Spendor S100 loudspeaker

"Speakers are difficult," says Lars.

That's why he's held on to his ESB speakers for more than five years now. It's not that he thinks the ESBs are perfect, or even necessarily the best speakers he's heard. It's yust that he thinks all other available speakers fall considerably short of perfection, too. And in this I have to agree with him, though I hasten to add that the ESBs are not speakers I would choose to live with.

I go to CES—or to friends'—and hear speakers that retail for $5000/pair, $10,000/pair, or even more. I think they would have been much better off spending their money on something else—better amplifiers, for instance. More records or CDs. Better yet, more concert tickets.

Quite a few equipment manufacturers, who wish to remain nameless for diplomatic reasons, agree with me that speakers are tough. Said one maker of tube gear, "I go to an opera or a concert and I can't listen to my system for days—the sound falls so far short of what I hear with live music."

When I mentioned the Spendor S100s to this same manufacturer, he said, "Spendor. That's a name from the past. Their speakers were highly regarded in the '70s, early '80s—the BC1s and BC3s."

It's true. Spendor speakers don't have a high profile. But they never did. They've never run slick ad campaigns, à la B&W or KEF. Never hired any public-relations flack to get their name in the mass-fi mags. Never flown Hans Fantel to the factory and, so far as I know, never had a mention in the New York Times.

What's more, Spendor speakers are somewhat old-fashioned. No attempt to come out with a new model every year. No metal domes, gold domes, ceramic woofers, or whatever. No gimmicks of any kind.

And the Spendor S100s even sound somewhat old-fashioned. You know, the way big speakers used to sound—rich, smooth, sweet, not at all strident on top, laid-back rather than forward. Yet the Spendor S100s are up to date in terms of their detail—transparency, if you will. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Spendors arrived a few months after I had settled in with my pair of Spica Angeluses (Angeli).

Now you know how I like the Spicas—one of the best speakers you can buy for under $1500/pair, and one of the best speakers you can buy period. If I tell you I like the Spendor S100s even more, keep in mind you have to spend nearly twice the money for them.

The Angeli image superbly well. In fact, if you get them set up just right—correctly positioned in your particular listening room, which takes experimentation—then they can disappear. Not physically, of course, which is part of the problem since the unconventional looks turn off so many prospective purchasers. But sonically.

Faults of the Spicas? Not very much deep bass. Plus, if you drive them too hard, they just give up. My friend Rudi at Definitive Hi Fi was intent on demonstrating this—with his pair of Angeli. He cranked up his Krells on the Wilson Audio CD Winds of War and Peace. Along came a thwack of that 16' drum or whatever, and the woofers gave a sickening crack.

"Gad, what are you trying to do, blow up the speakers?"

Death wish.

There's another problem with the Spicas. The tweeter can seem a bit aggressive at times—rather piercing. It particularly affects the flute. I found that OCOS speaker cable, which I do not necessarily recommend with your speakers, did much to diminish this, but the piercing quality of the treble did become more and more annoying the longer I kept the Angeli. Not a fatal flaw, but a flaw nonetheless.

You have to consider all the good points of the Angelus, though: the imaging, the soundstaging, the fact that you can place the speakers far apart and still get decent centerfill, the freedom from upper-bass coloration which mars the reproduction of male voices on many speakers—all of these things, plus the ability to render extraordinary amounts of detail, make the Spica Angelus an outstanding buy at $1275/pair...if you can overlook the looks.

Sonically, the Spendor S100s are something else.

Not as great at imaging as the Angeli—might as well tell you that. No matter where I put them in the room, the Spendor S100s did not quite succeed in "disappearing" like the Spicas, though they did come surprisingly close when I got them in the right spot. But in all other respects, I prefer the Spendors over the Spicas. Indeed, I should. The Spendor S100s are $2295/pair. Add $175 for custom stands—mandatory—made by Chicago Speaker Stands.

If you know the Spendor line, then maybe you'll find this observation helpful. I find that the S100s more resemble the SP2s (now the SP 2/2s) than they do the SP1s. The Spendor SP1s I found a little lean—not enough bass to match the extended and beautifully articulated treble. The SP2s sounded quite different: less extended on top, a little sweeter through the midrange (perhaps a result of being not so extended on top), and subjectively richer in the bass. Or "subyectively," as Lars used to say. (Some of us watch our p's and q's. Lars watches his j's.) I have put SP2s in many systems—mainly for non-audiophile friends—and I've had nothing but raves as a result. People who aren't audiophiles love the SP2s because they're so smooth, sweet, and easy to take on top. The S100s are in this mold.

Which means they aren't for audiophiles, right? Not for you?

Well, maybe not. Certainly if you're looking for quick thrills, you won't like the Spendor S100s. They have a somewhat self-effacing quality about them, and I'm not sure they'll demonstrate well in the showroom—to audiophiles. Music lovers are another story. They may take to the S100s instantly.

The first thing that strikes people who listen to the S100s (and yes, I have talked with other people) is the smoothness through the midrange and the sweetness of the treble. These are about the most ingratiating, least grating speakers I've ever heard. While the S100s will not knock your socks off or blow you away, or any of that audiophile crapola, they may just win you over. You can't audition these speakers quickly. Listen for at least an hour and I am sure the virtues of the S100s will come across.

For big box speakers—almost 28" high by 14½" wide by 17" deep—these 90 lb. Spendors are remarkably free of bass coloration. There's a little boxiness—the kind that makes pompous WQXR announcers sound even more so. But overall, the S100s' bass is outstanding, and I'm not a person who likes the bass I hear out of speakers.

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