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.
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.
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
Tel: 01323 843474
GOOD: airy soundstage, low noise, informative mids, revealing bass, build
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