Philip O’Hanlon and Graham Audio | FLAX 2023

philip o'hanlon

The story of Philip O’Hanlon and the Graham Audio LS8/1 loudspeaker goes back a couple of years, when my audio mentor Gene Rubin sent me a message to review it ASAP. After all these years, Gene still makes great recommendations, which is why I’ve reviewed such jewels as the LFD NCSE Mk. III integrated amplifier and the Harbeth C7-ES3 XDs. Gene and I can always get Walter Swanbon of Fidelis Distribution to sign off–we’ve all known each other for a long time.

Words and Photos by Marc Phillips

But Graham Audio? That’s not Fidelis. That’s Philip O’Hanlon of On a Higher Note, one of those high-end audio industry peeps that I absolutely have to meet, and it’s evidently very disappointing to everyone that I have yet to do so. In the real world, I did try to contact Philip after Gene’s note and he responded. Let’s just say my follow-up skills at this age are getting rusty. At one point I even asked the legendary BBC speaker designer, Derek Hughes of Graham Audio, to intervene on my behalf. I know, that sounds a little desperate and bothersome.

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I’ll blame that on my insufferable introversion as well, because when I entered the On a Higher Note room at FLAX 2023 and spotted Philip O’Hanlon right in front of me, we both recognized each other and I had a blast–easily one of the most entertaining high-end audio room visits I’ve had. That’s a sincere proclamation, too.

First, I finally managed some seat time with those wonderful Graham Audio LS8/1s ($9,700/pair USD with stands), mated to a Bergmann Modi/Thor turntable ($17,000) with a Hana ML cartridge ($1,200) and the intriguing Moonriver 404 Reference integrated and 505 phono stage ($5,995 each). Cabling was from Cardas, and the racks and platforms were supplied by Artesania. The LS8/1s are basically an update of the classic BC1 monitors–I almost bought a new pair of those 30 years ago for $990/pr, I think. That also means they’re distant cousins of the Harbeth HL5 series, which also uses a 8″ woofer, a tweeter and a super-tweeter.

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The Graham LS8/1s may have looked like a conventional box speaker from the past, as most current BBC designs still do, but they were truly exciting in the way they could play loud, with punchy bass you could feel in your shins and your chest. But that BBC sound I adore was still there, offering “midrange magic” (to steal On a Higher Note’s theme) and providing that comfortable sense of refinement that I only hear from British kit.

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But I walked away from the room thinking of Philip O’Hanlon and how he runs a room better than just about anyone I’ve met. He was playing LPs, offering anecdotes on each selection, culminating on a remarkable spin of Pink Floyd’s “Money” that was dedicated to his son–who had just started a career in finance. While this happened, Philip was texting me the titles of each piece of music he played–Lori Lieberman’s “Moonlight in Vermont” from Truly, Anita Baker’s “Giving You the Best That I Got,” Melanie De Biasio’s “Freedom Is the End of Me” from Lillies. No one has ever done that for me at a high-end audio show.

Hopefully I get to spend more time with the Graham Audio LS8/1s in the future. Shoot, I could say the same for Philip O’Hanlon.

If you would like to hear even more coverage from FLAX 2023, check out our recap report and highlights from our audiophile-oriented show The Occasional Podcast. You can stream the episode direct from the embed below, or from your favorite podcast platform including iTunesAndroidGoogle, Deezer, SpotifyiHeartRadio and more.

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philip o'hanlon