Spendor S3/5se loudspeaker Page 3
The sheep pig
Now for the most obvious question of all: How does the spiffed-up S3/5se compare with the original—which is still available, and still cheaper at just $949/pair in light cherry or black ash? I'd heard the regular S3/5s on a number of occasions, but that's not the same as a comparison—which is easily done when the product is this portable and the distributor this accommodating. (Thanks, Mike. When you go to Hawaii, make sure you leave the phone off the hook in case some reviewer tries to call.)
As I write this, downstairs a well-broken-in pair of S3/5s is playing Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's magnificent 1961 recording of Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin. "Die liebe Farbe" is my favorite song in the cycle, and Fischer-Dieskau sings it with a sense of irony bordering on bitterness and anger, in the second verse in particular—especially his first statement of the line "My darling loves hunting so dearly!" The standard S3/5 did an adequate job with all the subtle emotional cues in the music. But through the S3/5se—and more so than there being any great timbral difference or "coloration" (see above) in one speaker or the other—Fischer-Dieskau breathed better, had a better sense of dynamics, and generally sang more expressively. And at the angriest moment in the verse, the more expensive speaker compressed less: The voice got louder more easily. The difference was clearly audible.
That may be enough to sell most potential S3/5 buyers on the idea of the 'se, but by no means do the differences end there. On the Knappertsbusch Parsifal prelude—the excerpt, on Westminster, not the one from the complete performance on Philips, which is very different—the S3/5se did a distinctly better job with the sounds of the horns and woodwinds, making them seem more present and timbrally believable. The 'se version sounded more refined in almost every musically important way: Cymbals shimmered more politely and with less of a noisy quality, and voices and reed instruments sounded more like themselves. The quick, snappy country guitar licks that Gary Louris plays in the background right before the third verse of The Jayhawks' "Seen Him on the Street" were more noticeable through the more expensive Spendors, and seemed to carry more musical meaning. And in the funeral movement of Bruckner's Symphony 7 (with Bruno Walter on a late-'90s CD), the orchestra sounded more open and less shut-in with the more expensive speakers. The result was a bigger sound in some ways.
A tragic day
That's more or less where I came in: The idea of something this small and this affordable thumbing its little rosewood nose at the physical laws to which most things are bound is a delight, apart from the sheer musical and emotional enjoyment it gave me.
But because my family and I are moving to a different house in a matter of weeks, and because the comparison portion of this review meant I had to tie up twice as much of a distributor's stock than I'm comfortable doing, the day came when the Spendor S3/5se's just had to go back. I would rather've kept them around for the fun of it. Maybe, once we get settled, I can buy a pair for myself—the 'se version, that is—and if there's room in the new place, I'll set up a "secondary" system with them and my old Naims, and maybe Janet's Rega Planar 3 turntable. I already have the stands.
I don't think I could do a whole lot better in terms of value for money. The Spendor's cabinet, while not as exotic as some, is superbly crafted and finished. The ScanSpeak tweeter and Spendor's own woofer are both as refined as they come. (Spendor virtually invented the plastic-cone driver, and I think it's safe to say they've got it down by now.) The crossover is better-made than most. And the design is obviously superb—the product of a company with ears, brains, and a pedigree.
So, yes: I think the Spendor S3/5se is worth every penny of its $1249/pair price. Five years ago, when Spendor built and sold their last pair of BBC-designed LS3/5a's, those speakers sold for $1250/pair. Whether or not that small reference to history was intended, the result is the same: When Spendor stopped making the LS3/5a, they didn't stop making small, world-class speakers.