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Speakers

An iconic British monitor speaker is reborn

The Audiophiliac luxuriates with the sound of Falcon LS3/5a monitor speakers, inspired by the original 1970s BBC monitor speaker.

Nothing gets old faster than new technology -- is anybody out there still jazzed about their iPhone 3G?

Ah, but ask someone living with a great pair of 40- or 50-year-old speakers why haven't they moved on, and they'll probably tell you they haven't found anything that tempts a change. Which is why it makes sense to buy the best high-end speakers you can afford, they'll never go out of style. The Falcon LS3/5a is exactly that sort of speaker, it's one you buy to keep forever.

Malcolm Jones founded Falcon Acoustics in 1972, before that he was KEF's (a British speaker manufacturer) first employee. Jones was the Senior Development Engineer responsible for designing the early KEF drivers that were in large part the foundation of the company's long-term success.

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Falcon LS3/5a Falcon Acoustics

Which brings us to the original LS3/5a that was developed by KEF engineers and the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) as a professional monitor speaker in the early 1970s. Over the years since then a number of companies have been licensed to make LS3/5a speakers for the consumer market.

Now we have this new Falcon LS3/5a, built to the exact BBC specifications. The Falcon LS3/5a is a high-impedance (15 Ohm) design and features a 5-inch (127mm) Bextrene-cone woofer and a 0.75-inch (19mm) Mylar-dome tweeter, both drivers are made in-house by Falcon Acoustics. The speaker has a pair of all-metal wire binding posts on its backside, but since this is a sealed box design there's no bass port. Cabinets are crafted from Baltic Birch Ply with beech battens, it's pretty compact, just 12 by 7.5 by 7.25 inches (304 by 190 by 165mm) and the Falcon LS3/5a is available with real wood cherry, walnut, elm, yew and rosewood veneers. My samples' yew finish was impeccable.

I used my First Watt J2 power amp and NAD C 316BEE integrated amp for my listening sessions. The speaker is also said to work well with tube amplifiers.

Listen to well-recorded vocals to see why this speaker was a reference for BBC engineers and other recording professionals. Vocals sound natural, tonally correct. We humans lock onto voice like no other sound, so voice is a great test of speakers' tone character.

The Falcon LS3/5a brought Jeff Tweedy's vocals to life on the "Wilco (The Album);" Tweedy was right there, between the two speakers. that's why this speaker is considered a classic, it gets the midrange right. Steven Price's ominous and other times flamboyantly kinetic soundtrack score for "Gravity" floated free of the speakers and projected a huge, but sharply focused soundstage.

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The KEF LS50 (left), and Falcon LS3/5a (right) Steve Guttenberg/CNET

The Falcon LS3/5a is a small speaker, and sounds like one, so the "Gravity" score's deepest bass rumblings were absent, and the Falcon LS3/5a can't compete dynamically or play as loud as large bookshelf monitors or tower speakers do. But if your room is small, or you're not interested in wham-bam, high-impact music the Falcon LS3/5a's size limitations won't be an issue.

I couldn't resist comparing the Falcon LS3/5a with my KEF LS50 speakers; it's a thoroughly modern design inspired by the original LS3/5a. First thing, the LS50 sounded richer, warmer, with softer treble. The imaging wasn't as big and clearly focused as the Falcon LS3/5a's, and the midrange wasn't as natural on the LS50. They are both excellent, but very different-sounding speakers. Still, the LS50 is definitely more affordable, it runs $1,500 in the US, £799 in the UK, and AU$2,299 in Australia, all prices are per pair.

Each Falcon LS3/5a is hand-assembled and pair matched in Oxford, England. US prices start at $2,195; in the UK they're £1,485 including VAT, and AU$2,380 per pair in Australia. The Falcon LS3/5a may be based on a decades old design, but its charms are timeless.