"Cute", remarked the missus as she passed my study.
"Oh", I sighed inwardly.
Just this morning I received a package the size of large desktop computer from Kent, England. They are now the main speakers in The Lair Where The Author Judges Audio Equipment. Actually, just the spare room as the missus want nothing to do with… and thus grants me free reign over. The LBM, or Little British Monitor (£335 wood effect finish or £415 with real veneer finish), is a pair of 3.5mm stereo and Bluetooth ready active loudspeaker system conceived and wholly made in Kent, England. They are the brainchild of Simon Ashton, Audiosmile's proprietor.
The LBM follows principles of form dragged by function with no wastage on the fancy but useless extras. The LBM implements tried and true acoustic research from BBC's research department. The enclosure is made of birch ply and delays less of bass energy than the more common MDF box. LBM also uses constrained layer damping to prevent parasitic vibration from leaching unto the surface they sit on, or vice versa. The drivers and Class AB amplifiers have low distortion. These separate pieces are then melded together by a finely-tuned active crossover. All this while offering modern Bluetooth aptX connectivity and/or hardwired 3.5mm stereo input.
A large SMPS power supply feeds the LBM connected via a DC cable to the left master speaker. The master speaker controls volume, selects between Aux 3.5mm stereo plug or Bluetooth plus there is a boundary switch. A sturdy four-pole cable connects between the master speaker that has all the active electronics to the right slave speaker to carrying speaker level connections to the tweeter and mid-woofer. The master speaker's boundary switch turns on a -2.5dB shelf to the bass driver, should the LBM be placed near walls or corners. This was left off during reviewing as desktop speakers and turned on when tested in the living room.
So let's dig into the details shall we?
Here is where sensible engineering comes in; the steel plate sandwiches acrylic film to become a damped constrained layer. The plate sandwich is then clamped by a thick layer of neoprene on the frame. Both work to suspend the speaker so it isolates them from harmful and undesirable vibrations. Curiously, the plate has a 2" hole. It turns out the speaker's bass port is downward firing and sits over this. The bass port was not spared from receiving ye ol' quality treatment. It would appear the ports are made of copper! How uncommon. The feet design is quite clever in that it isolates things to improve sound. Thus you may angle them to suit desktop use plus it ensures clearance for the port. Ingenious!
A 0.75" aluminum inverted tweeter with a larger than normal surround mates with a 3" long throw mid-woofer of the same material. The tweeter has a plastic tab to protect it from curious fingers and the mid-woofer has a relatively large surround. Would having a common material and design help the sound? Instead of a plastic frame with acoustic cloth for a grill, that often masks the highs slightly, Audiosmile's designer Simon opted for a form of open cell form that is backed by a very thin layer of MDF for rigidity. With the help of the missus, she swapped the grills on and off the speakers whilst I listen blind. I cannot tell at any time if the grills were on. These are absolutely acoustically transparent.
More familiar vocal tracks ensued courtesy of Miss Cole and Miss Krall to get myself familiar with Audiosmile's LBM speakers. After two albums, I played Better than Anything again, this time both on the LBMs and through a pair of JBL pro audio LSR308s just to check their tonal balance. The midrange is quite something. There is quite a lack of character and personality as you only hear the recording. By scratching the mid-woofer (gently!) with your fingernail, there seems to be something quite revealing as the personality of the cone as it then sounds dull and damped. Like plastic, yet in a good way. Good engineering belies their simple concave aluminum cones resulting in a, dare I say, a neutral sound.
On to some more exciting music such as the forward and head-bobbing nature of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit is evident when played LOUD. The attack of drums within Smashing Pumpkin's "1979" with attention grabbing vocals of Billy Corgan sounded quite right. The guitars were easily laying out the lush background to this great song. With only 3" mid-woofers, it seems the LBM lacks distortion when going reasonably loud. They were also impressively dynamic for something the size of a few fantasy novels. You cannot nail their personality down, and perhaps rightfully so.
The designer states it best; "The LBM is accurate and true; a straight edge by which decisions in audio production can be reliably made." The LBMs are not pretenders to the high-fidelity market, but in this author's opinion a valid entry. One particularly memorable track was Diana Krall and Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra's What Are You Doing New Year's Eve. Spotify started playing this when I was outside the study and, this will sound cliché but I have to say it, it sounded like Diana was in the room. Despite being just streaming MP3, clearly this track is well recorded. The LBMs faithfully reproduced the detailed, intimate nature of Diana's singing.