Loth-X ION BS 1 Loudspeakers
by Herb Reichert
What makes Joe so cool is first off, he's wily -- and I really respect wily. He's funny too, and a great storyteller. On top of all that, he's got excellent taste in music and great taste in the stuff that plays recorded music in the home. Most importantly, what Joe always does that makes him so happening is he builds and finds audio gear that has this kind of funky all-natural pro-Texas-industrial-style. The amplifiers that Joe builds look like something Gramps pulled out of the back of an old Muntz TV. (Did I mention that Mr. Roberts is a ham radio freak?)
Nowadays Joe mostly fishes, plays with his son and hangs out in the Austin, Texas music scene but in his spare time, he has began importing the Loth-X line of audio components from Singapore. And... I gotta tell ya up front... I have been happily out of the audio import business for about four years, but I am now jealous of what Joe's got with the Loth-X speakers. Joe found what I've always been looking for but never been able to find. Joe found a loudspeaker that will play loudly and cleanly with good bass and -- only needs a watt or two to do so. Unbelievable! He actually found a high quality loudspeaker that exhibits no deficiencies while being driven by very low powered single-ended amplification. (Did I mention that Loth-X Ion BS-1s only cost $599.00?)
Even more amazing: The ION BS 1s play music straight up. These speakers are not at all about audiophile issues. They give you your favorite musical poisons with no ice... and no glass. They also have this amazing ability to draw zero attention to themselves. They don't do anything fancy, they just let all the joyful and the sorrowful noises out -- with little or no obvious mitigation. They can scream or whisper with the best loudspeakers I've ever heard. And, best of all; preserving dynamic contrasts is their #1 forte'.
When the BS 1 loudspeakers are in the system, music just appears in the room -- naturally and with considerable ease. It is just there. All sensations or recollections of audio, hi-fi or even just good or bad sound are conspicuously absent. Music plays and you listen to it. That is all that happens. The BS-1s always sound effortless -- even with only four or five watts!
The word "normal" keeps coming to mind. Not a boring buttoned-down normal, but an extremely loose and "vivid" normal. Nothing jumps out at you and simultaneously, nothing much seems to be missing. They just play what appears to be -- all the music all the time.
Right out of the box the BS 1's sound character reminded me of several vintage Western Electric, Altec and JBL speakers I've used. (I am sure this is because the Loth-Xs have paper cones, cloth surrounds and substantial magnets.) Over the years, I have loved many loudspeakers with plastic cones (most notably the Spendors and Rogers' LS3/5a) but my heart is always and finally with the paper cone speakers. I like paper cones because they seem to reproduce the human voice more naturally and with greater ease than synthetic materials. Paper cones never sound slow or thick-tongued. Paper does "breathy" and "quick" well. Paper allows instruments sound more like themselves than plastic. With paper, wood sounds more like wood and brass more like brass. Stiff paper, with big magnets (preferably alnico) does slam and drive like no other. But today, the paper cone big magnet combination is rare. (My real favorite; paper cones with paper voice coil formers is even more rare but this combo adds the final touch of natural timbre to the basic naturalism effected by the paper cone itself.) It may sound corny to say, but if you want instruments to sound like themselves use natural materials to make your hi-fi out of.
Also extraordinary is the fact that the BS-1 loudspeakers have no real crossover. The tweeter employs a single series capacitor while the bass-mid driver runs wide open with no filter at all. Connecting a dynamic driver directly to the amplifier typically allows for a kind of presence and immediacy that is nearly impossible to achieve with the additional (and unpredictable) impedance of a crossover network. I would describe the sonic presentation of the BS-1s as exceptionally vivid and slightly more intense and colorful than the average loudspeaker. These qualities (as well as the Loth-Xs higher than average sensitivity) I attribute directly to the BS-1s crossoverless design.
They are not just more colorful than most audiophile loudspeakers -- they are also a bit more colored. I can't quite put my finger on this coloration because when I'm playing music with the Loth-Xs I'm just not thinking about how they sound. But when I return to my Spendor 1/2s or the S3/5s, I can immediately recognize that the BS-1s are indeed colored. How bad is it? I can't really say. Certainly not bad enough to make me annoyed, disappointed or unhappy. Whatever this coloration is it doesn't distract me while I'm listening. In fact, to be honest with you, I'd have to say that most of my favorite loudspeakers add something of their own making to the music. I would say that the Avantgarde horns, my beloved Altec Valencias and A-5 VOTs, the Tannoy Ardents, the Snell A-3s, the Spender BC-1s, the Leak Sandwich Speakers, and even my all-time favorite, the old Quad ESLs add their own signature colorations to the music being played. But I love them all. (Most probably all loudspeakers are highly colored. It is just a matter of which color you are used to.)
They also feel a little less "transparent" than the contemporary audiophile may have come to expect. There are no vast empty spaces around the individual instruments. But then, I've always reckoned that transparency is basically an illusion related solely to reproduced music. I don't ever remember thinking wow, look how transparent the music is at a live concert or in a recording studio.
Strangely, this is precisely how I feel about music reproduced through the Loth-X, BS-1s. When I am facing the speakers the music appears to be coming from the same end of the room as where the BS-1s are. And the music is simply... the music! It is there and it is playing. When I stop and think about whether the music coming out is good, I say, yes it is very good. I like it. What the Loth-X, BS-1s do is play music with this Will Rogers style fundamental honesty that works just fine with me.
The BS-1 loudspeakers are no where near the 'best there ever was'. But they are also a very long way from the cost of the best there is. It is important to remember what I used to tell my customers when they were considering a half-a-million-dollar hi-fi purchase, "Listen man, there are only five things a hi-fi can do right. Even at a million dollars I can only sell you one that will do four. So for now, why don't you just get busy and pick three you can not live without?"
Considered on that scale, they do (only) two things perfectly: They play music in a perfectly enjoyable fashion with only a few watts of power. And, they cost (only) $599.00! What more could you want ? And how much more would you be willing to pay for it?
I know Joe Roberts well. He is a friend of mine. So you are just going to have to stake my reputation on this recommendation. If I am wrong then I am wrong in general and you should never again take my word seriously. Therefore, I am telling you now, the BS-1s are colored. They only go to about 60Hz in the bass. They are rolled off in the treble. (This is good because the top and bottom are both rolled off some which gives the speaker this very mid-rangy but satisfyingly balanced sound.) I say that the BS-1s are not for the audiophile that values pinpoint imaging or obvious transparency. They are not for solid state power freaks. They are not for tweaks.
These are the loudspeakers every owner of a single ended triode amp has dreamed about. I used the BS-1s with the latest version of my own 5-watt, 300B single, Flesh & Blood and was deeply impressed. I am presently using them with the Kamuro 845 and the 25-watt, 47-Lab amp and they work so well that I have decided to make them my everyday speakers. I don't think they are more accurate or better in any obvious way than the Spendor S3/5s I just wrote about for Enjoy the Musc.com, but I prefer the BS-1s for my everyday listening. Why? Because like I said, they draw no attention to themselves and I value this feature very highly. The best hi-fi for me is always the one I notice the least. The best loudspeaker for me is the one that makes music vivid and exciting and nothing more. The Loth-X ION BS-1 loudspeakers do this for me. Thank you Joe.
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