Spendor S3/5se loudspeaker Page 2
Other than that, the standard S3/5 ingredients prevail, including a beautifully made woofer with a molded frame, Spendor's own individually made inductors (I've been there! I've seen them do it!), and an intelligently designed thin-walled cabinet that uses a transverse brace and strategically placed bituminous pads instead of just being pounded together out of very thick wood—which is easier to do but results in energy-storage problems, they say (and I agree).
...pork is a nice sweet meat
I thought that the lightish S3/5se's sounded better sitting on four pea-sized dabs of Blu-Tack than it did perching on four upward-facing spikes. Stand height seemed dependent on nothing more exotic than listener height—and even this didn't seem terribly critical, since there were no severe tonal penalties for my sitting too high, too low, or too far afield. (As always, I'll be interested to hear what John Atkinson uncovers in his measurements, but I thought the Spendor's off-axis response was smooth and predictable; that, plus an impedance curve that never dips below 6 ohms, indicate a well-designed crossover network, as contrasted with the rubbish one often sees in speakers costing ten times as much, or more.)
Although the debate between the low-mass and high-mass camps in stand design may be an interesting topic for a future column, for now I'll leave it be, other than to say that, for this review, I used low-mass stands of rigid construction but long-forgotten origin.
Using my Audio Control Industrial spectrum analyzer to aid in room placement, the best compromise I could achieve between response smoothness and bass extension was with the little Spendors slightly less than 4' from the wall behind them, with the outer edges of their cabinets about 30" from each side wall and the speakers toed-in directly toward the listening area. Playing from there, bass extension was 4dB down at 80Hz—very much in keeping with the manufacturer's specifications—with a very gradual rolloff at both ends of the spectrum. There was still, believe it or not, faint output at 40Hz and even at 31.5Hz.
That wasn't the only setup location I enjoyed, however. Although I heard a few response irregularities in the upper bass through lower midrange when I tried it, I really enjoyed listening with the S3/5se's placed all the way against the wall, separated from one another by a mere 7' or so. (Made me feel like a proper Flat-Earther, it did.) I was astonished at the extent to which the imaging didn't suffer there, apart from a predictable decrease in the sense of stage depth: Image specificity and wholeness remained quite good.
Certain musical and sonic qualities were common to both installations. It's a bit of a cliché, I know, but the Spendors had an uncanny ability to sound big when they needed to, much as a housecat can puff itself up for brief periods of time. Orchestral instruments—the trombones and other brass instruments in the famous Charles Munch recording of Saint-Saëns' "Organ" Symphony, for example (LP, RCA/Classic Records)—sounded magnificent. And when I first lowered the needle to the lead-in groove on The Jayhawks' Tomorrow the Green Grass (LP, [label/cat. to come from AD]), I was almost startled by the realistic scale of the acoustic guitars that open "Blue"—and this coming straight from listening to the comparatively sizey Quad ESL-989s and Lowther Medallions.
Equally surprising—if no less a cliché in small-speaker reviews, for which sorriness I can only shake my head—was how well the Spendor performed in the bottom octaves. The bass on John Lee Hooker's "Shake it Baby," from It Serve You Right to Suffer (LP, Impulse! AS-9103; another good recording of good music) was tight and crazy-deep. The deep bass drum at the beginning of "Here Comes President Kill Again," from XTC's Oranges and Lemons (LP, Geffen GHS-24218), was nothing short of startling. Even the pedal tones in the Saint-Saëns were convincing: Obviously, the fundamentals were not there, but through a striking combination of second harmonics and realistic ambience or pressure—"clean noise," if you like—the Spendor got across the idea of deep bass if not the thing itself. On first listen, at least, the Spendor didn't sound that much lighter than the Quad. And it kicked hiney all over the Lowther, whose big enclosure I can scarcely carry by myself.
The S3/5se had a lot of strengths in my system, and, as my listening notes seem to show, they were adaptable to a wide range of musical styles. But if I were a Spendor salesman and I had just 15 minutes to convince you how good they are, I'd sit you down with the reissue of the legendary DeVito recording of Bach's Violin Concerto in E (LP, EMI). When I tried that one, I was just about ready to buy the S3/5se's myself—not because of individual aspects of the speaker's sound, but for its musical performance overall. It was spot-on in terms of pitch: I'd never before heard that record played back quite so listenably (especially true, I admit, when I drove the Spendors with my old-style Naim electronics), and the notes were so right and real that the music seemed hardwired to my brain. That record gave the best accounting of the Spendors' spatial strengths, too: Even with the speakers against the wall, I was completely entranced by the way the solo violin came a little forward of everything else, just stayed there, and sang and sang.