The New Old Face of Spendor
Rein sent his idea for the grills to Spendor one year ago. Designers sent him back swatches of fabric from which to make his choice. The result was on display: a dirt-brown cloth with interwoven, pale-yellow, vertical dashes. From afar, the grill fades into a shade of lighter brown, but up close, the dashes become more evident. I wanted to rub my face against them. The designers also affixed a replica of the original 1971 Spendor BC1 badge. Jay mentioned, “It’s like being in high school. You didn’t care about the sound. It just looks cool.” The retro grills are not as acoustically transparent as the black grills.
Upon arrival, In Living Stereo co-owner Steve Cohen invited me to the smaller listening room where a pair of grill-less Spendor SP3/1R2 standmount speakers ($3200/pair) played. Conveniently, I had a book of CDs in my backpack so I was able to play some familiar recordings. We put on David Grisman and Andy Statman’s 1983 release Mandolin Abstractions via the Naim CD55i CD player ($1900), Leben CS300XS integrated amplifier ($3795), Auditorium23 interconnects ($795/1m), and Auditorium23 loudspeaker cables ($1180/3m). In the sweet spot, Grisman and Statman were pinpointed to each side. The rapid alternating mandolin strums were nuanced and easy to differentiate. Rather than reckless acoustic scratching, the system turned their abstractions into mind-testing music.
During track two, “Apassionata”, the acoustic guitar lacked body. Eager to investigate this system’s bass performance, I pulled out Medeski, Martin, and Wood’s Shack-man. Again, low-level detail was expressive and detailed. John Medeski’s trills and harmonic pinches on his distorted clavinet made my face twitch, but Chris Wood’s electric bass on “Is There Anybody Here That Love My Jesus” was accompanied with upper bass boom. In response, I pulled out some psy-trance from Afro Celt Sound System’s Volume 3: Further in Time and was surprised that these small loudspeakers could recreate the experience of deep bass. These speakers could have sounded more even in the low frequencies with more proper setup. Nonetheless, the sound was stimulating.
It was time to check out the other listening room which had bigger speakers and the new grills.
With the retro grills on, the speakers looked warm and inviting. They were fixed onto a pair of tall standmount Spendor SP2/3R2 loudspeakers ($4395/pair). Playback came from a Garrard 301 with custom plinth and Ortofon SPU A cartridge refitted by Ken Shindo and into a Leben RS100 preamp ($4495) and Leben CS1000P power amplifier ($13,995). Interconnects were from Shindo ($1295/1m) and speakers cables from Auditorium23 ($1180/3m). Before we started listening, Rein gave a short presentation on the recent history of Spendor. Purchased by Philip Swift at Audio Lab ten years ago, Swift is committed to make Spendor a modern speaker company, an interesting contrast from the retro grills. In their reinvented design policy, Spendor speakers do not use any resistors in series in the crossover, which Swift claims leaves the midrange free from distorition. This matched what I heard. In the small room, there was liquidity, clarity, and detail in the upper midrange in John Medeski’s organ. In the bigger room, there was the same midrange clarity, but also warmth and even bass response. When we removed the grills, the sound opened up appreciably with more extended highs and clearer physical presence to the instruments in the room, but the speakers did not look as friendly. Someone turned off the lights so we could forget, and the small group of employees, press, and attendees faded way to the meditative sounds of Duane Pitre’s Feel Free.
The new grills will cost customers somewhere between $100-$250, depending on the speaker model, and should be available through special order by February 2014. While this seems like a high price for an extra set of grills, it may be a small drop in the bucket for someone already spending over $3000 on a set of loudspeakers. More important is what Rein mentioned earlier in the evening, once the speakers had the classic grills, customers were drawn to other facets of the speaker: the finish, the cabinet, and the sound. These new grills seduce innocent customers with nostalgia and then hopefully win them over with sonics. Sounds like a good strategy to me.