First Listen: LSA Model 2 Surround-Sound Speaker System

First Listen: LSA Model 2 Surround-Sound Speaker System

Let’s speak candidly. Nashville, TN-based LSA Group isn’t exactly a household name among speaker manufacturers, which in my view is a shame given that LSA just might be one of the best speaker companies you’ve (probably) never heard of. Let me supply some background to explain why I make this statement.

I first encountered LSA at CES exhibit roughly two years ago, and at first I didn’t really know what to make of them (in case you’re wondering, the LSA acronym stands for “Living Sounds Audio”). A banner in the doorway of their exhibit room proclaimed that the firm made speakers that were “designed by ear,” but “verified by science.” Intrigued, I poked my head in the door and gave them a listen. At first glance, the speakers appeared well made and nicely finished, but perhaps somewhat unexceptional or “generic” in design—at least judging by first initial visual impressions. Both the handsome speaker enclosures and LSA’s chosen drive units reminded me of scads of other brands of loudspeakers I had encountered over the years, so that I really wasn’t expecting them to be noteworthy in any way.

But was I ever wrong in that snap judgment, as I quickly learned when I played a few reference tracks through the LSA’s. Three things made the LSA speakers exceptional to my way of thinking:

·      Killer, 3D imaging and soundstaging.
·      Amazingly smooth, seamless blending between drivers.
·      Smooth, natural tonal balance and an overall quality of sonic refinement that made the LSA’s sound more expensive than they really were.

This, in turn, brings me to the other key point about LSA products; they are sensibly (though certainly not cheaply) priced and generally leave listeners with the impression of delivering an awful lot of value for the money. As you’ll see in a moment, LSA also offers several grades of each of its models, and offers unusually attractive incentives for listeners who decide—over time—that they might wish to upgrade from one level of performance to the next.

From the time of that first visit to the LSA booth on through to the present, I’ve wanted to review the firm’s speakers, and now I’ve got an opportunity to do so under the auspices of The Perfect Vision.

This blog describes first impressions of a LSA surround system I’ll soon be reviewing, which is based on the firm's Model 2 loudspeaker ($2500/pair), which is the firm’s “bread and butter” 2 ½-way floorstander. Rounding out the system, I’ve also got on hand LSA’s 2 ½-way LCR speaker ($750/each), which I’m using as a center channel, plus a pair of LSA’s 2-way, 4-driver, multi-mode On-Walls ($1000/pair), which I’m using as stand-mount surround-channel speakers. At present, LSA doesn’t make a subwoofer, so I’m using one of The Perfect Vision’s reference JL Audio Fathom f112 subs in that capacity—not that the LSA’s require very much bass support at all. Frankly, the Model 2 floorstanders offer solid bass output into the mid-30Hz region, while the LCR and On-Wall reach down into the mid-50Hz range. Thus, I am (at LSA’s suggestion) crossing the subwoofer in at 50Hz for the Model 2 mains, and at 60Hz for the center and surround channels.

According to LSA, the firm’s speakers require a good 100 hours of break-in time before they loosen up and sound their best. As this blog is written, I’ve not yet reached the magic 100-hour mark, so please take that point into consideration (and stay tuned for the full review, which will—of course—be written after break-in is complete).

First impressions: straight out of the box, the LSA’s sound not bad at all, but perhaps just a little “stiff” and “congested”—almost as if they want, in a figurative sense, to clear their throats and sing. As break-in hours mount up, though, their sound is becoming more and more open, transparent, and texturally refined. I think they’re going be really good when break-in is complete.

Imaging, as noted above is already a strong point, as is driver integration—two qualities in which LSA takes particular pride. The owner’s manual for the Model 2 concedes that the speaker’s drive units may not look special, but that the sound they achieve is. As it turns out, this appears to be pretty much a statement of fact—not fanciful marketing hype.

The LSA Model 2 is a very capable floorstander for its price, and it features—among other things—a somewhat unusual rear-firing “ambience” tweeter. I haven’t yet settled on the optimal levels for the rear tweeter, but it definitely adds a subtle but welcome touch of spaciousness without significantly affecting the speaker’s generally neutral tonal balance.

Another noteworthy point is the sheer versatility of the LSA “On-Wall” speaker. For starters, the speaker can be wall-mounted, but doesn’t have to be; it’s equally at home when used as a stand-mount monitor. But what’s really unusual about the On-Wall is that it provides a total of four drivers that can be used in different combinations to achieve different intended results. Specifically, the compact, bass-reflex speaker features a single mid-bass driver (the same one used in LSA’s Model 1 stand-mount monitor, by the way), plus three fabric dome tweeter—one mounted on the face of the speaker and two mounted on the On-Wall’s beveled, left and right side flanges.

But here’s where things get interesting. On the face of the speaker, users will find two “Tweeter Setup” switches: one labeled Front/Sides, and the other labeled Bipole/Dipole. Together, these switches give you three use modes. If you set the upper switch to Front, the side tweeters are disabled and the On-Wall functions as a traditional 2-way standmount monitor. If, however, you set the top switch to Sides, the side tweeters come into play and the front tweeter is shut off, while you’ve got two more options to consider. You can select Bipole (meaning the side tweeters move in and out in unison) or Dipole mode (meaning the side tweeter move in “push/pull” mode). After some trial and error, I set the switches in the Side/Dipole positions, since I prefer relatively diffuse-sounding surround speakers, which is exactly what the Side/Dipole settings provide.

Listeners potentially interested in trying LSA speakers will want to know that most LSA models are offered in three grades: Standard (the grade I selected for our review samples), Signature, and Statement. The difference between the Standard and Signature models entails significant upgrades to all crossover parts plus a shift from spun Dacron to long-fiber Wool cabinet damping materials. The shift from Signature to Statement levels involves replacing LSA’s signature fabric dome tweeters with very high quality ribbon tweeters, plus changes in crossover components as necessary to accommodate the ribbon drivers.

To give you a rough idea of the cost implications of upgrades, note that the standard Model 2 floorstanders sell for $2500/pair, the Signature Model 2’s sell for $3500/pair, and the Statement Model 2s sell for $6000/pair (hey, ribbon tweeters aren’t cheap). But here’s the really cool part; if you buy a set of standard LSA’s and want to upgrade later, LSA will remanufacture your speakers for just the retail price difference between grades—effectively giving you a 100% trade-in on your original models toward the upgraded version. To take advantage of the offer, however, users do have to pay shipping to and from the factory when they have the upgrades done. A pretty generous policy, no?

Stay tuned for TPV’s full review of the LSA system. Until then, happy listening.   

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