Graham Audio LS8/1 Signature Edition & a New System

tmallin

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Graham Audio LS8/1 Signature Edition & a New System


Why Move on from the Sanders 10e?

I have a decades-long history of changing speakers every year or two. For lists of speakers and other audio equipment I've owned over the years, see this Tom’s Corner thread.I acquired my current listening room in 2015. Over that time I briefly used the KLH 12, AR-3a, AR-5, then for longer terms I used the Stirling LS3/6 without and later with the AudioKinesis Swarm quad of subwoofers, Janszen Valentina Active, Harbeth M40.2, Gradient 1.4, Dutch & Dutch 8c, and Sanders 10e in this room. The only ones I did not sell before now are the D&D and Sanders and now I've sold them. For me, the grass is always greener on the other side.

I still hear no sonic issues with the Sanders 10e in my room other than those I've mentioned in my Tom’s Corner writings about the Sanders:

1. The extremely narrow horizontal dispersion is not only a very positive aspect in a small room, but it is also the source of the only real "flaws" with the Sanders' performance in this room. Outside the sweet spot, the highs are very rolled off. You MUST listen from the sweet spot.

2. While I don't much care about the rolled-off highs when I walk into the room, this also means that if I lean forward or move the listening chair forward to listen with a subtended angle of 90 degrees between the speakers rather than my usual 60 degrees, I am 15 degrees off axis of the panels, which rolls off the highs a lot. Thus, I really can't listen to Blumlein and other quasi-coincidently miked recordings to best advantage without reorienting the toe-in of the speakers and that is too tedious to do. I could widen the dispersion of the highs by undamping the walls behind the speakers, but in this small room, that really ruins the sweetness of the sweet spot which, with the back wave damping, is ever-so sweet.

3. The large panel nature of the Sanders also defocuses images a bit compared to quasi-point-source speakers. I can hear that, but that is as much a positive attribute as a negative one, since it also enlarges the stage presentation vertically and horizontally, making the presentation "life sized" even in my small room.

4. The Sanders woofer boxes also buzz a bit when playing heavy bass even at "moderate" 80 dB levels, but nowhere nearly as bad as the woofer boxes of the Sanders 10c I owned a decade ago. I would never know about this buzz if the dbx VENU360 did not allow easily turning off the panels and listening only to the woofers. I have never heard any buzzing when the panels are turned on, even though I know it must be there.

I did not feel any lack of natural ease while using the Sanders. They also seemed more transparent than any other speakers I've had in my home systems. And it is impossible to tell how transparent the speakers really are without the dbx VENU360 acting as the crossover/EQ since no analog components I'm aware of will do the requisite 48 dB/octave crossovers, time alignment, and parametric EQ that the dbx DSP device seemingly handles effortlessly. As REG's review of the Sanders 10e stated, in the context of these speakers, the A/D and D/A conversion the dbx unit does at 24/96 seems essentially transparent. There are no hints of glassiness, no hint of truncation of space, no audible haze or other distortion, and certainly no lack of audible fine detail.

One non-sonic annoyance with the Sanders in my home (where I have no air filter operating except during air conditioning season since I have hot water baseboard heat) is that these are like electrostatic air filters: they attract dust from the air depositing it all over the speakers and their surroundings. This necessitates thorough cleaning of the panels and woofer cabinets every two weeks or so with a distilled-water-soaked handkerchief to avoid the black panels turning a mottled gray color. This is a problem unique to these speakers in this room. I never had this problem in my former home's listening room with the Sanders 10c because that home had a forced air HVAC system for both heating and air conditioning and the HVAC used an electrostatic air cleaner, meaning minimal dust in the air of the house.
 
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tmallin

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An Internet-Streaming-Only System

In addition to changing my speakers, I’ve now decided to make the system an internet-streaming-only system. My Lumin X1 is the sole source. At least for now I have abandoned local music files since most are available via internet streaming and many of those are available from Qobuz or Tidal in higher resolution than my ripped local music files. Besides that, strange but true, the Lumin just sounds a bit better streaming internet services when a local server is not also connected to my home network or to the Lumin itself.

In addition to selling my past two speakers, the Dutch & Dutch 8c and Sanders 10e, I have also sold my Roon Nucleus Plus and Keces P8 Linear Power Supply for it. The more I compared Roon listening to listening via the Lumin App, the more Roon’s sonics bothered me by comparison. I wish the Lumin App had Roon’s GUI and metadata, but I’m now convinced that, for me, at this point in my listening life, sonics trumps metadata.
 
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tmallin

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Equalization: None vs. the Schiit Audio Loki Max

Since the dbx VENU360 unit which was handling EQ duties was part of the Sanders 10e system, I no longer have that unit. For the first few months after purchasing my new speakers, I was listening to them without electronic equalization. This is the first time I’ve listened to the unvarnished balanced analog outputs of the Lumin X1 and getting rid of the digital equalization has shown me that the dbx VENU360 was in fact not totally transparent. There is more to be heard from program material than was getting through that unit. Given the electrostatic nature of the Sanders, I doubt that their panels were the bottleneck. I also have no real reason to doubt the quality of the Sanders transmission-line woofer. But since removing the digital EQ, I’m hearing more natural tonality and detail than ever before from the bottom to very top of the frequency spectrum.

In this system, I can easily live without any electronic equalization at all, such is the natural balance of my new speakers on a wide variety of program material. I have been relishing the overall unequalized frequency balance of the system and the differences this system reveals from recording to recording while never sounding really unpleasant in terms of frequency balance.

But I decided to try adding what, by all accounts, is the most transparent analog equalizer to tame more egregiously balanced recordings. Thus I purchased the Schiit Audio Loki Max to allow me to adjust frequency response on the fly from recording to recording. See the reviews of the Loki Max by Robert E. Greene here, and by Mike Prager here.

Like Greene and Prager, one of the equalizers I owned in the past was the Cello Palette Preamp. The six equalization bands available via the Loki Max are very similar to those designed through research by Dick Burwen for Mark Levinson and used in both the Cello Palette Preamp and flagship Cello Audio Palette. The difference is that the Loki Max adds remote control so that you can equalize what you are hearing from your listening seat. In addition, the Schiit unit is much less expensive at $1,500 than either of the 20-year-old Cello units even used. Good pre-owned examples of the Palette Preamp usually sell today for about $6,000, while the Audio Palette runs $10,000 and up.

Sonically, for about three days I was convinced that it was all that REG's and Mike Prager's reviews say it is. I could not hear any degradation of the sound inserting it into the signal path (i.e., the mere addition of an additional 1/2 meter balanced Benchmark XLR cable and jacks, plus this unit). I also heard no difference between the processing turned on but with the bands all set to flat and the electronic bypass of all the filters.

The controls seem effective for treating what ails many substandard recordings, cutting brightness and filling in weak lower ranges as desired without adding any distortion or other unnaturalness. A little goes a long way here. One to three clicks of one to three bands is usually enough to remedy tonal balance problems. And that does seem easy enough to do on the fly even after only a few days of experience with it. Of course, the six filters act very similarly to those of the Cello Palette Preamp I owned 20 years ago so I had a leg up on the learning curve.

Despite the warnings about the inductors used in the circuit and possible added hum, I hear no added hum or other noise of any kind from inserting the unit in my system. I did follow directions and avoided stacking it directly on top of other components, but my rack is so short that the Loki Max is only inches away from my Lumin X1 and its power supply on the shelf above and my Keces P3 linear power supply on the shelf below.

The Loki Max looks nice on the shelf, is quite small for a full-width unit and weighs only nine pounds, yet it feels substantial when handled. It runs only slightly warm to the touch. Shorting plugs are supplied for the unbalanced analog inputs if you are using balanced inputs.

But then about three days into my audition, I began to have my doubts. Something was wrong. I still heard no real difference between the processing turned on but with the bands all set to flat and the electronic bypass of all the filters. But the tremendous sense of spatial envelopment I remembered having before adding the Loki Max to the system seemed reduced. In addition, recordings seemed much less dynamically unrestrained than before.

I did an experiment to enable a relatively quick A/B comparison. After turning off the Lumin X1, the Loki Max, and amplifiers, I disconnected the balanced input and output cables from the Loki Max and connected them together, right to right and left to left. Then I turned the Lumin X1 and amps back on. (I've learned from prior startling experiences that you do not want to do this sort of cable manipulation with your equipment turned on!) This effectively took the Loki Max physically and electrically totally out of the signal path, bypassing the relay and resistor which Schiit says are the only electronic components still in the signal path when the bypass mode is enabled.

The sonic change was unmistakable. Now, even with the extra 1/2 meter balanced cable and its extra XLR connection in the signal path, the space and macro dynamics I remembered from my unequalized system were back. The difference was instantly audible and clearly "better" rather than just a difference.

For now I will eschew all electronic equalization in my new system. It sounds great on most material without it, so great that I'm not willing to sacrifice the greater space/envelopment and dynamics for the ability to tonally fix egregiously bad recordings.

Your opinion may well differ on that judgement. Your system may well not reveal the level of space/envelopment and dynamic contrasts my new system does. Certainly my prior Sanders system did not.

Also, and probably more importantly, for others the ability to hear the correct tonal nature of instruments they know well may be by far the most important thing for their audio system to accomplish. For such listeners, such "minor" problems with space and dynamics may well be relatively unimportant.

I understand that most all recordings we listen to and regard as excellent recordings were equalized at many steps in their production with electronics probably far less clear and clean than the Schiit Audio Loki Max. I am not so ultra-purist as to object on principle to the use of electronic equalization to make what we hear from our systems at home more life-like and pleasing. I have long used a variety of analog and digital equalizers to accomplish just this goal. The Sanders 10e speakers I most recently used totally depended on the use of sophisticated DSP in the dbx VENU360 to produce sonic excellence in my listening room. This was just the latest of many forms of electronic EQ I've used in my home systems. See my discussion of equalizers I've used at this thread.

But in my new system i've found that my new speakers don't need electronic EQ for stunningly natural and pleasing sound from most material. Thus, for now at least, the need to apply electronic EQ is lessened to the extent that I am unwilling to compromise some other sonic goals for the sake of electronic manipulation of frequency response.

Still, as I said, I realize that other reasonable listeners may well differ with this conclusion. Thus, in the next post I will cover other observations and conclusions I made during my three-day audition of the Schiit Loki Max.
 
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tmallin

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[Continuing with the discussion of the Schiit Audio Loki Max]

Now for some other not-so-good aspects of the Loki Max. These revolve around the user interface rather than the sonics.

The Loki Max could be so much more helpful in applying tonal corrections than it is if the user interface were better. I'm not sure if the existing rudimentary interface is necessary to get the desired sonics, or to meet a price point, or because the designers really didn't think it necessary or even desirable to use a "fancier" user interface. Perhaps I'm just spoiled from the fantastic GUI of the dbx VENU360 equalizer/crossover I recently used with the Sanders 10e speakers.

Each of the six EQ bands is adjustable via discrete mechanically audible click stops. The unit emits audible clicks as the knobs move.

But even close up at the chassis, there is no way to know how many clicks up or down any given knob is set since there are no marks on the chassis to indicate this. Even the center point of knob adjustment is ill-defined since there is no line or dot on the chassis with which to line up the faint line on the knob.

And, to me at least, the instructions about how many positions there are for each of the six adjustment bands are misleading. The instructions say that there are 15 click steps up and 15 click steps down from neutral for a total of 31 positions of each band including the center. But only 30 clicks are audible when you rotate any adjustment knob from min to max or from max to min. There is also considerable adjustment range of each knob near the max and min positions where no clicks are audible. That leaves the center position ambiguous. What I finally figured out is that going from max to center is 15 clicks and going from min to center is also 15 clicks. How this is accomplished is unclear. There is no 31st click for the center position, in other words. This is actually the least serious user interface problem, once I figured it out.

Yes there is remote control, but it is very rudimentary. Yes, you can hear the clicks as each band adjusts, but only if you are not playing music or the music is very quiet. At any volume above very low, you can easily miss hearing a click. At realistic volumes, unless you are playing very quiet music, you surely will not hear the clicks at all.

The remote gives no indication with a light flash, beep, or otherwise that an adjustment has occurred. There are no lights on the remote at all and no lights on the chassis to tell you an adjustment has been made, much less what that adjustment is.

There is no way to see the lines on the chassis knobs from the listening position since the lines on the knobs are so faint. If you don't press an up or down button on the remote long enough, no adjustment is made. If you press a remote button too long, an adjustment of more than one click can easily result. There are no lights on the remote or chassis to indicate that an adjustment up or down has been made and no light for the centered position. Thus, you have no way to know how any given EQ band is set once you adjust it with the remote control.

In a semi-darkened room, the way I always listen at night, you have to operate the remote control by touch. This is doable because each button is raised enough to feel and you can count buttons by touch so you know which button you are adjusting, but you have to pay attention to know what you are doing. Still, it IS doable, even after just a day of practice and I'm sure it will get easier with time.

Once I figured out how to set all the bands to flat (15 clicks from min or max), the only way to know all the bands are set to flat is to devote one of the three presets to the truly flat setting of the controls. (Hitting the electronic bypass button does not move the knobs to their centered positions, it just bypasses all the EQ you have set up.) That leaves you with two presets. Then, if you devote another preset to the setting which makes your system sound most natural on recordings you trust (as REG's review suggests), you are down to only one preset for a "standard" fix for badly balanced recordings. That's inadequate.

In this day and age, I think a remote-controlled device should be able to tell you its status from a remote position, either via information on the remote control itself, via a chassis display, or via an app.

Given that only one preset will be available to "record" the settings for each recording, you would have to make notes about the number of clicks you adjust each knob up or down for best sound from each recording to be able to quickly repeat those settings the next time you listen to that recording. But making such notes in a document or on the liner notes of an LP or CD is maximally difficult--as in quite impractical--given the difficulty of knowing how many clicks from center any given knob is adjusted. If you attempt to count clicks once the sound is right, you will surely often fail since the physically centered position is so ambiguous.

Schiit could fix these problems. Providing a lighted remote would help. A much more helpful fix would be a larger remote control that would show via six LED readouts next to each of the up/down buttons for each band how many clicks up (+) or down (-) each of the six controls is set. It would also be nice if more presets could be added. Raise the price a few hundred dollars and call the new product the Loki Supreme.

What you basically have in the Loki Max is a device which can EQ recordings on the fly easily enough if you want to take some time to do that for each recording which sounds far enough from ideal to fiddle with. But probably you will then have to adjust it on the fly every time you listen to it unless your one available preset is just right to fix it. If no preset is available, there really is no good way to record the settings you worked out as best sounding for that particular recording the first time around.

********************

I'm probably making way too much of these user interface problems. There is an entirely different way to look at the situation.

After all, 20 years ago I did not react this way to the knobs on the Cello Palette Preamp/Audio Palette. Schiit clearly intends the Loki Max as a modern replacement for those units at a lower price, with at least equal sonic performance, and with remote control and presets thrown in.

There was no remote control at all with the Cello units and no presets. (The center position of each knob was well defined and easy to see on the Cello units, however.) The Cello unit had no lights on it, creating the same problem for adjusting the knobs in a semi-darkened room as exists with the Loki Max. Only the more expensive Cello Audio Palette had audible click steps for the EQ knobs, so the adjustment situation in a darkened room was actually worse with my Cello Palette Preamp's smoothly continuous knob settings.

I kept the Cello unit on the special Cello Acrylic Cart designed for it which angled the unit up and, when positioned right next to my listening chair as I had it set up, put all the manual knobs right at my fingertips. The same thing could be done with the Loki Max. Maybe Schiit intentionally wanted to keep the Loki Max as manual as the old Cello products were with minor modern concessions to remote control and presets.
 
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tmallin

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GigaFOILv4-Inline Ethernet Filter

Since my only source is the Lumin X1 and since no other components in my system now require an ethernet connection I no longer need a network switch. With the Sanders speakers the dbx VENU360 Loudspeaker Management System really needed an ethernet connection to run the marvelous control app for the dbx on my iPad. But now that the dbx unit is gone, the ethernet connection can come straight from my router to the Lumin.

But I don’t actually do that. There are 90+ feet of ethernet cable between my router and my audio room. I have found through repeated experimentation that the sound quality of internet streamed sources in my set-up is remarkably bettered when I place the DJM Electronics GigaFOILv4-Inline Ethernet Filter between the long feed of ethernet cable and a short lead of ethernet cable just before my Lumin X1. No A/B is needed. The difference should be obviously audible and identifiable as “significantly better” rather than just “different” to most listeners in just a few seconds. Many aspects of the presentation are significantly improved. Thus I still use that device.

I also have found through repeated experiments that the quality of the power supply used with the GigaFOIL also makes a VERY important additional audible quality increase. I would go so far as to say that I don't recommend using the GigaFOIL without an aftermarket power supply. Yes, there are sonic improvements with the stock power supply, but the downsides are considerable. By comparison to a better LPS, the stock power supply creates a rather edgy, seemingly compressed, and rather two dimensional sound. You will never know how much the GigaFOIL can improve your streaming sound unless you use a better LPS. I use the Keces P3 linear power supply set for 5-volt output in place of the “wall wart” power supply which comes with the GigaFOIL. Again, the swapping of the Keces LPS for the stock power supply makes a very significant sonic upgrade which should be obviously audible and identifiable as “better” rather than just “different” to most listeners within just a few seconds of listening. Thus I’m still using that Keces P3 power supply for the GigaFOIL.

Further, as the manufacturer's instructions advise, the positioning of the GigaFOIL as well as the length of internet cable coming from the output of the GigaFOIL are also important to the sonic improvement. When I moved the GigaFOIL to a shelf of its own and carefully routed its power supply cable and the ethernet cables to and from it away from power and signal cables, and also decreased the length of the ethernet cable from it feeding my Lumin X1 from 2.5 feet to 1.5 feet, a further significant improvement in system sound occurred. As before, for vibration isolation, I mounted the GigaFOIL chassis atop a single A/V Room Service Low Density Equipment Vibration Protector (EVP) carefully centered beneath the chassis to evenly compress the bellows of the EVP.

I moved the GigaFOIL to the second shelf of my equipment rack, the space I had originally intended for an equalizer box, the Schiit Audio Loki Max. Putting the GigaFOIL right beneath my Lumin X1 allowed the length of the ethernet cable connecting the GigaFOIL's output to the Lumin to be reduced from 2.5 feet to 1.5 feet.

Before, the GigaFOIL had been mounted on the bottom shelf of the rack, behind my PI Audio UberBusses, and in the midst of all the power cabling. That positioning had the advantage of hiding the rather ugly shiny silver metal chassis of the GigaFOIL from sight as well as hiding from sight the flashing lights of the input and output ethernet ports of the GigaFOIL. Once I mounted it on the second shelf, I created a black construction paper "light shield" to hide the unit and its blinking ethernet port lights from sight. This light shield does not touch the GigaFOIL or any cabling. It is L-shaped and just sits on the shelf between the GigaFOIL and my line of sight to the unit. Problem solved, without any interference with the vibration isolation of the GigaFOIL.

All in all, I regard the GigaFOIL, when properly power supplied and sited, as VITAL to achieving great sound from internet streaming sources in the context of my system.
 
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tmallin

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No Ethernet Switch Needed or Wanted

But downstream of the GiggaFOIL I had been using the Uptone Audio EtherREGEN network switch. It was a fine sounding unit, better sounding, I thought, than other network switches (TP Link, Cisco, Netgear, etc.) that I had tried. But is any network switch as good sounding as no network switch at all?

Uptone Audio and some reviews of the EtherREGEN would have us believe that the unit cleaned up and clarified sound in a way that made the connection from the “A” side to the “B” side going through its proprietary “moat” necessary for better sound from ethernet-connected equipment. Now that I now longer “needed” a network switch in my system, I experimented and ran a comparison of the sound with the EtherREGEN in the signal path (ethernet input from the GigaFOIL to “A” side, ethernet output to Lumin X1 from “B” side) versus running a short ethernet link from the GigaFOIL directly into the Lumin X1.

Somewhat to my surprise, the sound was simply “better” without the EtherREGEN in the signal path. Again, the difference seems rather obvious and obviously “better” without the EtherREGEN in the signal path. No painstaking comparison was necessary. Bass was stronger, fuller, more detailed, backgrounds were blacker and, some high frequency emphasis/edge/grunge was eliminated, dynamic range seemingly further expanded, the midrange was yet clearer and more lifelike, imaging was just as focused, the soundstage expanded yet further in all dimensions, and the differences among recordings were thrown into yet starker relief. Thus I’m no longer using the EtherREGEN internet switch or any other ethernet switch.
 
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Amplification: Audio by Van Alstine DVA M225 Monoblocks

The Sanders Magtech Stereo amps I was using with the Sanders 10e speakers were sold with the Sanders speakers. My new amps are a pair of Audio by Van Alstine DVA M225 monoblocks. The pair, taken together. are smaller than one of the Sanders Magtech amps, and weight 34 pounds the pair, compared to 55 pounds for single Sanders Magtech.

But like the Sanders Magtech, but unusually for power amps, these AVA amps are fully regulated. They generate even less heat than the Sanders, which are themselves pretty cool running for non-Class D amps. The AVA amps run in Class A at low outputs, switching over to Class A/B at higher outputs. The rated output power is 225 wpc into 8 ohms, less than half the power of the Sanders, but I think still quite ample for my new speakers as I use them.

Certainly I hear absolutely nothing indicating lack of adequate power. I have a long history of using very beefy solid-state amps and went that direction because earlier, less beefy amps I owned always gave sonic hints of compression, distortion, brightening, nastiness, etc. as they approached their power limits. Of course, part of the present adequacy of 225 wpc is the fact that I no longer choose to listen at the high SPLs I did as a younger audiophile.

Here are links to reviews of the amp in TAS, Part -Time Audiophile, Audiophilia and Audio Circle.

Lots of amps get great reviews. What led me to buy these? My history of owning Audio by Van Alstine products goes back at least to the 1990s. Before that, I admired the company's work on reviving and improving the old Dynaco tube and transistor amp designs. In the 1990s I owned a Van Alstine "one brand" system--CD player, tuner, preamp, amps, and Van Alstine's then favorite speakers, the B&W 801 Matrix Series II speakers with crossovers modified per Van Alstine's recommendations for smoother high frequencies and more extended bass even without B&W's add-on low-frequency equalizer. Frank Van Alstine and his associates have always provided high-value, no-nonsense electronic products of reasonable size and weight, not to mention cost.

The fully regulated, balanced circuitry, and Class A output at moderate power levels with minimal waste of electricity through heat production are all important factors to me. The reviewers' comments about the top-of-the-heap soundstaging and lack of perceptible tonal colorations didn't hurt either. The few comments in the reviews indicating that maybe a few very expensive amps give you a bit more apparent low-end extension and grunt didn't bother me since my chosen speakers don't cover the bottom octave at full level anyway and subwoofers, if I added them, would have their own driving amps.

If you want or need more power, Van Alstine now markets a much more powerful version of the same circuit in a bigger, heavier chassis, the DVA M750 monoblock for $5,600 a pair. User reviews so far indicate that it sounds at least as good as the DVA M225 monoblocks I have, if not better, while rated at 750 watts per channel into 8 ohms. I could see upgrading down the line since the shipping weight of 38 pounds and 17" x 12.5" x 6" size is still quite manageable for me. But for right now, I hear nothing suggesting my new speakers are underpowered with the DVA M225s.
 
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tmallin

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Goal of System Changes

Sure, yet better sound is always a goal of my system changes. But another goal now is to downsize the individual components in terms of bulk/size and weight. I realize that I may well continue a parade of new speakers and other equipment as time goes on. But now that I am past age 70, I’m increasingly concerned that I remain able to move equipment around, up and down the stairs, and in and out of the house for sale, trade, or giveaway. Components of the bulk and weight of the Sanders woofers are no longer something I want to deal with. The boxes barely fit up or down the stairs (which are narrow and have a right-angle landing bend), will not fit through my attic door for storage, and at more than 95 pounds each, are beyond my ability to carry any distance up or down stairs or in and out of the house without risk of back or other injury.

My listening room is small. As I’ve aged my desired maximum listening SPL has decreased. Given modern advances in speaker drivers, I no longer require large speakers to fill my listening room with sound at the SPLs I now prefer. And if I want the bottom octave of bass at full level, manageable subwoofers (e.g., the AudioKinesis Swarm) exist whose bulk and weight approximate that of my newly chosen speakers.
 

tmallin

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Enter the Graham Audio LS8/1 Signature Edition

My new speakers are the Graham Audio LS8/1 Signature Edition, on Skylan SKY-4P20 stands to get the lower tweeter up to my seated ear height of about 38 inches.

Read REG's review of the Graham Audio LS8/1. Even for an REG review, this is a model of how to review the relevant sonic aspects of a speaker. What he says about the speaker is what I'm hearing. I don't disagree with anything REG said and agree that the points he makes are the main points.

At the time of my purchase, my speaker dealer, Gene Rubin, told me I got the very last pair of the Signature edition of the speakers anywhere in the world. My Serial Numbers are 103, so that made some sense since only 100 pairs were supposed to be made. However, now, on August 23, 2023, I see Gene Rubin advertising for sale “the last brand new sealed pair available of the signature version in the world!” So a few more must have been made or at least acquired from unsold stock elsewhere. Gene Rubin says the cabinets of the Signature version are built to higher standards in Italy than the non-signature version built elsewhere.

My choice of a new speaker may surprise you. It also somewhat surprised me. My only actual audition of the speakers—at AXPONA 2022—was not at all favorable. On the REG Audio Forum I wrote in a very uncomplimentary way about what I heard there from the Grahams. But I identified a number of problems with the show set up of the speakers and discounted what I heard as not truly representative of their sound. Now I’m really glad I did. Surely at AXPONA they sounded nothing like prior versions of this type of British speaker I have owned.

It was thus purely on the basis of REG’s review that I decided to try the Graham Audio LS8/1. Having owned the Spendor SP1/2 and Stirling Broadcast LS3/6 in the past, I have come to trust that REG hears these derivatives of the legendary Spendor BC-1 the way I do. The differences REG identified between the Graham and earlier speakers in the BC-1 lineage struck me as remedying just what I heard as weak links in prior Spencer-and-Derek-Hughes-designed speakers I had heard or owned in this “series.”

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tmallin

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More About My New System Set-Up

Here is a brief description of my current audio room system. The links in these descriptions are either to my own descriptions of these components in Tom’s Corner at WBF, or to sales or manufacturer's information.

Streaming: Xfinity Gigabit internet service, feeding Xfinity xFi Advanced Gateway, feeding 90 feet of CAT6 shielded ethernet cable, feeding 5 feet of Blue Jeans Cable Cat 6 Patch Cords ethernet cable, feeding GigaFOILv4 Inline Ethernet Filter (hidden behind other equipment in the following pictures) powered by 5V output of Keces P3 LPS, feeding 1.5 feet of Blue Jeans Cable Cat 6 Patch Cords ethernet cable, feeding Lumin X1.

Source: Lumin X1 for Qobuz, Tidal, Spotify, and various internet radio stations and services. I usually use the Lumin App to control streaming. However, I also use Roon, with my Mac Studio in another room acting as the Roon Core connected to the network via Wi-Fi. Via Roon I can listen to my ripped CD music files which also run on that Mac Studio computer. Roon also offers a superior GUI and metadata for all streaming music.

Equalizer: None. (I tried the Schiit Audio Loki Max but removed it after a few days due to its reduction of the sense of space/envelopment and macro dynamics even when bypass mode was engaged. The below system pictures show the Loki Max in the equipment rack where I had it.)

Amplifiers: Two Audio By Van Alstine DVA M225 Monoblock Solid State Amplifiers

Speakers: Graham Audio LS8/1 Signature edition in teak finish.

Interconnects: Benchmark Studio&Stage XLR Cables, 2 meter pair from Lumin X1 to Audio by Van Alstine amps.

Speaker Cable: Blue Jeans Cable Canare 4S11 10-foot pair wired to take advantage of star-quad configuration of the cable and to increase effective cable gauge; ultrasonically welded terminations at all ends to Blue Jeans locking banana plugs.

Headphones: NAD Viso HP-50 or Apple AirPods Max or PSB M4U 9 or Bose Quiet Comfort 45, used with iPhone 14 Pro Max either directly from Tidal, Qobuz, and internet radio apps on the iPhone. A DD ddHiFi TC35 Pro (Eye) 3.5mm DAC & Amp Adapter is used to connect the NAD headphones to the Lightning port of the iPhone; the Apple, PSB, and Bose headphones connect to the iPhone via Bluetooth. The signal path for headphone listening is thus totally separate from the loudspeaker listening path. My Stax SR-007 Mk 1 and Stax SR-007A Mk2.9 electrostatic headphones are used exclusively with my desktop Mac computer audio system. All my headphones see far more use for the audio of streaming video sources via my TVs and desktop computer than for music listening.

Stands: Salamander Archetype three shelf 20"-high equipment stand; for Graham speakers Skylan SKY-4P20 four-post 20-inch high stands and glider feet with each speaker resting on eight small neoprene dots on top of the top plate.

Power Cables: GTT Audio Absolute Power Cord MkII for all electronic components.

Vibration Control: A/V Room Service Equipment Vibration Protectors (EVPs)--usually four each of proper load rating under each electronic component on equipment rack, although with some very small and very lightweight items (e.g., the GigaFOILv4) I only use one EVP carefully placed under the item to distribute the load evenly on the EVP's bellows suspension. Large (17" x 12" x 1.5") Bright Star Audio Little Rock on floor under equipment rack to damp local laminate wood floor vibration near where the rack feet contact the floor. Small (10” x 14” x 1.5”) Bright Star Audio Little Rock sitting on carpet and pad under each amplifier.

System Control: Dedicated stripped down Apple M-1 iPad Pro (2020 edition). All apps and functions not related to music streaming have been deleted or turned off. I've also used my general purose iPhone 14 Pro Max. Both run the Lumin App or Roon and various streaming services. A rationale for using my general purpose iPhone for system control rather than the iPad Pro is explained here.

Room: 161" L x 132" W x 103.5" H rectangular converted bedroom with plaster walls, one double hung window on right wall, one six-panel wood door on left wall, and one large storage closet with a six-panel wood door taking up whole wall behind listening seat.

Listening Chair: Drexel velour-covered cushioned chair which puts my ears at about 38 inches above the rug. The chair allows comfortable fully erect sitting and the back of the chair is about 27 inches above the floor, well below my 38-inch ear level.

Room treatment: About 128 square feet of natural white 4-inch-thick Acoustical Solutions AlphaSorb Flat Foam at first reflection areas of speakers on walls as viewed from the listening position.

Electrical: Two professionally installed dedicated 20-amp circuits wired with 12-gauge copper wire; P.I. Audio Group customized Pass & Seymour 5362A wall outlets, P.I. Audio Group UberBUSSes, P.I. Audio Group BUSS Depot; JENA Electrical Contact Enhancement Fluid or Caig Labs Deoxit Pro G100L-2DB for all non-soldered electrical connections. IMG_9568.jpg IMG_9569.jpg IMG_9570.jpg IMG_9571.jpg IMG_9572.jpg IMG_9574.jpg IMG_9575.jpg
 

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tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
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Speaker/Listener/Room Set-Up

The Cardas Speaker Placement Calculator


As with my prior Gradient 1.4 and Sanders 10e speakers, initially I am following the Cardas speaker set up procedure as outlined at the NoAudiophile site. Say what you want about the relevance of such room calculators. I have found these calculators, especially the Cardas and Rule of Thirds (29% version) to work very well in my current listening room with a wide variety of speakers for both providing reasonably smooth bass response before equalization and providing excellent imaging and soundstaging. The imaging and soundstaging I achieve in my room via these calculators put to shame what I hear from most dealers and show set ups. This calculator automatically creates a 60-degee subtended angle between the two speakers as viewed from the listening position. Plugging my 132” main wall (the wall behind the speakers) and 161” side wall into the Cardas formula results in the following speaker and listener set-up, measured from the center front of the speakers:

Distance between speakers = 59.14 inches

Distance from speakers to listener = 59.14 inches

Listening position to wall behind speakers = 110.22 inches = about 110 ¼ inches

Speakers to wall behind speakers = 59 inches

Speakers to nearest side wall = 36.43 inches = about 36 7/16 inches

I have a quilter’s pin with a large white head stuck securely in the top center back of my listening chair. This pin is 27 ¼ inches above the carpet. I have determined from direct measurement using an assistant that the distance from this pin to my ear canal while seated in that chair is about 15 25/32”. Thus, the distance from this pin head to the wall behind the speakers should be about 110 ¼” + 15 25/32” = 126 inches. I measure all distances primarily using a Leica laser distance meter, sometimes supplemented by tape measure measurements.

Speaker Stand Set-Up

For the Skylan SKY-4P20 speakers stands, I’m using the glider feet to allow moving the stands easily by small increments while the speakers are atop the stands. I first leveled the top plate of each stand using my BMI Inclinat Level (model 682) by adjusting the height of each glide footer. I then made sure that the stand was wobble free when placed on the hardwood floor. I then moved the stands with the speakers atop them into approximately the correct positions and toe-in orientation. I then leveled the top of each speaker by further adjustment of the slider feet. I then took the speakers off the stands, rechecked that the stands were wobble free on the hardwood floor, then tightened the lock nuts on each foot. The speakers on their stands were then moved back into approximately the correct position and orientation. I then carefully centered the speakers atop the stands. The speaker footprint almost exactly matches the size of the stand’s top plate. I then rechecked the levelness of the top of each speaker. Fortunately, no further adjustments to level were needed.

For the speaker/stand interface I am using the eight small (less than 1/8-inch high) adhesive-backed neoprene bumper dots which Sklyan had symmetrically attached placed on the top of each stand’s top plate. Four of these bumpers are at the corners of the top plate (and thus under the four bottom corners of each speaker) and the four others are mounted inboard in a square pattern. These neoprene bumper dots provide a “soft” speaker/stand interface without creating any visible or tactile movement between the speaker and stand top plate.

Listening Chair Set-Up

I moved the listening chair so that the distance from the pinhead to the wall behind the speakers is 126 inches and that the pinhead is also one half the room width, or 66 inches, from each side wall. I also adjusted the front and rear feet of this chair so that the outside edges of the front feet were equidistant from each side wall as were the outside edges of the rear feet, ensuring that the chair was approximately aimed straight forward. This chair tends to put my ears about 38 inches above the rug. Derek Hughes, the speaker designer, is on record as stating that the correct vertical listening axis for these speakers and earlier ones in the BC-1 lineage is even with the lower tweeter. I have subjectively verified that this vertical axis sounds best to me in terms of both overall frequency balance and inter-driver integration/coherence. The lower tweeter is just over 18 inches above the bottom of the speaker. Combined with the just under 20-inch height of the Skylan stands as I’m using them, that results in the lower tweeter being about 38 inches above the carpet, closely matching my ear height when comfortably seated in my listening chair.
 
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tmallin

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Listening Height vs. Tweeter Height

I cannot stress how important getting the listening height to match the height above the floor of the lower tweeter is to the space, imaging, and soundstaging you hear from this Graham, as well as prior speakers in this series back to the Spendor BC-1. There is an almost universal practice of using stands which put your ears even with the top/supertweeter or even higher than that. At AXPONA 2022, the speakers were set up so that seated in the standard hotel banquet chairs used in the exhibit, which put one’s ears about 44 inches above the floor, I could see the top of the speaker cabinets. This is entirely WRONG for these speakers. Honestly, you have to be deaf not to hear this! The speakers sound much too treble heavy when listened to with your ears even with the top tweeter or higher.

Some users of the LS8/1 and its predecessors apparently live with lower stands by angling the speakers back a bit. Lower stands are believed to allow flatter and/or more extended bass response. I have not found that to be true in my listening rooms at all with my prior Stirling LS3/6 and Spendor SP1/2. Angling back a lower stand can work to correct the frequency balance by getting your ears on axis with the lower tweeter. However, you will then be looking “down” on the soundstage, as if from a balcony seat. If that doesn’t bother you, that is a potential solution. But, believe me, the Graham LS8/1 is definitely at the very top of what is possible in terms of all spatial aspects of sound reproduction. I do not want to handicap these speakers in terms of their spatial reproduction. Besides, on the correct 20-inch stands, except for the bottom octave, these produce better bass than any other speakers I’ve ever owned. Lower stands like those which come with the Signature Edition and are optional with the regular edition of the Graham LS8/1 do not improve the bass reproduction in my room in terms of extension or any other aspect.

Speaker Positioning & Toe-In

To enable correct positioning of each speaker, I marked the top center front of each speaker cabinet with a dot made on masking tape attached to the speaker cabinet. Each speaker is a measured 29.5 cm wide. The center point is thus 14.75 cm from each side of the cabinet. I marked this cabinet center with an ink dot on the masking tape. I then used my Leica laser distance meter to move the speaker into position with respect to the near side wall and wall behind the speaker by measuring from that dot to marked spots on the walls 59 inches from the room corner along the side wall, and 36 ¼ inches from the room corner along the wall behind the speaker at the height of the top of the speaker cabinet on their stands, about 44.5 inches above the floor.

My toe-in goal for the speakers, as it long has been, is to aim each speaker at its respective ear canal while seated in the listening position. This orientation has long sounded best to me in this and other rooms with many speakers. To do this I mount small (one- or two-inch diameter) circular flat mirrors against the front baffle of each speaker with the grills removed. For these speakers, I used two-inch diameter mirrors mounted between the upper and lower tweeters. This mirror placement allowed the flat-backed mirrors to be mounted firmly against flat portions of the front baffle.

Then I typically adjust the toe in of each speaker so that, with my head pointed straight ahead and glancing to the side to look at each speaker with just its respective eye, I see my ear canal centered in the mirror. This was somewhat more challenging with the Graham speakers than usual since, with the speaker level and my ear canal at about the height of the lower tweeter, the image I saw in the mirror positioned above the lower tweeter tended to be of my upper pinna, rather than my ear canal. I did the best I could, sitting up a bit from my comfortable seated position to see if my ear canal then appeared centered in the mirror.

From the Sanders 10e instruction manual, I learned of another apparently important step to take in speaker set up. Rooms may not be truly square; the angles between walls may not be exactly 90 degrees. The wall angles in my room apparently are not quite right angles. Thus, adjusting distances of the speakers and listening position from the walls in my room does not actually ensure that the speakers are truly equidistant from my ears at the listening position. It was the Sanders manual that suggested the pin-head method I now use to adjust the listening chair position and as a check that the speakers are truly equidistant from the listening position. The quilter’s pin is firmly inserted in the measured center of the top of the back of my listening chair. So inserted, this pin head does not move perceptibly even when lightly pressed against by the back of my Leica laser measuring meter. This pin-head method may not work with some listening chairs due to their construction, but it works well with my Drexel chair.

Sanders suggests measuring from the pin head to a point near the bottom inside edge of each speaker. That is what I do. The pin head is about 27 ¼ inches above the carpet. I marked a point near the inside edge of each speaker front baffle at a point about 27 ¼ inches above the carpet. Measuring to each speaker, I find that one speaker is about ¼ to 1/2 inch closer to the pinhead than the other when set up to be equal distance from the walls. I moved the further speaker toward the listening position until both speakers measured the same distance from the pin head. I kept the distance from the side walls the same for both speakers, just varying the distance from the back wall and the toe in of the further speaker. I made further iterative adjustments to the distance from the side wall, toe in, and measured distance from the pin head until both speakers were equi-distant from the pin head and toed in to face directly at their respective ear canals.

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tmallin

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Room Treatment

Since the Graham speakers have much broader horizontal and vertical dispersion in the mid and high frequencies than the Sanders 10e, I have reconfigured the acoustic treatment of my listening room. I have:

1. substituted 4-inch-thick Alphasorb flat acoustic foam absorbers for the P. I. Audio diffusers I was using behind the listening position;

2. moved other 4-inch-thick Alphasorb flat acoustic foam absorbers to the wall areas where, when seated in the listening position, I see reflections of any part of either speaker.

To determine the reflection areas, I use a 4-inch by 6-inch flat mirror temporarily attached to the walls or ceiling with masking tape or just laying on the floor. I look at the mirror while seated in my listening chair and acoustically treat any area of the walls where I see any part of either speaker reflected in the mirror.

At each of these reflection areas, I am using the acoustic foam to cover the entire wall area floor to ceiling. On each of the side walls, I have the absorbers covering an area 4 feet wide by 8 feet high—floor to almost ceiling. I have a 4-feet-wide by 8-feet-high area treated with absorbers behind the listening seat. A 2-foot-wide by 8-feet-tall area is treated to absorb reflections on the wall behind the speakers from each of the two speakers. I’m thus using a total of 128 square feet of the 4-inch-thick acoustic foam to treat the walls of this room. No, the room does not sound too dead. The other room surfaces are either fairly reflective (painted plaster walls and ceiling and a wood door) or dispersive (wooden blinds over the window, CD racks, and bookcase). The floor is laminate hardwood partially covered by an oriental rug with underlying rubber pad.

At this point I am not treating the ceiling reflection. I may do this someday, as I did with the Gradient 1.4 speakers, but for right now I like what I hear without this treatment.

I experimented with treating the floor reflection with this foam, above and beyond the absorption provided by my thick carpeting and pad. However, I heard no improvement and even some degradation in imaging and staging when using the foam. With my near-field listening position, the floor reflection areas of the speakers are very close to my feet as I sit in the listening chair. I believe my legs may be acting to absorb and/or diffuse this floor reflection before it reaches my ears. Especially given that placing the foam so close to my feet in the chair would be a trip hazard and would quickly result in damage to the quite-delicate acoustic foam, I have elected not to use this acoustic foam to treat the floor reflections.

I did find it extremely important to the subjective imaging and staging to damp the portion of the side walls from which I see the reflection of the far speaker as well as the speaker nearest that side wall. In most rooms, as in mine, the area from which you see the far speaker reflected will be closer to the listening position than the area of the wall on which the reflection of the nearest speaker to that wall is seen. Yes, this requires covering part of the room’s only window on one side of the room, but that’s a small sacrifice to make for better sound. Besides, I much prefer listening in reduced lighting conditions rather than a bright room.

And such is the soundstaging and envelopment abilities of these speakers that I for the first time found that two other aspects of treating the wall behind the listening position made significant differences. First, the arrangement of spare diffusion and absorption panels stored in the closed closet behind the listening position made a difference to center imaging and soundstaging even though the wall to that closet is plaster and there is 4-inch acoustic foam in front of the closed six-panel wooden door to that closet, covering the reflection areas on that wall directly behind the listening seat. Second, the perceived envelopment on the right side was not quite as complete as that on the left side until, by experimenting, I placed a folded up fabric-covered foam seat cushion into the top bookcase shelf on the right side behind me.
 
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tmallin

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What I’m Hearing Now

Now that I'm listening without the dbx VENU360, the Sanders speakers, or the Sanders amps in my system, I know that more is there than I was hearing before. No, I don't have the bottom bass I was getting with the Sanders system. But I don't miss it and I could probably regain it by adding a sub or two or four (e.g., via adding the AudioKinesis Swarm). But every other aspect of the sound seems yet better.

I know, I know. I say that every time I switch speakers. So take what I’m saying now with as many grains of salt as you like.

I believe that what I heard in prior listening rooms from the Spendor SP1/2 and in both prior listening rooms and my current listening room from the Stirling Broadcast LS3/6 (with and without the addition of the AudioKinesis Swarm subs) did not begin to rise to the level of fidelity I now hear from the Graham Audio LS8/1. How much of this has to do with the speakers themselves, and how much is related to different system set-up, amplification, and source components is impossible to know. I last had the Stirling LS3/6 in my listening room some seven years and several main speakers back. Perhaps my priorities and perceptions as a listener have also changed considerably. But to the best of my current memory and my past recollection recorded in my writings in Tom’s Corner and elsewhere, the sound quality I’m now experiencing seems quite superior to these prior Derek Hughes speaker designs used either in this same room or elsewhere. It also seems superior to the sound I’ve achieved in this or any other listening room with any other speakers or supporting equipment.
 

tmallin

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May 19, 2010
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More About What I’m Hearing Now

Robert Greene’s main points about the sound of the Graham LS8/1 involved the sound of piano, solo voices, massed voices, resolution of complex activity in general, bass extension, bass tightness, dynamic “jump factor,” ability to play loudly, dynamic linearity, stereo behavior (imaging, soundstaging, envelopment), positioning and room treatment requirements, tonal character, comparison with the Stirling Broadcast LS3/6, and the “magic” in these boxes. Yes, those points about cover it. As I said, I don’t disagree with any of his points and in fact wholeheartedly agree. READ REG’S REVIEW!! I will just elaborate a bit on what REG said as to each of these points. This part will be quite short, by my standards.

Piano & Solo Vocal Sound

This is remarkably easy to hear. These speakers have a very special realism with these sounds. You don’t have to use your best recordings or strain to hear small differences. On any kind or source of piano music and on vocals as low-res as announcers’ voices on internet radio channels, this very special realism is obvious within the first few notes and syllables. I noticed it on the first piano transient; the next few seconds just served to confirm that the realism of the first transient was no fluke.

I thought that many of the speakers I’ve had in this room or even before in other rooms did a good job on these familiar sounds. But, apparently I can fool myself pretty well. The Grahams are just obviously better at verisimilitude with piano and voice than any other speakers I’ve heard. These sounds do often seem to be just “there” in front of you as in real life. REG primarily attributes this realism to a lack of superimposed micro-resonances in the speakers. I’ll go with that explanation. Lovers of piano music and solo vocals, these are your dream speakers.

Massed Voices

Yes, word intelligibility is of the highest order on choral material, a bugaboo with many speakers with such material. And not only can you clearly hear and understand the words, you can much more clearly hear the native language accents of the singers. There is diversity within the choral unity and unity around the diversity in well-performed selections. And all this comes without any untoward sibilance or other high-frequency excess.

Resolution of Complex Activity

Not only do instrumental strands in complex music stay resolved, but small sounds make more sense than they usually do. They are more firmly located in space and thus they are more firmly attached to their sources (e.g., string squeaks, sub-vocalizations of human instrumentalists, off-stage noises, etc.)

Bass Extension

No, the Graham does not give you the bottom octave with full extension or weight. This is something the Sanders 10e and Harbeth M40.2 did extremely well in my room. But I also don’t get the audible buzzing and other vibrations of the structure and things in the room and inside the walls that such bass extension brings to the listening experience in my small room.

I do get plenty of extension and impact to make even big bass drums startlingly impactful with exemplary warmth further up. And even the organ pedals on the Jean Guillot rendering of Gnomus from Pictures at an Exhibition on the Dorian label are reproduced with very clean, deep, and satisfying room lock.

For a “small” speaker, the bass from the LS8/1 is extremely satisfying and well balanced with the rest of the spectrum. It has much more satisfying deep bass extension than did the unaided Stirling Broadcast LS3/6 in this same or other rooms where I had those speakers, and the Stirling measurably and audibly seemed to go down an octave deeper than the earlier Spendor SP 1/2s. As REG speculated, in my small room, no subwoofers need apply.

Bass Tightness & Bass Freedom from Distortion

The Graham in my set up seems to have an ideal balance of bass extension, warmth, and tightness. To my ears, the concept of bass tightness is bound up with the impression of bass impact, and here the Graham is truly top notch for a “smallish” speaker. The Sanders 10e had much deeper extension, but relatively murkier warmth regions and less feeling of appropriate impact and tightness. The Graham bass also sounds remarkably free from distortion, even on bass spectaculars played at fairly high volumes—as loud as I care to listen even for short periods. The Graham bass definitely sounds lower in distortion at all SPLs I use and at all frequencies the Graham covers than that of the Sanders 10e. Also, there are no buzzes or other spurious noises from the Graham cabinets and even bass spectaculars do not induce the structural and contents buzzing of my listening room that was sometimes audible with the Sanders. Of course, this may just be because the Grahams lack that last octave of bass extension at full level that the Sanders provided with ease. Still, I find the Grahams’ overall bass effect to be superior to the Sanders since there is simultaneously plenty of heft, detail, punch, and extension, but with an absence of distortion and “cringe factor” since I’m not constantly anticipating some spurious bass-induced noises.

Dynamic “Jump Factor”

Like the Stirling Broadcast LS3/6, the Graham LS 8/1 is dynamically alive indeed, ebbing and flowing in a surprising way with the music in a manner most speakers do not, while always yet sounding controlled and not on the edge of losing grip or control of the musical presentation. From soft to full bore in an instant, never sounding breathless in doing so. Delicate one moment, hitting like a hammer the next, always sounding remarkably free of distortion. The dynamic range and compression applied in different recordings is more easily ascertained than with any other speakers I’ve owned. When a recording is compressed a lot, you know it. When the performance’s dynamic range is left relatively intact, you know that, too, and it sounds glorious.

Ability to Play Loudly & Dynamic Linearity

These days I don’t usually stretch a speaker’s ability to play loudly without intrusive distortion. But the Grahams compass the SPLs I care to throw at it without a bit of complaint on any type of musical material. The Grahams are rated for 100 dB at two meters. I listen closer to the speakers than that (a bit less than five feet) but I doubt that my listening levels ever reach 100 dB. My iPhone’s Audio Tools RTA display shows that at my usual “serious listening” levels, the SPLs peak out somewhere between 75 and 85 dB.

Additionally, as REG’s review states, there is no “cringe factor” even at high volumes on powerful piano transients. In my experience, this is where most speakers fall apart easiest, even when powered via mega-amps like the Sanders Magtech where you know you are not encountering amplifier clipping. With the half-as-powerful Van Alstines, I still hear nothing but clean powerful piano transients as loud as I care to listen.

And I suspect REG is correct that at least part of the reason for this stress-free transient behavior is the lack of any crossover until 3.5 kHz. Most of the music comes from that single bass/midrange driver. While the Sanders 10e has only a single crossover and that fairly low down at 172 Hz, it is a very sharp 48 dB/octave crossover, it’s done in the digital domain, and this crossover corresponds to the change from an aluminum driver in a transmission line enclosure to an open baffle electrostatic. Not terribly obtrusive as crossovers go, perhaps, but it just can’t be as unobtrusive as no crossover at all in the heart of musical fundamentals. Middle C is, after all at only 262 Hz.
 
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tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
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Stereo Behavior

This is where the Graham LS8/1 really, really shines, in my opinion. REG is totally correct to stress this aspect of its reproduction. Nothing I have heard from earlier iterations of speakers in this series, specifically the Spendor SP1/2 and Stirling Broadcast LS3/6, prepared me for what I’m hearing from the Grahams. This aspect may be more influenced by the different associated equipment and set-up changes I’ve adopted in the interim than by the inherent differences among the speakers.

I can say, however, that in my current set-up these Grahams exhibit imaging, staging and envelopment beyond that I’ve achieved with any other stereo speakers in this or any other listening room.

Centered, closely miked vocals are, as they should be in theory, rock solid steady at center stage, and projected considerably forward of the plane between the two speakers. Other images are also rock-solid steady in their places on stage, left to right and in depth.

Hall ambiance starts at stage level, which is directly in front of the listening position and appears to bounce off the proscenium and side walls of the hall, traveling out toward the listener as it does. Off-stage effects are clear.

While most of the sound emanates from the bass/midrange driver, there is none of the “smallness” or “low” stage reproduction often experienced with coaxial drivers. There is a truly excellent illusion of image and stage height. Images are vertically life sized and not overly etched horizontally. While the Sanders literally had tall images from the panel height, there is a much greater perception of focus to images produced by the Grahams, but again without any sense of over-etching. For such “small” speakers, the Grahams sound huge, given a good or even decent stereo recording.

When the stereo production manipulates phase via Q-Sound, crosstalk cancellation, or other processing, the resulting widening and envelopment of the listener in the reproduced listening space is greater than with any other speakers I have experienced. That they easily best the Sanders 10e at this was quite surprising. That was totally unexpected. The Grahams, at least in my current set up, are easily the most enveloping, the most solidly stereo reproducing speakers I’ve owned.

I really like well-reproduced hall ambiance and envelopment in stereo listening. This is a good deal of what makes the Graham LS8/ listening experience so satisfying to me personally. Oftentimes, you are simply “there” in the recording hall or in the artificial space created in the studio. Your listening room’s acoustics melt into non-existence.
 

tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
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Tonal Comparison with Stirling Broadcast LS3/6 & Spendor SP1/2

Among the Spendor BC-1 derivatives I’ve owned, the Spendor SP1/2 is most like a mid-hall concert experience in terms of tonal balance. The Stirling LS3/6 was and is a bit brighter and more up front in the context of concert hall balance. The circa 2 kHz peak REG mentions in the Graham is, in my opinion, on the knife’s edge. You wouldn’t want the speakers to be any brighter in this region, but still it is not excessive and only serves to open up the sound a bit more. The +1 dB setting of the front panel switch for the treble is definitely too much. The -1dB setting, on the other hand, sounds strangely withdrawn and is thus providing too little high end.

With the tweeter switch set at 0 dB, the Grahams are more revealing than any speakers I’ve ever owned of differences in tonal character among different recordings. It is interesting to hear the changes in balance from one program to another, or even between cuts of a single program. Thus my characterization of the high-frequency tuning as on the knife’s edge.

However, I would never call the balance of the Graham, etched, incisive, or other adjectival euphemisms audio reviewers often use as polite ways of indicating that the speakers are balanced at least a bit too strongly toward the high frequencies. No, despite the audibility of balance changes, the Grahams remain remarkably pleasing to listen to on a very wide range of program material, merely reporting rather than hurling the tonal balance changes at you.

In addition, the Grahams, as noted by REG, tend to back off the soundstage just a bit, creating a nice feeling of depth on symphonic and a lot of other material without any need to insert an actual presence range dip in the response centered around 3 kHz. Remarkably, this is achieved without any sense of spatial recession on closely miked centered solo voices, violins, brass, or other solo instruments.

As REG reports, I do not find whatever low frequency rise is built into the Graham’s bass response to be at all excessive or amusical. I wouldn’t want any less bass or lower midrange warmth. Moving plucked acoustic or electric bass solos are reproduced in exemplary fashion, evenly weighted and equally plucky at all notes up and down the scale, indicating a lack of room resonance or excessive warmth in the midbass and lower midrange. Again, the Grahams are at least as good in this respect as any other speaker I’ve heard in my small room, and this without any electronic equalization being applied.

I’d say that in my room, with my current speaker/listener positioning, the only sonic aspect I might attack with electronic equalization is to fill in the lower midrange and power range below that even more. As they are balanced now, they are quite revealing, but perhaps just a bit lean sounding in these areas. I’m pretty sure, given REG’s reaction and measurements, that this is due to my set-up, not the speakers. This characteristic also varies A LOT with source material so it could also be due to a bit of leanness in the balance of some recordings. Certainly on classical music recordings I believe from past experience to be well balanced, this bit of leanness is not present.

I hear no significant imbalances above the lower mids. Yes, they sound different from the SP1/2 and LS3/6, but, as REG says, they all operate within the boundaries of quite acceptable limits.
 
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tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
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Positioning & Room Treatment Requirements

Do damp the reflection areas on your room walls with these speakers. My four-inch acoustical foam padding does a truly neat trick, especially with these speakers. Without such room treatment, I’m afraid you won’t hear what I hear, especially in a smallish room where the room surfaces are unavoidably close by the speakers.

And yes, do place these speakers and your listening position well out into the room. All the BBC-derived speakers are intended to operate in relatively “free space.” The truly remarkable stereo behavior inherent in these speakers will certainly be compromised if you try to squeeze these next to a wall, much less a corner. Do use a decent listening chair, one that puts you in an upright position, on axis with the lower tweeter, and which doesn’t compromise the stereo effects by placing your head near a headrest or the wall behind the listening position.
 

tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
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Other Thoughts & Observations

The Graham LS8/1 is rated to have a sensitivity of 87 dB/watt/meter with a nominal impedance of 8 ohms. According to one published test report of the non-Signature version of the speaker (which apparently cost 6,200 Euros, without stands), their impedance never drops below 8 ohms. They seem to be an easy load for an amplifier. Certainly my Audio by Van Alstine amps handle the load without any apparent strain up to volumes as high as I care to listen.

I want to emphasize how very interesting and engaging these are to listen to. I find myself fascinated both with new music and the sound of that new music, as well as the music and sound of old favorites. They often sound just so very REAL! The ability to hear voices and instruments sound so much like they do in life, and the ability to hear so very deep into the mix of complex music is a joy. The overall ensemble of voices and instruments is so well presented, as is the ability to hear and follow all the individual players and singers. This balance of ensemble and individuals is more like what I hear at live unamplified concerts than I’ve ever heard from any other speakers.

Another major factor in this very interesting and engaging impression is certainly the spatial presentation. That space varies so much from one recording to another. Many recordings can be so very immersive that the two-channel playback sounds like a full surround system but without the annoying artifacts which almost always are present in such surround systems. Instrumental placement does not wander and the listener is not placed in the center among the players. Absent Q-Sound or other phase manipulation, the players remain in front. On good classical recordings, only the hall ambiance projects up and outward from the front of the hall, illuminating the recording venue’s surfaces and immersively placing the listener within that ambient environment. But when phase is intentionally manipulated in the recording (such as in much electronic music) so that instruments appear to the sides, above, or even to the rear of the listener, that manipulation is so coherent and embedded in the overall spatial presentation that it just seems “right” and never annoying or gimmicky. In this respect the spatial presentation is far more believable than what I’ve heard from BACCH processing of two-channel material at AXPONA demos. BACCH processing just makes me laugh; it’s like an amusingly ridiculous exaggerated funhouse of sound.

With the acquisition of the Grahams, I’ve become much less enthusiastic about listening to music via headphones. The Grahams match or better the tonal accuracy of any of my headphones above the bass. Yes, headphones can provide deeper and yet smoother, fuller bass than speakers because headphones avoid room modes and Allison effect interactions. But the relatively unnatural spatial presentation of headphones is quite uninteresting and not nearly as engaging as the Grahams spatial presentation. More than ever, I’d just rather listen to my speakers for music. My headphones are more and more relegated to providing the soundtrack for streaming video at times when I don’t want to bother my spouse with such audio or because, compared to the speakers built into my Mac computer and Sony TVs, headphones do provide superior audio.

As I mentioned earlier, for the first time in my decades of home music listening experience, I “get” what REG is talking about in his preference for closed-eyes listening. With other speakers/systems, I have much preferred to listen with eyes open in a semi-darkened room so that my eyes could focus on the “visible” images of instruments on the soundstage. But with the Grahams, I hear the images and stage even clearer in three-dimensional space when I listen with my eyes closed! Why this should be, I do not know. I’m tempted to say that it’s because the actual overall sonic presentation is in fact clearer and more life-like than ever before, but that is just speculation. Why have other listeners found closed-eyes listening so satisfying with other speakers, seemingly for decades, when I did not?

Moreso than any other speakers I have owned, the Grahams allow and indeed beckon me to adjust the volume to that “just right” level where the tonal balance and other sonic aspects magically gel. There is no ambiguity about this. I know instantly when the presentation sounds maximally real.

The Grahams are agnostic in terms of the music played. In other words, they sound just as fine with electronic music studio creations as they do with the finest concert hall Blumlein-miked recordings. They seem to serve all recorded music equally well. I do not find myself gravitating toward one musical type because of the speakers. To the contrary, they seem to actively encourage my exploration of a wide variety of musical genres because everything sounds so interesting and engaging. Despite their origins in BBC research, you don’t need to limit yourself to classical music or avoid other types of music. Sure, they reveal the quality of the recording as well as or better than any other speakers I’ve owned, but as I’ve mentioned above, they merely report deficiencies, they don’t hurl them at you in an offensive or obnoxious way. Thus, a very broad range of commercial recordings are quite enjoyable despite any deficiencies they may have in bass extension, tonal balance, dynamic compression, or spatial aspects.

These speakers in my new set-up most definitely best the Sanders 10e in terms of transparency to the source. Who would guess that a top electrostatic effort could be so put to shame in this aspect? There is just so much more natural detail audible, yet always without any unnatural treble emphasis. Differences among recordings are yet so much more obvious in terms of tonal balance, spatial presentation, distortion levels, etc. The window through which the recordings are heard is just so much cleaner.

Unfortunately, when I acquired the Grahams I also acquired other new equipment and changed my set-up somewhat. Thus, I’m really not certain how much of the added transparency and the rest of my enthusiasm for what I’m hearing is due strictly to the LS8/1 speakers as opposed to other system and set-up changes I made at the same time:

1. My Audio by Van Alstine amps are also new and I have never heard them in any other context or with any other speakers. These replaced the Sanders Magtech amps I was using with the Sanders 10e.

2. For the first time I am using my Lumin X1 streamer/DAC straight into my power amps. In the past, I have always fed the X1’s output through some sort of digital equalizer. Now, unless I engage the Loki Max's processing, I’m using the X1’s DAC and Leedh-processed volume control via its balanced analog output to directly control and feed signal to my power amps. Even with the Loki Max processing, the signal path is all-analog from the Lumin's output through speaker output. The dbx VENU360 I was using with the Sanders speakers to perform crossovering, EQ, and time alignment all in the digital domain, together with the 24/96 A/D and D/A processing inherent in that necessary-to-the-Sanders-10e Loudspeaker Management System is gone.

3. This is the first time I’ve used the four-inch-thick flat AlphaSorb acoustic foam panels in this arrangement and on the walls behind the listening seat.

Still, given the importance of speakers to what one hears from a home audio system, I’m confident that the Graham Audio LS8/1s are the largest factor in what I’m now experiencing.

From what I’m hearing, my impression is that the Graham sounds much better in this same room than the Stirling Broadcast LS3/6 did seven years ago or the Spendor SP1/2 did in my prior home ten years ago. In this respect I seem to disagree with REG’s review of the Graham. But since I don’t have either of those earlier speakers available for direct comparison while REG does, and since I’m using much different associated equipment and set up than when I was using those earlier speakers, I will defer to REG’s judgement that the three are more similar than I currently think they are. I think we would agree, however, that the Graham has quite significantly better bass extension and capacity for playing bass loudly than the Spendor SP1/2 and is also somewhat better in those aspects than the Stirling Broadcast.

Magic Boxes

Yes, these speakers surprised me with their magic. Except for the bottom bass, sonically these Graham LS8/1s are the best I’ve ever owned. They are worthy anchors of a truly exceptional, simple, and relatively compact two-channel audio system. The design choices may seem anachronistic and even unattractive to some—the shape, size, need for stands, highly resonant cabinet, high crossover for such a large bass speaker, and the three-way design when two-way would seem more logical with modern drivers. But the sonic truth and listening satisfaction these produce is magical indeed.
 
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earlinarizona

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Jul 17, 2010
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I went to T.H.e. Show in Costa Mesa this year and it was my favorite speaker. It have a sound like the old LS35a which I always liked. Natural and easy sound compared to everything else accept the Audio Note room. That room had a very natural sound that you could listen to all day. The Graham speaker also had the same feel but the Audio Note had a very good sounding amplifier on it. My guess is that if you used the Audio Note amplifier on the Graham speaker it would be a toss up for less money. Your new speaker is simpler on the ear than the Sanders. Keep in mind I have always loved the Sanders speaker.
 

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