Review: Steinway Lyngdorf Model LS Concert Speakers

When Steinway & Sons first approached Peter Lyngdorf about creating a loudspeaker bearing the company’s famous name and logo, the venerable piano-maker and the Danish audio wizard agreed on one cardinal goal: Lyngdorf’s speaker had to be able to exactly reproduce the live sound of one of Steinway’s Model D concert grand pianos.

Lyngdorf relished the challenge. To test his creation, he demoed a pair of his bespoke speakers for Steinway’s instrument-makers. When the team was played a CD recording of two different Model D pianos, the engineers were able to tell which of the pianos was manufactured at its factory in Hamburg, Germany, and which was made at its factory in Long Island, New York — a detail they could previously only discern by hearing the instruments played live.

That was six years ago, and the speaker Lyngdorf created was named the Model D after the piano. Lyngdorf has built some new designs since then, and this is the latest speaker to be born of the partnership: the Steinway Lyngdorf Model LS Concert.

The LS stands for “line source,” which is a type of speaker array used in large theaters and concert halls. Each speaker houses 15 mid-range 5.25-inch drivers and eight AMT tweeters, all stacked vertically. The result is a speaker that’s over 8 feet tall and only 16 inches wide.

The finish is minimalist and tasteful — if you could use the word “minimalist” to describe a speaker packing 15 cones — with glossy piano-black side pieces and 24k gold accent work around the tweeters, both Steinway & Sons hallmarks. Instead of a traditional cloth grille over the speakers, the SL Concerts use a curved drape of super-thin bungee cords. It’s an open-baffle design (there’s no enclosure), so the bungee cords hang down the back as well, concealing the wiring.

Of course, even more striking is the sound. I got the chance to listen to these speakers in a private residence here in San Francisco, where they had been tuned to the environment using Lyngdorf’s proprietary RoomPerfect algorithm, a 3-D room correction system that evens out the soundspace. In the stacked line source design, the bottom speaker sits only three inches off the floor, and the top speaker is a foot or two over your head. Because of this arrangement (and with a little help from the room correction software) you can walk around the room, sit on the floor, or stand up, all the while hearing almost no variation in the sound quality or the volume. It’s impressive.

The setup was an all-Steinway rig: the stereo pair of Model LS Concert speakers plus six woofer boxes (two 12-inch drivers per box), all driven by five of the company’s A1 amplifiers and one of its P1 processors. The music was played through an Oppo Blu-ray player, chosen because it could handle all of the high-quality formats like SACD and DVD-A, and because it plugs into the processor with an HDMI cable to maintain a purely digital signal chain. There are no traditional digital-to-analog converters being used either (though that bit gets rather complicated, so I’ll refer you to the technology overview on the company’s website).

We started out with some live recordings of classical strings, and some reverby piano ballads recorded in a big room. The speakers were surprisingly responsive — the attack of the bow on the violin strings was crystal-clear, and the piano’s hammer strikes were perfectly distinct. We moved on to a Stevie Ray Vaughan slow blues, and the drummer’s rimshots sounded off like gunshots.

For most of the demo, we were running between 5 and 10 watts of power into the LS Concerts — all that’s required to drive the speakers this light and fast. Even at that level, they were loud. Like, really loud.

Keep in mind, this speaker design is basically a miniaturized version of those massive vertical stacks you see next to the stage at big stadium shows. To drive the point home, our host — Tim Johnson of Engineered Environments, a journeyman speaker designer and installation specialist — put on some Pink Floyd and cranked it even louder. We were pushing roughly 120 decibels out of the LS Concerts, and the sound was absolutely glorious.

After blowing through my favorite sequence on The Wall — “Another Brick in the Wall Part 1,” “The Happiest Days of Our Lives,” “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2″ — I was giddy with joy. We’re talking gig-level sound, perfectly distortion-free and purely electric. Tim reluctantly turned it down a few notches when a candle came tumbling off the fireplace mantle.

I’ve listened to a lot of these high-end audio installations, and all of them sound amazing. But this Steinway Lyngdorf rig is a step above. And it’s simple — no hulking monoblocks, no extra components, no massive cables. Just a small, 2-foot stack of amps, the woofers tucked away in back, and the gorgeous thin black lines of the speakers.

So what does it cost to deliver such an intoxicating natural high? The LS Concert speakers alone are $190,000 per pair, and the amps are $5,400 each. The woofer boxes are $4,200 each. One of the Steinway Lyngdorf processors will run you between $4,400 and $18,400.

That’s roughly $250,000 for the whole shebang. Tim Johnson, who installed the system, couldn’t recall the exact total. But as with anything else at the pointy end of stereo gear, if you have to ask…

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