17 August, 2014

Spendor BCIII BC3 All Roads Lead to Rome

Spendor BCIII, BC3
Home Visit: limage, the CAS heretic
Talk CAS: All Roads Lead to Rome?

After covering the HiFi Show, let me return to the weekend before last. I reported my Saturday, which started with a visit to Wo Sir Sir before yumcha, and my time with feikeung after. The following day I found a little time and paid a long-overdue visit to old friend limage. But first, background on the BCIII:

Click pics to enlarge. R: pic of a recent pair from HiFiDo. I suspect this is now limage's pair; L: crossover pic from audioplanet-classical BBC coils, but wires not original.

Spendor BCIII BC3
Compared to its famous predecessor, the venerable 3-way BCI, the larger 4-way BCIII is relatively little known and reviewed. Both were designed by Spendor's founder, the legendary Spencer Hughes (this letter written by him is hugely informative), certainly one of the most important figures behind all the BBC loudspeakers of his time.

The Spendor BCIII loudspeaker was introduced in 1979. It is a 4-way design based on the classic BCI. It also used an additional 12" driver for bass reinforcement. For spec's of the BCIII, consult the informative owner's manual or the Japanese BCIII Page (computer-translated). For great pics, including internals, read the Spanish audioplanet thread (computer-translated).

BCIII begets Spendor S100/SP100??

My particular interest in hearing the BCIII centers on my long-time allegiance to Spendor, in particular the later SP100 (see my overview; originally S100; now in R2 incarnation). Although the SP100 is a 3-way, its size, driver and port arrangement bear more than a passing resemblance to the BCIII.

Spendor's website claims: "...the Spendor SP100R²...is an evolution of the Spendor BC3, S100, S100P, SP100 and SP100R loudspeaker systems...". Indeed, this is not just talk: as quoted in Art Dudley's Stereophile review of the SP100R2, "Spendor remains among the few high-end speaker manufacturers that design and make their own drive-units; indeed, as company owner and design director Philip Swift mentioned in a recent conversation, some of the tooling used to make the drivers in my Classic SP100R2 review samples was used in the early 1970s, to make their classic BC3 monitor. That distinction, according to Swift, is more than just marketing fluff: "One of the things that sets Spendor apart is that we understand how our drivers work.""

Another loudspeaker that looks more than similar to the SP100 is the Harbeth M40, and many like to compare the two. But the M40, as with most of Harbeth's products, is more difficult to drive and imho has less of the "traditional BBC sound". In passing and if I may digress, I came across this revisionist history thread which should be of interest to BBC loudspeaker fans.

Home Visit: limage's den, click pics to enlarge.

limage Redux
It has been more than 3 years since I last saw limage. You must read or re-read my previous visit, which remains relevant to this article. This fastidious, stubborn and self-confident man has not changed one whit during all this time, which is to the good. limage does not change equipment frequently; he believes more in executing details (like cleaning pins and contacts).

When I last visited him at his glorious old house, he was using Maggies, so the change to the completely different BCIII came as a surprise. Another major difference is that limage has fully embraced CAS. The layout of the new house, in particular the audio room, bears more than a passing resemblance to that of old. The rest of his system:

Analogue: Technics SP10-(forgot what arm)-Ortofon A-90
Step-Up Transformer: Kiseki
Phonostage: EAR 834
CD Playback: Ensemble Dichrono combo (last generation; not auditioned)
CAS: Windows 7/J River/J Play/USB/DAC (HK DIY)
Preamp: Gnostic Technology 27D (HK DIY)
Amp: Conrad Johnson Premiere 1
Loudspeakers: Spendor BCIII

Some General Thoughts on the Setup and Sound
  • If you know limage at all, you'd know whatever he chooses to play with will sound more similar than different (no better proof of his skills; and of course he is experienced enough not to choose equipment that will ill-suit him). What you see in the pics here is typical of his approach, in particular his "room-coupling" approach, yet another attempt at minimizing the room effect. Typically, the speakers are placed rather close to the side walls, in mid-room, closer to the seat than the front wall. In the old house, the Maggies were so close to the seat that the term "near-field" should perhaps be used, and everyone knows near-field more easily avoids room problems but is not for everyone. This round, the BCIIIs are relatively further away, more comfortable imho.
  • I heard both CAS and analog, but not CD playback. Needless to say, I prefer vinyls. But, overall, the sound was definitely better than my last visit. Smoother, with less of that old Maggie ribbon sound.
  • limage is proud that he has clean bass without any treatment. Indeed he, as usual, has done a great job. But I do think while the midrange and treble are cleaner than before, the bass of BCIII is a just a tad slower than ideal. You just cannot have everything!
  • Again, the bass is leaner than my own preference. limage says it goes down to the mid-30's, but my subjective feeling is less so. Note here that the official spec's of the BCIII states a lower frequency response than the SP100, but my own listening tells me it is the opposite. I'd love to hear the SP100 is his room!
Some Info and Thoughts on limage the CAS Heretic
limage has totally immersed himself in CAS. He claims that his rips/perfect copies are mostly better than the CDs they derive from. He also played some Hi-Res files. He also claims in some instances the digital copies better the vinyl counterparts. In the brief visit, I did not challenge him, or asked him to make a CD/CAS or LP/CAS comparison. In many ways, I am completely different from him, but I love what he does and respect his preferences, even if they are different from mine. Whether in a hypothetical given instance or two I may dispute his claims is really not important, and perhaps I do not want to know (maybe same for him).

Concerning CAS, limage has tried everything. Given my disinterest in CAS (despite this excellent demo) I shall report briefly limage's delightful preferences and views:
  • limage prefers Windows to Apple, purely on sonic reasons.
  • limage not only uses the popular J River, but he also uses the controversial J Play.
  • limage believes there is a sweet spot for music server digital buffer, not the larger the better.
  • the DAC sounds much better without the lid. How about that (I believe him)!
My thoughts on the CAS:
  • Excellent as it is, it still has not convinced me of CAS' superiority. Chief among my concerns regards a certain sameness of playback, regardless of genre, performer or recording. A certain synthetic quality, if you may, even if appealing. But then, to me, limage has always been after the broad strokes, not subtleties.
  • Whatever my preference, it is clear that this CAS sound is a lot better than most of the CAS sounds I have heard, including those from so-called experts (that includes HK dealers of high-end Weiss etc). This is a relatively simple setup, yet it effectively shows that all roads lead to Rome. It also shows, as with all aspects of hifi, the human ear is the most important when it comes to CAS, not numbers and specifications. You shall note that many of limage's preferences are highly controversial, but if you believe me, if I were into CAS I'd rather follow him than all those numbers given out at various forums.
  • I'd think a good 44.1 through the Ensemble DAC may sound even better, but that is just a guess...
  • To throw a gauntlet: if limage truly believes CAS sounds better, then please sell me the Ensemble CD combo to me! I'd have better use for it! :-)
Candid Talk
Suffice to say limage and I, who have gone way back, talked a lot about various matters. I sincerely appreciate his candid nature, rare in HK's narrow hifi circle. These conversations are what I treasure, and hifi differences fade into nothingness.


  1. "I'd think a good 44.1 through the Ensemble DAC may sound even better"
    Yes yes yes.....I think so too, and your friend should try that. :)

  2. The BC111 was actually introduced to the marketplace in 1973! It's overall balance, while much deeper in the bass and with better power handling, is not as "open" sounding or as well integrated as the historic BC1; primarily because of the 4 drive units.

  3. The BC3 is quite a bit more flawed than it's fans usually admit. The response is not flat. In fact it is quite irregular throughout the mid and lower highs... a bit of a roller coaster ride. Strangely the sound is not at all like the BC1. Where the BC1 is deficient (from 2khz to 4khz) in order to tame the raspiness of the Celestion tweeter, the BC3 doesn't hide these frequencies. Consequently the speaker is quite a bit more analytical in this region with pin sharp transients. The BC3 unfortunately lacks the BC1's beguilingly smooth midrange but improves on the BC1 everywhere else. The overall effect is a somewhat cold and ruthless sounding speaker system when paired with the wrong ancillaries.
    To be honest there were much more accurate and smoother British loudspeakers built back then. A few that come to mind are the Kef 105 and the Meridian M1 active. The Kef 105 in particular has an astonishingly flatter response, much wider and more uniform dispersion, lower distortion drive units and greater power handling and sound staging than the BC3. Ditto for the Meridian. The Spendor is not a bad speaker... it's detailing and focus are striking at first but after a continued listening it's colourations and listening fatigue begin to distract and make me want to switch to something else.

    1. Thanks for your input. Have you heard the BBC LS5/1A? I had the good fortune to have heard and reviewed it recently and it is utterly delightful!