24 July, 2008

Overview: SPENDOR loudspeakers

pic: the current iterations of the Classic series.

Overview: Spendor Classics

SPENDOR is the speaker for tube addicts. They boast uniformly
beautiful treble and mid-range, perhaps at the expense of ultimate bass, but throughout the mid-band they are ALWAYS just RIGHT. Compared to the smooth integration of Spendor, most modern transducers are exercises in tonal mismatch and discontinuity. The crossover of Spendor is always seamless, almost like a full range. Many models are best buys. I am a die-hard Spendor fan who speaks from experience. To date I have personally used the following Spendors: SP1, SP1/2, SP2/2, S20, SP100, and LS3/5A (old 11 ohm and modern bi-wirable 11 ohm), and I have listened to the BC1, Prelude/2, 7/1 and 9/1, and S3/5.
SP1 (and BC1)
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Basically these are very closely related 3-ways sealed speakers and they sound that way. They share the same tweeter and midrange units, and hence have much the same open and light, but refined treble and midrange, with VERY good details, and surprising speed. The SP1 has improved bass which sounds a bit tighter and not as lugubrious as BC1. But overall they are indeed similar, though I prefer the crisper sound of SP1. It's really unfortunate that HK people use BC1 in their small rooms and many suffer booming. If any complaint can be lodged at these speakers, it is that they are less textured than speakers like ATC. So, while nice for Teresa Tang and Aaron Neville, chamber music, jazz, or plucked strings, one sometimes wishes for a bit more weight for baritones and rock and roll.

There
are those people who regard these as larger LS3/5A's. That's NONSENSE. These are much superior to the LS3/5A in ALL ways, including vocals. Of course some people listen to these in a room of 70 ft, suffer from booming, yet speak with "authority"! Put them in a large room, do the bass right and they walk all over the LS3/5A. Another virtue of these speakers is that they work well with SE amps if the room is not overly large. The SP1 is less often seen. The BC1, often, but usually in questionable conditions, so buy with care.

Beware there is a so-called anniversary edition, "updated", BC1-69, which sounds much inferior and should be avoided.
SP1/2 ---This date from relatively recent times. The SP1/2 is a 3-way ( 2 top front ports) but design and ALL units are different from the SP1. The only similarity is the dimension. Sound is notably different, indeed not similar at all. The SP1/2 has greater texture, but lacks a bit the open, airy nature of the original. The greatest problem with these refined and textured speakers is the speed. They sound slow with almost all tube amps and indeed much livelier with ss amps, leading one to suspect voicing with ss amp. So though they are efficient and can be used with 300B amp, the original is preferred. But it is highly recommended for ss amp users. These speakers are RARELY seen.SP2
---I have used the SP2/2. The SP2/3 has the front port in a different location. These are closely related to the SP1/2 in drivers but are 2-way and have a different sound. The SP2/2 I used is fast, open and quite well-controlled in the bass (but not that much; quality rather than quantity). Tonally it is leaner than the SP1, so partner accordingly. These are excellent even with relatively low powered amps like the Dynaco ST70. One caveat. I listened to the SP2/3 once and it seemed duller. So my recommendation is based upon the SP2/2. They are best buys, though not at current prices.
S100/SP100---These evergreens are forever on Stereophile's Recommended List, reference-grade 3-way speakers (2 front ports; similar to SP1/2) that give the B&W 801 a run for their money. IMHO these are possibly preferable in all but the deep bass, with beautifully clear treble and mid-band that bear more than a bit of resemblance to the BC1/SP1. That's accolade indeed. BUT it has the considerable advantage of much better texture. The bass goes REAL low and is tuneful, though a bit fruity when not handled right. No one-note bass here! For its size (12" woofer), it is surprisingly agile, much more musical than most of our monstrous speakers these days. It's also surprisingly easy to drive. A vintage Marantz 8B drives it to thumping levels. Even a good 300B SE amp (like AN kit one) will drive it in my 200 ft room, though of course with the inevitable flattening. But the stronger UR Smart 845 amp (~20 watts) did nicely. These are true references and, at current price, truly best buy. (click for reviews in HiFi+ and Stereophile)(click here for a recent experience)
S20 --- This is an unsung hero. It is a small 2-way (about 2x size of 3/5A) featuring the treble and mid-range units of the SP100. It shares the same characteristic of the SP100. Excellent weight, density and speed, and easy to drive. A modern small classic, sadly neglected. Should be REAL cheap if found (I guess ~$3-3.5k). A professional sound technician friend snatched my pair. He loves them. Truly best buy.

Others

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The Prelude is probably an ancestor of the SP2, sounding airy, light and similar but cannot play as loud. The 9/1 is SP100 in a floor-stander and sounds good and is worth investigating, though I hate its look. The 7/1 is derived from that and is a lesser consideration.
LS3/5A---- Old Spendor Ls3/5A, whether 15 ohm or 11 ohm, sound as good as any rival brands. Newer bi-wirable LS3/5As sound quite different, more analytical, a bit like KEF. I like my birdseye pair, but I did not at all like the rosewood versions, including the awful "Cardas" version. Avoid the bur-maple version too.

S3/5
----This is a failure in my experience. Bass is way too lean and so it has to be placed closer to the wall for augmentation. Don't have it out in the middle of the room
.

Go to the Spendor site, click History and investigate the family tree and read about the speaker that started them all, the BC1:

(Note: this article is the first of the OVERVIEW series, which examines a particular brand. This is revised from an article originally published in my Yahoo group)

16 comments:

  1. I use SP1s on Foundation stands, with a Voyd/Graham 1/Transfiguration Phoenix front end, Audio Note 1 step up transformer, AN M3 Phono pre-amp and AN Quest silvers. Use a mix of AN silver and Norquest Blue heaven interconnects and cables. SP1s are very set-up sensitive imho. Being in HK I have a small room around 4x3x2.5 m. The sound was initially uncompelling and seemed very rolled-off at the top though bass seemed satisfying. Of course mid range the sP1s are renown for their clarity and neutrality, but the balance of the musical spectrum is more than just mid-range. Having finally tweaked the tracking of the Graham/Phoenix the sound became quite wonderful. I've read many commentators who think there is no bass extension then I played both Amanda McBroom's opening track from Dreaming, which along with Jaco Pastorius' bass on "Overture" in Joni Mitchell's Don's Juan's Beautiful Daughter convinced me that there is nothing missing from the SP1 bottom end. "Overture" opens with a profoundly deep bass note which the SP1s drove down as deep as I've heard on any system, and while the taughtness was a little light, there was sufficient punch to put a smile on my face from ear to ear. "Tijuana Moods" (Charles Mingus) is perhaps the best record I own and the ability to see inside the rich array of sounds on "Ysabel's Table Dance" to the point where I could follow with ease the tempos of the baile of (presumably Ysabel) while still separating all of the instruments as if they all occupied their own 3-dimensional space and I could move between them to enjoy each one in turn. The detailing is simply wonderful. I put on Steely Dan's AJA and was disappointed at how anaemic in comparison it sounded, compressed and uninvolving. Similarly, while I'd always thought of the Stones' Beggars Banquet as a reference piece for several reasons (simple, uncomplicated musically, Decca FFSS recording great pace and drive) it too seemed rather retiring, "Sympathy for the Devil" was almost geriatric after the Mingus. In contrast, Wessenberg's Bach Partita No5 (HMV) while a mono recording was like having the grand piano in the room. The naturalness of the sound was something I'd not heard from the SP1s before. I had to tkate the dogs out at that point and my listening session was curtailed. I was thinking of replacing the SP1s with a pair of AN-E s from Elephant Radio but now I'm not so sure. What if they are not so good. I've had the SP1 s for over 20 years. I think I might keep them another 20. I've still a lot of records to re-listen to.

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    1. What a marvellously detailed comment! Indeed, I miss my SP1, and I think your hunch is right - the AN-E cannot surpass the SP1. I used to have an AN-K; while the sound was good, it never really gelled with SET amps and matched better with ss amps. Hence I think the SP1 is likely easier to drive in real use.

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  2. Excellent review.
    My love affair with Spendor began in 1982 ... I traded a pair of Quad Electrostatics for Spendor LS3/5s (15 ohm) plus cash. I kept those Spendors for over 22 years ... the longest owned speaker in my audio hobby history. They were replaced by Spendor 3/5s ... and maybe 6 or 7 years later by Spendor 3/5Rs. These speakers were always used in the "second" system ... typically with vintage integrated amps and receivers from Fisher, Scott, HK, Bogen, Dynaco, MacIntosh, etc. When I separated from my wife in 2010 I took the 3/5Rs ... and left the main system with her. After a few months, I realized that I could live with the monitors only as a second system ... that I needed a speaker with deeper bottom and weight. That led to a pair of Spendor 1/2s, manufactured about 1990. Those speakers required a long time for me to truly understand ... it was six months!! ... certainly longer than any other speaker I've owned (which includes JR149s, EPOS 14s, Reference 3A Royal Master Controls, Tannoy System DMT15 MKIIs). The SP1/2s had quite different personalities depending on whether the electronics were SS or tube. Ultimately, they won me over ... but in a respectful way ... never in a "I can't live without these" manner. I then acquired a pair of BC1s (and gave the 1/2s to my sister), but I never loved the BC1 ... bass too ripe and dynamics too constricted for me. However, my son loved them. He still does. Finally, about three years ago I ended up locating a good quality pair of SP1s. This is the best the bunch for me. For a modest sized monkey coffin (call out to Gizmo), they are just an astonishingly musical speaker. I've used powerful SS with them down to a lovey 2 wpc single ended 45 integrated. My favorite two amps are a PP 45 with about 10 wpc and a reconditioned pair of Quad II mono-blocks. I use the SP1s on a pair of short stands, perhaps a foot high, probably lean back about 6%, in a modest sized room with high ceilings. The only other Spendor I really have a notion to live with are the SP100s. I keep my eyes open, but they are uncommon in the USA. WillietheSquid

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    1. Oh hi, Willie! I know your name and have read your good stuff! Thanks for the useful comment, I am much gratified that your experiences with the SP1/2, BC1, SP1 nearly mirror mine!!!!!! Cheers!

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    2. hi i recently bought a pair of sp2/2 which were almost perfect cosmeticaly and structually. Once upon a time i had bc1's but sold them - the sp2/2 sound weighty and dynamic with wonderful mid-range and vocals but do lack the deep and weighty bass - the lowest notes on a hammond organ are not what they would be on a larger speaker but it is all about compromise and these standmounted on solid sand filled stands sound so much better than my small dali royal sceptres (size equivalent to s3/5) in terms of dynamics and weight and believability.

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    3. Wonderful! I love feedbacks on Spendor even currently I don't own any. The SP2/2 brought back sweet memories! I am glad your comments are akin to mine. Thx.

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    4. I first read about Spendor loudspeakers in hi-fi magazines in the late 1970's. At the time I couldn't afford one of those speakers. I was finally able to purchase a pair of SP2/2 brand new in 1990 and I still own them today. I love them for their natural accuracy, especially on solo and accompanied vocals. I love them for their TIMBRAL ACCURACY which means a lot to me. Their highs and midrange are naturally pure and I really like them with chamber music especially string quartets. I also like them with solo and small combo jazz.
      As others have mentioned they don't go deep in the low end but I have other speakers that can reproduce music with very low notes.
      I have both solid state and vacuum tube electronics and I cay say that these speakers really shine with an excellent vacuum tube amplifier.
      If I had very deep pockets I would also own the Spendor SP100 but that will remain a dream for now.

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  3. AnonymousJune 13, 2017

    I bought a sp2/2 recently secondhand and wonder if you could help me with a couple of queries.

    1. There is a port on the front which I assume is for the woofer and it is offset – should the port be on the left or right in each speaker facing the listener or will it make no difference.
    2. The grill has two pieces of wood (triangular in shape) at the top or bottom depending on how they are attached. I made an assumption that they were to assist dissipation of the tweeter so placed them at the top, is this correct or are they intended to fit at the bottom of the cabinet.

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    1. Sorry for late reply. 1. The ports are offset, yes. This allows a small flexibility in obtaining the best bass. If there is booming, or too much bass, have the ports inside, so as to be further from the sidewalls; if you want more bass, have the ports outside, for more reinforcement from the sidewalls. There is no fixed rule, just try out both configs to determine which one is better for you. I'd bet the difference is not a game changer. 2. Cannot remember anything about the grill. Email Spendor, and they will answer you.

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  4. Reader Barry had trouble posting a comment, so here it is:

    Hi Doctor John,

    For some reason my comment on your site deleted itself after I hit anonymous, so I'm sending this email. First I'd like to thank you for your emphasis on musical engagement. This is most important to me and I think I had my highest degree when I had 15 ohm Rogers LS3/5a's, c-j MV-45 (el-34), c-j PV2a, and old-style Rega Planar 2 w/ Orsonic headshell, Micro-Seiki LC-80 cart., and Audire Poco headamp. Maybe I should have stopped there... Currently I have Spendor SP 1's - which I love and want to build my set-up around, c-j MV-75 w/ Sovtek output tubes (tried NOS Tung-Sols, glorious mids but I thought someone had disconnected my tweeters), same c-j PV2a w/ NOS RCA tubes, Sota Sapphire w/ early Well-Tempered Arm and recently purchased Shelter 201 mm cart. (have mostly used various Grados in the past due to my valuing timbre and a non-zingy quality.) All hooked up with Discovery Signature cables. In terms of music, if there is magic in the grooves for me (read Segovia, Casals, Flonzaley/Capet Quartets, Cortot) then I don't give a hot about resolution as long as the magic comes thru (I do listen to stereo recordings to from Barbirolli, Beecham, Marriner, various 50s jazz)...However, I would still like to improve the engagement aspect and tailor the system to the Spendors. A tech person told me my amp, nor any tube amp, will work well with the SP1's because they need the current of a Quad 405 or other solid-state amp. I do not necessarily agree but would like to simplify and eliminate the expense of tubes (I sometimes wish I could get by with a NAD 3020 but that may be a little too much of a step back and not increase the engagement). Any suggestions would be much appreciated. My system resides in a 12 X 15 dedicated music room, and if you have set-up suggestions please let me know.

    Best Regards,
    Barry
    Wisconsin, USA

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    1. Hi Barry, indeed the 15 ohm Rogers is hard to beat in the "engagement" dept!

      Your current stuff seems to be mostly decent stuff, and I will be hard put to "advise"!

      The SP1 is cooler, not as overtly emotive, but a mightily fine transducer of great potential. Your tech is perhaps right in a technical sense; the SP1's woofer at least might benefit from a little ss power, though as a whole the SP1 is quite efficient imho. With your good PV2 tube pre, even a cheap ss amp may sound very fine, but you seem like a tube man. However, if you have an old ss integrated around that has a pre-out/amp-in loop, try it as an amp. You may be surprised. My belief is that the preamp and source are more important than the amp. Don't discount the 3020, it is an amazing little amp.

      I am not quite fond of these old CJ amps, especially the MV-75. It is a dark (as you have found out) and not particularly agile. Add to this your SOTA, which is perhaps weighty in its presentation. A lighter, quicker amp would likely be better for you. Something like a Prima Luna may do.

      Do you need all that power? Given your musical preference (great music) even an EL84 amp might suffice. Or, maybe even a cheap ss T-amp!

      Sorry I can't be more helpful, but it's a vast world of amps out there.

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  5. Hi doctorjohn,
    I owned a pair of Spendor SP100R2, amplified by YBA 1 preamp and YBA signature mono amplifiers
    This was one of the best sound I ever heard in general and in my home
    I think that Spendor needs quality and power, and some transistors amplifiers like YBA were the perfect match
    keeping reading your excellent blog
    thanks

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    1. Yes, indeed YBA IS quality.

      The Spendor SP100 series is indeed the greatest. Size for size, they are incomparable.

      Salut!

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    2. thanks for the reply
      I certainly have many more experience with me with loudspeakers, and this review and reply encourages me.
      I would like to listen to a TAD system like yours, I suppose it's better.
      Anyway, Spendor SP100R2 are the only loudspeakers I listened to, that made me understand lively the meaning of what in italian is called "timbrica", the real sound of any instrument.
      regards

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    3. A well implemented horn system brings one even closer to the music, but in Chinese we'd say this about the Spendor SP100: "...one can spend a life time together..." :-)

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