The Spendor S-100, audio’s hip ol’ Granddad

In a previous log entry, I talked about the Spendor BC-1/SP-1 loudspeaker. The BC-1 first hit the market back in the late 1960’s and was designed by Spencer Hughes of the BBC to be a high quality monitor, good enough that a Radio network famous (back in those days) world-wide could reasonably judge the sound quality of their broadcasts (back when people cared about such things). The BC-1 was a large bookshelf and used high quality (though a bit fragile) drivers. In order to provide for more extended bass and higher sound levels, Spendor designed and built a physically larger model intended to keep the quality of the BC-1 and they named it, rather unimaginatively, the BC-3. This model has evolved into today’s SP-100R2. The S-100, subject of today’s evaluation, was the first evolution of the original BC-3 and hit the scene in the late ’80’s.

The SP-1 and the S-100 both employ 3 drivers, but this is a bit misleading. The SP-1 was really a two-way consisting of a woofer and two tweeters (done originally, believe it or not, as a tax dodge!) while the S-100 is a standard woofer/midrange/tweeter design. Interestingly, the original BC-3 employed the twin tweeter design of the BC-1 (making for four drivers), but this did not make the transition when the S-100 came into being. The new design replaced the Coles/Celestion tweeters with a single Scan-speak model. It’s also interesting to note that when the SP-1/2 lost its Coles/Celestion tweeters they stayed with the twin tweeter concept (again by Scan-speak). Go figure…

So we have here a resolutely old-school looking speaker of a type rarely seen these days, a large stand mount. It measures 27.5″ H by 14.5″ W by 17″ D and weighs about 80 pounds. Not exactly the definition of SAF, ’tis true. But it was nicely veneered and to me has a bit of stately elegance. Form follows function indeed. To me, it looks like a REAL SPEAKER, pre the “Virginia Slims” era that holds forth to this day. And there is something to be said for full frontal speakers in a technical sense, though either can be made to work well. But let’s be honest here, speakers these days are slim mostly because they are perceived as more attractive that way. Me thinks there is a bit of anthropomorphism happening here not unlike the aforementioned cigs…

One of the chief tenets of speaker design back then was the idea of primacy of tonality and frequency response. And here the Spendor does quite well. Measured response was pretty flat from the midrange up with a bit of roll-off in the extreme treble and a peak in the upper mid-bass designed to counteract the floor bounce that can thin out the response in this area in-room, all in all, a pretty sensible design. And it sounds well-balanced in action. Not perfect, of course. The room and placement within has a significant effect on the mid-bass and it should be said that in most rooms (especially smaller rooms), it will err a bit on the midbass generous side. Personally, I think this is preferable to the often thinned out mid and upper bass of many “modern” speakers with (if they are large enough to reproduce low bass) the low bass booming away below without proper mid-bass support (though I guess this is a matter of taste). The imaging is good, but doesn’t do “tricks” like large planars (an effect I actually like) or have the small but pinpoint image of a point source (the KEF LS50 scores highly here). And, while modern drivers have can have other problems, it must be said that they often resolve somewhat better than the polyproplyne midrange/fabric dome tweeter in the Spendor.

And it must be said that the S-100 can sound a bit boxy, after all it IS a box. This is a bit of a design choice. What you have here is a large box of moderate wall thickness with damping pads on the walls and other internal damping designed to damp out the relatively low resonant frequency of the large panels. The design is made to take this into account and it works, of course, but not perfectly. So you can hear the box. You don’t hear the box in the LS50 as much, but this is a small speaker with limited bass, so this is as you would suspect. It’s another matter altogether to build a physical large cabinet (to support bass) that’s construction and materials result in bringing the resonant frequency up enough to get it out of potential trouble, by the time you do you end up with a heavy and quite exotic and expensive speaker. Consider that the S-100 itself weighs in at 80 pounds…

Now I wouldn’t set up the S-100 as a perfect speaker. It’s not as good as the Harbeth Monitor 40, for one, which itself is not the ultimate loudspeaker system. These designs may be old school, but they are executed exceedingly well. One “expert” I read ragged on the Harbeth because of the cabinet resonances, the wide baffle and the general design and hyping the modern high mass, narrow baffle with hi-tech driver designs to the heavens. Well, I guess these must be even harder to get right than the old school, quite a few of them I have heard don’t sound so hot even with today’s seemingly advanced drivers and computer simulations, nowhere as good as even the S-100. But there are modern planars like the big Maggies and companies like Vivid, KEF, Wilson, YG Acoustics, TAD and Raidho to name a few that are on the right track from what I have heard and these certainly have models that better the S-100 in many ways. Not to mention Vandersteen, Sony, Focal, ATC and the like that have their feet straddling the line between tradition and hi-tech.

But there is definitely life left in the S-100, especially considering their typical price on the used market. They have that natural, free-flowing, warm sound that one would encounter in a concert hall (classical music is really well served here, to be sure). Their flaws are mostly of omission and they do not sound overly “vintage” in the pejorative sense. Don’t be afraid to rock out a bit here, either. They are middle-aged, but can still teach the kids a few things about musicality (in the non-pejorative sense).


Posted on June 4, 2014, in Reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The Spendor S-100, audio’s hip ol’ Granddad.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: