Review: LSA1 Statement

Category: Speakers

I had the chance to audition this monitor for over a month while house-sitting for a friend. I haven't seen any online reviews for the monitor in its "Statement" version with ribbon tweeter, but there have been some blurbs about this version being one of the best two monitors under $3000 (along with the widely reviewed and highly regarded Usher Tiny Dancer). Given that, my expectations were high and so was my disappointment.

I was able to listen to a lot of familiar material over the time I was house-sitting, and on the plus side the monitors did produce very good imaging and reasonable soundstage depth. Any monitor in this price range should do that: it's one of the primary advantages to getting a small monitor. With that said, they did not provide the sense of hall space that I have heard from other speakers in this price range. For instance, on the Cowboy Junkies album The Trinity Session (which was recorded in a church with a great sense of space) the LSA1 Statements brought the singer's voice forward and the instruments were clear and detailed but the sense of venue didn't come through. I've heard much better from other speakers (for example from the Taylo Reference Monitors or B+W 805 monitors).

They also provided good low-level detail, but again nothing that seemed to lift them above other monitors in this price range. On Paul Simon's song "Slip Slidin' Away" there are some backing vocals that tend to blend with his singing on poorer monitors. The LSA1 Statements did start to separate out those vocals, but it was not fully accomplished. Again, they are par for the course and not up to the standards of the best in the price range (and the over achieving Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1s do a better job at half the price).

So far, the LSA1 Statements were quite listenable, but not distinguishing themselves especially. Where my real disappointment started to kick in, however, was in listening to female vocals. I first noticed the problem listening to the classic duets of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. When Ella would come in on certain songs (such as "Can't We Be Friends") I would hear a veneer of distortion over vocals that I am accustomed to hearing as clean and pure (for recordings of that era). I replayed the track, and with my hand on the top of the speaker I could feel cabinet resonance getting particularly strong during her singing. The cabinets are reasonably solid, and the speakers are about 24 lbs. each, so this is not a general issue but particular to certain frequency ranges as far as I could tell. On other female vocal recordings I would periodically hear the same issue--a muddiness or discoloration that increased with the singer's own volume (e.g. exactly what happens when cabinet resonance or bad crossover design is distorting at a certain frequency). This was repeatable and persistent. A speaker that pretends to be best in its price class (and that retails for $2500) cannot do this. It's a fatal flaw, on top of the middle-of-the-pack performance in other regards.

Although my opinion of the LSA1 Statement was essentially cemented when I discovered its design flaw in reproducing female vocals, the issue of bass response is something that always comes up in discussions of small monitors. There are basically two approaches here: let the bass roll off as physics dictates (doing the best possible with drivers and porting to extend it as well as can be done) or add in a bass bump that gives the impression of more bass than is there. The LSA1 Statements seem to err on the side of the latter. They do an excellent job of bass reproduction, as many modern drivers and cabinet designs are able to achieve, but they also seem to give a bump to bass at certain frequencies to augment this fundamentally competitive performance. On this point, however, the observation has to be taken with a grain of salt. My friend usually does a careful job of placing his speakers in his listening room, but room interactions with bass are as much a part of the story as the speaker design itself.

The final observation that I had regarding a single aspect of the sound was that the ribbon tweeter can provide a clean and not harsh treble that is nevertheless very detailed and extended flat beyond the realm of human hearing. The LSA1 Statements have turned me on to modern ribbon tweeters, even if the implementation is critically flawed by the vocal distortions noted.

Regarding overall sound, there are two additional things that I look for in a top quality speaker: 1) are they fatiguing (a combination of subtle factors affects this) and 2) do they choke at high volume (e.g. playing a full orchestral piece without getting congested)? I found the LSA1 Statements to be more fatiguing than I would have expected. I think this has to do with their propensity to move things forward, more in-your-face, on recordings where this is not meant to be the case. I often got the impression that these speakers were pushing the music at me in a way that was jarring. I am used to highly detailed speakers that do not hide flaws or harshness in the original recording, but the LSA1 Statements go beyond "revealing." I guess I would say that they are "aggressive" for lack of a better word. Regarding their ability to play at concert volumes, I found that they didn't respond as well as other monitors I've heard in this regard. The Taylo Reference Monitors that I mentioned earlier (and that I owned for a good while) behaved like a top-notch monitor should: as the volume went up the soundstage expanded and opened but the sound did not become strained. The LSA1 Statements don't have anything near the aplomb to stay coherent at higher volumes. Again, they don't do badly but just average for a small, relatively pricey monitor. As the volume goes up, congestion creeps in and their artificially forward presentation makes you want to turn the volume down again. It was sad to me.

I found myself turning the volume down a lot when auditioning the LSA1 Statements, and this is usually a sign to me that a number of things are wrong.

The final observation that I would make is that in looking for information about these online I found the same speaker being offered under another branding label. The speakers are completely made in China, and it seems that the same speaker is sold under a couple of brand names. The LSA Group website claims that they modify the crossover and add lamb’s wool as a dampening material to make this a "statement" loudspeaker. I didn't open my buddy's speakers up to look for the Auricaps in the crossover circuit, but I did look into the rear port and it does seem that the stuffing is wool (or at least not the poly-fiber that I'm used to seeing). So, LSA may be tweaking the generic Chinese product, but the overall fit and finish definitely has the feel of something coming out of China rather than many other speakers in this price range that are made to a higher degree of polish.

In conclusion, given all of the deficiencies and no aspects of superiority above the best in this price range, I would strongly recommend against buying these (again, in the very competitive market segment that they are in).

Yes, they were bi-wired. I don't think it makes a big difference (or hasn't with other speakers I've heard). But they were hooked up that way.

I agree with the comment from "Tbg" that you quote. The bass was deep and it was detailed. Like I said, the "bump" that I heard could be due to the room rather than the speaker--hence the grain of salt comment.

I don't know what other speakers the commentor "Tbg" has heard. In my experience the LSA1 Statements weren't outperforming others in the price range. My biggest concern was the issue with female voices that I was hearing.

It reminds me of going to hear a pair of Spendors. He had the big ones (100 something model; in a big living room with tube monoblocks and an Ayre CD player). He loved them, but to me they were just not resolving enough. Big, lush, and euphonic sound, but I was missing the detail that really brings the music to life for me. So, yes, it's an intersting hobby! Or confounding, as you say.
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1. Acoustics: How large was the room, and how damped? Sorry but I find these are critical issues, often confounding me.

2. Break-in: How much break-in did the speakers have? This alone could account for the problems. Seriously.

I was on a speaker merry go round for over a decade until I developed a break-in process which I will summarize below. The difference is shocking. For example, floor standing Spendors that were shrill became mellow with deep rich bass after this process.

I own LSA 1 standard editions and they are my favorite speakers that I've ever owned save for Silverlines and perhap a pair of Proac. I heard the Signature once at a show and was very impressed as well. I have never heard the Statement speakers that you describe.

Break in process: Place speakers face to face and CLOSE, almost touching. Reverse phase on ONE speaker (black to red; red to black). You will need a mono signal which you can achieve various ways such as finding a mono recording, or hitting "mono" button on source or amp, or tapping just one output and splitting it into both left and right inputs of amp. PRIOR to any of this, find a volume setting that is LOUD but will not damage the speakers. When you play that mono recording this way, you will find that the midrange and bass completely cancel out! All you hear is upper upper treble. I use blankets to drown out the upper treble. Give it 48 hours, set up the speakers again, voila, break-in equivalent to years of most people's normal home volume playback.

CAUTION: since you don't hear the signal, it is unfortunately easy to over drive the speakers and damage them. Therefore it is essential to test the recording playing back in normal mode to find the best volume setting.

This break-in process tends to alleviate precisely the issues you complain about. The difference is shocking.

I am surprised that speaker manufacturers don't do this prior to selling the speakers.

It PAINS me to think about how many speakers I've purchased and later sold, without EVER having heard them broken in.

BTW most speakers that I bought used turned out to be scarcely broken in!

It takes approximately 2 to 3 months for the caps to form and the parts to break in to the point that the speakers sound the way they can.
One of the confounding issues in chosing the parts for not jut these but the LSA Amplifiers was, that after hearing them for the first time, my first comment was...."What the
hell have we done? If this is it, its a gigantic mistake."
The only thing I can imagine with these comments is, they are in the 'break in stage'. Let them play all day long for 30 days, while at work, at moderate volumes.
This is NOT the speaker that is sold by LSA. I'm not saying this is not what you're hearing--I'm only saying that the finished product when broken in is pretty magical, even when compared in blindfold listening tests to the Sound Lab A-1's.
As to why mfg's don't break them in...I suppose they're in too much of a hurry to get they're money back.
Of course, being an audiophile for 30 years, I could also ask, why didn't I ever wait to evaluate???I have more time to do it than the factory.
Thank you for the additional information.
My only guess is that, seconding Artmaltman, the speakers are in the 'break in' stage.
One reason I mention this, is that during my development of them, I compared the standard version of the LSA1 to the B&W 805, which you mention that you're familiar with.
The comparison was very favorable to the LSA1 which retailed for about 40% of the price of the B&W.
I suppose everyone asks the question, 'Can I do it better', so after these mutiple comparisons (not only the B&W but obviously several other competitors.
Then came the LSA Signature, and the Statement which offer much higher level crossovers which, for whatever reasons require serious break in time. Only playing them, putting a signal through them will level them out.
Now, are they perfect, no. If the average person who thinks he or she understands a frequency response saw the raw data, without the industry 1/3 ocatave averaging, they'd be appalled. But the number of flaws and the severity and significance of each makes me realize that 'break in' is the only issue--other than potential catastrophic internal damage to components which may have occurred during shipping.
Can you tell me where you purchased these LSA1 Statements?
If you'll post the information on line, I'll see to it that they send you a replacement pair which are sufficiently broken in--since the flaws in evidence here are not part of the original expectation of this product.

Larry Staples