Speaker Review

SPENDOR A1 SPEAKERS: YOU MUST TAKE THE A-LINE

Looking to balance price with design and feature quality, Paul Rigby reviews Spendor’s new stand-mounts , the A1 speakers

Stand-mounted speakers are arguably the most popular variant of speaker design on the market. Partly because of cost, partly because size is important to those with little space to spare and partly because the speakers tend to provide excellent value for money.

This is all well and good but not particularly exciting. Stand-mounted speakers are ten a penny. Everyone does them.

Even so, when certain brands announce a new stand-mounted design, you really can’t help but sit up and take notice. Spendor is certainly one of those.

Founded in the late 60s by BBC engineer, Spencer and Dorothy Hughes – the ‘Spen’ and ‘Dor’ – in the name. The company started it’s life with its iconic BC1 which became the monitor of choice for broadcasters and recording studios worldwide. Since then, the company has never looked back and has gained an enviable reputation along the way for quality sound and design.

Spendor corrals its speakers into a varying ranges including the Classic series, the D-Line and, in reference to the speaker under review, the A-Line.

Focused on value for money and lower budget designs, the A-Line  tends to be slimmer and compact than other Spendor loudspeakers, using the new EP77 polymer cones and three veneer finishes: black ash, dark walnut and natural oak.

The 2-way stand-mounted A1, under examination here, spans 305 x 165 x 178mm and weighs 5kg. It includes a 22mm tweeter with an intriguing diaphragm profile.The tweeter has a protective mesh grille. The front also sees the 150mm mid/bass unit.

The A1 cabinet has thin low-mass side panels. Each panel is bonded to a visco-elastic damping pad which dissipates any  energy into inaudible heat.

SOUND TESTS

I began by spinning a beautifully mastered and pressed vinyl version of The Fall’s Frightened from a first pressing of Live At The Witch Trials.

In this sound test, the A1 speakers hit the ground running. So many positives hurled themselves at me, it was tough to write them all down. First of all, there is a delicious contrast between the vocal and the dominant drums. The latter provides an efficient power, a slightly dry, punchy, hard firm suite of lower frequencies that provide a transient speed that emphasises the mobile nature of this still massy – for the price and size – lower frequency.

The above is then combined with the organic nature of the vocal. Mark E. Smith – he of the languorous bitterness and the cutting edge comments – is present there with plenty of intricate texture. Smith’s voice is full of nuance. His vocal inflections are plentiful and a less than excellent speaker will miss most of them. Not the Spendors. The A1 speakers followed the vocal line with some ease, hanging off his vocal chords with aplomb.

The wide ranging, open and airy soundstage confirmed the low noise nature of this design. In fact, I had to raise the gain on my pre-amp by three clicks to reach the same volume, which added to the detail and penetration into the core of the mix. Treble was sensitive yet confident, especially during cymbal taps, while the shy organ riffs were informative and quietly confident instead of missing in action, as with many other speakers of this price point. The bass guitar too, another shy entrant into the soundstage, could be followed by the ear with ease.

I then changed the music to jazz and Gogi Grant’s version of the standard, By Myself.

I was happy to hear how the Spendors handled the vibrato-rich delivery of Grant. Some speakers at this price point can sound a little confused with the slightly nasal frontal area of the delivery with that vibrato reverb. Not the A1 speaker which held firm, added control but enough freedom for Grant to vocally express herself fully, adding emotion and sensitivity to her performance.

The instrumental separation within the orchestral background was wide enough to allow each instrument or bank of instruments room to manoeuvre, giving the ear a rounded appreciation of each. Brass instruments combined their wholly metallic effect with an organic resonance that added soul to the music while the percussion provided a delicate treble and an efficient beat which remained complex yet never blurred or smeared.

Also impressive was the upright bass which not only could be followed throughout the track. The Spendors were able to translate the resistance of the strings. The definite ‘twang’ from the plucked strings were a feature.

For Japan’s 12” version of I Second That Emotion, featuring David Sylvian’s textured and expressive vocal style, that delivery was presented effectively here. His elaborate vocal movements, twists and turns were illuminated by the Spendors, which helped to add a richness to the delivery.

The bass guitar was also relatively shy on this too but the A1 speakers spotlighted it without resorting to clinical behaviour to allow the ear to pick it up without undue effort while the open and airy soundstage added a sense of dynamic reach for the saxophones, percussion and synth runs.

CONCLUSION

OK, look, I’ll cut to the chase with this one. These are stand mounted speakers, a little over £1,000. Even at this price point, you often hear compromises in emphasis, some do great bass and iffy mids, others are vice versa, some offer the looks but no sound quality, some sound great but look like a 5 year old’s school project and so on. You know the sort of thing, I’m sure.

The A1s somehow look, feel and sound ‘right’. This review really took 30 seconds. I couldn’t help it. After that time, I had to nod and say “Yes” to myself. The A1 speakers will have you mentally nodding and giving the thumbs up. They exude plenty of confidence and security. You know that these speakers will give you quality sound and no nasty surprises. I’ve yet to hear any speaker in this size/price point which is superior. The A1 has it all.


SPENDOR A1 SPEAKERS

Price: £1,095

Website: spendoraudio.com

Tel: 01323 843474


GOOD: airy soundstage, low noise, informative mids, revealing bass, build

BAD: nothing

RATING: 8


REFERENCE
Rega Planar 3
Ortofon 2M Red MM cartridge
Trichord Dino phono amplifier
Rega Brio-R integrated amplifier
Spendor S3/5R2 speakers
Acoustic Energy Radiance 1 speakers

Harmonic Resolution Systems Noise Reduction Components
All vinyl was cleaned using an Audio Desk’s Ultrasonic Pro Vinyl Cleaner

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Geoffrey
    7th October 2017 at 5:11 pm

    Hello Paul,

    Lovely review. It’s very rare when speakers are just right. Not perfect, but right. How would you compare them with your acoustic energy radiance speakers?

    Best regards

    Geoff

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      9th October 2017 at 9:15 am

      I’d say that the Spendors have the edge, Geoffrey.

  • Reply
    Dave hattey
    21st October 2017 at 2:18 pm

    I love my Spendor s3/5r2s Imaging is surprising. No grunting bass,but what is there ,is quality bass.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      23rd October 2017 at 4:36 pm

      Absolutely agree, Dave. Thanks for that.

  • Reply
    Dermot
    22nd October 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Hi Paul,

    It’s a rarity when a hi fi component/system sounds right. You could spend a lifetime getting to that nirvana state. It’s a good yardstick to use when the ‘system’ finally sings after endless demos, reading countless reviews etc etc. This new Spendor A range seems to have taken everyone by surprise not only for it’s affordability but obviously it’s slightly uncharacteristic (for Spendor) sound. I’ll be heading up to the city to hear the A4 floorstander’s which I gather are rather special. Here’s what my dealer had to say about them and he’s not easily impressed :

    ‘Another speaker that knocked me out is the new Spendor A4 – very different to the older models, producing a big vibrant sound but still retaining the smooth response Spendor are famous for.’

    Oh and nice review too 🙂

    Dermot

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      23rd October 2017 at 4:35 pm

      Thanks for your considered opinions, Dermot. Appreciated. Thanks for the kind words too 🙂

  • Reply
    Dermot
    24th October 2017 at 12:14 am

    You’re welcome Paul. Thank you too 🙂

  • Reply
    Nick
    23rd November 2017 at 8:31 pm

    Hi Paul, I have Spendor S3/5r as the Front end of my Linn/ Naim system. I noticed a big improvement when a changed amp from Nap140 to a pair of Nap135’s. The A1 look very appealing but I do like a grille on Loudspeakers like the classic S3/5r but I believe the A1 come without them.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      24th November 2017 at 10:30 am

      Hi Nick – I’ll ask the owner of Spendor about that – I’ll get back to you ASAP.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      27th November 2017 at 10:59 am

      Hi Nick – this is from the owner of Spendor – as promised, “To preserve its clean modern look and transparent sound the Spendor A1 is not supplied with a conventional grille. The A1 tweeter is protected by a small mesh grille, so a full size grille is not normally required. A full size acoustically engineered black cloth covered grille is available as an optional accessory price £125.00 per pair.”

  • Reply
    Nick
    27th November 2017 at 5:43 pm

    Hi Paul, thank you for contacting Spendor, I’m pleased that a covered grille is offered as I prefer the classic look. I know that S3/5r2 are no longer produced by Spendor but are still available at £800 ( including grilles ) in limited wood veneer finishes at some Hi Fi shops. Thanks again for a very informative review.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      27th November 2017 at 5:55 pm

      No problem Nick – I sometimes still use the S3/5R2 speakers myself as a reference so I understand your point there. Thanks for your kind words.

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Tom
    11th December 2017 at 4:05 am

    Nice review, however, I’m a little surprised and disappointed that you didn’t compare the A1’s to your reference Spendor S3/5R2’s. Why? I would have very much liked to know what the differences are for these two similar models. If the small price difference is worth it or not. Thanks.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      11th December 2017 at 11:35 am

      I did Tom, if you look at the bottom of the review, you’ll see those very speakers in my reference section. Whenever you see this list at the bottom my reviews, then each unit takes a full part in the review itself.

  • Reply
    PETER JASZ
    11th December 2017 at 4:26 pm

    Most interesting review. But summed up concisely, particularly for those in the business long enough.

    I suppose it’s safe to say that no ‘break-in’ was required ? Which is good, because my recent purchase of another marvelous, compact stand-mount (Reference 3A ‘Dulcet Be’ SE) took a sold 300 + hours before it settled into the glorious music-making machine that it is.
    ( I do understand (and have experienced) some models that do not require ‘break-in’ -that I’m assuming is the case here ?

    Otherwise, a nice review from a well known and respected brand.

    peter jasz
    ( P..S> Typo: “You now the sort of thing, I’m sure.” )

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      11th December 2017 at 9:16 pm

      Hi Peter – I demand that the company ‘break in’ every product I review. I want the company to send me a product that’s ready to review and that they are happy with. Otherwise I’m wasting my time and yours. What’s the point of sending me a product that’s half cocked? How can the company be sure that I’ve broken it in properly? How can I? The entire ‘break in’ argument has no absolutes, there’s far too may variables. As I reviewer, I shouldn’t have to even deal with it and I won’t. Thanks for the heads up on the typo – appreciated.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      11th December 2017 at 9:37 pm

      Hi Peter – two replies to the same comment? Got to be some kind of record. On reflection, I think I’ll add a note…somewhere on this site, to effect of my first reply. Just to prevent any confusion on the break in thing. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

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