What is the Spendor A1?
The decision to use S3/5 ‘DNA’ in the A1 is interesting. This is one of two speakers we’re looking at in short order (the other being the Tannoy Legacy Eaton) that make use of design thinking that dates back decades. With the Tannoy, the asking price and traditions of what the company does as a speaker manufacturer go some way to explaining the rationale behind its reappearance in 2016 but the Spendor is a more interesting case. This is a speaker contesting a very hard fought part of the market and while the Classic variant belongs to a range of products that can pull at the nostalgia angle, this one can’t. As such, can this unassuming little speaker cut it as a serious competitor for your money at the £1,000+ point?
This means that at the route of the A1’s design philosophy is the ability to reproduce the critical mid-range of content – historically about 400Hz to 11kHz – with a complete lack of colouration or other interference. Over time, Spendor has extended this frequency response to one more in keeping with a conventional small standmount speaker. Key to their ability to do this is that all of Spendor’s drivers are built in house to their own design. When dealing with a speaker of this nature, using ‘off the peg’ drivers from the major suppliers – which are rarely designed with this sort of cabinet and performance criteria in mind – the results will, at best, be varied.
As such, the main driver is a 150mm unit made from EP77 polymer – something of a Spendor speciality. This is mated to a new surround and suspension system to allow for greater extension while retaining controlled movement. This is mated to a 22mm soft dome tweeter that uses a wide surround – something we have seen appear on a few different brands in recent years. The idea is that the radiating area stays small enough to ensure that the tweeter behaves itself when reproducing high frequencies but increases the overall area at the same time.
The cabinet that it's placed in is also Spendor’s own work and is an intriguing combination of old and new thinking. The A1 gives a nod to its classic ancestry by using a comparatively thin walled cabinet. This runs counter to more recent practise where a thicker cabinet is used to reduce the effects of resonance and vibration. Spendor feels that this approach tends to store energy which is then dissipated in an uncontrolled and unwanted fashion and as such the A1 uses a different approach. The cabinet is relatively thin but the panels are bonded to a visco-elastic damping pad which converts this energy into heat. With the relatively small internal volume this additionally frees up more space.
There’s a method in the madness too. The sealed cabinet means that the A1 is pretty much unflappable in terms of placement and can easily be wall mounted – in fact a version sold as the A1W can be used in this manner directly. It might seem incongruous that a speaker costing over £1,000 is as happy as it is being used in such a manner but it’s the LS3/5 DNA – a speaker that also wasn’t terribly fussy about positioning – shining through. Spendor has also (correctly as far as my own experiences note) identified that many would-be customers are happy with the idea of spending this much money on a speaker but still don’t necessarily want to devote speaker stand space to it. This is a speaker that can stand up to that sort of thinking and come out the other side unaffected.
How was the A1 tested?
This means that when you start to move into the areas where the A1’s ancestry is rather stronger, the news gets better. Where the Spendor gets a hook in you that is extremely hard to dislodge is the sheer order and coherence with which they handle the critical body of a musical performance. Without any fuss or struggle, they arrange performances in such a natural and unforced way that you cease to concentrate on them and instead focus on the music. This means that fine details are effortlessly worked into the bigger picture – there for you to pick up on but not to obsess over.
No less important is that this extra low end heft doesn’t get in the way of the Spendor’s exceptional speed with transients and timelines. Listening to my vinyl copy of the Cinematic Orchestra’s Ode to the Big Sea, the way the A1 handles this odd time signature is captivating. The concept of ‘timing’ is so hopelessly subjective and hard to pin down that I hesitate to discuss it at times but if you listen to this track back to back on the Spendor and the pair of KEF Q350s that passed through for review, it would hopefully make sense. The Q350 is a great speaker and it sounds composed and controlled with no sluggishness to the presentation. The Spendor feels like it’s already getting ready for the next beat as it delivers the current one. Even with more relaxed music, it feels wonderfully immediate. Of course, the A1 is almost exactly twice the price of the KEF but the difference is still illuminating.
After some time listening to the A1 across a variety of material, it has become clear that it undoubtedly does its best work with good recordings. Less well recorded material can sound slightly thin compared to better mastered music and there is also a sense that while your partnering equipment doesn’t need to be terribly powerful, it will need to be capable of producing a sound you are already happy with as the A1 is not going to embellish or alter its basic characteristics. At its heart this is still a monitor speaker but one that politely points out what is the matter with source and signal rather than shouting the issues at you. It’s worth pointing out that the Spendor still sounds excellent with Tidal and even Spotify and some internet radio material – BBC stations perhaps unsurprisingly – still manages to sound excellent on it.
- Outstanding imaging and coherence
- Superb tonal accuracy
- Well built and easy to place
- Comparatively limited bass response
- Very revealing
- Fairly expensive
Spendor A1 Standmount Speaker Review
What the bald numbers can’t convey is just how good the A1 is to listen to. HiFi speakers at almost any price – certainly many multiples of this one – are a compromise of maximising the qualities you want and minimising the attendant deficits and for me, this is speaker where the positives far outweigh the deficits. On a personal level, if I was filling a smaller UK lounge and looking for something to partner a device like the Naim Uniti Atom, this would be where my money would go. The A1 is simply enormous fun to listen to in a way that many other speakers can only dream of. That it achieves this enjoyment through a design approach that ensures that its performance is also fundamentally accurate is even more appealing. When I reviewed the S3/5R2, I felt it was a great if slightly leftfield choice. The improvements to the A1 reduce those caveats further without impinging on its star qualities and ensure that this latest iteration earns our hearty recommendation.
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Value for Money
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