Every single time I play music through the new Spendor S 3/5s a little man in my head starts jabbering, saying; "Herbie baby... is this as good as it gets? Is this one of the great loudspeakers of all time? Is this the most accurate loudspeaker manufactured today? Is this speaker better than the original classic BBC monitor that it is based on? Is it better than the original Quad ESL? Is it better than the Spendor BC-1? Can this little speaker possibly be as good as I think they are?"
Then, during the second disc, this other little devil interrupts. (This voice is much shriller and pretty annoying sounding.) He's saying, "But Herbo, they're so small. They can't play loud at all. And their delicate, they can only handle about 70 watts. Hay, it's got no bass you dumb-ass! What about how you like your music loud? What about Dr. Dre and RZA? What about Old Dirty Bastard? And Photec and Daft Punk? How you gonna listen to these guys? Can you crank these wood toasters up? I don't think so."
So I hear this wacky cacophony in my head and it gets me all nervous and upset and makes me get up out of my rocker and put on Dre's 2001 (Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records 069490486) and turn it up as loud as the S3/5 driven by the Komuro 845 push-pulls will go. I do this just to see if it will be satisfying. To see if I could live with this combo as my only loudspeakers for the long haul? And what do I discover? I discover that in my little (10'x15'x7') room the Dre groove works just fine. I mean, I wish I could play them a little louder, but, in very small rooms, these speakers will definitely play loud enough clear enough and punched up enough to convey the spirit of rock, rap and reggae. But, because small is still (and always will be) small, the music cannot pound my chest or have that visceral presence that makes these types of music so invigorating to listen to. It doesn't growl and rumble and grab my balls but the music that does make it out of these little boxes is completely and utterly enjoyable -- it is just a little less 'of the body' and a little more 'of the head' than the Dr. from L.A. intended it to be. (My biggest gripe about the whole audio scene is that people who get into using higher quality audio equipment seem to let their musical taste devolve. Eventually, they only play music which they imagine sounds good on their hi-fi. They give up on their Led, Tull, Limp Biskit and Beastie Boys and start listening to this vapid, soft jazz and tepid female vocal crap. Most of them go into strict denial about their musical roots and wouldn't dare bring AC-DC to a demo at their local Sound by Satan. This, I believe is the number one sucky part of the whole audio business. Now-a-days my skin Kralls whenever I even see a CD with a sophisticated woman on the cover. I didn't see no Lil' Kim or Lil Bow Wow at Home Entertainment 2001!)
Just so you completely understand; since I played the first disc through these speakers, there has never been any question in my mind about the quality of their reproduction. The Spendor S3/5 is simply in the top ranks of what I have ever heard and (most probably) the best small speaker manufactured today. What it does better than any loudspeaker I have used is show me what is on the discs I am playing -- or at least give me the illusion that it is doing that. And, while it is doing its oh-so-accurate monitor thing, I keep finding myself going, "Oh wow! Listen to how smooth and liquid and warm and tactile the music is." The original LS 3/5A (which I am listening to Hank III on as I type this) makes music sound much more dry and "analytical" than the S3/5. In fact, if the S3/5 has some sort of obvious coloration it might be a kind of "oiled skin" effect. On every disc I played, the music appeared to have a teeny tiny bit of glossy highlight. Everything was just a little more satiny sounding than I imagine it should be. This effect was most noticeable with the Kamuro triode amps and the least noticeable with my Creek integrated amp. (I suspect it is caused by a very narrow band but fortuitously placed resonant peak in the S3/5 Vifa tweeter.)
I should say this right here, if you are one of those musically devolved audiophiles that listens to those tepid jazz babes (you don't have to raise your hand and identify yourselves) this speaker is the one for you. Nothing will make these vapid bitches sound more breathy and sexed up. In fact, no speakers I know of makes late night cocktail jazz sound more libidinous than the Spendor S3/5 do. (Not even my reference 1/2s!) No other loudspeaker will allow you to actually count the ice cubes in the rocks glass like the S3/5 does. I am a major Chet Baker fan, and on certain days, I actually worship Sun Ra. Therefore, I am going to buy these little Spendors because I have never enjoyed these artists more than I do with S3/5 in the system. I am also gonna buy them just so I can have a leg up on my friends when it comes to deciphering how a recording was made.
There is no absolute way that anyone can know for sure what quality and quantity of information is stored on any given disk. There is no way I can know for sure how many glossy highlights this Spendor/Kamuro combination is adding to my music. The best anyone can do is play the same disc on a number of different systems hoping to get a feel for what is actually recorded. Every playback system will showcase a slightly different aspect of a recording. Every system will add and subtract from the information in its own characteristic way. No system, not even the original studio monitoring system, will tell the whole story.
I've owned hundreds of 30ips master tapes and been privileged to play many of them back over the same equipment they were recorded on or better yet on that half-a-million-dollar hi-fi I used to own. And not once could I swear that I knew for sure what was really on the tape. But every so often, another little voice in my head, this one all soft and sexy sounding, will say, "Professor Reichert sir, wouldn't you have to admit that there is something very authentic about the way this record is being played back right now?" And every time I'd hear that sweet voice I'd stop and wonder and listen very gently and sure enough there was something that felt very "truthful" about the way the music was being played. I did get the feeling that what I was experiencing was indeed most probably what was recorded on the disk. Like I say, I had no way of knowing for certain -- it just felt like this was it. The speakers were flapping and the noise in the air sounded like factual stuff. "True to the source" is the only way I can describe my reaction to the character of reproduction I was experiencing. I would say to myself, yea, this feels like the genuine deal. The music had the TEXTURE and COLOR of the real thing.
Timbre seemed right on. Wood sounded like wood, metal like metal and animal gut felt like the stretched hide it is. The amount of perceived detail seemed like no more and no less than what I would expect to hear under live conditions. Additionally, with the 3/5s in the system I heard all kinds of recording artifacts that I never noticed before. All the best systems I have experienced make you swear you can feel the magnetic tape passing over the recorder heads -- the Spendor S3/5 were amazing at this. Splices in the tape and shifts in the artificial reverb levels were up front and in your face -- you could not miss them -- like they should be in a highly accurate, "monitor type" playback system. Imaging and stereo space effects always seemed just right -- never too big or too much, never too lost in the mud -- always totally clear and in perfect proportion. If you ever wondered what reviewers mean by "layering", the S3/5s will rock your world. The sense of a layered space can be overwhelming through these speakers.
Is Accuracy and Illusion?
You must recognize that the subtext here is that with all recorded disc playback, accuracy is (most probably) an illusion. But damn, if you keep getting that accuracy feeling over and over and you keep imagining that a system is scraping the last little detail off the disc and spitting it out through the flapping cones -- then it must be like the duck story. (You now, if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, etc…) Therefore, I can say one thing for certain: The Spendor S3/5s look like living, breathing quacking ducks! No matter what discs I played I always felt like I was experiencing more of what was actually on that disc than I have with any other speaker I have owned -- including the Spendor 1/2s and original Rogers LS 3/5As which are currently my in house reference speakers.
In fact, if you are an aging and wizened audio person, if you have owned and listened to a number of great classic systems, if you are familiar with the character of the original and new Quads, the Snell A3s, the Spendor BC-1s, the Lowthers, the vintage Altecs, JBLs and Klipschorns, the KEF 103s, Martin Logan CLSs, the Stax F85s, the old "Large" Advents, the Tannoy Ardents and last but not least, the hoary revered honored and sadly discontinued, 15-Ohm, BBC sanctioned, Roger's LS3/5As, you will be instantly able to grasp what level of playback these new Spendors are capable of.
All the great speakers of yore stayed in production for at least a full decade. Some, like the Altec A7, have stayed in production for half a century. Why? Because they had the ability to deliver highly satisfying musical playback to a wide range of users with a wide variety of associated equipment and under a wide range of conditions over long periods of use. These classic speakers were all so well designed and so authoritative about their ability to make music enjoyable, it was extremely difficult for a competitor to upstage them in the marketplace. If a loudspeaker is really really good it not only stays in production for a long time, but the used examples become classics and demonstrate the beautiful ability to increase in value while you are listening to them.
In 1969 a man named Spencer Hughes found the Spendor Corporation and designed it's first product; the BC1 loudspeaker. That loudspeaker was still in production in 1994! That speaker was followed by the BC2 in 1973. The BC2 was discontinued in 1993! The LS35/A came along in 1975 and was discontinued in 1999! It is now 2001 and I am a very jaded hi-fi aficionado, and I am telling you now, that I could live happily with any of these three loudspeakers for the rest of my life.
Almost every speaker ever made starts going down in value the minute you cut the tape on the packing cartons. Most speakers are not worth half of their original cost by the time you get them set up in your listening room! Truth be told: 99% of all loudspeakers ever manufactured would have a hard time finding someone to cart them away in a wagon or the trunk of their car if you put them out by the curb! (I bet if you put HP's reference speakers from 1990 out with the trash, the only action you'd get are some highly creative low-rider reggae hip hop car audio graphers scavenging their bass cones and ribbon tweeters.)
I mention all this because I believe that this is the context in which these diminutive Spendors should be viewed. When the original Roger's LS3/5A appeared I remember there were articles about these new BBC inspired near-field monitors in every audio magazine. I remember the J. Gordon Holt review that put them on the big map. I also remember building a pair of Badger LS3/5A kits and thinking that I'd never need to buy speakers ever again. (Now don't laugh too hard, but I used the 3/5A Badger kit speakers with my Large Advents. I disconnected the Advent's tweeters and set the little Badgers on top of the Advent cabinets, which were sitting directly on the floor on steel plates with home made spikes. I bi-amplified this setup using one Hafler DH200 per channel! You can guess how impressed with myself I was when, years later, Wilson introduced the Watt-Puppies.)
The More The Merrier!
One of the original dictums surrounding the LS3/5A was that it must be manufactured by (at least) three separate companies (in addition to the Badger kits, they were made by Spendor, Rogers, KEF, Chartwell and Harbeth). I remember it was one of the first loudspeakers to engender talk of "soundstage" and imaging. I remember all the arguments that occurred concerning the "ethics" of engineering a 125Hz bump in the response curve of a so-called monitor speaker. I remember how important people said it was to have the exact right kind of bitumen-impregnated felt to damp the cabinet walls and the million odd little tweaks that it took to get them to meet their BBC spec. Most of all, I remember how impressed I was with the way a solo violin sounded through these speakers. Stephane Grappelli and Alfrado Campoli were positively psychedelic through this system. This was the first loudspeaker I really fell in love with after my long running relationships with the Large Advents and the Altec 604s.
It was only a few years ago that the LS-3/5A was discontinued. I think KEF stopped making the B110 bass drivers. This means that people continued to buy these little wonder boxes for more than 25 years! I bought my second pair during the late 1980's and discovered that their flat 15-Ohm impedance worked great with low-power single-ended triode amps. I even designed my own 8-watt, WE300B "Flesh & Blood" amps using the LS3/5As and the Altec A7s as my references.
Now, in conclusion, I must confess: I have put in a lot of hours listening to music through the Spendor S3/5s, but I have not had the opportunity to share my experience with anyone else. All my listening has been alone and no one I've talked to has used these speakers. Therefore, I got no backup on the following statements except to say, I am getting old, I've been around the audio block a few times and I think this $900 (!!!) loudspeaker is going to end up as one of the small handful true audio classics. What it doesn't do is play loud or play bass notes below 70-80Hz. What it does do, which is deliver superbly transparent, extremely detailed, authentic sounding music playback -- it does better than any small speaker I have ever heard -- period! Yes. You heard me right. My use of the word "any" includes speakers like Wilson's "Watt", the ProAc Responses and Tablettes, the Sonus Faber Concertos and, if you are presently considering loudspeakers like the Red Rose Music R3s or the new Legend pyramids (both over $3000), I recommend that you do not remove your credit card from your wallet until you've tried the S3/5s. Better yet, here's what I really want you to do: go out and visit a dealer that demonstrates these little buggers and go listen. Take your most challenging musical program. Take the discs you wish you could play on your present system. Take the discs where you wish you could make out the words that the singer is singing. Then write me back. You tell me. Do I have good taste in audio? Am I discovering a major product or am I full of shit? Are the Spendor S3/5 loudspeakers a breakthrough product like I think they are? Or... You tell me.
HF Drive Unit: 19mm soft dome, ferrofluid cooled
LF Drive Unit: 130mm polypropylene cone, 25mm coil
Sensitivity: 84 dB for 1 watt at 1 metre
Crossover Point: 4.5 kHz
Frequency Response: 70 Hz to 20 kHz, ± 2dB
Pair Matching: within 1 dB
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal
Power Handling: 70 watts
Cabinet Dimensions: 305mm x 165mm x 180mm
Cabinet Weight: 4.7 kg
Price: $899 (Light Cherry, Walnut and Black Ash).