Despite some issues with scale, the diminutive new Spendor’s are practically holographic.
SPENCER AND DOROTHY Hughes founded Spendor in the 1960s, at first just for fun, drawing on their experience working for the BBC’s sound engineering department. Their first design, the now legendary BC1 speaker was, for a time, the go-to studio monitor. And pretty soon their creations – among them the BC1 and the Spendor version of the LS3/5a, the classic BBC-licensed monitor also made by Rogers and Goodmans – were available to the home consumer. Today there are five lines in the Spendor range: SA, A (under which comes the A3, the Classic, AV for home theatre) and the ST loudspeaker, with models to suit all but the most meagre of budgets.
The A3s are the entry model in the A-Line range, followed by the A5, A6 and on up to the larger, more expensive A9. The A3s are also the smallest of the line- up, measuring 750 x 165 x 250mm (h x w x d) and weighing around 12kg. They are a 2-way, rear reflex enclosure design using a 22mm ‘wide-surround’ dome tweeter with fluid cooling and a 15cm ‘ep38’ cone mid-bass driver with a magnesium alloy chassis to support the motor drive system.
These main drivers remind me a little of early Missions with their whitish, almost clear driver material, but this is Spendor’s own recipe. Spendor speakers are made in Sussex, England and the low frequency and midrange drivers are designed and made in-house while the high frequency drivers are out-sourced and made to precise specification. The A3s are rated at 8 ohms impedance with 125 watts power handling, and a measured sensitivity of 86dB. The frequency response is given to be 70 Hz to 20 kHz (the crossover point being 4.2 kHz). The A3s have a single pair of sturdy four-way WBT gold binding posts for single wire cables only, so there is no option for bi-wiring. The cabinets are mounted onto an MDF plinth, into which spikes are threaded for extra support (which is done very well, considering the narrow dimensions, though I felt a little more rigidity could be needed) and come in black ash, cherry, light oak and dark walnut wood grain finishes. Other features sited by Spendor include a new high-grade crossover design “and ‘dynamic damping’ to minimise cabinet resonances”.
The A3s are certainly handsome looking speakers, even in the black finish – which I don’t usually go for – and looked very nice in my room. They are indeed very well made and solid little speakers.
It is no secret that I am fond of Spendors. I own a pair of Classic SP2/3 standmounts, from the 1990s, and they are beautifully constructed and finished and to my ears they sound bloody marvellous. The midrange is to die for, the treble is sweet and detailed and while the speakers do not go particularly low in the bottom end, they still surprise me in what I can manage to coax from them; with the right amplification and source, they really can sound superb all round. So with this in mind I was very keen to try out these Spendor A3s to see what they could do in comparison.
Set Up and Listening
The A3s were fairly easy to set up and position, but as always, I thoroughly recommend spending some time and effort getting them just right for you and your room. I favoured giving them plenty of space and having them a good distance from the rear wall, though I experimented with this in order to get the very best bass response I could. I also found that I preferred having them angled in towards the listening position and tilted back ever so slightly.
At 86dB, the A3s are not particularly sensitive, but with their 8ohm impedance my 140wpc Unison Research Unico SE valve-hybrid amplifier was well qualified for the job of driving them, connected with some QED Silver Anniversary XT speaker cable which I have found to be very good sonically. I was especially interested to hear whether the A3s had that lovely signature Spendor midrange that I know and love and I wondered how much bass they could produce form such small cabinets.
(Leslie) Feist’s 2004 album Let It Die is one of my favourite alternative pop records (even though it features a cover of a Gibbs brother’s song) because I reckon it contains some of her finest songs as well as being very nicely recorded, with some great sounding piano and French baroque grooves. Straight away I was impressed with the way the singer’s expressive voice floated freely between the speakers; quite holographic, although I was aware that her voice and the music was coming up at me from low down rather than being of a realistic scale. The midrange was smooth and open with eloquent sounding piano and guitars while silky samples and synths filled out the soundscape. The treble was very sweet indeed, perhaps a little more relaxed than the SP2/3s and never causing any fatigue or discomfort even with the sharpest notes, though the cymbal strikes in particular tended not to be as crisp.
The biggest surprise – at least as far as my expectations went – was the bass: it was very tight and energetic, very ‘articulate’ (to quote Spendor themselves) and fairly well detailed. It did seem, however, that the bottom end was more ‘of the cabinets’, as rather than filling or even rattling the room it stayed within the bounds of the speakers themselves. I was constantly aware of the smaller scale of the music, and even adjusting the front spikes so the speakers were angled upwards towards my ears did little to remedy this.
Moving to something a little darker, I put on Superette’s one and only full-length album Tiger, from 1996, on Flying Nun Records. This is a record of fine, slightly disturbing (killer clowns and cannibalism, anyone?) pop songs with quite a dark and heavy guitar sound along with an often fairly swift pace. Despite the small scale offered by the speakers, it all sounded pretty good at average listening levels, with good energy, solid bass and drums and a speedy guitar sound. But cranking the volume up to not-quite-but-almost-neighbour-annoying levels, I found the A3s seemed to struggle a little, not quite managing to maintain a coherent performance, with the rhythm section and the sludgy guitar sounding a bit confused and overbearing; listening at the same volume through the SP2/3s, the sound was more open, detailed and effortless.
I thought maybe jazz might be an ideal test for these diminutive speakers, and indeed Arthur Blythe’s Spirits In The Field was speedy and detailed within a nice wide, deep soundstage. Playing alto-saxophone, Blythe held focus with his distinctive tone, and was accompanied by tuba doing bass duties and drums. The interplay between this trio was nicely highlighted by the A3s, which had each instrument in its own space but allowed me to hear them working together to create a beautiful musical performance. The small venue of this live recording was well illuminated and sax blasts sounded realistic, with nice lively cracks of the drum skins and a nice rich, colourful tuba sound. The final crack of the cymbals at the end of ‘Break Tune #2’ wasn’t as satisfying as usual, again possibly because of the smaller scale, but the claps and cheers of the audience were surprisingly holographic, almost making me feel part of it.
With danceable electronica, my trusty Pitch Black Rhythm Sound And Movement – Rude Mechanicals Remixes CD proved once again that the A3s had a truly lovely midrange and treble, providing good detail retrieval and imaging with a good sense of timing and involvement, if just feeling a little more reserved (and smaller)than I’m accustomed to. Samples and electronic wizardry blipped and popped all over the place while the main beats held fast and steady. The often unflinching bass featured throughout the record was swift and solid, if not entirely room filling or pounding, but it was well defined in that it didn’t become mushy or swamp out the copious midrange action. While ‘big and thunderous’ is the best way to hear Pitch Black (seeing the duo live is a worthwhile experience), I still enjoyed the Spendor’s somewhat understated delivery.
I found that with whatever I played – even if it was just old bFM through the tuner – I could sit and listen for long periods (when time and children allowed, that is) and not get bored or fatigued. Even without extremely high levels of detail resolution, thunderous bass or life size scale, the speakers delivered an enjoyable and involving sound with an open and airy elegance that I found to be rather appealing.
For the most part, all the types of music I tried were handled with confidence by the A3s, with loads of punch and grace, despite occasionally struggling with one or two of my rockier albums. When listening to music I was always aware of the small size of the speakers and yet I think they’d be ideal in a small room where space limitations (or partners) dictate something small – I would be tempted to get a listening beanbag instead of a listening chair though.
In spite of my reservations about size, please don’t be put off if you have a bigger room because, as I have expressed earlier, they do give the listener a fine sound despite any shortcomings (pardon the pun) and I feel they still have the potential to impress.
Build quality is top rate and the sturdy, solid little speakers integrated quite nicely, at least appearance- wise, into my room. The sound is quite characteristic of Spendors with that open, natural midrange, and there is plenty of detail retrieval, albeit not necessarily in a clinical or even typically hi-fi way. Bass is good considering the size of the cabinets and drivers, though it probably won’t overly impress those who require deep, thumping low frequencies. However, there is still plenty of charm to be had and I’ll bet these speakers will get many surprised looks from visitors, who will probably insist you move over so they can join you on the listening seat for a closer listen.
The Spendor A3s are well worth an audition and for most people could very probably be the only speakers they ever need. ANDREW BAKER