I used the Chartwell LS6f with the Naim Audio Uniti Nova integrated streaming amplifier, fed by a Uniti Core server, and with standard Naim NAC A5 speaker cables. This was a fine combination, bordering on a spectacular one in fact. It’s a well-matched system in price terms, the performance of the electronics provide a good contrast for the tonal balance of the loudspeakers (in particular, the amplifier’s grip on bass), and the amplifier section of the Nova falls perfectly within the maximum and minimum amp requirements set by Graham Audio/Chartwell. This was not the only amplifier used, but was notable for being a good match.
Although this is not directly from the BBC drawing board, there’s very clear BBC-related elements to the sound. Speech, especially diction, is extremely well handled, with particularly good control over plosive sounds –live BBC Radio 4 news feeds can be variable in quality, but the LS6f has a charming ability to cut through the sometimes-mediocre microphone technique and concentrate on the speech itself. Moving over to music programme, the same applies to piano music almost perfectly. It doesn’t have the almost transparent ‘better than the real thing’ piano sound of a LS3/5a, but on the other hand the LS6 seems more adept at defining the left-hand playing of lower octaves, and presenting those bass notes with greater impact, definition, dynamic range, and clarity. I’m not sure I’d trade that lithe, effortless midrange of the LS3/5 or LS3/5a for the greater bass depth of the LS6, but there will be many who would trade at least some of the LS3/5a’s ‘magic’ for a deeper musical underpinning, and for those people the LS6 and LS6f come into their own. This is slightly over-egging the pudding, as the difference between the magic of the LS3/5a and the depth of the LS6f is not so substantial; it’s more subtle shades of ‘how do you take your coffee?’
The other big BBC-like aspect to the sound is its ability to handle naturally recorded acoustic instruments, whether they be solo piano (Brendel playing the ‘Waldstein’ piano sonata by Beethoven on Philips) string quartet (the Belcea Quartet playing Ravel’s quartet in F on EMI) or massed orchestra and choir playing the Mozart Requiem [Baroque English Soloists, Gardiner, Philips]. In all cases, the tone is natural and the added bass and dynamic range compared to the LS3/5 is greatly received. OK, so the full drama of the Requiem shows the limits of a smallish two-way loudspeaker, but more in comparison with larger designs than noticeable limitations upon performance. The reproduction of acoustic instruments is its strong point, but the loudspeaker is not adverse to playing amplified sounds, too. I’ll temper this twice over; the headroom for playing loud isn’t really rock ‘n’ roll – ‘Back in Black’ by AC/DC from the album of the same name [Atlantic] isn’t designed to be played at refined levels, it needs to be played teenage testosterone loud, and the LS6f begins to get flustered and sound noisy and compressed at higher volumes. And, speaking of compression, the LS6f does not give compressed recordings a free pass. Data compression, paradoxically, is treated fairly (as in, if you have a 256kbps AAC file, it won’t lay any compression artefacts bare and such recordings actually sound pretty good through the LS6f), but signal compression sounds like a brutal hatchet job on the music. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californicationalbum [Warner] is often considered one of the worst casualties of the loudness wars, and the title track with its radio-friendly mix is probably the most badly injured track on the album. Played through almost any good audio, it’s hard to listen to a sound so dynamically flat and pitched toward the mid-treble region, but it is particularly discomforting through the LS6f. The speaker lays bare the acute lack of dynamic range, sounding thin, nasal, compressed, and compromised. This, however, seems like criticising the LS6f for doing its job properly.
The Chartwell LS6f is a beguiling loudspeaker, and an example of growth within the ever-expanding Graham Audio portfolio. Like the massive VOTU, it represents a move away from simply preserving the BBC’s past in aspic. It still holds to the basic concepts expoused by the Beeb back in the 1960s and 1970s, but represents a useful branching out design-wise. If you always wanted a bigger LS3/5a, look no further than the LS6f!
Type: Reflex-loaded two way standmount loudspeaker
Enclosure: Thin walled damped construction
Drive Units: 19mm Mylar, dome tweeter, 165mm polyprolylene mid-woofer
Frequency response: 45Hz–20kHz ±2dB
Sensitivity: 87dB @ 2.83V, 1m
Nominal impedance: 8Ω
Maximum output: Over 100dB per pair at 2m
Recommended amplifier power: 50–150W unclipped programme
Finish: cherry oak, rosewood, ebony real wood veneers
Dimensions (W×H×D): 96 ×32 ×26cm
Price: from £2,995 per pair depending on finish
Manufactured by: Graham Audio
Tel: +44(0)1626 361168