I first encountered the company LSA (Living Sounds Audio) in one of the high-end demo rooms at a CES show, where, to be perfectly candid, I was intrigued by the company’s motto posted on a signboard outside the room: “LSA: Designed by Ear, Verified by Science.” The message struck a resonant chord with me because, frankly, many would-be high-performance speakers sound as if they were designed the other way around, with cold, analytical CAD/CAM programs calling the shots, obviously with no clue as to what makes actual living, breathing, sounds really tick.
What I like about LSA’s approach, which the company terms “Music First Engineering,” is that it recognizes that good science is a necessary but not sufficient tool for designing very high-performance speakers. While speakers of course need to handle measurable aspects of sound reproduction well, there is no substitute for having sensitive and experienced listeners make final judgment calls—especially when it comes to assessing a speaker’s ability to reproduce difficult-to-quantify aspects of sound, such as textures, timbres, spatial presentation, and overall “feel.”
When I first saw LSA speakers, I found them attractive and well made, but perhaps just a little “generic looking,” though there was nothing generic about their sound. Over time, I’ve come to think the LSA folks understand three aspects of speaker design better than most: 1) creating smooth frequency response with neutral tonal balance, 2) integrating the outputs of mid-bass drivers and tweeters in an unusually seamless way, and 3) crafting designs that offer exceptionally good “disappearing act” imaging and 3D soundstaging. Put these qualities together and you’ve got speakers that produce a smoother, more coherent, and more complete and well-integrated sound than many of their like-priced competitors—a sound that exhibits a certain “cut from whole cloth integrity” that, in my experience, is not easy to achieve.
But two other factors also make LSA products different from better-known competitors. First, they are sensibly priced, so that they offer very good value for money. Second, they provide clearly defined and affordably priced performance upgrade paths. Allow me to explain that second point in a bit more detail. Almost all LSA speakers are offered in Standard, Signature, and Statement configurations Standard models offer, as their name suggests, the entry points to the LSA lineup, but their performance is high enough that they would likely be considered “premium” models in most other manufacturers’ product schemes. Signature models are configured much like Standard models, but incorporate significantly higher-quality (and therefore much more costly) high-end crossover parts, very high-purity internal wiring, and a shift from spun Dacron to long-fiber wool internal damping materials. Statement models go further still, replacing LSA’s traditional fabric dome tweeters with exotic ribbon tweeters, and incorporating crossover changes necessary to achieve proper integration between LSA’s dynamic mid-bass drivers and the ribbons. But here’s the unexpected twist: LSA will allow owners to trade up from one performance grade to another for just the retail price difference between models (though owners must pick up the charges to have their speakers shipped to and from the LSA factory for re-work). This strikes me as pretty generous policy, and one that ensures LSA speakers can be tweaked for higher levels of performance as owners listening tastes and preferences become more sophisticated (and demanding) over time.
The LSA system we chose for this review uses Standard-series models throughout, and is based on a pair of 2 ½-way LSA2 Towers with rear-firing ambience drivers ($2500/pair, used as L/R mains), a 2 ½-way LSA LCR Monitor speaker ($750 each, used as the center channel), and a pair of 2-way, 4-driver LSA1OW On-Wall Monitors ($1000/pair, used as surrounds). LSA doesn’t make a subwoofer at this point, so we used one of The Perfect Vision’s reference JL Audio Fathom f112 subs during our tests, though frankly the bass extension of all three LSA speakers (and especially of the LSA2 Tower) is such that not much subwoofer support was really necessary. How did the system sound? Well, you’ll have to read the review to get the full details, but let’s just say that the results were so promising that we feel certain LSA speakers can and should become much better known options among those who care deeply about the finer aspects of sound quality.