Back in February of 1997 I reviewed the Westlake LC8.1 monitor speakers and pretty much gushed over them because I was so impressed. The 8.1 Series2 has the same kinds of refinements and evolutionary tweaks as the BBSM6 Series2 reviewed in PAR March 2003. With a passion for low distortion and accuracy, Glenn Phoenix (Westlake’s president and chief engineer) has consistently refined and almost reinvented a good part of the Westlake product line over the past few years with what he has learned building speakers for so long. The 8.1 Series2 is yet another product that has benefited big time from the long list of seemingly minor improvements that tallies up to a real maturation of a product.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, post production
Key Features: Two-way; 8-inch woofer; 1-inch soft dome tweeter
Price: $2,239 per pair
Contact: Westlake Audio at 805-499-3686, Web Site.
On the surface there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the original 8.1 and the Series2, both two-way systems with 8-inch woofers and 1-inch soft dome tweeters. The woofer is new while the tweeter is essentially the same as the original 8.1. Externally the enclosure looks identical to the previous version with its two plane, stepped phase aligned front baffle.
In speaking with Glenn Phoenix the biggest difference between the original and the Series2 in a word is dampening. Doesn’t sound like a big deal right? Well he made a believer out of me with his explanations and the actual sonic consequences. Glen is so fanatic on this subject he says, “give me damped or give me death.”
Starting with the enclosure, every internal surface, every driver, magnet, hand-wound air coil inductor, resistor, capacitor and even the component leads themselves are damped with a proprietary material and technique, even the shape of the dampening material is taken into consideration. Another upgrade is internal point-to-point wiring. Westlake has made and promoted their own speaker cable for years and starting in January of 2003 all Westlake speakers are internally wired with Westlake cable.
These procedures all add up to lowering distortion by an enormous amount, better than 20 dB at some frequencies. Glen even got me to rethink the issue of active vs. passive crossovers. I have been very supportive of active designs whereas Glen feels that no active speakers have really great amplifiers on board. Can’t argue with him on that one either. Each Westlake speaker is calibrated during production and when driver components vary from the target specifications as they do, crossover components are tweaked to compensate for these variations optimizing for linearity and low distortion.
Westlake Speaker MuffsMost of my initial listening was done without muffs but having used them in the past with other Westlake speakers I thought it appropriate to try them on the LC8.1 Series2’s, Westlake sent me a pair, and yes they do work.
The speaker muffs are foam, chamfered edge, baffle extensions that increases the area of the front baffle. As the size of the baffle increases, it takes longer for the sound to reach the cabinet edge, and as a result decreases the amplitude of the edge reflections. This reduction in edge reflections and related distortions allows you to hear more of the direct sound from the speaker. The benefits include a smoothing effect on the frequency response, improved imaging, and perceived increase in bass response.
– Tom Jung
I set up the 8.1 Series2s on 30-inch high RPG speaker stands, approximately seven feet apart and the same distance to the listener (me). At first I had them just slightly towed in and found them to have that typical broad dip in the upper midrange common to most two-way speakers as you get off axis to the woofer. So I towed them in crossing just behind my head and, Voila! Smoothness, from nearly 40 Hz on the bottom all the way to the top end with the smoothest cleanest midrange I have heard from a two-way. The Series2s do not seem to have that little 5 kHz bump that the original 8.1s had and they appear to go out farther on the top giving them a much more open higher-fidelity presentation. I mentioned this to Glenn and he said the actual frequency response is pretty much the same but with the distortion so much lower the masking effect of that distortion is reduced enabling you to hear more detail as well as high and low frequency extension. This makes total sense to me.
Bridged channels of a Bel Canto Design eVo200.6 amplifier (PAR 8/02) powered the pair of LC 8.1 Series2’s speakers. This Class T amplifier is extremely fast and has great low frequency control, good detail without any harshness of any kind. The combination of this really fine amplifier and the Series2 8.1s is something I’m not going to want to give up. The sound is smooth, natural, detailed but warm with pinpoint imaging and a phantom center to die for. I’m a big fan of a center speaker but had to remind myself that I was listening to a phantom center.
At over 90 dB sensitivity with a nominal seven-ohm load, the 8.1s are easy to drive but at the same time are very revealing of any amplifier coloration or shortcomings, having the ability to really show up the warts in any of the preceding electronics.
I’m not aware of any speaker manufacturer that goes into such detail on setting up speakers with the supplied operating manual, covering topics such as; set up, the environment, listening room characteristics, what to do and what not to do, listener/speaker/room interface etc.
The Westlake LC8.1 Series2 monitor is a definite improvement over the original speaker (one that was pretty good to begin with). Extreme low distortion and total lack of coloration lets you really hear what you have. An efficient easy to drive load enables use of a moderate to low powered amplifier, however a good quality amp is highly recommended due to the tremendous resolution of this product.
Philips SACD 1000 transport, w/AT&T glass fiber DSD output; EMM Labs DAC8 Mk IV D/A converter w/EMM Labs solid copper interconnects; EMM Labs Switchman Mk2 w/EMM Labs solid copper interconnects; Bel Canto eVo200.6 power amplifier; Westlake 4-gauge speaker cable.