Spendor S3/5R2 loudspeaker

The Spendor S3/5R2 loudspeaker reminds me of Art Dudley. My friendship with Art began more than 25 years ago, long before either of us joined Stereophile. Frequently, we would sit down to discuss music, guitars, and audiophiles. Art didn't have much patience for a certain category of audiophile who would evaluate an audio component based on how many points on their sonic checklists they could tick off. Image specificity? Check. Soundstage depth? Check. Lower-bass extension? Check. Art thought these guys would have a much better time if they'd just sit down, listen, and determine if an audio component was capable of "playing music." He felt that many audio components fit this category; eg, the Roksan and Linn turntables, many single-ended-triode tube amplifiers.

Art reviewed the Spendor S3/5se in July 2003. This review concerns the laterst iteration of that design, the S3/5R2.

For more than 20 years, English manufacturer Spendor was licensed to manufacture the LS3/5a, a minimonitor designed in 1976 by the BBC. In 1997, when KEF stopped making the drive-units for the LS3/5a, Spendor designed a 0.9" (22mm) soft-dome tweeter, a 5.5" (140mm) mid/woofer, and a cabinet to put them in, and dubbed the result the S3/5, followed by a special edition, the S3/5se. A new mid/woofer and crossover network was the foundation of the S3/5's successor, the S3/5R, which was manufactured through 2010. Finally, in 2011, the S3/5R2 ($1595/pair) emerged, with all-new driver and crossover technology.


The new 5.5" mid/woofer has machined magnet poles to increase cone excursion and power handling. Its ep39 polymer cone, with phase-correction technology, is crossed over to the tweeter at a very high 4.2kHz, so that the transition occurs above the area in which human hearing is most sensitive. The 0.9", wide-surround, soft-dome tweeter is designed to combine the extended frequency response of a small diaphragm with the low-frequency characteristics of a larger diaphragm, to minimize distortion over a broad range of frequencies. Finally, the new phase-linear crossover network is mounted on a nonresonant panel.

The single-wired S3/5R2 is available in Cherry, Light Oak, Dark Walnut, and Black Ash. I tested my review samples, finished in attractive Cherry, using my Celestion Si speaker stands loaded with sand and lead shot (Spendor recommends stands that place the S3/5R2 19.5–25.5" above the floor). I experimented with the grilles on and off, but there was negligible difference. I preferred the slightly more detailed sound with the grilles removed, and left them off for my listening sessions.

One word that kept popping up in my listening notes was clarity. It first appeared as I listened to "Ghosts," from the Albert Ayler Quartet's The Hilversum Session (LP, ESP 4035). I was quite taken with how easily I was able to follow Gary Peacock's fleeting bass line as tenor saxophonist Ayler and trumpeter Don Cherry trade solos. And Steve Nelson's vibes solo in "The Mooche," from John Atkinson's production of the Jerome Harris Quintet's Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), was delicate, with every note of Nelson's angular phrasing rendered cleanly, with perfect attack and a long, silky decay.

Another word that appeared throughout my notes was cohere. In "Third World Anthem," from Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition's Album Album (CD, ECM 1280), DeJohnette's fast, syncopated drum transients were the glue that tied together the three horns' tuttis to provide this track's harmonic foundation. On Weather Report's eponymous first album (CD, Columbia CK 48824), the integration of Miroslav Vitous's double bass with Alphonse Mouzon's drum kit was clean and coherent; the pair seemed to glide along as a single rhythmic entity.

Over the last year or two, my acid test for high-frequency articulation has been John Zorn's Orphée, for chamber ensemble and electronics, from his Mysterium (CD, Tzadik TZ8018). Zorn has written some ridiculously fast and complex passages for acoustic percussionist David Shively and electronic percussionist Ikue Mori, and the realism of this transient roller-coaster ride was staggering—I'd never heard it reproduced more cleanly by any other loudspeaker. I was also quite taken with the pristine, metallic airiness of Tara Helen O'Connor's flute in this recording—as with pretty much every recording I listened to, the highs were extended, detailed, and uncolored. I had a similar reaction to Yehudi Menuhin's violin in Bartók's Violin Concerto 2, with the Minneapolis Symphony conducted by Antal Doráti (CD, Mercury Living Presence 434 350-2)—it sounded extended and sweet, with extraordinary definition in his upper-register solo passages. And Miles Davis's trumpet, in the melody line of the title track of My Funny Valentine (LP, Columbia CK 93593), had a silky but metallic bite, with vibrant tone.

Well-recorded orchestral works spotlit the Spendor's ability to resolve subtle, low-level dynamic nuances. In the first movement of David Chesky's Violin Concerto, with soloist Tom Chiu and Anthony Aibel leading Area 31 (SACD/CD, CD layer, Chesky SACD353), the entire string section was rhythmically coherent; I was able to follow each player's subtle dynamic inflections. And the S3/5R2's high-level dynamics were fairly impressive for so small a speaker. In the most demanding passages of Doráti and the London Symphony's recording of Stravinsky's The Firebird (CD, Mercury Living Presence SR 90226), there was a sense of drama and weight, and the orchestra was stretched across a wide, deep stage with plenty of air. The bass-drum thwacks seemed quite powerful and realistic, though I've heard that bass drum extend deeper—it did sound a bit rolled off. However, listening to Percy Faith's "Brazilian Sleigh Bells," from Frederick Fennell and the Eastman-Rochester Pops' Hi-Fi a la Española and Popovers (CD, Mercury Living Presence 434 349-2), I felt the high-level passages achieved a level of only ff; I've heard more boisterous presentations of these sections through other speakers.

Spendor Audio Systems Ltd.
US distributor: Bluebird Music Limited
500 Witmer Industrial Estates
Niagara Falls, NY 14304
(416) 638-8207

LCDC's picture

I currently own a pair of these fine speakers and have to say that couldnt believe how good they were when i demoed them last year. They blew me away.

Ive got a pretty broad colection of music but these seem to bring a smile to my face whether it's AC/DC, Bjork or Marvin Gaye.

Should i ever buy a new set of speakers, i cant see them being an 'upgrade' in the mid range. Soundstaging is wonderful.

hnipen's picture

In this audio world of today where it's so common to ask for "louder", "bigger", "more bass", "max spl" it's really refreshing to read reviews like this, thx a lot for the nice and very interesting review.

After reading about Spendor S3/5R2 and Harbeth P3ESR also here in Stereophile it's really tempting at least to audition these speakers, there is a distinct beauty in small monitors like this and for some it will be speakers they can live with ever after.

I certainly got a clear wish to get the Spendor's or Harbeth's into the house now :-)

dalethorn's picture

This review describes my experience with the LS3/5a exactly, so this speaker must be something really special.

wgb113's picture

Would have been the KEF LS50.  See how Spendor carried on KEF's BBC tradition vs. KEF's re-imagining of a new one.


walshbouchard's picture

Has anybody demod the new SP2/3R2 I have owned 4 x SP2/3R since 2008 and would be interested to know if anybody out there  has  found  much difference /improvement with the updated R2 over the "R". and if the improvement is really worth the extra cash?


J Walsh

Maidstone UK