Spendor S3/5R2 loudspeaker Page 2

The S3/5R2's reproduction of bass was pleasing overall. Ikue Mori's deep-bass, electronic-percussion transients in Zorn's Orphée were at times startling. However, in "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," from the White Stripes' White Blood Cells (CD, V2 63881-27124-2), I felt I'd heard Meg White's pounding bass drum with more drama. And while the title track of Charles Mingus's Pithecanthropus Erectus (CD, Atlantic AMCY-1036) had a nice, linear, dynamic envelope through the S3/5R2s, and J.R. Monterose's tenor-sax solo was lyrical and dimensional, I've heard Mingus's walking-bass lines on this track with more prominence through other speakers.

I'm curious to see John Atkinson's measurements of the S3/5R2; other speakers based on the BBC LS3/5a have been notorious for incorporating an upper-bass "bump" to give the listener the impression that the speaker extends far deeper in the bass than it actually does. Spendor claims a low-frequency limit for the S3/5R2 of 75Hz, but it sounded deeper than that. At no point during my listening did I feel shortchanged in terms of bass extension, nor did the S3/5R2's spectral balance ever sound tipped up toward the high frequencies.

Vocal recordings had a delicate intimacy through the Spendor. Even Thurston Moore's breathy, processed voice in Sonic Youth's cover of "Superstar," from If I Were a Carpenter, a tribute to the Carpenters (CD, A&M 31454 0258 2), floated on a bed of air against the backdrop of Lee Ranaldo's piano.


In fact, most well-recorded classical and jazz sounded quite impressive through the Spendors. Rafael Kubelik and the Chicago Symphony's recording of Mussorgsky-Ravel's Pictures at an Exhibition (CD, Mercury Living Presence 434 378-2) was presented on a bed of air with a tremendous sense of bloom. The top octaves were delicate, and the articulation of percussion transients was perfect. The trombones sounded as if emerging from much larger speakers. The orchestra didn't sound bass shy, except for the extreme bottom of the bass drum. Anat Fort's acoustic piano in her A Long Story (CD, ECM 1994) was warm, airy, and delicate, and the bloom of Ed Schuller's double bass perfectly blended with Paul Motian's delicate brushwork on snare and cymbals. And Gina Bachauer's piano in Stravinsky's Pétrouchka: Three Movements for Piano (CD, Mercury Living Presence 434 359-2) was forceful, delicate, dynamic, and airy. From my notes: "The most lifelike solo piano I've heard from a bookshelf speaker."

I compared the Spendor S3/5R2 ($1595/pair) with the Dynaudio Excite X12 ($1200/pair), the Monitor Audio RX6 Silver ($1250/pair), and the Epos M16i ($1995/pair).

The Dynaudio Excite X12 resolved almost as much detail as the Spendor S3/5R2, and had a warm midrange and delicate, silky highs. Perhaps the Dynaudio was a bit more romantically balanced, but its midbass was fatter and warmer. The Spendor also had more accurate transients, superior high-level dynamics, and was a bit more coherent.

The Monitor Audio RX6 Silver had deeper bass and superior high-level transients than the Spendor, but the S3/5R2 resolved a bit more detail and seemed more refined. The Spendor also resolved a hair more detail, and seemed more transparent and airy, with superior low-level dynamic articulation.

The Epos M16i's detail and delicacy in the midrange equaled that of the Spendor S3/5R2, but its midbass was more prominent than and its high-level dynamics were superior to both the Spendor's and the Dynaudio's (but not in the same league as the Monitor's). The Epos's highs were as silky and airy as the Spendor's.

The Spendor S3/5R2 is an impressively evolved descendant of the original BBC LS3/5a. So long as you don't expect it to perform superhuman feats of deep bass and high-level dynamics, you should find the S3/5R2 a revealing and involving reproducer of a broad range of music, big and small, of all genres. As I listened to my last reference recording—Janis Ian's Breaking Silence (CD, Morgan Creek/Analogue Productions CAPP 027)—I put my pen down, and reviewed the last notes I'd taken about this stunning little bookshelf speaker: "This is all you need."

Art Dudley would like the Spendor S3/5R2 loudspeaker. It plays music.

Of course, I could say that the Spendor is an uncolored transducer; that, over a wide range of music, it resolves a great deal of detail with accurate replication of transient articulation and dynamic contrasts. The speaker has no shortcomings whatsoever, aside from those dictated by the laws of physics that a small speaker can't overcome: limited low-bass extension, and a lack of high-level dynamic contrasts when compared to much larger, well-designed floorstanding speakers.

But with every recording I tried, instruments and voices sounded as they should, and the speaker did a damn good job of occasionally fooling me into thinking that live musicians were playing in the room. I guess an audiogeek would say that the speaker excelled at "spectral and temporal coherence"; in other words, it let all frequencies emerge uncolored and undistorted, and hit my ears at pretty much the same time.

As I said, the Spendor S3/5R2 played music.

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