Spendor BC-1 loudspeaker

666Spendor_BC1.jpgThis smallish loudspeaker system has been getting high ratings in the English audio magazines for some years but was not available to US consumers until recently, when the small firm (literally a Mom'n'Pop enterprise, footnote 1) arranged for US distribution through Audio International.

The Spendor BC-1 is about as unimpressive-looking as any other smallish three-way loudspeaker, of which there are countless hundreds of models being made in the US at present. In fact, we were so ho-hummed by the mundane appearance of this speaker that we found it hard to connect the pair up and give them a listen.

Let it first be said that this speaker does have shortcomings, not the least of which includes a tendency toward mid-bass drumminess and a mild but sharp peak around 12kHz, which adds a subtle hissing edge to the sound of massed violins. Above about 12kHz, the high end falls off rapidly, resulting in a perceptible deficiency of airiness. This was a source of puzzlement to us, since we find it hard to understand how a system that is claimed to cross over into its tweeter at 13kHz can have a progessively falling response above 12kHz. Perhaps the Spendor people can explain that one. . .

The BC-1 has in common with most British speakers a paucity of deep low-end range and of noise-making ability. The bottom, according to Spendor's own curves (and verified by our tests) falls off rapidly below 55Hz, and the system is rated at a maximum SPL (sound pressure level) of 101dBA. (The "A" refers to the so-called A-weighted frequency-resposne scale for SPL measurements. The A-weighted scale actually corresponds more closely to the ear's response at low listening levels than it does to high-level listening, but it was recommended Walsh-Healey Environmental-Noise Act becasue it better delineates that part of the audible spectrum that is most likely to cause traumatic damage to our hearing. It has thus become the standard weighting for most SPL measurements.) An SPL of 101dBA is very loud for any music except for closely miked symphonic material and hard rock, which latter doesn't qualify as music anyway. So much for the BC-1's liabilities.

Its assets include truly remarkable reproduction of depth and superb imaging and scale (footnote 2). Instrumental placement remains stable across the stereo "stage" between the speakers, and there is no tendency toward that U configuration where center instruments sound distant and vaguely imaged while flanking ones are definite but crowded toward the sides.

But the BC-1's strongest asset, its musical naturalness, is unfortunately going to be lost on most audiophiles who, unfamiliar with the sounds of live acoustical instruments, are incapable of recognizing it when they hear it. Despite their manifest shortcomings, these speakers can recreate the gestalt of live music like few systems—so well, in fact, that we found ourselves digging out old records we hadn't listened to for years and enjoying them for their content as well as for their naturalness.

It is considered very fashionable in some misguided circles today to equate "musicality" in sound reproduction with rounded-off edges and muzzy detail, and to contrast it with "accuracy," which, it seems, implies the analytically sharp reproduction of surface noise, mistracking, and the steeliness of microphone peaks. The BC-1s do not round off details—with that 12kHz peak, they tend, if anything, to do the opposite—but their accuracy is of the kind that makes discs sound the way they should in view of the microphones used and the tamperings (of lack thereof) that went into their mastering, rather than exaggerate their flaws (which is, in fact, what many audiophile-oriented systems do). Yet they manage to be so revealing of the quality of the signal fed to them that they allow one to really appreciate excellent equipment up front or to suffer the consequences of using less-than-perfect ancillaries.

Both the mid-bass drumminess and and that little 12kHz peak (see fig.1) can, however, cause problems if the BC-1s aren't carefully matched to the rest of the system. They do not, for example, fare too terribly well with most solid-state electronics, because the slight grittiness at such amplifiers' high ends tends to exacerbate the audibility of that peak, adding a nasty sizzle to the top. Most moving-coil cartidges are out for use with the Spendors, too, for much the same reason: Most have more or less of a 5–8kHz brightness suckout—if you don't believe this, look at the frequency response read-out that their manufacturers usually supply—and our ears make this sound like a rising response above 9kHz. Many tube amplifiers, on the other hand, have a tendency toward low-end heaviness, which doesn't help the BC-1's low end any.


Fig.1 Spendor BC-1, subjective frequency response. (Subjective frequency response curves show how a component sounds as if it behaves at different frequencies, rather than how it measures. A barely visible deviation from horizontal reflects a barely audible response deviation.)

An ideal combination that we found was a tubed power amp (practically any good tubed power amp) and Ace Audio's Model 3000 "pancake" preamp, with any phono cartridge that measures better than ±0.5dB from 40Hz to 14kHz, of which there are very few. (Stanton sphericals, Shure V15 IIIG (spherical), and the new Shure V15 IV are some of them.) The Ace 3000 mates unusually well with the Spendors because of a slight error in its RIAA equalization, which places the lower part of the spectrum (below 400Hz) about 2dB lower than the range above 2kHz. (Incidentally, Audio magazine's curve for RIAA error in its April 1978 issue, disagreed with ours: Our sample was flat at the high end and we verified our measurement's accuracy.) Other preamplifiers will do almost as well as long as they don't err in the opposite direction, toward mid-bass heaviness, and as long as their high end isn't marred by the the typical solid-state dryness or grittiness.

Against the LS3/5A
How does the BC-1 compare with the little BBC/Rogers LS3/5A speaker (footnote 3)? The Spendor isn't as smooth nor as extended at the top, nor is it quite as tight as the low end. But they will play louder without stress, they image just as well, they reproduce depth equally well, and they are just a mite more felicitous to instrumental timbres through that crucial midrange. (The LS3/5A has a slight brightness suckout, which needs the compensating brightness of most tubed electronics; the Spendor has no such suckout, which is why it has more of a sense of aliveness than the LS3/5A.)

Summing up, then, we would characterize the Spendor BC-1 as a music lover's speaker system rather than an audiophile's system. Mated with suitable accessory components, they can provide a level of sheer listening enjoyment offered by very few contemporary speaker systems. Audiophiles will not, we're afraid, be able to get much past that slight 12kHz sizzle and the deficiency of floor-shaking low end. A subwoofer would take care of the bottom, but the high end is there to get used to or to eschew.

After having lived with a pair of these speakers for a month now, listening to a wide variety of program material ranging from commercial discs and tapes to our own master tapes of choral and full-orchestral groups in the area, we must confess that the BC-1 is now our favorite $600/pair loudspeaker, mainly because (as we have stated many times) we feel that middle-range accuracy is the single more important prerequisite of a high-fidelity reproducer, and the Spendor has that accuracy in spades along with very nearly the aliveness and "snap" of electrostatics.

We cannot, however, over-emphasize the point that if you do not get to hear live, unamplified music more often than a couple of times in a year, you may not relate to these speakers at all. But if we were to be asked to recommend the best moderately priced complete system for the music lover/record collector who wants to live with his components for a few years instead of forever playing the upgrade game, a pair of Spendor BC-1s would be at the speaker end of that system. (At a somewhat lower price, our choice would be the LS3/5As, but we would have to qualify that choice with more reservations concerning low-end range and power-handling capability.)

For the benefit of those readers who are aware that Spendor makes other, larger speaker systems, our grapevine informs us that the BC-2 sounds, by comparison somewhat nasal and quite heavy, overall, while the BC-3 is smoother and more extended through the low end but still slightly more colored through the middle range than the BC-1 and with not as much "snap." (All three use the same high-frequency driver.)

One parting shot: We wish to God the English would realize that, in those parts of the world where banana plugs are used. dual banana plugs are more convenient than two separates. Many English speakers exported to the US have banana-plug connectors on them; we have yet to see one of them in which the plugs were spaced ¾" apart so that a dual plug can be used. Is it really too much to ask that one of those little holes be moved just a bit?

Footnote 1: The company's name, Spendor, derives from the first names of its founders, Spencer and Dorothy Hughes.—Ed.

Footnote 2: "Scale" refers to the apparent size of musical intruments. A voice, for example, should sound neither too light nor too heavy, and should image as a virtual pointsource.

Footnote 3: Spencer Hughes worked on the development of the acetate/wood-pulp–based plastic Bextrene as a cone material while working in the BBC's Engineering Department. He was chief engineer on an acoustic modeling speaker that was subsequently developed into the LS3/5A.—Ed.


pj's picture

When I was in high school in 1977 I bought these speakers. Holt's assessment is right on. 

They were reconed with Harbeth Radial drivers, which improved the performance considerably.

I enjoyed listening to them this afternoon.

jmsent's picture

They were my first "high end" speakers. Loved them, even with all their flaws. Very listenable. But the woofer was very fragile, and with a strong bass pulse could be partially demagnetized or quickly destroyed. Holt's subjective listening description was fairly accurate, but his "subjective frequency response graph" is utter baloney.  There was no huge peak at 12kHz. The speaker had a smooth, rising response in the treble and then dropped like a rock above 13kHz. I rather suspect he was hearing some whistles or other garbage coming from  the primitive Celestion 1300 tweeter.

MVBC's picture

But the BC-1's strongest asset, its musical naturalness, is unfortunately going to be lost on most audiophiles who, unfamiliar with the sounds of live acoustical instruments, are incapable of recognizing it when they hear it.

Wise words...wink

sdone's picture

I did not have this loudspeaker, but the stand on which it is sitting in the photo is the Speaker Upper, a very nice sturdy stand for such speakers. I have them under my McIntosh speakers which I bought back some 45 years ago and they are still made. The loudspeakers still sound as good as they did.