The first rule of being an audio reviewer should be, never stop expecting to be surprised. The moment you think you can predict the performance of a piece of equipment, the unexpected is going to arrive on your doorstep. Having reviewed the LSA 10 bookshelf speakers two years ago, I made the false assumption that the Signature 80's would follow in the same performance lane. I was wrong, very wrong.
LSA has created, through the design efforts Dr. Viet Nguyen, and voicing of Mark Schifter, a model that is altogether something original. First off, the Signature 80's are not small bookshelf speakers at 15.75" H x 9.1" W x 12" D, and tipping the scales at a very solid 22 pounds each. The front face is beveled much like Avalon speakers. The cabinet is made of high density fiber board with a stunning Rosewood veneer finish. The drivers consist of a 7" aluminum cone driver mated with a 3" planar tweeter with custom waveguide grill. The cabinet is rear ported with Viborg binding posts. To be honest, the Signature 80's belong on a set of quality stands, a credenza or table up against the wall is a waste of the speaker's true abilities.
A quibble must be made, the grills are held in place by plastic male/female tabs, made infamous by Celestion, as they broke quite easily. I hope in future manufacturing runs LSA switches to magnets.
Overall, all this quality means little if the crossover is relegated to budget penny-pinching. Thankfully, Dr. Nguyen took the quality-first path in the design. It's all-but unheard of for a manufacturer to post photos of speaker crossovers. Not the Signature 80's, take few minutes to examine the images on the website. I'll let your eyes decide for you, no comment from me is needed.
After a break-in playing music 24/7, the LSA Signature 80's were setup in my 11x12 listening space. Dialing in the optimal position took about 4 hours over a couple of days, with the final placement being 33" out from the front wall, and 19' from the side walls. A slight toe-in lining up with each ear at my seated position on sand-filled, Celestion Si stands. The equipment chain consisted of two sources: An iMac running Qobuz thru Roon software, or a Technics SL-J2 turntable with a Stanton 3000 cartridge. For the digital chain, DAC's included the Oppo HA-2, Denefrips Ares II, and the Peachtree Carisa. Amplification included all three designs, solid-state, tube, and class D, from Adcom, Parasound, Peachtree, and Vista Audio. Interconnects and wires via AudioArt, and Shunyata power cords.
Listen to the Music
With a slightly larger than normal 7" bass driver I expected a bit more forward bass response. Instead, Dr. Nguyen gifted the Signature 80's with truckload of detail and extension. The opening bass notes in Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" is incredibly well-defined and punchy. Yet, thankfully missing any hint of bloated boom. All the while vocals carry beautifully through the mid-band frequencies. Sade's "Feel No Pain", kicks up the lower midrange and bass into a luscious auditory wonder.
When speakers perform this way, I start spinning tracks with strong bass guitar and underpinnings of 1970's funk. Jeff Beck's "You Know What I Mean" exemplifies that style's up-tempo fun. The Signature 80's shine a terrific light on both the artistic performance, as well as the effort of the recording engineer. I much prefer engineers that focus on imaging and soundstage compared to Pro Tooling the vocals.
The Signature 80's top end is natural rather than sparkly. As an owner of both Totem and Paradigm loudspeakers, it's very different, reminding me in many ways of my Magnepan .7's, though not as treble reserved. The key is that you still hear the ringing of the cymbals and top piano keys. What's missing is all the hiss. It's easy to be fooled. I relied on songs that I know really well and listened for the secondary and subtle details to confirm that all the sonic details are being reproduced. The planar tweeter does just that, nothing is left out.
During the review process the Signature 80's spent the opening month driven by solid-state power. The Parasound A23 with 120wpc did a fine job moving music thru the speakers. With a worthy amount of current available, the Signature 80's delivered dynamic moments in the Eurythmics "Here Comes The Rain Again" with impressive tight decay. Annie Lennox's delicate timber changes mid-song can be detected without effort.
Every owner knows a couple of tracks that show off their speakers at their very best. The rich interplay of vacuum tubes in "O' Come, O' Come Emanuel" from The Piano Guys with its sheer depth the piano strikes and soulful violin. It's an "ahh" moment for the Signature 80's. Every quality of the speakers come together in this track. In reality, the entire A Family Christmas album is a must-hear experience with the Signature 80's. The tone, energy, spaciousness all blend in a ballet of sound.
I've waxed on over the years that when it comes to classic jazz I crave speakers that make the recording honest to the small club sound. The Signature 80's dig deep to reproduce such ambiance. Miles Davis' "Blue in Green" from the iconic Kind of Blue, exudes the soft deep string bass and brush on the snare, while the saxophone, piano, and trumpet carry the midrange. The speakers' timber is first-rate, belying its price point.
The same holds true for contemporary jazz. Buddy Tate & White Label's latest album Tate's Delight, is a rhythm feast. The Signature 80's lay out the toe-tapping joy of "On Green Dolphin Street". The track "Mood Indigo" calls back all the qualities the speakers demonstrated with Miles Davis. The vocals of songstress Diana Krall, only further confirm that the Signature 80's recreate all the basics very well.
Delving into the orchestral music, stand mounted speakers usually show some levels of shortcomings. This is where the 7 inch driver and larger cabinet come into play. Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker performed by Los Angeles Philharmonic live recording takes complete advantage of the quality recording engineer's process. The Signature 80's replicate the live concert hall sound. Congestion is so subtle in comparison to my Paradigm Prestige 75f mini-towers it was difficult to spot. The 6th movement "Arrival of Drosselmayer", epitomizes the space that these speakers gives to orchestral performances. The soundstage is both wide and deep. The instruments are given room with the Signature 80's to define their individual character.
Digging thru Qobuz' streaming collection, I moved away from the tried and true, instead choosing to find some hidden gems. One such discovery was "Cowboys and Angels" by George Michael. The Signature 80's recreated a wide stage for the piano opening, adding in the distant, breathy vocals. Finally, the saxophone was dead center and stunningly natural.
A track that showed the Signature 80's energy is Peter Gabriel's classic "Sledgehammer" with its punchy bass guitar, followed by the chorus lyrics, and the hooting of the electric organ. Powered by Peachtree Audio's new class D, Carina integrated amp, the 80's take full advantage of the dynamics in the track, providing a visceral, toe-tapping experience.
In sixteen years of reviewing, I can count on one hand how many times I was truly surprised by a pair of speakers on first listen. The LSA Signature 80's do so much, so well for under $1500, you got to wonder what Dr Nguyen could do for $3k in a mini-tower. From the stunningly detailed bass frequencies, to the natural, rich midrange, and clean, clear treble, the Signature 80's deliver.
I've owned some terrific stand-mounted speakers over my review career: Harbeth Compact 7es, Penaudio Cenya's, and Totem Signature Ones. I can now add the Signature 80's to that list. If I gave awards for loudspeakers, they would win, hands down. These speakers from LSA are just so damn good that I'm prying open my wallet and buying the review pair, something that I haven't done in six years.