"Hi, I'm Wilson Von Jolly and I'd like to welcome you to our demonstration of our latest speaker, the Von Jolly Swansong VIII, a speaker that we feel is the best speaker currently available. The Swansong VIII replaces our VII, with its new enclosure, midrange driver, crossover, rhodium binding posts, and Invisible Audio Boa Constrictor internal hook-up wire. We spent the months since last CES working on these improvements, as we felt that they squeezed the last two per cent out of the design that if you recall, we felt was the best speaker at CES last year. The changes in the new model will unfortunately demand a price increase for this year, so look for something around fifteen thousand, not counting the necessary stands which our marketing department has suggested we charge an additional eleven hundred for. We recorded the recordings that you are about to hear in our state-of-the-art recording studio in the heart of Jupiter, Florida. No, do not adjust your hearing aids; the piano you are about to hear really was thirty feet wide and twelve inches deep. We swear.”
...Yes, my Mother is aware that she raised one sarcastic little matzo-eater. Thanks for asking.
While some might point to the “E” in the marketing of the Spendor SP2/3 as proof that the venerable British speaker manufacturer can be as ridiculous as the rest of its brethren in the high-end community, the reality is that some clever little sod in the rolling hills of the English countryside thought that the SP2/3 sounded quite “enhanced” during one of Spendor's rare modifications of this throwback to the days of the classic Spendor BC1 (the SP2/3 came out in 1994… which for those with less than stellar math means that they have not changed it all that much in seven years) and slapped an “E” on the product description to mark what they felt was an enhancement of its already stellar sound.
I'm sure that some of you in the peanut gallery are shaking your heads and wondering why we are reviewing a speaker that came out during the first Clinton administration, but the answer is really quite simple.
It's that damn good. Get the picture?
If you are one of those people who goes to one of the many hi-fi shows held each year so that you can rub your hands all over glossy finishes and drool down the sides of some horn made in Germany, then the Spendor SP2/3 are not for you. If you are the type of person who loves to dump their existing speakers (there must have been a reason that you bought it in the first place…right?) for the latest in ribbon or electrostatic technology, because you are no longer convinced that cones cut the mustard, then the Spendor SP2/3 are not for you. If you are the type of person who thinks that “cool,” “analytical,” and “emotionally detached” is the most accurate way of listening to music, then the Spendor SP2/3 are wasted on you.
So, who should be interested in a pair of ‘70s looking oversized British monitors with a raised outer lip and a definite and pronounced sonic signature?
Without trying to sound like a pompous ass, I'd have to say that the SP2/3 (and the entire Spendor Classic SP-series) are not for audiophiles, at least not the audiophile crowd that I've become acquainted with over the past few years. Buying a pair of Spendors requires that you don't place too much importance on their ability to disappear in the “audiophile” context or their ability to let you hear every last bit of background noise on a recording or their worth as far as “eye candy” is concerned.
The SP2/3s at 21.5" tall by 12.75" deep by 10.75" wide qualify neither as large floor-standers or stand-mounted monitors. They fall someplace in-between and as a result require substantial and well-made stands to properly anchor their forty-four pounds of 0.75" thick MDF (which is veneered both inside and out). The review pair's finish was a gorgeous dark cherry (rosewood and walnut are also available) hardwood and one rap of the knuckles along the top of the cabinet produced nothing but sore knuckles. The SP2/3s are very well put together and likely to last longer than any potential purchaser.
The SP2/3s posses what I would call a stylish sense of 70's charm without any surface-mounted tone controls.
If you take a close look at the front of the speaker, you'll notice a raised hardwood lip surrounding the front baffle, and a series of four plugs, which hold the black rectangular grille in place. The grille does a fine job of protecting the drivers of this two-way when in transit, but does nothing but obscure what is an otherwise transparent and fine sounding midrange. The aforementioned raised lip has been the subject of much conversation over the years from critics and listeners alike (Spendor's newest line does away with the dreaded lip) for its apparent negative impact on the speaker's ability to image, but the reality is that the SP2/3 wouldn't be British without a stiff upper lip (Catskills here I come!) and the effect of the raised lip is in my opinion, nothing more than something to complain about.
On the technical side (yeah, I find it as boring as the rest of you), the SP2/3 are a relatively efficient 88dB, and at 8 ohms, a rather stable load. Spendor recommends that listeners use 30 watts as a starting point, but based on my experience, thirty watts produced deafening sound pressure levels in my 20' x 16' x 9' listening room and I ended up being comfortable with the eight produced by the Wavelength Duetto 300B power amplifier. On the high end, I tried both the Blue Circle BC6 (25 watts) and a Naim Nait 5 integrated amplifier (30 watts) and neither amplifier had a problem driving the SP2/3 when I listened to Green Day, The Who, or the Beastie Boys. This is not a difficult speaker to drive. Its literature quotes a frequency response of 60Hz to 20 kHz (+/- 3dB).
The SP2/3 use a custom 8" polypropylene woofer made in-house by Spendor and a 0.75" fabric dome tweeter made by Danish driver manufacturer, Scanspeak. Both the woofer and tweeter are fastened to the baffle with very robust hex-head machine bolts and T-nuts. The tweeter mounting is plastic, but is faced with a thin layer of sound absorbent padding. The molded port is five inches deep, two and a half inches in diameter and exits to the front, which provides for some flexibility in their positioning. The rear panel consists of two pairs of high-quality machined binding posts, which work well with both spades and banana plugs. The posts are bolted directly through the rear wall to a PCB that is used in the crossover. At $1,900, the SP2/3 are not inexpensive and face some rather stiff competition from monitors such as the Totem Model 1 Signatures, Sonus Faber Concerto, and floor standers such as the Meadowlark Shearwaters, Equation 7s, and Soliloquy 6.2s.
Funny, you don't look like Ron Jeremy…
Setting up the SP2/3 isn't very difficult as long as you use the proper stands. What the hell does that mean? Well, after trying three different stands, I've figured a few things out about the set-up procedure for this particular speaker and it may discourage some of you who want this process to be completely painless. The best solution is to use one of the custom stands offered by Sound Anchors, as they are designed to match the dimensions of the speaker exactly and do have a significant impact on the bass response of the speaker.
Most reputable Spendor dealers are authorized to sell the required Sound Anchors stands (especially for the SP2/3), but I have one problem with the stands and I think that it will matter to listeners like myself who are over 6 feet in height and use a slightly higher chair. As good as the Sound Anchors stands are, they are way too short in my opinion. If you do the math (okay, add the 3, carry the remainder, insert Pi), the Sound Anchors stand places the tweeter of the SP2/3 at about 36”, which I found made the speaker sound rather dull. After returning the rather pricey Sound Anchors stands to a helpful retailer, I tried two cheapie stands from a manufacturer in Quebec (don't know the name still as of posting but will find out) and one of them proved to be absolutely perfect. The top plate is a little small, but works fine if you mount the front of the baffle flush with the edge of the plate. The stands required assembly, but once put together and filled with sand, they were incredibly stable and hernia inducing. The spikes can be adjusted from above and allowed me to play with the height. On the height side, the cheapie (in relation to the $800 Canuck Peso Sound Anchors Stands) stands were 24" tall placing the tweeter at 42" from the floor which was perfect for someone like myself who is 6' 3" and using a taller listening chair. The extra 6 inches made a world of difference.
The SP2/3 sound better facing straight ahead with only a minor amount of toe-in. I found that too much toe-in had a negative impact on the rich tonal balance, thinning out the sound and not improving the imaging all that much. The SP2/3 reproduce a wall of sound that is extremely detailed, but not some pinpoint presentation that will have you jumping out of your seat to shake hands with the performers. Bless you if you behave like that. It's people like you who make making fun of audiophiles all too easy.
The front-mounted port makes positioning the SP2/3 close to the rear wall a solid choice if you don't have a lot of room or want slightly more bass energy, but it's not the way to go if you want to maximize the potential of the speaker. I found that a minimum of two feet from the rear wall and three feet from the side walls (in my room) was the best compromise in order to preserve the slightly organic, yet clean presentation of the speaker. The final positioning ended up being a distance of 47" from the rear wall to the front of the baffle and thirty-two from the side wall to the edge of the speaker.
Do they rock or did they rollover and die like a 300-pound Polka King from Kenosha?
One of the best vinyl box-sets out there is the Beastie Boys Anthology The Sounds of Science [Capitol Records C1 7243-5 22940-15] and when the first bass notes from “Root Down” belted out of the SP2/3, I knew that this speaker was voiced by someone who grew up on a steady diet of Roger, Robert, Geddy, and Jimmy Smith. The SP2/3 are not the last word is dynamic response, but they did a sublime job with the funky beat of this remake and I was bouncing around the room with AdRock and making some lady across the street (don't you hate people who check you out while you dance around your apartment naked?) very happy.
Bob Dylan turned sixty last week, but he was only twenty-four when Bringing It All Back Home [Columbia LP 5070] was released in 1965 and even a war-loving square like myself enjoyed singing along with the Bob as the Spendors made Dylan sound about as good as Bob Dylan can possibly sound. The SP 2/3's treble is slightly rolled off which proved to be a good thing with the vocally challenged Mr. Dylan whose voice can be somewhat hard on the ears. The midrange of the SP2/3 is definitely on the warm side of the neutrality meter, but it doesn't detract from its otherwise open and detailed presentation that is somewhat forward sounding on most recordings. The immediacy on most recordings (with all three amplifiers) was not aggressive at all and proved to be rather intimate and engaging. The SP2/3 are easy to listen to for hours without experiencing too much listener fatigue.
What surprised me the most about the SP2/3 was how it handled bass heavy music such as Green Day, Metallica, and large scale Symphonic works (such as Aaron Copland) without bottoming out in a puddle of mushy bass. Pushed to its limit, the SP2/3 began to sound congested, but we are talking about levels that had my superintendent pounding on my door as the walls were shaking throughout my apartment. If you need to listen to music at louder levels than I was, save your money as you'll be deaf rather soon. The SP2/3's bass could be a lot tighter, but that doesn't diminish its ability to make an electric bass guitar sound like an electric bass guitar. Tonally, it's almost dead-on, but lacks the last bit of tempo and tautness that would make it a true full-range loudspeaker.
On vocals, the SP2/3 showed why people have been downsizing for years and getting rid of mucho-expensive speaker systems for these superb British monitors. On Sheila Chandra's Weaving My Ancestor's Voices [Real World CDRW 24 0777-7 86722-27], I found myself immersed in her spiritual chanting and very impressed by the tonality and clarity of the sound. The SP2/3 don't eviscerate recordings, but rather help flesh out their emotional content.
Even an above-average live recording like Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense [Sire CDW 47489] sounded less congested than it usually does in my system with the Meadowlark Hot Rod Shearwaters. The SP2/3s were not as good as the Meadowlarks when it came to imaging or soundstage depth, but they were certainly more engaging on vocals. The Wavelength Duetto and the SP2/3 were a fabulous combination in that regard, with the 300B-based single-ended amplifier breathing some necessary depth and “clear blue sky” transparency into the overall sound. The Naim Nait 5 added some pace to everything and improved the tautness of the bass as well. The Blue Circle BC6 added power and resolution across the musical spectrum. Anyone of the three would be an excellent match to the SP2/3.
Should you sell your Wilson's?
If you have trouble reading between the lines, I'll
spell it out for you the best than I can. No,
the SP2/3 are not as tonally pure as their sibling, the Spendor SP1/2, and they
also lack the power and solidity of the larger Spendor SP100s (which are 2dB
more efficient). That being said,
the SP2/3 are a steal at the asking price and one of the most musical sounding
speakers that I've ever had the chance to hear. They surprised me by their levels of transparency and detail
and proved to be ideal for an apartment dweller looking for an all-around
loudspeaker that excels with every style of music. They are not the last word if you are trying to reproduce an
orchestra in your listening room and quite frankly, very few speakers succeed at
that without suffering in other areas. The
search for proper stands might be a little frustrating, but the right one makes
an enormous difference. The SP2/3
are an ideal loudspeaker for a mature audiophile who is fed up with all of the
“flavour of the month” products and wants something substantial and capable
of truly high-end reproduction.
Type: two-way loudspeaker
Drivers: 8” polypropylene woofer, 0.75” soft-dome fabric tweeter
Impedance: 8 ohms
Crossover Point: 3 kHz
Frequency Response: 60 Hz – 20 kHz +/- 3dB
Dimensions: 21.5”x 12.75” x 10.75” (HxDxW)
Weight: 44 pounds
Power Handling: 100 watts