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Spendor A4 floorstanding loudspeakers

Spendor A4 floorstanding loudspeakers

Back when I was just getting interested in audio, ahem mumble years ago, the Spendor BC1 was one of the darlings of the hi-fi press, and rightly so. But to some Spendor is a brand forever associated with those 1960s vintage, BBC-inspired monitor loudspeakers. The classic BC1 large monitor design made the company’s name but has, somewhat unfairly, linked Spendor with the slightly fusty air of the BBC of the 1960s; technically competent but a bit buttoned-up, which is as much a description of the BBC as it is of the BC1.

Of the current crop, perhaps the larger and rather more expensive D-Line does most to break Spendor out of that BBC straitjacket in most peoples’ minds, but the A-Line, launched a couple of years ago, pitches Spendor into that hotly-contested field; the relatively inexpensive, high-performance domestic hi-fi loudspeaker. The range consists of four two-way designs: one small stand-mounter, the A1, and a trio of floorstanders from the dinky A2, to the relatively capacious A7. Unsurprisingly, the A4 sits in the middle; it uses the larger bass/mid unit from the A7, in a 25-litre cabinet sized about mid way between the A2 and A7. It probably occupies something of a sweet spot in terms of performance versus domestic acceptability and flexibility. At £2,300 it works the ‘relatively’ bit of ‘relatively inexpensive’ quite hard, but then again it doesn’t perform like a budget loudspeaker either.

, Spendor A4 floorstanding loudspeakers

In terms of technology, Spendor has developed new drivers: the 180mm polymer-coned bass/mid unit has new surround and suspension materials, for optimised thermal and mechanical stability, good power handling, and low-level linearity. The 22mm polyamide done tweeter has been engineered to offer the high-frequency response of a small diaphragm while retaining the lower frequency characteristics of a larger dome, and a clever diaphragm profile is claimed to help dispersion over a wide listening area. The crossover network is a combination of 2nd and 3rd order filters, but uses precision wound inductors that allow additional fine control over the complete acoustic response. Spendor explains that this allows detail refinements in the crossover filter characteristics that can often have a significant effect on sound quality, especially in areas like soundstage and timing. The more complex the crossover, the greater the potential to mess with phase relationships in the music signal, which tend to be most apparent in the areas of focus, imaging, and timing, so Spendor’s care in this aspect of the design is going to be crucial.

One of my ‘go-to’ tracks for timing and imaging is ‘Untitled II’ by Graham Fitkin, from Flak[GFCD990901]. The sense of interplay between the two pianos, and their complex rhythmic interrelationships, were very well portrayed without obvious mis-steps, and it was perfectly possible to discern the two separate pianos, spatially and musically. The A4s also took the trouble to give a very good sense of the phrasing and piano technique which, considering all else that was going on, was a definite bonus, and by no means guaranteed in speakers at this price.

 

Replacing my regular Russell K Red 150 loudspeakers, the Spendors look quite diminutive in comparison (much to my wife’s approval), helped no doubt by the narrow front baffle, and the nicely understated walnut finish complements the clutter-free lines of the cabinet. There are no grilles, so no arguments about leaving them on when not listening, or ‘forgetting’ to put them back on afterwards. Spendor eschews heavy cabinet damping, citing its role in blurring and slowing the sound by storing and then releasing energy. So, the A4s are lightly damped using what Spendor terms ‘dynamic damping’: small, low mass, constrained polymer dampers applied at key points to deal strategically with spurious energy finding its way into the cabinet. This, Spendor explains, converts  energy instantly into heat resulting in a fast, dynamic sound.

Of course, there will be compromises. The drivers are a decent size for a small domestic speaker, but it is a two-way design in a modest-sized floorstanding cabinet. Bass goes acceptably deep, thanks to the reflex-loaded design, but the bottom octave isn’t especially tuneful. It may lack a little scale and weight, the lowest frequencies hint at mass but don’t put much flesh on the bones, but it still has plenty of pace and drive, which does suggest Spendor’s cabinet damping methodology works. Freddy Kempf’s interpretation of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 2[BIS SACD-1820] could do with more heft, but his articulation and phrasing was well portrayed. The A4 is also an easy load, if not especially efficient; Spendor cites 86dB for 1 Watt at 1 metre, with an impedance which doesn’t drop below 5.7 Ohms.

, Spendor A4 floorstanding loudspeakers

Playing ‘Peshwari’ from Andy Sheppard’s Learning to wave[Provocateur PVC 1016] and the track is as jaunty and dance-like as you’d hope. Lively, rhythmic, and pacey, with an excellent sense of the interplay between Sheppard’s sax and John Paricelli’s guitar, the A4s deliver the sense of life and vitality without the need to turn the volume up. Indeed, this is a track which delivers energy without bombast, and doesn’t rely on sheer volume for its effect. That’s not a bad summary of the A4s methodology too; their ability to get to the heart of the musical message is undoubtedly a key strength.

In a similar vein, All’ Improvviso, by Christina Pluhar and L’Arpeggiata [Alpha 512] is seldom far from my CD player, partly for the sheer beauty of the music, but also because the small ensemble’s dancing, improvisatory ebullience never fails to lift my mood. No shortage of that through the A4s, which swing effortlessly between the effervescent ‘Voglio una casa’ and the stately ‘Romanesca’,capturing the essential character of the music at all turns. The subtleties of the playing are not difficult to discern; one can listen and appreciate the musicianship without conscious effort. I think, if pressed to find one adjective to encapsulate the speaker’s essence, I’d describe the A4s as unobtrusive; they are not invisible, but they let the music speak without drawing attention to themselves – an admirable and desirable trait.

Given Spendor’s heritage you’d expect instrumental tonality to be above par, and you’d be right. L’Arpeggiata’s flavoursome mix of ancient and more modern instruments is rendered with its character intact, and vocals are natural, fully rounded and expressive, and without obvious colorations. Bigger forces are also handled with a goodly measure of assurance. Chamber orchestras, such as the ECO playing the ‘Waltz’ from Shostakovich’ Jazz Suite No.2[Naxos] has plenty of finesse and interplay between the parts. It’s not really jazz, but it is a fine period piece and the ambience comes across very nicely – the interpretation is nicely evocative of the pre-War era and the A4s render that faithfully. Larger scale forces, The Royal Philharmonic’s Karelia Suite[Tring] for example, probably test the limits of what is feasible for a speaker of this type. There is a decent sense of scale, especially if you crank the amplifier up a notch or two, but it lacks the solid underpinnings a larger driver/cabinet combination could muster – timpani don’t have the mass and solidity or quite the clarity of pitch, that bigger beasts might offer. But this is to pick nits. The A4s give a convincing impression of the energy of a large ensemble and retain their composure even when pushed pretty hard. This is a loudspeaker that impresses mostly by what it doesn’t do in these circumstances. It doesn’t get shouty and confused, nor does it get big, slow, and bloated. It’s that unobtrusive thing, you see.

 

The A4s don’t pretend to be something they are ill-equipped to be, but instead play on their considerable strengths. There is a deftness to the A4s presentation which makes it easy to appreciate the essence of whatever music is playing, and the traditional Spendor virtues of vocal and instrumental timbre are abundant. Given Spendor’s heritage, it would be easy to pigeonhole the A4s as a classical music lover’s loudspeaker. Rookie error; Mari Boine’s ‘Modjás Katrin’ from eallin[Antilles 533 799-2] retains its full complement of fast, dynamic rhythm and clean vocals, the percussion is tactile, and the whole is undeniably propulsive and easily carries the listener along. The unobtrusive character of the A4s stems as much from what they don’t get wrong, as from what they do well. At £2,300 per pair, it’s right to expect a well resolved product, and that’s what you get. If you’re prone to the occasional bout of audiophilia nervosa, the A4s might just be the right prescription: install, relax, and just get on with enjoying your music.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

  • Type: two-way, two driver, floorstanding speaker with bass reflex enclosure
  • Driver complement: one 22mm polyamide dome tweeter; one 180mm EP77 polymer cone bass/mid driver
  • Crossover frequency: 3.7kHz
  • Frequency response: (in-room, typical) 34Hz–25kHz
  • Impedance: 8 Ohms nominal, (minimum 5.7 Ohms)
  • Sensitivity: 86dB for 1 Watt at 1 Metre
  • Finishes: Black ash, dark walnut, natural oak and satin white
  • Plinth: satin black
  • Dimensions (H×W×D): 831 ×165 ×275mm
  • Weight: 16Kg/each
  • Price: £2,300 per pair

Manufacturer: Spendor Audio Systems Ltd

Tel: +44 (0)1323 843474

URL: spendoraudio.com 

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