A few years back, right at the onset of the unpleasant COVID-19 affair, I had the opportunity to
spend time with a quite remarkable pair of speakers: the LSA Statement 20s, which were full-
range floor-standing beauties indeed, much larger than the LSA Signature 80s that are the subject of this review. I recall that their sure-footed and soothing sound was just the tonic I needed during such a dystopian time as we lived in back then. Besides their great sound, what floored me the most was the crazy value that these speakers represented; a testament to the direct sales model used by Underwood Hi-Fi, the Hawaiian company that owns and distributes the LSA brand.
Words and Photos by John Richardson
I was therefore both delighted and excited to receive an email from my old acquaintance Bill Leebens, now and underground sales consultant for Underwood Hi-Fi. Says Bill: “here’s some cool stuff Underwood Wally (aka Walter Liederman, head honcho at Underwood Hi-Fi) has been
cooking up… What would you like to hear?” Looking at the choices offered was like my six-year-old self trying to decide which present to open first on Christmas morning. I finally made the decision to go with what appeared to be a really nice looking set of stand-mounted speakers: these LSA Signature 80 Reference Monitors. I’m sure that memories conjured of my time with the Statement 20s ran through my head, thus helping me seal the deal.
Mr. Leebens bid me to exercise patience, but I really didn’t have to. About a week later, a box marked “LSA” showed up by my front door. I thus embarked upon a fantastically fun audio journey, but let’s get back to that point in a few moments.
LSA Signature 80… What’s the Big Deal?
At first glance, the LSA Signature 80 shows itself as a reasonably compact two-way stand-mount monitor speaker, rising up just shy of 16” in height. A closer examination, however, indicates that there’s quite a bit going on with this design. First off, one can’t help but notice and admire the gorgeous rosewood veneer, which has been expertly applied to the point that seams are more or less invisible. The speaker gives the appearance of having been sculpted out of a single piece of hardwood, as opposed to what it actually is.
The drivers consist of a 7” aluminum cone woofer and a 3” planar magnetic tweeter, both sourced from China. It’s worth noting here to purists who may care, that the entirety of the speaker components (cabinet included) come from China, but the final products are assembled and tested in the USA. Spy balloons and icy relations not withstanding, I have to admit that the guys in the Far East have gotten pretty good at producing such high-tolerance components at realistic cost. And that’s the bugaboo of our modern economy: if the same bits and bobs were sourced from here in the States, the speaker would necessarily cost twice as much.
Around back are a standard port and a pair of really cool looking carbon fiber binding posts.
Sensitivity is given as a moderate 86.5 dB, with a frequency response of 35 Hz (-6 dB) to 25 kHz (-3 dB) and a crossover point of 3500 Hz. Average impedance is an amp-friendly 10 ohms, and the buyer gets a generous five-year warranty that covers parts and labor.
Based on their appearance and specs alone, the LSA Signature 80 speakers appear to be an
impressive set of boxes, especially at their MSRP of $1,499/pr USD.
Setup and Initial Impressions
Upon receipt of the speakers, I hefted out my pair of very substantial 20” Target steel speaker stands. These seemed a near perfect match for the Signature 80s, placing the tweeters almost exactly at ear level. Given the rear porting of the speakers, I took special care to leave plenty of room behind them to breathe; at least 2.5 feet from the nearest furniture or wall seemed to work fine. Width-wise, I ended up placing the Signature 80s just shy of 6 feet apart, firing down the length of my listening space. Even though the planar magnetic tweeter has some shallow wave-guiding for improved dispersion, I anticipated that the degree of toe-in might audibly affect the treble response. To this end, I found that I got the most evenly satisfying response when the tweeter axes crossed just behind my head. I will note here that I nonetheless got satisfying off-axis sound while sitting at my desk during casual listening sessions.
My system used for evaluation of the LSA speakers remained constant throughout the review,
consisting of the following components. Digital duties were done by either my Crane Song Solaris DAC or Sparkler Audio CD spinner, both of which fed signal to my Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL unit serving as a preamp. I had to give a bit of thought to which amplifier I wanted to use and ultimately settled on the 25 watt-per-channel class A First Watt F8. Underwood HiFi recommends at least 30 watts per channel with the Signature 80s, but I found that the F8 worked beautifully, filling my listening area with satisfyingly fulsome song.
As for initial listening impressions, I am loathe to say much here. Speakers take some time for their drivers and crossover components to run in and sound their best. Perhaps more importantly, our ears and brains need time to adjust from the previous speakers to the interlopers now hanging about the system. In my case, the LSA Signature 80 monitors were replacing my Charney Audio Maestro X single-driver speakers, which utilize horn-loaded cabinets. The LSA speakers were most certainly the acoustic yin to the Charney yang, so I knew I needed to take my time and be patient.
Coming from the Charney Maestros, the LSA Signature 80 monitors at first came across as syrupy, a bit bass forward, and technicolor in tone. When the brain is used to interpreting paper drivers, moving to something new and different is a shock to the system. So, I remained patient and let the Signature 80s settle in and slowly win me over while altering my listening paradigm…. And that they did!
Now that I’ve had a month or so to really adapt to the sound of the LSA Signature 80 speakers, I feel that I have a good handle on their overall disposition.
We all know the term “melodic,” as in the ability to hold or convey the inner tune of a musical
composition or performance. When one speaks of a melodic orchestral work, it suggests something accessible to the listener, as in able to get to the inner meaning of the composition. That’s pretty much how I sum up the Signature 80 speakers: they are “melodic.”
Digging a bit deeper, what the LSA Signature 80 monitors do so well is make the music sound pleasing to the ear from a tonal perspective. By doing so, they possess an uncanny ability to convey the deeper meaning of the music we listen to, inviting the brain to creatively process what we hear in a wholly creative way. These are speakers that let me “feel” the listening experience.
Sometimes when I listen to and evaluate an audio component, I am drawn toward listing off the
individual attributes and foibles of the device; in other cases, my mind draws me more into a holistic listening experience and evaluation process. I find the LSA Signature 80 monitors to be of the latter category. Everything I normally like to listen for is there, it’s just that it’s all so well-integrated into the overall experience that my brain sees little point in sussing out the finer details; there just isn’t any need!
A good sign of my observations was that the LSA Signature 80 speakers seemed equally at home across a wide range of musical genres. We all know those speakers that sound oh so lovely when listening to female vocals or small ensemble acoustic jazz, but totally fall apart when a bit of Mahler is called for… or perhaps some Frank Zappa. The little LSA monitors handled it all, and with aplomb. For readers who like the story broken down into parts, I’ll do my best.
One notable attribute of the LSA Signature 80 monitors was their bass presentation. On paper, they go six dB down at 35 Hz, which seems quite reasonable for their size. Of course, what’s printed on the paper doesn’t always correlate to what we really hear… or perceive. Bass to me seemed more than ample and never left me wanting, no matter the genre. While not as snappy as what I get with my Charney Maestro X speakers or as controlled as my ATC SCM 100 studio monitors, I found myself really digging the low notes that I was hearing. Only when I put the Signature 80s head to head against the monster ATCs did I hear that the lowest frequencies were missing. The LSA speakers sort of do the Goldilocks thing; while not perfect, the bass presentation seemed “just right.”
On the subject of bass, when listening to Buster Williams’ album Unalome (24bit/96 kHz flac file, streamed via Qobuz), the electric bass comes off as wonderfully fat and full, while never going “over the edge.” The bass is nicely impactful, easily pressurizing my listening space without rattling the windows. The female vocals are pretty respectable too, with the voice floating languidly in the soundstage, beckoning me in like, well, you know… Seductively silky, perhaps?
When I describe the LSA Signature 80 speakers as melodic, I’m really referring mostly to the midrange performance. I’ve been listening lately to some more modern interpretations of the classic works of Nick Drake. An album I have particularly enjoyed has been The Songs of Nick Drake- Live at the High Barn (16/44 kHz flac file, streamed via Qobuz), performed by Keith James (guitar and vocals) and Rick Foot (acoustic bass). This is a live recording that captures the tension and raw emotion of Drake’s compositions along with stellar hall ambiance and vocal/instrument timbre. This is the kind of recording that the LSA Signature 80 monitors were made for: the capturing of simple melodic lines and the “feels” that accompany them.
One of my favorite selections from this album is the tune “River Man,” though about any will
illustrate my point. Via the LSA speakers, the solo male voice, strummed acoustic guitar, and bowed bass blend beautifully together, making for an enveloping sound that keeps me entranced before the speakers. Accurate tonality coupled with just enough warmth provide an experience that is not unlike that of sitting comfortably beside an open fire on a cold winter’s night. It’s this kind of experience that keeps me coming back to this album again and again.
Alas, treble is no slouch with the LSA Signature 80. I have never owned a speaker with a ribbon or ribbon-like tweeter, though I have had a few come through for review and have also heard them in other venues. The planar magnetic tweeter on the LSA speakers is really quite wonderful, in that it is extended enough to give a nice sense of airiness, but also comes across as very smooth in response. Irritating or etched it most definitely is not. Stick against cymbal highlights the energy response as wood striking metal followed by natural decay, but without excessive metallic sheen.
Finally, I wanted to emphasize how nicely the LSA Signature 80 does scale on more bombastic
recordings. The speakers’ ability to do scale and dynamics is well-shown when I listen to the album Hans Zimmer Live (24/48 kHz flac file, streamed via Qobuz), which showcases the famous film composer’s more popular works performed by symphony orchestra accompanied by electronica. As expected, the different highlighted pieces twist and turn between ethereal and bombastic; a great workout for any Hi-Fi system! Even when driven by only 25 watts per side, I was rewarded with impact, presence, and lots of dynamics. As I cranked the volume up, tonality held up proportionally; I never felt that the sonics became brittle, strained, or compressed in any way. The mite (or rather “mite-y”) Signature 80s just refused to sound like a small monitor.
A Quick Comparison
During the time of the review, I didn’t have a comparable stand-mounted speaker to compare
against the LSA Signature 80. However, I did have my set of Living Voice IBX-R3 speakers, which are narrow towers affixed to a base in order to raise the tweeter to the correct height. While the Living Voice speakers are considerably more efficient than the LSAs, both have a very similar sonic presentation that tilts toward the warm side of the spectrum. During the comparison, the rest of the system remained identical.
As expected, there were indeed a lot of similarities between the two speaker models. Indeed, both presented a lovely sense of warmth and ability to convey the melody of the tune. Bass extension was nearly identical, and both midranges were pretty much to die for. Perhaps the dome tweeter on the Living Voice speaker provided a bit more sense of extension and dispersion, but I’m nitpicking here. The main difference I heard was a touch more refinement and resolution, both tonally and spatially, across the whole audio spectrum from the IBX-R3, which I would expect given the nearly four-fold in price between the two. Truth be told, I could happily live with either of these speakers.
LSA Signature 80: Parting Shots
As I implied in my introduction, my time with LSA’s now discontinued full-range Statement 20
floor-standers piqued my curiosity about the much more compact LSA Signature 80 monitors. Now that I’ve done my time with the Signature 80s, I think I like them even better than the Statement 20s, given my listening preferences and room size. They are a much simpler design, and there’s a lot to be said for that in terms of being able to deliver the goods.
Besides sounding a lot larger than they actually are, the LSA Signature 80’s biggest strength was its ability to convey the “melody,” or, what I’m thinking of as the “emotional colors” of a composition. When a speaker can connect with the listener in such a way, I’d call that a win-win situation. Couple that level of performance and listening enjoyment with the stunning good looks of the speaker (I could hardly stop staring at the Signature 80s during some of my listening sessions), and you’ve got the whole package.
Hopefully, products such as these can help a new generation of listeners become true high-end audio enthusiasts. In this case, the price of admission certainly doesn’t seem like a good excuse not to!
Because here’s the fun bit: if, for all this, the regular price of $1,499 per pair is a gift (and it is), then the current introductory price of $1,199 per pair is something of a miracle (check that deal out here).
Get ’em while you can!