|Bowers & Wilkins LM1 Leisure Monitors|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Sunday, 01 October 2000|
Even the most staid AV manufacturers have realized that modern clients demand not only high performance from their components, but also highly polished aesthetics. Simply look at architecturally friendly Bang and Olufsen. Although their AV gear is far from the highest performance on the market, it’s the sexiest. Each year, Bang and Olufsen out-sells practically every other "high end" manufacturer combined.
B&W’s LM1 leisure monitor is a speaker designed for style, versatility and sound. Priced at $350 a pair, the LM1 comes in five colors, including burgundy red, pearl white, silver, turquoise and black. The speakers are diminutive in size, at 11 inches tall, 5.5 inches wide and 7.5 inches deep. As a two-way fourth order vented box design, the LM1 extends as far down as 75 Hz and as high as 22 kHz. B&W’s leisure monitors also come pre-designed with adjustable brackets that allow you to swivel the speakers for any placement, from upright to on-wall to upside-down configurations and other positions found only in the audio Karma Sutra. The most notable design element of the B&W LM1 is its family trait, a protruding tweeter on the top of the loudspeaker. I am told by Tori, AudioRevolution.com’s promotional assistant, that this is what makes the LM1s "cute."
I used the LM1s as a desktop speaker in place of my Evett and Shaw Elan ($2,200) near field monitors. I hooked up the LM1s to my Flatte 50, 50-watt power amp, my Sunfire True Mark II Subwoofer and a Philips portable CD player, all with custom color-coded Transparent cable. Like my latest pair of Evett and Shaw Elans, finished in sauterne with piano black tops and matching granite desk bases, the B&W LM1s also matched the charcoal and ice colorings of my Apple Macintosh G4/400 very well. Unlike the Evett and Shaw Elans, the B&Ws are not near field monitors, but this was not as much of a problem as I expected in my listening environment. I found that the B&Ws imaged nicely, if not just a bit sharp in the high frequencies, with my close listening position of about five feet away. Off axis, from the next office the B&Ws sounded less harsh and better than that near field Elans did from a distance.
At 75 Hz, the LM1s have practically no real bass. For listening to MP3 files, streaming audio or CDRs at your desk, you may ask, who cares? If you have a work situation where you can play your music at more than 50 dB, then very little low end is actually an advantage. I always use my Sunfire woofer and it is invariably the bass volume that has my office neighbors ringing my phone to tell me to turn down my music.
I was impressed with the dynamics of the LM1 on Bob Marley’s "Iron, Lion, Zion" from the Natural Mystic, The Legend Lives On CD (Tuff Gong – Island). At 91 dB efficient, you’ll be able to drive the LM1s to the levels you desire, even with a low power amp or receiver. Unlike other plastic loudspeakers on the market, the LM1s are not self-powered. Thus you do need something to power them with, as well as some sort of front end. NAD makes a cool CD-tuner-integrated amp for $699 that would work really well. Be forewarned: the CD-ROM in your computer will sound like garbage. I learned that the hard way. Therefore, I use a Philips portable CD Player as a front end for my desktop system, which is far superior and well worth the investment of $79. Musically, the horn section of the Marley cut was well placed and wide in presentation, which I wasn’t expecting from such an inexpensive speaker.
The LM1s not only look like real B&W products, even dressed in an extra sexy outfit, they share the B&W signature sound, which is very dynamic, very fast and sharp on the high frequencies. On Beck’s ode to love San Fernando Valley style "Debra" from the Midnite Vultures record (DGC), the majority of the frequencies were as smooth as showing up on a date in a Hyundai (read the lyric sheet on the CD if you didn’t get that one), including tasty wha-wha guitar chops and vocals that pop way beyond the usual two-dimensional realm of a typical desktop listening environment. The cymbals on the highest frequencies of the track sounded thin, even with excellent amplification.
While I don’t dig how up-front the LM1s are on well-recorded CDs on a revealing system, the LM1’s boisterous personality does have its upside. On MP3 and streaming files, which are far from the most resolute sources you’ll ever listen to, the LM1s inject new life into highly compressed musical recordings.
I had a nightmare trying to hook up my leisure monitors using the feeds from my custom Transparent cables that feature Speak-On connectors on the amp side and WBT locking banana plugs on the speaker side. I needed to use the bananas because I don’t have any other speaker wire with Speak-Ons, but I also wanted to double up the speaker outputs for my Sunfire sub by plugging in the sub speaker cables right into the back of the first set of bananas. The problem was that the five-way binding posts come with plastic plugs stuck so tightly into the potential banana holes that I spent 30 minutes, and shouted more than enough expletives, trying to remove them. After consulting a number of probing and grasping tools from the AudioRevolution.com reference Craftsman tool kit, I was successful in hooking up the speakers, but the connections hung precariously, looking as if they were going to fall out. To be clear, these are inexpensive speakers and the binding posts are no different. With the prestigious B&W logo on the front of these speakers, the designers could have bucked up the extra few dollars in parts costs to install a more professional set of binding posts, just as Apple should provide a better keyboard for the iMac.
B&W is obviously making a play for the extremely lucrative GenX market with these speakers. Their bland website, run by B&W in England, is informative and a good try at providing information and photos of the new speakers although I had a hard time finding a link to e-mail sales support. It was 3 levels deep in the contact us page. Paradigm, Polk, JBL and other high performance speaker sites are far easier and more friendly to use and research purchases of such net friendly products. To B&W’s defense they have completely new site under development which is slated to launch this summer. I am sure it will be far superior to their existing effort. Additionally, B&W’s anti-internet stance seems to be softened after having forged relationships with an AV custom design site like GetPlugged.com.
I love the versatility of the B&W leisure monitors. You can use them in so many different systems in so many different ways with musically exciting results that you have to consider the LM1s a winner. They are dynamic, quick and aurally exciting. As Tori said, they look "cute" and, with five finishes, they work well in places that traditional speakers don’t. If you can squeeze them into your office or dorm room, you’ll be able to bring exciting musical playback to your daily schedule. With MP3, cheaply duplicated CDRs and streaming audio a reality, making an investment of $350 (plus some sort of amplification) in B&W LM1s is a declaration that you understand that adding music to your work routine improves your lifestyle in a venue where you spend the majority of your time.