I first reviewed the S3/5se back in 2005 and enjoyed them enough to swap them for my Linn Kans (see below). I was reminded of the quality of Spendor’s products on a recent visit to Audio T in Cardiff for a Nytech day where Phil was showing off his new Nytech amps. The speakers used for the dem were some new (to me) Spendor A3s. It was a very pleasant afternoon and at some point I will have to get round to writing something about the new Nytech gear. However flushed with Spendorness I thought I would revisit my original review of the S3/5se. Note the image is of the R2 model.
Sometimes I check the prices on Ebay and wonder “why did I sell my Radford SC 22/STA 15 combination back in 1982?” Those valve amps are worth a bomb these days. The answer of course is because I had acquired a pair of Gale 401A’s complete with chrome endcaps, undoubtedly one of the best looking speakers of all time – but one needing oomph. And did I really sell my Gales so painstakingly rewired with Monster Cable in favour of Linn Kan’s – yes I did, and I still have my reconed Kan’s to this day along side a pair of LS3/5as of mid 90’s vintage. So these days I’m a small speaker kind of a guy (unless of course you have a pair of Isobariks going cheap) and happy with it, so I got very excited when I learned that Spendor were doing homage to the 3/5a but with 21st century technology.
The Spendor S3/5se is the same size box as the 3/5a but turned through 90 degrees – the drivers are on the thin dimension. The specifications are similar, Spendor quote 90Hz – 20Khz plus or minus 3 dB while the Harbeth LS 3/5as are listed at 80Hz to 18Khz plus or minus 3dB. And the sensitivities are within a couple of dB. Reflecting changed times the S 3/5SE is bi-wirable and the terminals were chunky enough to accept my Naim NAC A4 cable without any problems. For the test I drove the Spendor’s with a Naim 250 and they loved it going very loud for such small boxes. A bit of a contrast to the original, I remember someone once described driving LS 3/5as as like “trying to hammer in a rubber nail” – the crossover soaks up the power but in the end they don’t go that loud.
The fit and finish of the Spendor’s cabinet is absolutely first class, the mid/bass unit is made in house while the tweeter is a Spendor-Scanspeak. It’s worth noting there is a standard S3/5 which enjoys the same 5 ” driver but utilises a Vifa tweeter.
My guess is that the S3/5 SE is a bit of a risk. It’s always dangerous to fly your product too near a classic, the heat of the comparison has melted the wings of many an aspiring contender leaving behind a sad little pile of smoking remains. The problem is that Mr. and Ms. Diehard will only ever love the original MC1/B3 and for the younger listener classic is but an other way of saying old hat.
So a new spin on the BBC’s LS3/5a is not something to be undertaken lightly. There are many things that the BBC (in engineering terms)should be proud of but none shines brighter than the LS3/5a (excepting of course the MC1/B3). So enduring is the design it even has it’s own website www.ls35a.com and you can still pay £500 on Ebay for a pair if you fancy them, but what if you fancy something a bit fresher?
Step forward the Spendor S3/5se. My first impressions were of a decidedly unimpressive speaker, in fact I was really impressed by how unimpressive the S3/5se was. I think there’s always a temptation to brighten a speaker to give more “detail” and “sparkle” and to make it stand out from the crowd. But when you sit in a studio listening to speech for eight hours at a stretch then the last thing you want is any trace of unnatural brightness. This concern for neutrality on speech based programme material is what makes BBC Radio studio managers such a tough crowd for manufacturers making speakers (“monitor” or otherwise) primarily for the music industry. I’m sure it’s also responsible for the distinctive BBC take on monitoring and hence historically for the LS3/5a et al. Don’t get me wrong I’m not favouring dullness or HF roll off of any sort, it’s just that all too often speakers zing rather than sing.
I swapped the Spendor’s in place of my Kans – same cabinet size exactly in fact I stored the Kans in the Spendor box – and instantly enjoyed the better frequency balance without missing the excitement (circa 1990 Kans to be fair to Linn and yes reviewers are allowed to contradict themselves) that has always prompted me to forgive the Kans their undeniable weaknesses. I left the Spendor’s in my system for about three weeks. I didn’t get that “I have to listen to my whole CD collection anew” experience – however I did enjoy more and more music. Swapping in the LS 3/5as meant a closer match but the Spendor’s out neutraled it’s older cousin which is no mean feat and they are capable of bigger soundscapes and smoother bass.
My enduring impression of the S3/5Sse is that it squares a particularly tricky circle, that of monitor accuracy without any hint of tiring the listener. I would be confident that deep bass apart (hey rules are rules when it comes to the physics of drivers) these speakers let me hear what is going on and allow me to stick to that task for a working day. These are working speakers – they work for me.