The Lc3w12 three-way passive monitors are the latest and largest additions to Westlake Audio's Lc Series, which includes four smaller monitors and a subwoofer. Each Lc3w12 has a 12-inch woofer, a 6-inch midrange and a 1-inch dome tweeter, mounted in a front-ported bass-reflex enclosure. Product literature states that the Lc3w12s may be used as "large near-fields," but that they are clearly better suited for use as midfields, or as main monitors in a mid-sized control room, preferably in a soffitt- mount installation.
Since Mix was not eager to cover the costs of soffitt mounting the Lc3w12s in my home studio, I could not evaluate them in that environment. However, I did try using them as both near-fields and midfields in a variety of setups, ranging from three feet apart with the tweeters on the inside, to six feet apart with the tweeters on the outside. I even tried standing them on end and arranging them in a traditional equilateral triangle configuration (affectionately dubbed the "Manhattan Skyscraper Arrangement"), but at 15x25x1511/42 inches (HxWxD), and weighing 108 pounds each, the Lc3w12s are ill-suited for meter bridge mounting on small consoles!
In the end I wound up placing them a little over four feet apart, angled in at 30Degrees, with the tweeters on the inside. This arrangement worked quite well while listening from five or six feet away, but the low frequencies were still a bit flabby. Moving the monitors a few more feet away from the front wall solved the problem. With the monitors in this position there was a fairly wide sweet spot, but the best results were obtained by sitting precisely in the center. Also, as I generally monitor very close using small near-fields, room coloration is minimal. Listening to the Lc3w12s in the midfield arrangement described above, the room, which is not professionally treated, was definitely a factor to be considered.
The Lc3w12s can be powered by a single amp, bi-amped or bi-wired via dual sets of five-way binding posts. During my evaluation they were bi-wired to an Australian Monitor ProPHILE K7 power amplifier using Westlake Audio BWI 0410 premium speaker cables. I tried them with and without the Super Duper Speaker Muffs-beveled foam borders that attach to the front rim, designed to enhance the stereo image and the apparent bass response-and opted to leave the muffs on, with the beveled edges facing out. All signals were routed through a Yamaha 03D digital mixer.
LISTENING TESTSOnce I had determined the optimal listening position for my room, I found that I really enjoyed listening to the Lc3w12s, and that I was able to do so for long periods of time, even at relatively high volume levels. I listened to an assortment of CDs ranging from solo acoustic guitars and country blues to full orchestras and jazz big bands, and from Afro-pop and trip-hop to alt rock and heavy metal. For my most intently focused listening I chose three CDs that present specific audio challenges: Joe Zawinul's My People, The Beatles' Past Masters Volume Two and American Works for Balinese Gamelon Orchestra.
The Lc3w12s handled all of this music with ease. Segovia's delicate tonal colorations were as easily discernible as Robert Johnson's barely audible slide artifacts, and the tape noises that grace both recordings. The full-on unison orchestral blasts of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring slammed all three speakers-and their respective crossovers-simultaneously, but instruments in all frequencies remained clearly distinguishable. Subtle brushwork on cymbals and snares came across beautifully, and the finger noises accompanying solo upright bass were so real it seemed the bassist was actually playing in the room just a few feet away.
As for the three ringer CDs, My People is a densely layered world music extravaganza that juxtaposes fat synthesizers and basses with complex percussion arrangements and lush vocal treatments. On inferior monitors the sounds tend to mush together and become indistinct, but on the Lc3w12s the (substantial) lows were tight and solid, the mids punchy and the high-mids and highs clear and extremely well-defined. Many of the songs on The Beatles' Past Masters Volume Two were mixed with one group of instruments (say, drums, guitar and backing vocals) panned completely to the right, and another (say, bass, second guitar and lead vocals) panned to the left. Listening to any music on a single monitor can be very revealing, and in this case-thanks to Sir George-very educational as well. Instruments and vocals were presented in stark relief, and echo chamber and flanging effects, chair squeaks, string noise and even talking were also apparent. Finally, the extraordinarily rich and complex waveforms generated by the gamelons on American Works for Balinese Gamelon Orchestra throw lots of sonic curveballs, and the Lc3w12s handled them easily. Rather than revealing faults in the monitors, the monitors revealed numerous faults in the recording; faults that seemed negligible or had passed unnoticed on previous listens.
Next, I listened to some mixes I'd done on very large main monitors at a commercial facility. Taking into account probable variances in room acoustics, the Lc3w12s very closely approximated the sound I remember hearing in the control room, including the bottom end. (Despite Westlake Audio's conservative frequency response figures of 40 to 18k Hz, the Lc3w12s deliver a huge low-end wallop.) Hearing those low frequencies again, particularly in my modest home studio, was genuinely breath-taking. Imaging was also excellent, with instruments and effects appearing exactly where I expected them to be.
ADAT mixes done in my home studio on a Yamaha 03D also sounded quite good. In Another Year by Carl Weingarten is a cinematic sound collage employing lots of tricky panning and cross-fades, which translated beautifully to the Lc3w12s. Similarly, the improvised pieces on Cloud Chamber's Dark Matter feature an unusual array of instruments and sonic textures, mixed using lots of automated console moves, including dynamic effects and EQ automation. The most complex stereo imaging, subtle auto-panning effects and ridiculously long reverb tails were reproduced with exquisite clarity, while even the slightest distortion and phase problems became painfully obvious. Finally, I remixed some of the same pieces using the Lc3w12s with results that compared quite favorably to the originals on all counts.
CONCLUSIONAt $3,399 a pair, the Westlake Audio Lc3w12s are not exactly inexpensive, particularly compared to the current crop of contenders in the near-field and powered near-field market. Whether they are right for you will depend largely on what sort of room you plan to use them in, and how far you are willing to go to optimize your listening environment. Since the Lc3w12s function best as midfields or main monitors, the acoustic properties of your room will affect the accuracy of your mixes more significantly than when monitoring close in on near-fields. On the other hand, if you are prepared to optimize your monitoring space to take full advantage of the Lc3w12s' extended sonic spectrum, you will find that they represent an exceptional value, delivering performance comparable to monitors costing much more.
Westlake Audio Manufacturing Group; 2696 Lavery Court, Unit 18; Newbury Park, CA 91320; 805/499-3686; fax 805/498-2571; www.westlakeaudio.com.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICSThe Westlake Audio Lc3w12 is a passive three-way studio monitor with a 12-inch woofer, and the cabinet is constructed from 31/44-inch-thick MDF, yet the system weighs 108 pounds! Where is all the extra weight coming from? Looking inside this speaker, we were amazed at the amount of work and detail spent on its physical construction. This is by far the most sturdy and well-damped enclosure we have ever reviewed.
The Westlake Audio Lc3w12's enclosure is a black painted, bass reflex design. Separate sub-enclosures for the midrange and tweeter are adjacent to a chunk of MDF that includes the port. No cardboard or plastic port tubes here, rather a solid piece of wood with a 2.3-inch-diameter port carved out of it. In order to minimize port turbulence, the port is flared, not only on the baffle but also inside the cabinet. The chunk of wood that comprises the port is flared at the inside edge of the inlet and is radiused on the edge of the inlet. There are virtually no discontinuities (no sharp corners) in the air's path from the rear of the woofer to the outside.
The rest of the cabinet construction is equally impressive. The enclosure is internally braced and then completely coated with a damping compound similar to latex caulk. Then, two separate layers of fiberglass insulation are layered on top of the camping compound, denser layer first. A testament to this speaker's construction is that its weight collapsed a 6-foot speaker test stand. The cabinet crashed to the concrete yet sustained only minor cosmetic damage to an outer corner (sorry about that, Westlake!).
The 12-inch stamped steel frame woofer has a paper cone, a 71/48-inch-wide, 11/42-roll surround and a 2-inch diameter voice coil. The conventional motor structure includes a double-stacked 1.68-inch-thick ceramic magnet that's 431/44-inches in diameter. The frame and motor structure are also generously coated with the same damping compound used inside the enclosure. Inputs from the crossover are soldered onto the polarized woofer terminals.
The 611/42-inch midrange driver is mounted onto a 31/44-inch- tall, tapered stand-off, which helps phase-align the midrange with the woofer and the tweeter. The midrange unit has a formed polypropylene cone with an inverted 11/42-roll rubber surround and 111/42-inch-diameter voice coil with an aluminum bobbin. This midrange driver does not use a dust cap. A bullet-shaped phasing plug is mounted directly on top of the pole piece. The frame is cast aluminum, and the motor structure includes a .80-inch-thick, 511/44-inch-diameter ceramic magnet. Once again, the frame and motor structure are coated with damping compound, and input wires are soldered directly to the speaker terminals.
The 1-inch, soft, treated cloth dome tweeter is semi-horn -loaded by a 4-inch-diameter plastic face plate. Underneath the dome and on top of the pole piece, there is a piece of wool felt that helps eliminate any cavity resonances. An underhung, ferrofluid-cooled, voice coil wound on an aluminum bobbin is part of an unshielded, conventional motor structure that utilizes a 2.83x.60-inch-thick ceramic magnet. And again, input leads from the crossover are soldered directly onto male tabs.
The inputs to the enclosure are two pairs of five-way binding posts; the bottom pair go through a lowpass filter to the woofer, and the top pair lead to the midrange and tweeter via filtering. All of the inductors are air core, and the high-quality capacitors are Solen. The crossover components appear to be sorted, then hand-soldered point to point and mounted onto a piece of Masonite. For even further damping, the components are coated with RTV silicone.
ACOUSTICAL CHARACTERISTICSThe frequency response of this studio monitor is composed of two fairly flat portions, but the whole response is not really maximally flat, and we therefore cannot classify this system as a true reference monitor. Rather, this speaker system allows the recording engineer to listen to music as it would be heard on real-world consumer speakers. The frequency response is best described as plateau'ed or shelved. From 100 to 3.5k Hz, the window that contains the frequency response is +/-2 dB. (The rippling in the graph below 250 Hz is an artifact of the measurements, not a falling low-frequency response of the speaker system.) After 3.5 kHz, the response drops 3 dB and remains fairly flat (+/-1.5 dB) out to 20 kHz. The off-axis response has a very nice roll-off to it. Up to 2 kHz, it remains flat then rolls off at a constant slope out to 18 kHz, dropping 9 dB across the region.
The impulse response is very well-behaved. Due to the efforts to phase-align the three drivers, the initial peak is well-defined. The decay is near perfect, void of any standing waves or box modes, which is a result of the extensive attention to enclosure construction. There is only one minor toggle in the time response-1.3 ms after the initial pulse (nominally 4.3 ms on the graph).
The distortion figures for the LC3w12 are exceptionally low. Starting at 35 Hz, the THD is below 1%, except for a single data point at 600 Hz. Above 80 Hz, THD is below 0.5%, with most of the response maintaining a .02% figure or less.
The nonharmonic distortion elements of this speaker are also very low, especially the bass frequencies, an advantage of using a relatively large woofer. The input tones are 50 to 60 dB above the noise floor, except for some data points above 500 Hz