British monitors gained an exceptional appreciation in the audiophile world. Many manufacturers of such sets have rich and interesting history, often intertwined with famous recording studios. Even today, in the offer of PMC or ATC there is a sharp line dividing the consumer and professional segment. Obviously, every manufacturer dealing with professional equipment likes to boast about it everywhere, but it is also fair to say that many British companies have the right to do so. Among many institutions, one has become the real breeding ground of speaker talents - the British Broadcasting Corporation. Boxes originally developed for the BBC have 'that something' - the sound which is difficult to replicate even today. Most of the engineers have abandoned the old way of building the speakers, but a few companies are still faithful to those proven solutions. Graham Audio is one of them.
One can say - wait a minute... Why have you mentioned Graham Audio, when the review title clearly marks Chartwell LS6? This is no mystery because both brands have the same owner. It's a small, family-owned company based in Newton Abbot, Devon, which specializes in the production of BBC licensed monitors, specifically the LS5/9 and LS5/8 models. Some say that these sets are definitely closest to those that conquered the market many years ago. While they are built with modern components, the manufacturing technology of the enclosures remained the same, and the speakers are designed to be almost identical to the original. True high fidelity - not only in terms of sound but also compliance with the prototype. The brand did not come out of anywhere. Graham Audio is run by Derek Hughes - son of Spencer Hughes, founder of Spendor and member of the team that created the original BBC monitors. Drivers are made according to Graham's specifications by Volt Loudspeakers. In addition, the company assures that all speakers have enclosures with relatively thin walls, so that they 'play' along with diaphragms, just like musical instruments. Only one person is responsible for each pair of speakers, from beginning to end. They are then tested by a second person and compared with a reference set at the factory. All this is done to make sure that every pair will sound exactly like the original.
So why Chartwell? It's a legendary brand bought by Graham Audio, but not in order to start producing simple, shoddy speakers with no history. The famous LS3/5 monitors are sold under the Chartwell brand. However, it turns out that this is not the end because later on, the company launched slightly larger LS6s. To be honest, I was really excited about this, because I truly miss the LS3/5 model. During the review, I listened to them with great pleasure. Later I came across these speakers on a number of occasions and every time I had to conclude that they are very, very special. Wonderful, natural and graceful sound with huge soundstage and an unbelievably good midrange. LS3/5s have only one disadvantage - they are tiny, so we can forget about low bass and great dynamics. Music lovers have different methods to make up for these flaws. They place their speakers closer to the walls, add an active subwoofer or search for a fitting amp that will not kill the LS3/5's character. The purchase of a larger LS5/9 model would be the simplest solution, but they cost almost twice as much. Could the answer be to create an LS3/5 with a slightly larger midrange speaker and an appropriately enlarged housing? When I saw the LS6 model, I immediately thought that this is it. But before I make a premature diagnosis, let's see what's what.
Design and functionality
LS6s are bigger than LS3/5s, but if you can't compare them, you will probably say that these are quite small as well. But there are more differences. At the back, we have a bass-reflex port of quite a large diameter. So LS6s not only have larger woofers and bigger enclosures but a completely different kind of tuning, which will surely impact the amount and nature of the bass. At first glance, you will see that the new model is built a little differently. On the front, we still have a switch that allows us to change the tonal characteristics, but the housing, drivers assembly, and bass-reflex tunnels are all quite different. In the smaller model, the enclosure was made up of relatively narrow boards with screwed in front and back wall. The secret of such design is that the housing is not perfectly rigid, heavy and vibration resistant, but contrarily - by careful tuning, we can achieve the effect similar to that of a guitar sound box. In order not to lose this special character, the manufacturer offers special stands, thanks to which such 'instrument' can actually play without suppressing all the magic. In the LS3/5, we also had a woofer mounted from the inside so that only its diaphragm and suspension were visible from outside.
Meanwhile, in the LS6 it all looks a bit different. There are no visible screws attaching the front and rear panel. I think the manufacturer wanted LS6 to combine the elements of traditional technology and a more modern approach to the design and tuning. However, Chartwell claims that the LS6 is built in the same way as the rest of the BBC licensed models - with thin walls and special damping to allow the enclosures to resonate. Why were they not made exactly like the LS3/5? I guess only Derek Hughes knows the answer to this question.
Returning to the practical issues, on the back we will find the bass-reflex tunnel and a single pair of terminals which accept any type of plugs. Below there is a nameplate with the serial number and the signature of the employee who made our speakers. On the front, we have a small switch that adjusts the tweeter level to +1 or +2 dB. It's not much, but sometimes it can make a difference. Chartwell says this can be useful for situations where the listening position is off axis. Another nice addition is the magnetically mounted grilles, perfectly merging into the outer 'frame' of the cabinet. They are so nice that the LS6s look just as good with grilles as without them, which is very rare.
What would the reviewed monitors look like if we forgot about all the history? I would say they're quite decent, but also very modest and unimposing. We can see this in many British loudspeakers. No matter if it's Kudos, Epos, ProAc or Spendor - these are almost always simple, angular boxes with screwed drivers and perfect woodwork. Generally, they all look similar, but their value depends primarily on the size, the drivers, and the performance. LS6s don't have curved walls or other fancy stuff, but you also won't find any flaws here in terms of build quality. Maybe they don't look like an exhibit from the Museum of Modern Art, but they are well crafted. A classic two-way monitor built in a very sophisticated way.
These loudspeakers were a big puzzle for me. If they were the first speakers by Chartwell or Graham Audio I reviewed, I wouldn't have any hopes or expectations. However, after the LS3/5 review, I wanted to hear a similar, extremely direct and engaging sound, built on a naturally warm midrange. But... I also wanted the bigger Chartwells to give me the real, low bass and dynamics that the smaller monitors didn't have. So, have my dreams come true? Basically, yes! The first minutes of listening gave me an answer to all my questions. On one hand, their sound was very similar. Charming, musical, coherent and tailored with respect for correct proportions, typical for many British manufacturers. If you know the sound characteristic of the BBC monitors, you will immediately catch all the elements of this unique design. As for bass and dynamics, LS6 is in a completely different league. The cynical may say that this is caused only by larger enclosures, but for me, it's definitely more. The fact that we don't have to strengthen or imagine anything makes the LS6s more universal and versatile. For me, the bass was the only missing piece in the sound of the LS3/5s, which in all other respects can be considered almost perfect. The LS3/5 didn't have that, but the LS6 need no further improvements like adding an active subwoofer. The extended low frequencies and the greater possibilities in the field of dynamics make them ideal for any occasion and any music.
So, did we find the perfect British monitor? Well, I wouldn't go that far. The LS6s are great, but let's keep in mind that we can also buy other Graham's models, with the same captivating color and midrange, but even better and more powerful. To me, the LS6 is almost perfect, but it's not exactly the LS3/5 with more bass and greater dynamics. They don't offer the same level of magic I experienced thanks to the smaller Chartwells. Okay, those monitors didn't have deep bass, and couldn't play very loud. But at the normal volume level, they made me forget about the whole world. The vocals were incredible, really immersive and coherent. The speakers also disappeared from the listening room and left me alone with a huge, three-dimensional soundstage filled with fresh air. LS6 also have about 80-85% of this character. Their midrange is naturally warm, close and saturated, but not as much as in the LS3/5. Soundstage is also irreproachable, but for me, the bigger Chartwells are less precise and not as spectacular as the smaller ones. The same can be said about dynamics. Sure, in macro scale the LS6 beats the LS3/5, but I have to say that smaller speakers have the ability to react a little bit faster. Here the sound is leveled, we have some extra bass, and the midrange is still very sexy, but with all of these pros, Chartwell had to sacrifice a little bit of magic the LS3/5 had.
In return, the LS6 give us a full, natural sound which doesn't need any additions. I can honestly recommend the larger Chartwell monitors to anyone looking for audiophile loudspeakers offering an extremely pleasant and emotional sound. On one hand, these are typical British speakers, and on the other - completely normal and natural sounding boxes with good bass and everything you could want from speakers of this price range. They can also play quite loud and don't necessarily favor any music genres. Sure, you need to find the right amplifier and take some time to find the right positioning of the speakers, but it's nothing special - you have to do this with pretty much every speaker on the market. I can recommend them to anyone who wants to buy modest, versatile speakers which are at the same time quite unique and still have some magic of the famous BBC monitors. It's a very rare combination.
Build quality and technical parameters
Chartwell LS6 is a two-way monitor with a vented enclosure. According to the manufacturer, it's made of MDF panels and damped in the manner typical for BBC monitors, by pieces of mineral wool sewn into the material so that each wall has its own "cushion" of accurately calculated dimensions. The cabinet walls resonate in a controlled manner. Thanks to this, the construction is optimally adjusted with the drivers in the full frequency range. The result of a tedious tuning process is a sound corresponding to the nature of musical instruments or the human voice. The enclosure has a capacity of 17 liters and the bass-reflex port is located on the rear wall. Single terminals protrude from the housing, making it easy to connect cables. Low frequencies are produced by the polypropylene membrane with a diameter of 165 mm. The lowest resonant frequency is 45 Hz with a drop of only 2 dB. The tweeter is a 19mm mylar dome, well-known from the LS3/5 model. The LS6's crossover was built using high-quality components such as Jantzen Audio capacitors and metallic resistors. The front switch controls the tweeter's working level. The LS6 has 87 dB efficiency and 8-Ω nominal impedance. However, the manufacturer recommends the use of quite powerful amplifiers - from 50 to 150 W.
Marantz HD-DAC1, T+A MP 1000 E + PA 1000 E, NAD C368, Unison Research Triode 25, DIMD PP10 Stereo, Cardas Parsec, Acoustic Dream Cu-1, Solid Tech Radius Duo 3.
Is the LS6 actually a larger version of the brilliant LS3/5, or is it a completely different design? To be honest, I cannot give a definite answer to this question. Certainly, there are more similarities than differences. The bigger model offers a little bit less magic, but in return, we get a much bigger and deeper bass and a completely different scale of sound, which now is totally correct and retains natural proportions. In my opinion, the LS6 is just another variant of the same design. Maybe a bit less charming, but more universal and definitely closer to what we call neutrality. British engineers had to listen to their customers who, after the first listening, were enthralled by the sound of tiny monitors, but couldn't accept the lack of low frequencies and obvious dynamic limitations. Let's not forget about one important thing - the price, which is quite similar to that of the LS3/5. For the same money, Chartwell gives us two very good options - the LS3/5, which has more character but is clearly lacking in bass and dynamics, or the LS6 which is a bit more neutral and powerful but still has some of this one-of-a-kind magic of the legendary BBC monitors. It's a difficult decision. However, I recommend listening to both these speakers, because there really is something about them... Something we slowly forget about.
Speakers type: Monitor, 2-way, ported
Sensitivity: 87 dB
Impedance: 8 Ω
Frequency response: 45 Hz - 20 kHz
Recommended amplifier power: 50 - 150 W
Dimensions (H/W/D): 37/24/26 cm
Weight: 9.5 kg (one piece)
Manufacturer: Graham Audio