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Are Linn Kans and LS3/5As similar?

Discussion in 'classic' started by Flashman, Feb 28, 2018.

  1. foxwelljsly

    foxwelljsly Hawkwind and Fire

    I used NS10s with a Leak Delta and then a HK PM645vxi back in the early 90's. As competent as any other budget speaker of the time but more expensive. Looked cool, though.

    I suspect that only cheapskate recording studios really used them for mastering and monitoring - I've certainly seen loads in use in higher education institutions.
  2. FireMoon

    FireMoon pfm Member

    Nope, many huge albums recorded and mostly mixed on NS10s in cahoots with a sub.Their rise to legendary status came cos Bob Clearmountain liked them and lugged them round from studio to studio cos, whatever the studio, he knew the little grot boxes would sound the same. You'll regularly find a pair hanging off the end of a Bryston amp in more upmarket American studios. The theory being in part, if you can make a mix sound anything remotely approaching decent on NS10s it will sound wonderful on everything else.
    stephen bennett and foxwelljsly like this.
  3. buzshaws

    buzshaws New Member

    Are Linn Kans and LS3/5As similar?

    No surprise this question certainly opened up opportunity for some to take pot shots at the Kan without reservation before asking to qualify what's being asked. Rather than quickly seizing an opportunity (by a few) to denigrate the Kan with disparaging remarks (which isn't what was being asked), one should ask if the question refers to the dimensions and construction of the cabinet? The application for which each was designed? The LS3/5a was designed as a tool and not marketed for sale in audiophile hi-fi stores until some years later. For those who like to spew meaningless opinions (which isn't against the law, it's really just meaningless BS unless you happen to embrace the sentiment), the LS3/5a was never meant to sound hi-fi, as in musical, and it doesn't. It has a restricted and controlled frequency response due to the environment it was designed for, and that environment isn't a listening room in a home. Can it be used to good effect in the average home? Of course, what can't, bring in some EV Voice Of The Theaters if you care to. Doesn't mean a pedigree for a specifically designed tool to be used in a professional field automatically transfers as a better performer under all other conditions.

    Linn Kans, any version or generation, is hardly a squawk box, harsh, originally designed as someone's personal car project speaker, quickly thrown together to take advantage of left-over Chartwell boxes in an attempt to be a LS3/5a clone proper, or other ridiculous assertion. Linn never prided themselves in proclaiming the Kan was their version of an LS3/5a. Closer than any of those false submissions, the Kan was Linn's attempt to provide a small speaker in their stable at the other end of the spectrum of their DMS Isobarik speaker at the time. They were already using a variant of the KEF B110 in the DMS, and rather than using it to pretentiously join the cult of BBC look-a-likes they took the DMS sans B139 isobarik loaded KEF drivers to make a mini DMS monitor. The Chartwell cabinets were already a proven enclosure for the B110 and Linn chose not to use the KEF T27 tweeter in favor of a higher power handling, better sounding Scanspeak. So to help the thread starter (you trouble-maker, lol) understand what makes them similar, it's better IMO to explain what's not, and why they are often incorrectly assumed to consider themselves to be. Linn did not want Kans to sound like LS3/5a's, and frankly I'm all for that. Horses for courses I suppose, so let's at least agree on that. So much for the original question, the rest of my rambling is just sauce for the goose so feel free to indulge or ignore :)

    I'd agree the Kan, particularly Mk1 versions, are noted for being either love them or hate them speakers, though I feel often due to unfair comparisons casting them as some kind of poser that other manufacturers are more often guilty of rather than being unique unto themselves, which Kans are. Every speaker, and arguably some more than others, work best under conditions often understood by the designers and those trained and experienced with their caveats for best performance. Most of the time those are not the average consumer or forum member spewing aversions from the peanut gallery. My first experience with Kans was MkII's when working for a Linn dealer at a specialty audio store in 1989. The next generation Linn speakers were being rolled-out e.g. Nexus, Helix, Kabers, Kan MkII's. Whether it be active triamp DMS or the Sara, the Kans (for me) was their home-run speaker for all around musical enjoyment, especially passive and properly mounted on Sound Organisation wall brackets, though on MkII floor stands I enjoyed them immensely as well. They even sounded splendid sitting atop CWD custom furniture. You could get great results under many different placement arrangement and they always were go-to's for me personally (I didn't try to impose this on customers). I never bought a pair because I was looking forward to the Kaber yet to be unveiled at CES. Unfortunately they were not hooked up and demonstrated at the Linn room to hear. It wasn't until they arrived at our store that I had that opportunity and I have them to this day, but always remembered the Kan MkII was really the one that spoke to me as my favorite of all Linn speakers to that point.

    Jumping ahead, I bought a pair of Mk1 Kans (0015xxx, Scanspeak 2008/0011 circa ~1982-83) completely aware I should expect a completely different tonal balance from the MkII's (Hiquphon) and bought them sound unheard. Laugh if you will, but I have since been listening to them in a smallish bedroom powered by a Harman/Kardon HK430 receiver at a distance of 8'-10'. Yes, not the usual listening dimension, not a lot of power, not a Naim, and yes I know what that sounds like as well. I can't remember when I last played my Thiels or Kabers in my Conrad-Johnson based system after being exposed to the Mk1's. Cables make a difference as well and though I've not tried my K20 yet (wrong terminations for the 430) I have settled comfortably with Kimber 4VS. Squawk box? Harsh? Odd tonal balance? Pianos that sound like tacks-in the-hammer of a honky-tonk piano? Have to say, I kind of indirectly feel embarrassed some put such things in print under their identity as none of that is at all credible. Like any speaker, all I can say, rather than try to enthusiastically pump anyone up in another direction, is perhaps the Kan might not be the mini-monitor speaker for you but, if you choose to listen to any of the drive-by shooters who can't wait to trash the Kan, especially Mk1, the trolls win and you've bared the injustice. The Kan is a little work of art as far as I'm concerned, and for what that's worth.

    So my 2 cents on the original question is the Linn Kan is similar in size to an LS3/5A and its variants; period. Can appear to have other superficial similarities but it is not a "clone" nor was it intended to be. Listen to the Kan if you're interested in experiencing a Kan. I find it an easy speaker to accommodate and marvel at the tonal characteristics with utter amazement, often chills (and often uncontrollably smiling), even without my stereo dual Sunfire subwoofers. The adage of quality over quantity has seldom demonstrated more validity to me.
    Jono_13, Mal45, docstocker and 7 others like this.
  4. Moodybuilder

    Moodybuilder Active Member

    I’ve never owned kans myself but I’ve heard many pairs in different systems, the sound has ranged from ok to bloody hell that came from that box. With the right system and set up they really do work.
    GML and Tarzan like this.
  5. robbyd

    robbyd pfm Member

    Mk1 Kans with my LP12 and later Xerxes/Grace f9e/ Nait1, I have very, very fond memories of.
    All sold, but I bought a pair of Mk1s years later and thought they were dreadful - sold them.
    And yet, I now own another pair of the same. Not my main speakers, obviously.
    But they can be addictive.
  6. Gervais Cote

    Gervais Cote Predator

    For me, an real LS3/5A is tone full and easy to listen to, the little Harbeth is detailed and surprisingly revealing while the Kans mk1 are lively and addictive despite not being really neutral. System match is critical for the 3 of the IMO.
  7. ampedup

    ampedup Lost in audio

    Hear hear! @buzshaws your casual, chatty and beautifully written paean makes me want to be a better writer. You said about the Kans what I want to say too. I find a lot of similarities between the Kan IIs and the ls3/5a....perhaps more similarities than differences. I've never understood the chalk and cheese arguments.
  8. sktn77a

    sktn77a pfm Member

    I've owned LS3/5a speakers since 1980 (I think that qualifies me as someone who knows what they sound like). I listened to the Kan (original, with Scanspeak tweeter) and Kan II (with Hiquphon tweeter) on numerous occasions as my then-Linn/Naim dealer tried to convince me I should "upgrade". I can honestly say that neither speaker sounded anything like the LS3/5a. The original Kan was way too bright to be considered seriously, although the Chris Franklands of the day would hear none of it. The Kan II tamed the tweeter response significantly but it was still much brighter than an LS3/5a.

    True, the very early Kans used some surplus plywood LS3/5a cabinets, but these were subsequently replaced with veneered MDF (and eventually lined with Ku-stone, whatever that was).

    The Kan was 1/2 an Isobarik minus the two 13x9 woofers and sounded like it - plenty of mids and highs and the illusion of bass.
  9. Martyn Miles

    Martyn Miles pfm Member

    I can only really comment on one thing ‘buzshaws’ wrote.
    Let’s clear that one thing up.
    He states: ‘the LS3/5a was never meant to sound hi-fi, as in musical, and it doesn’t.’
    This of course, is his opinion and not a statement.
    And he is totally entitled to it.
  10. buzshaws

    buzshaws New Member

    Hi Martyn, thank you for your respectful response. As lovers of music and of the systems that reproduce it, there's an inner sanctum each of us as audiophiles create for ourselves. Within each of our unique domains we strive to define and incorporate a rightness befitting of our individual tastes. I have to confess, I've never lived with any variant of the LS3/5A and am not seeking a reason to speak of them in any negative context. In all honesty I'd love to have a pair and confident I'd find the right room and best way to accommodate them in my own environment. I also didn't mean to infer they were not musical or anything less than the highest caliber, I'm confident they sound like the brilliant monitors they are and can be right at home in a hi-fi system as well as for the specific purpose for which they were conceived. I like many neutral speakers, i.e. those that seem not to impart a sound of their own or embellish with a signature that deviates from neutral, whatever neutral actually is (in the confines of an unnaturally ideal acoustic home environment).

    A speaker system that sounds (or measures) neutral or "accurate", has a fairly convincing appeal of defining that "sound" when experienced. They seems effortless, uncannily balanced from top to bottom, and those characteristics are impressive to experience. For a talented designer, a flat, neutral, uncolored speaker has a fairly straight-forward design path to be successful, and we all can name plenty of them we've come to admire. It's in this context that I referred to the LS3/5A, a loudspeaker designed as a small, portable monitor capable of predictable reproduction for which the remote engineer in small spaces could rely on to relay the music or broadcast from remote locations. A speaker system so exacting and consistent in its purpose that the BBC could fully count on to assure all broadcasts and the engineers that produced them would have a uniform "sound". The sound of the BBC. Every pair being an example of cookie-cutter perfection for that task. The benchmark and investment was perhaps higher than any other speaker I can think of and you can't help but want to fall in love with something like that even if you haven't heard them! I think its immutable that they have an enviable reputation for being truly remarkable instruments of the field.

    That said, it takes extraordinary care, maybe even a good bit of luck as well, to deviate from that kind of predictable neutral in a pleasing way, and I'll borrow the term we tend to use in this kind of context that we call "musical" and there are many great examples of these kinds of speakers as well. And boy are there plenty of mediocre and bad ones too! Adding color to a speaker, intentional or not, is a very slippery slope and unlike the "neutral" example, often finds as many people in disfavor of a particular model as in favor for. Only very few examples are so good at maintaining the sense of neutral while incorporating "musicality" or "character" to be considered universally allowed in the camp of the "correct ones". Speakers in this category won't please everyone, but their universally acknowledged acclaim proceeds them and provides validity for the many that do. Warm, lush, romantic, endless depth and grand canyon width, etc. are some superlatives to describe added spices which often are part and parcel strokes of the designer's brush and key to what makes them successful or at least with a large and eclectic cult following. When you hear the sound of a Julius Futterman OTL amp with certain speakers of this nature, you may experience goosebumps or similar kind of sonic epiphany that redefines everything you thought you knew before because it's so damn good you don't care what the specs are or in what ways it may deviate from neutral. We've come to hear this described as, "it just sound right". Not all neutral, flat, or accurate speakers have this magic ability built into them.

    In the case of the Kan, my opinion and subsequent post was intended to stand up for one of the legends that is often overshadowed as a pretentious LS3/5A. If they are judged in this way as peers side-by-side we couldn't expect any outcome other than divisive. Compare a Quad ESL-57 and a B&W 801 and you have the same effect, yet anyone that criticizes either to the degree of being poor in its own right is foolishly dismissing not only either's legendary benchmarks, but wide historical accolades on each of their sides. Does the Kan have an honor or pedigree worthy of defending amongst some of the highest level performers? As far as a smile factor, sheer excitement that draws you in, and an ability to prevent you from doing other things you should be doing, many (well in the know) will say "that's the Kan for you". I'm sure I could make a nice place in my home for a pair of LS3/5A's. I have several dissimilar sounding speakers and they're in their own rooms or at least rotated from time to time because each is remarkably singular in what they provide. In the end we each decide for ourselves which is right, but there's no dismissing classic or unique speakers that have come to be adored by a large population of audiophiles that understand what comes out of a great speaker and in some cases what makes an imperfect legend. At the very least, when we can leave eliteness at the door, something I tend to find myself drawn to doing without checking myself, we can realize there's plenty of room to praise and enjoy, or at least respect that which genuinely lives up to the time-tested praise of many mutual enthusiasts :).

    Thanks for allowing me to editorialize my thoughts. It's very helpful to take the time to express oneself during these times of health crisis, and like all of you, I love to submerge myself in the passion and enjoyment that we all find mutual here. I acknowledge I'm saying waaayyyy more than anyone needs to, but it's therapeutic, beats talking to yourself, and besides, no one else around here will let me to it to them, lol! Everyone please have a safe and Happy New Year, and may it be blessed with beautiful music in whatever form you find pleasure in :)
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2020
    davcoll and John like this.
  11. Tarzan

    Tarzan pfm Member

    Can only echo those thoughts-heard them years ago in a mid level Linn/Naim system and the blues have never sounded so musical.
  12. PhilDick

    PhilDick pfm Member

    I used to get the bass drivers to hit the stops in my Kans in the 80s. Think I was trying to get some bass out of them!
  13. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    The only time I ever managed that was with a techno 12” on the LP12, it was not at all loud either. 808 kick met end-stop. I can’t even remember which record it was, though it taught me to be very careful with chunky dance music. I remember it was very shortly after I’d upgraded from a 140 to 135s so I suspect I was getting used to the additional headroom to some degree. Deck wasn’t on a great table either, which likely didn’t help.
  14. tones

    tones Tones deaf

    As a predominantly classical listener, I respectfully disagree completely. Perhaps I'm just old/deaf/less discriminating (all of which I will happily acknowledge), but a mixture of Bach cantatas and Bach organ music last night reminded me of how good they are (and this is sitting in a bookshelf up against the wall!). Admittedly they are accompanied by a Linn Sizmik subwoofer.
  15. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Linn Kans? I always thought they were a bit odd tonally, which they largely got away with on rock/pop, but sounded a bit off on classical. Plus they don’t have the upper bass lift/warmth of the LS3/5A so just don’t scale on full orchestral stuff in the same way. I can very happily listen to classical on LS3/5As or JR149s, but I just don’t think Kans are there, even in the much more neutral MkII guise I owned. On the right music they are great fun though, just not an all-rounder IMO.
  16. Martyn Miles

    Martyn Miles pfm Member

    That’s an understatement, ‘a bit odd tonally.’
    I appreciate many here like them, but they’re definitely a ‘Marmite’ speaker.
  17. ToTo Man

    ToTo Man the band not the dog

    As someone whose never heard a Kan, please describe their tonality to me? Is there essentially an excess of energy between 1kHz and 4kHz due to the B110 not having a notch filter to EQ it for a flat response, and shelved output from the upper-bass downwards due to no baffle-step correction?
  18. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Yes, that is pretty much it. The Kan II has a far better midband IMO, but they are still quite forward and can ‘quack’, just nowhere near as much as the MkI. The MkI and II are noticeably different speakers, and I went against the flow a little in far, far preferring the MkII. They are great fun though, and a really great option for rock/pop, a bit of jazz etc in a tiny flat.

    One thing to grasp with the Kan, JR149 and LS3/5A is they are each designed to work in a different acoustic space. The Kan is absolutely a wall-proximity/half-space speaker, the LS3/5A free-space* and the 149 somewhere between the two. Pull a Kan away from a back wall, even by a few inches, and it has no bass. Not exaggerating here, I mean no bass. None, nada, zilch. It is a wall proximity speaker, and it needs a good flat solid wall too.

    *I’ve never quite understood this given the LS3 5A was designed, amongst other things, for outside broadcast use where they’d effectively be in half-space, but they definitely sound best away from a wall.
    GML and ToTo Man like this.
  19. tones

    tones Tones deaf

    Sorry, Tony, my misunderstanding - I thought you were referring to LS3/5as, which is what I have. I've never heard Linn Kans, so I therefore have no idea whether they Kan or Kan't.
  20. Conan

    Conan Loop digger

    I wonder if the forward nature of the Kans is not somehow associated with Naim amplification, which most owners tend to use?
    I have Kan II (Kustone). Tried them with the nait 2 and they are fun but somehow a bit too forward for my taste.
    Tried them with a Onix OA21S and IMO it is a far better match as it tames their forward midband whilst still providing enough energy and control to make them sound really good.

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