Introduction - what is the Classic 4/5?
The Spendor Classic S4/5 is a two way standmount speaker. We look at a fair few of those and while more than a couple of them wear a smart coat of wood veneer, the vast majority of them don’t quite convey the aesthetic this one does. This being said, we’ve looked at two pairs of Spendor speakers before in the form of the Classic 3/5 and A1 and they do at least give some nods as to where the Classic 4/5 comes from.
It is the Classic 3/5 that is the more relevant in this case. This was historically the starting point for the Classic range and it did so wearing a name that had huge significance. I’ve covered it at length in previous reviews but the LS3/5 and LS3/5a were the original small monitors and they continue in production to this day. Spendor’s take on the 3/5 didn’t take the ‘preserved in aspic’ approach that some companies did and it was always considered an evolution of the original. This proceeded to evolve into the A1 which continues in production. For a period though, Spendor made effectively the same speakers for their Classic and A Series ranges with only cosmetic differences between them.
That has changed and there is now a specific model to head up the Classic line in the form of the 4/5. As we’ll cover, this is more than a breathed on 3/5 and is designed to do all the things that a small Spendor should while winning new converts to the brand. Is this a speaker that is paying homage to a fifty year old ghost or something that moves the game on? Let’s find out.
Specification and Design
First up, for the avoidance of doubt, there has never been a ‘BBC LS 4/5.’ The corporation has used a selection of monitors over the years but this is not one of them. Spendor has consciously decided that the 3/5 pattern speakers it has been evolving over many years has reached the point where further alterations are not something that fits the 3/5 name. The use of ‘4/5’ reflects this; related but better.
For all this, the basic layout of the 4/5 is not going to alarm traditionalists. This is a two way standmount speaker that mounts its drivers in a sealed cabinet. Key to this (and all other Spendor speakers) is that these drivers are not bought in. They are made in house to Spendor’s exact requirements rather than being adapted to them. More recently, the company brought cabinet manufacture back in house too to further aid this process.
This means your get a 22mm soft dome tweeter that uses a wide surround in the form of a ring around the central dome. The idea is that the dome gives the Classic 4/5 the high frequency response that Spendor is looking for while the ring aids dispersion and improves the behaviour as the frequencies drop. It’s worth noting that while this may well be the case, Spendor doesn’t call upon this tweeter to perform the sort of heroics that PMC does in the twenty5 21i for example. The crossover is set at 4.2kHz, a full 3kHz higher than the PMC and still a fair bit more than most rivals.
The mid bass driver being asked to work over these extra frequencies is an evolution of one that Spendor has been using for some time. This is a 150mm unit made from EP77 polymer. Exactly what EP77 is is something that is deliberately opaque as it is Spendor’s own formula and not something that is directly comparable to anything else. It’s when you start to drill down into the mechanics of this driver that the hidden modernity of the S4/5 starts to become apparent. The chassis that holds everything in place is a pressure die-cast magnesium alloy and the suspension and surround have been designed around a process of modelling to work with the specifics of the cabinet rather than picking ‘the 150mm driver’ off the shelf and popping it into this cabinet.
The cabinet itself is a combination of thin side sections that are anchored to a rigid front baffle. The idea is that energy can be dissipated where it is unwanted via a viscoelastic damping pad which converts this energy to heat. At the same time, the drivers are solidly mounted to an inert structure that ensures that their energy is correctly presented as sound. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s a ‘same but different’ approach to energy management that we’ve seen in Q Acoustics products and, once again, suggests that what’s going on inside the Spendor is rather more up to date than the looks might suggest.
The crossover used in this instance is designed with two clear priorities in mind. The first is obvious enough. It links the drivers together in a seamless and phase correct manner which is par for the course in any speaker. In the case of the 4/5 though, it is also called upon to do this in a manner that presents as benign an impedance as possible. When Spendor says that this is an eight ohm design, they do genuinely mean it. The minimum impedance that the 4/5 presents at any stage in its frequency response is 6.1 ohms. It is one of the most consistently forgiving electrical loads you can buy.
Of course, this is a small, sealed cabinet. To achieve this friendly impedance, there are trade offs elsewhere in the performance. The first is that the quoted sensitivity of the Spendor is 84dB which is a fair bit lower than ported rivals. The second is that the quoted frequency response in ‘a typical room’ is 55Hz- 25kHz. The upper response is entirely in keeping with what you might reasonably expect but the low end is going to be reduced by comparison. I’ll do my level best to try and cover off what that means in reality in the Performance section.
This is because we must first turn our thoughts to the appearance of the little Spendor. Now, as I’ve said before, looks are subjective. Things person A likes are not automatically going to be what appeals to person B. Key to the design of the 4/5 is that is belongs to the Classic line and the clue is very much in the name as to the priorities there. First up, the dimensions of the cabinet are charmingly retro. Key to this is that the cabinet is only 165mm deep which lends the Spendor proportions that feel rather quaint. There’s a method in the madness though and one of the benefits is that the 4/5 can genuinely sit of a shelf and not look absurd while it does so.
It’s also elegant. If we ignore that there’s currently a bit of a retro phase going on with many bits of audio equipment (the supplied press release goes so far as to note that the styling of of the Classic line is ‘considered quite cool in 2020’ which I shall present without comment), the 4/5 is timeless. It will never truly be out of fashion because it has never sought to be in fashion. This is aided by the quality of the finish it offers. The bookmarked veneer sections and superbly finished cabinet make it feel like something to which some care has been lavished on. It won’t be to everyone’s taste but it makes more sense in the flesh than you might reasonably expect. An especially clever touch is that Spendor has used the ‘lip’ at the front as the grill mount which means you still get grilles but do without the need for visible lugs.
The 4/5 is timeless. It will never truly be out of fashion because it has never sought to be in fashion
How was the Classic 4/5 Tested?
The Spendors arrived run in and have been tested both on the end of a Cambridge Audio Edge A connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Sigmas mains conditioner running as a Roon endpoint from a Roon Nucleus and a Naim Supernait 3 integrated amp running in partnership with a Naim ND5XS MkI and also taking a feed from a venerable Sony Bravia KDL 40W5710 TV with media content being provided by a PlayStation 4. Media used has been FLAC, AIFF, DSD, Qobuz, Tidal and on demand TV services.
More: Audio Formats
There is always a temptation when looking at something like the Spendor to assume that it cannot be judged by the standards of ‘normal’ looking rivals. That isn’t correct and certainly not what Spendor wants. Like any other speaker manufacturer, Spendor has design priorities and if these mesh with what you need, they are utterly competitive with anything else remotely similarly priced. The A1 has, with the kind permission of Spendor, lived with me ever since I reviewed it because it is simply sensational at providing a benign electrical load for amps and simultaneously telling me everything about that device it is connected to.
The 4/5 is, in some regards, more of the same but it gains a skill that the A1 doesn’t possess and neither do many of its rivals. This is a forgiving speaker in positioning terms - that clever cabinet and lack of ports making sure it is largely self-contained. Spend a little time on it though, checking your toe-in and convergence point and it just vanishes. What starts as two points of sound suddenly clicks into a single, effortless image. It is honestly a joy to experience.
What seems to be happening over and above the A1 is that the wider front panel helps to widen the dispersion a little and combined with that clever cabinet design (which the A1 possesses an earlier form of but less evolved than here) and you get this magic effect where the drivers are the only thing you hear.
Spendor isn’t done there either. When I say ‘drivers’ that’s not strictly what you experience. The Spendor might make use of a higher crossover point than some key rivals but the integration between those two drivers is absolutely outstanding. This is the closest any multiple driver speaker I’ve tested has ever come to matching the extraordinary cohesion of the Eclipse single driver designs. Spending a few hours listening to them before returning to another speaker - even a very very well sorted one - is to be left hearing drivers were previously you heard a speaker. Listening to Mazzy Star’s So Tonight that I Might See on the Spendor is astonishingly cohesive.
I’m not done there either. The tonal realism on offer is also exceptional. Fixed points of reference in material you know well is ticked off without incident. It’s here that the first major point of disagreement will appear for people. The Spendor is unambiguous in its tonal realism. It’s not merciless, far from it, but if you give it something that sounds a bit grim, the Spendor will take it as an obligation to sound a bit grim. This is still a monitor, even if some of the edges have been softened slightly, its job is to tell you what is going on further upstream and it does that extremely well. The outstanding midrange realism that its predecessor does so well remains though and it is something that is absolutely innate to what the Spendor does.
So then, what are the trade-offs? Honestly, that depends on you, your supporting equipment and your room. First off, the 55Hz lower figure feels about right. For many people, that simply won’t be sufficient for a realistic reproduction of their music. There’s some caveats to this that warrant further explanation though. The first is that the bass that the S4/5 does produce is of unimpeachable quality. It’s detailed, fast and beautifully integrated with the rest of the frequency response. This means that, listened to in isolation, the effect of the ‘missing’ bass is a great deal less pronounced than you might expect.
No less important is the partnering equipment and in this regard, the S4/5 does differ a little from the A1. The latter speaker works with almost anything with more than 20 watts to its name and can demonstrate the benefits of better electronics as and when you connect it to them. The S4/5 feels slightly different. It can do the same thing but it really comes into its own as you increase the quality of the source equipment. Trying to put a review equipment spin on this, I can run both speakers on the Rega Io but when I switch to the Rega Brio, the S4/5 benefits more from doing so. Using the Naim Supernait 3 and ND5 XS combination with the Spendor is simply tremendous. The ‘grip’ that that the Naim demonstrates so effectively is something that combines with the Spendor to tremendous effect. While the £3,500 Naim is more than most people are likely to spend on partnering equipment, something like the Exposure XM5, which shares some of the same behavioural traits, would be a fine match too.
There’s also the matter of level. As stated, you can drive the S4/5 with about twenty watts. With the lower overall sensitivity and small cabinet volume, this is not and never will be a stand in for a PA system. It will however go loud enough for most people to risk whatever relationship they already have with their neighbours becoming more fraught. Speakers are devices with varying skillsets for varying jobs and this is no exception. It had capabilities used in nearfield and semi nearfield positions that are truly exceptional but it isn’t really designed to fill a barn. It will however, put up more of fight trying to do so than you might expect.
This is the closest any multiple driver speaker I’ve tested has ever come to matching the extraordinary cohesion of the Eclipse single driver designs
- Astonishingly cohesive, informative and engaging sound
- Beautifully made
- Forgiving of placement and partnering equipment
- Limitations to low end weight and scale
- Do their best work with a little more than the basics behind them
- Looks a matter of personal taste
Spendor Classic S4/5 Standmount Speaker Review
More than trying to make bald assessments of what the Spendor will and won’t do, there is a fundamental ‘rightness’ to how it performs that I suspect might take some people, lulled into a false sense of security by those retro cabinets, by surprise. It’s an incredibly easy speaker to lose hours to enjoying a huge spread of music. Moreover, it will do this almost regardless of the surroundings you put it in. It’s a, and I use this word deliberately, seductive device that encourages you to route around your music collection enjoying it.
Casting final judgement on the Spendor unavoidably becomes somewhat subjective because it is designed and engineered in a very specific way. Compared to the Neat Ministra and PMC twenty5 21i at £200 and £400 more respectively, the Spendor can feel smaller scale and more constrained. If you have the space and budget and you feel you need more low end, the 4/5 has to give some ground. If you are listening in smaller and more confined conditions though and you have more interest in 100Hz to 10kHz, the Spendor starts to pull an advantage back. Behind the traditional façade is an exceptionally clever and fastidiously engineered speaker that does what we expect of Spendors with more besides. This rather lovely standmount therefore earns our enthusiastic Recommendation.
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