I played something enormous and vibrant and I heard the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5as stretch out as far as they could go and not quite make it. There should be nothing surprising about that statement.
What the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a MoFi Edition did make me realize was my desire for a second system down the road, one in a smaller room or office, had re-emerged. (I haven’t built another office system for our new place in Oregon yet, like I had back in New York). There is no small monitor I would rather have right now manning this comfy and intimate audio system than these ‘uns right here.
Of course I’m giving them a Reviewer’s Choice award, and I haven’t seen a better value in high-end audio this year. You know that audiophile canard where you hear a small two-way speaker and you think “wow, these sound so good for their size!” The LS3/5a practically invented that phrase, and MoFi and Falcon Acoustics have upped the ante considerably with this version.
You just need to sit down and listen for yourself, as I did. You’ll find yourself changing your mind about a lot of things you think you know about audio, as I did.