The Audio Research LS27 is very much in the modern mould of the company’s preamplifiers.
That’s not saying an awful lot when it comes to aesthetics, though, because Audio Research’s designs haven’t changed an awful lot over the decades: you could put this product, or the Reference 75 power amp we tested it with (see below), next to anything the company has made in the past 30 years or so and they would fit right in.
That kind of consistency might not be fashionable, but it definitely breeds brand loyalty.
Audio Research LS 27 review: Design
The LS27’s front panel does tip a nod to modernity, however: that digital display might not be the prettiest we’ve ever seen, but it’s clear and easy to read – even from across our listening room. Round the back you’ll find the panel peppered with single-ended and balanced XLR connections, twin preamp outputs and a tape loop.
And inside, of course, sit some valves. The LS27 uses a pair of 6H30 triode valves for amplification duties. These are relatively affordable to buy and easy to replace. A pair should perform well for around 5000 hours.
Audio Research LS 27 review: Controls
We’re glad to report that the company has replaced the cheap-looking rectangular plastic buttons it used to use on its products (they sit below the display) with nice metal circular ones. These feel so much classier in use.
However, the LS27’s remote control is an ordinary plastic affair that feels no better than the kind of handsets we see with sub-£1000 kit, but at least it’s sensibly thought-out and easy to use.
It’s a versatile piece of kit, too. The preamp can be set to three different gain levels, which means it can be easily matched to a wide variety of power amplifiers and systems. It also means that the volume adjustments will always be subtle enough to get just the right level when listening quietly.
Audio Research LS 27 review: Performance
So, what of the sound? It’s good. No, make that very good – but it’s not outstanding in the way the Reference 75 power amplifier is.
You’ll get a good level of detail and a lovely, free-flowing sound that has plenty of allure. We like the way dynamics are delivered. There’s plenty of subtlety in the way the preamplifier goes from quiet to loud, and no trace of harshness during the process.
We’re impressed by the soundstaging, too: it’s large-scale when required by the source material, and intimate when necessary. We particularly like the solidity and focus of the imaging, which is impressively stable even when things become demanding. Not all rivals manage this.
Yet despite all this, we’re left wanting a little more punch and rhythmic precision. The combination of these things means that we find ourselves admiring pieces of music more than getting wrapped up in them.
The shortfalls aren’t massive, but at this price level we think it’s not unfair to expect more. There are times when even very good isn’t quite good enough, and this is one of them.
Audio Research LS 27 review: Verdict
The LS27 is a good, solid effort – and well worth a listen at this price level, but that extra push would see it bag the full five stars.