Spendor S5e loudspeaker

I'm never more conservative than when the subject turns to home audio. And at the end of the day, I want little more than to preserve the hobby's finest institutions: Alnico magnets. Parchment cones. Mono. Sonata form. Ballads that actually tell stories. Give me tubes. Give me vinyl. Give me thin-walled hardwood cabinets, obsolete tweeters, and handmade polypropylene woofers. Give me the Spendor BC1.

It was a dark day when Spendor stopped making their first and finest loudspeaker—or so I used to think. I got over it when I heard the Spendor SP100 in the early 1990s, and when I admitted to myself that the newer speaker was indeed better, notwithstanding its thicker walls and its modern dome tweeter. The woofer, for its part, was still a plastic cone, made in-house on jigs that the company's founder, the late Spencer Hughes, had created 30 years before. Some things were never meant to change.

Spendor's own drivers are present and accounted for in the company's newest line of speakers, the S range, in the midst of which we find the S5e ($1649/pair). Apart from those plastic cones, however, virtually everything else is new. The cabinets of this slender floorstanding speaker are made entirely of 18mm-thick MDF, and are balance-veneered—ie, veneer is glued to the inside surfaces as well as to the outside, to keep the wood stable. The S5e's cabinet uses internal, circumferential braces at each driver position, for greater rigidity; those braces are also sized and shaped to function as back-braces for the drivers: The wood is carved to fit against the rear surfaces of the drivers' magnet assemblies, with rigid polymer dampers between, intended to turn excess energy into heat.

Said drivers include a 1" fabric-dome tweeter—manufactured by the kindly folks at SEAS—and a pair of Spendor's plastic cones. The first of those, a 5" driver that operates from 4.5kHz down to the system's low-frequency limits, is made from a new translucent polymer called ep38 (I bet I know what the p stands for), which Spendor chose for its being stiff, light, and intrinsically well damped. Its surround is a light, flexible butyl rubber, and there's a stationary phase plug at the center.

If one were to regard that first 5" cone as a midbass driver, then the second one, which is made from an evidently thicker, heavier homopolymer, is strictly a woofer, the upper range of which begins to roll off at 700Hz. Its surround appears similar to that of the above-mentioned midbass driver, but instead of a phase plug it sports a lightweight alloy dustcap, cemented right to the cone. Both of the 5" drivers are assembled onto cast aluminum frames.

So the S5e is neither a two-way nor a three-way system, but actually a two-and-a-half-way system: Both woofers are working at the lowest frequencies, although the bottom one isn't asked to do any work above 700Hz.

The bass-loading system also deserves mention. The S5e's woofers are reflex-loaded, but not with the usual cylindrical port. Rather, the drivers are "slot-loaded," with a broad, rectangular port that opens at the rear. The bottom of the cabinet proper is left open, and a nicely made MDF base fits against it, to be bolted on tightly. A sculpted area at the top of the base mates with a chamfered surface at the bottom of the enclosure, and together these form a tapered waveguide that's said to resist the buildup of standing waves and to behave more symmetrically than a standard reflex system. The result, Spendor claims, is flatter bass response, higher drive levels, and no "chuffing," as sometimes occurs with round ports. Also, because the cabinet is designed to absorb or otherwise deal with midrange energy before it gets into the waveguide—thanks to the above-mentioned polymer sheets between the braces and the drivers—nothing but bass information comes out of the port.

The S5e's crossover network uses third-order filters, and is said to be designed for especially good dispersion and off-axis response. In common with the SP100s and BC1s of yore, the S-range crossovers use Spendor's own hand-wound, hand-matched inductor coils; they go the older speakers even better by banishing series resistors for response attenuation of the drivers. That, along with the relatively simple crossover design, would seem to contribute to the Spendors' pleasantly average electrical sensitivity and nominal impedance, which are 87dB and 8 ohms, respectively.

Compared with the last one I pried apart, Spendor has greatly improved the physical quality of their crossovers: Circuit boards are cleaner and sturdier, with a much more rigid and vibration-proof mounting. Even the internal wiring seems to have been upgraded—although most electrical connections are still made with solderless tabs.

Before I go into more detail: During an exchange that took place during the Hang the Editors Seminar at Home Entertainment 2004 East, in New York City, one attendee—I'm sorry I didn't get his name—asked us to clarify what we meant, precisely, by the placement distances stated in our reviews: Do we measure from the front baffle, or from the rear of the enclosure, or from some imagined central point, or what? It was a reasonable enough question, but one for which none of us had a neatly crafted answer, also reasonably enough. For my reviews, then, please note that all distances are measured from the exact center of the front baffle, perpendicular to the relevant wall. To simplify things, I shall continue to do it this way until the end of time.

I listened to the Spendor S5es for several days before reading the manufacturer's specification sheet or measuring them with my AudioControl SA3050 spectrum analyzer. When I finally did the former, my reaction was mild surprise: Aw, they have a little more bass than that, don't they? But when I did the latter, my measurements supported the specs to a satisfying degree. Once again, I'm left to wonder how and why some speakers sound even better than they are.

Even when I first set them up, paying only casual attention to placement, I achieved absolutely boffo measured performance from the Spendor S5es: Bass response was down only 3dB at 63Hz, and, at the other end, response rolled off very gently, beginning after 10kHz. Apart from that, the only glitch was a 9dB response dip centered at 160Hz. Not bad for hardly trying, or hardly bad for not trying, depending on how you look at it.

As it turned out, the best results in my 12' by 19' music room were with the Spendors placed 68" from the rear wall and 24" from each side wall, aimed directly at the listening seat. Moving the listening position a little farther from the speakers helped flatten and extend the bass response, as did varying the distance between the speakers and the side walls—although I continued to fight either a 3dB peak at 100Hz or a diminished version of the aforementioned dip at 160Hz.

I also tried the Spendor S5e speakers in my 19' by 27' living room (but I didn't measure their response in that setting). The comments that follow apply to that installation as well, which did, however, yield less in the way of imaging precision and perceived scale. Although the Spendors are biwirable in the usual sense, I didn't try that during the course of the review, leaving the speakers' gold-plated links in place. The power amplifiers were my own EAR 890 (70Wpc into 8 ohms) and Naim NAP110 (about half that). The rest of the system was the usual stuff, detailed elsewhere.

US distributor QS&D
33 McWhirt Loop, No.108
Fredericksburg, VA 22406
(800) 659-3711