Lii Audio F-18

When I was in college back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, my friends and I would all happily gather around a 13 inch color TV and watch movies on the VCR. By today’s standards that kind of size and resolution is truly laughable, but back then no one ever complained because it was completely normal. At some point in 1991 or 1992, I splurged and went out and bought a brand new 27 inch TV, and good Lord, it was a revelation! There was no going back.

Enter the Lii Audio F-18. Bringing 18 inches of full range glory to the table is a bit of a magic trick, and certainly a game changer. The good news is that in my rig, for the most part Lii Audio has pulled it off.

Overall, there are pretty much no precedents for an 18 inch full range speaker. 18 inches of full range speaker driver means detail and soundstage at a scale that is almost unbelievable. Voices are enormous, bass energy is powerful and complete, and the overall feeling of being enveloped in the music, wrapped up in the performance, is spectacular. Everything is at the front, as big or bigger than life, spatial cues and nuances are as plain as day, and the overall effect is just thrilling.

The strengths of the F-18 are easy to appreciate. These speakers have a scale and energy that is remarkable They are very lively sounding drivers, and they throw a gigantic soundstage, as large or larger than life. Players have the feeling of being life size or bigger, standing right in front of you. These are fast drivers and pull off transitions effortlessly. Bass can be very low and rich. One of my reference tracks, Rumbero from Dead Combo, features bowed cello that comes through on the F-18 with tons of realism, enormous bass energy and such natural and realistic timbre. Percussion-rich African music like Kélétigui Diabaté’s Koulandian sounds so real and just enormous, like the Balafon is right in front of you and you can see the mallets moving left to right and back again, a first row performance. Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand has such a menacing tone and powerful driven bass, and on the F-18 all of it is there to easily behold, while the Theramin floats above like a ghost. Leonard Cohen’s voice on Anthem is thunder. These are drivers that can play heavy metal and punk music without compromise, so if you are into heavier stuff and have been put off by anemic sounding full range drivers in the past, the F-18 are your prescription. Angus Young would approve!

There are a few small downsides, so let me get those out of the way before moving on. Like many full range drivers, this is a speaker that takes some break-in time. In the beginning things went back and forth between very good sound and somewhat distorted sound, but after 50 or so hours these settled down and have continued sounding quite good. Although I would definitely classify the Lii F-18 as a highly detailed speaker, there is sometimes a bit of opaqueness to its presentation. The detail is all there but is somewhat more diffused than what is presented by an 8 inch driver. I believe this is in large part because of the enormity of the sound stage. Kind of like being at the movies and sitting in the 1st or 2nd row, the picture is huge but is a little fuzzier than the view from the 10th or 12th row. Being 18 inches with a whizzer cone these speakers do beam, and so placement is key to getting the most out of them. I’ve found that these do best for me placed a little further away from my listening position than normal, and unlike most open baffles I’ve had, in my small room they sound the best backed up into the corners, almost like Klipschorn placement but not set quite all the way into the corner. In this setup, the bass energy is simply amazing and the soundstage opens way up. So much for the negatives.

At a listed 98 db/wm the F-18 have no problem playing loud with just a single watt of power, but like the F-15 these do open up and engage even more with a larger push pull tube amplifier like the McIntosh 225. Compared to the F-15, the F-18 have the advantage in bass power and spatial ambiance, while the F-15 still resolve a little cleaner and sound somewhat more focused. Worth noting, my pair of F-15 have hundreds of hours on them now and are well broken in, so things may evolve even more for the F-18’s as time goes by. Up against my (also well used) Visaton B200 in the Telefunken cabinets, the Visaton have slightly more clarity and a purity of tone, while the F-18 sound like speakers that are twice as big (and they are) and they at least equal the well endowed B200 in bass energy.

Overall, I think the F-18 in big open baffles are a runaway success if you are looking for an immersive listening experience and have the room for such monstrously large drivers. These are almost room sized headphones! I think these will be with me for a long time and I’m really happy to see such a product on the marketplace. Keep pushing the envelope Lii Audio. Highly recommended!

Update Christmas 2021 after almost one year of daily use: I’ve had a number of inquiries regarding the holes in the “wings”, so just to clarify this is the material I had on hand during Covid lock down in Spring of 2020 when I built baffles for the Lii F15, so this is what I used for those speakers. The looks grew on me, and I don't really believe the holes impact the sound in any meaningful way (although I’m sure some speaker designers out there are groaning when they read that), so I’ve reused them with the F18. Overall, the Lii F18 in big open baffles like what I’ve shown above are the last speaker I would give up if I had to pare down to one set of speakers in the house. Simply stated, I believe this is the best my room has ever sounded.

Update Summer 2022: After almost 2 years with the Lii F18 on big open baffles, I have to say that this is the biggest and boldest sounding full range driver I’ve experienced so far. The F18 have pretty consistently been my main rig for most of the time I’ve had them, they were an immediate hit, and going back to the Lii F15 provides an interesting contrast. The F15 is a little tighter and denser sounding, but the 18 is so open and free while still having plenty of punch. And the sound is just enormous. Putting on the Telefunken baffles with the Visaton B200, JBL C-855B or Saba Greencones results in an immediate “where did the huge sound go?” moment. Those drivers all sound good, but nowhere near the huge room filling presence of the F18 panels. I agree that on paper the F18 don't look good, and that an 18-inch full range driver is an unlikely star, but in practice I think most anyone hearing them would agree that they sound impressive. No full range driver does everything, and these are no exception to the rules of physics, but for me the F18 are the ultimate so far and always bring a big smile to my face. Super highly recommended.

These are big baffles! I used 24x48 inch ¾ oak plywood for the front baffle and the wings are 12x36 inches. They look impressive in the room, but still fold down to a reasonable size if desired. As time and funds allow I’ll try these on smaller, lower mounted baffles like I use with my F-15 and see how that compares.

These are backed into the corners a little more than my normal setup, and this brings more focus and a better soundstage with these drivers. Ironically these are about the biggest speakers I’ve had in this room (other than Klipschorns), but I actualy gain a little real estate.

This is really a nice setup and I'm super happy with my Lii Audio F-18!