Review: Spendor S5e Speaker

Category: Speakers

After a recent move the large living room I was blessed with for my Magnepan 1.6QR's was gone. The new listening room was only 13' X 15' and the Maggies just weren't going to fit, especially since the room also served other duties. The 1.6QR's quickly found a new, appreciative owner, but I was left the task of finding a suitable replacement. Smaller was an obvious requirement, but placement requirements also demanded they be closer to a rear wall than many speakers tolerate well. I was also fully aware that any replacement I found simply wasn't going to sound much like a full size planar speaker. Even the small Magnepan models would have presented a difficult placement challenge, complicated even more by the needed subwoofer.

It'd been several years since I'd speaker shopped, so I made a tour around town. Much was quickly eliminated; home theatre specialty stores seem particularly clueless when it comes to two channel audio. While I like a broad range of music, I find good fidelity means the most to me when I'm listening to small scale acoustic music, whether jazz, folk, classical or other. It is when the music is on a scale that could conceivably be played by live musicians in a home-sized room (as opposed to a hall or other large venue) that I find myself most appreciative of a good system. The larger the scale of the performance, or the more electronic, the more "artifical" the performance is for a home environment. Under those circumstances, I am actually less picky about the stereo since my imagination is already working overtime to transform the room into something different.

The leading locally available speaker candidates were from the Dynaudio series. Unfortunately, the one I liked best - the Contour 1.4 - was out of my price range. The Focus models were in the price range. While they were better than the other speakers I heard at other local dealers, I was somewhat disappointed at the thought of that being the best I could do.

A speaker that I definitely wanted to hear were the Spendors, based on fond memories from 25 years ago when I lived in London. It took a four hour drive to visit Jeff Stake HiFi in Bloomington, IN, but it proved to be worth it. The S5e was certainly the appropriate size for my new digs, and the price range was suitable. In terms of focus, depth, image, stage, tone balance and many other factors, they simply blew away the Dynaudio Focus speakers I'd auditioned. In fact, what made my decision very easy was the entire time I was auditioning them I found myself comparing them to the Contour 1.4's which were almost twice the price. Had the Contours been the same price as the Spendors, we would have still had a good horse race.

The result was the Spendors came home with me. I've been experimenting and tweaking position since and they only keep getting better and better. While experimenting with room position does help them, they are one of the more forgiving speakers I've dealt with when it comes to positioning. Certainly far easier than trying to find the best spot for a set of big, dipole planars!

Well recorded vocals are absolutely eerie. A fine recording to display the S5e's talent in this area is the Beth Nielsen Chapman album "Hymns." This is mostly (but not all) a capella renditions of traditional latin hymns, sung by a small group. The recording is first rate and the Spendor's display of the singers across the stage is vivid and precise. Tone rendition of the voices is perfect. Small group jazz, folk music, blue grass, solo piano, classical quartets and the like are all vividly portrayed. Simply put, these speakers are just downright musical and a joy to listen to for extended periods of time.

Other styles of music? They do a fine job. Bass is great for the speaker's size, though not window rattling. Pop music and large orchestral pieces are rendered convincingly. These are certainly not the speaker of choice for head-bangers, but they certainly meet my rock 'n roll needs when I pull out that material.

The only disadvantage I've found is they do have a relatively small sweet spot, though I'm sure my smallish room size contributes to that. They still sound good when listening off-axis, but they do lose focus more quickly when you move away from the prime listening position compared to many other speakers. However, nothing else I auditioned in this price range was even remotely close to the sonic image the Spendors can display when you're in postion. However, if I were a slightly more casual listener, or one who wondered about quite a bit while listening, there are other speakers I might gravitate toward.

In short, for the way I listen to music, the types of music I listen to, my budget and the constraints of the listening environment I live with now, these are simply amazing speakers. There are not a lot of Spendor dealers around, so you may have to search around and drive a bit to hear them, but they are certainly worth auditioning.

Associated gear
Nad C542 CD player; Conrad Johnson PV10 AL preamp, Conrad Johnson MV60 amp.
Nice review. I too have Maggie 1.6's in my second system (which does double duty for HT and music). I love the Maggies and have not found anything close to their sound in the same ballpark money wise. The only drawback, like you have already said, is that they are pretty visually dominating in a livingroom (mine is aprox. 15x19).

I wonder if you might share your thoughts on the sound of the Maggies compared to the Spendors. Also, did you listen to any of the other (larger) Spendors; if so, how did they sound?

Thanks for taking the time to write this review....... Everything I have read about these speakers has been really positive.

Comparing the Maggies to Spendors is really an apples-oranges thing. Kind of like comparing a sports car to a luxury car; they are just two different animals.

The one word I'd use for Maggies is "space." They have lots of it, with a very open sound. I also found them an interesting speaker no matter where I was positioned in a room. Even standing in between or behind the speakers gave an enjoyable listening experience (though obviously the best sound was in the sweet spot.) However, you needed a good size room with a layout that allowed you to have the speakers away from the wall. Maggies suffer badly if they are too close to a rear or side wall.

The Spendors are much more tightly focused. It is not that they sound bad when you are out of position, it is just that if you never sat in-position, you'd be scratching your head, wondering what the fuss was about. However, when in-position, wow! A good comparison would be a soft focus photo (the Maggies) versus a razor sharp photo with good depth (Spendors.) The two speakers are both wonderful, but just in different ways. Certainly an imperfect analogy, but the Maggies are more of the sumptuous luxury car experience and the Spendors a tighter sports car experience where you really feel the road. For the constraints of my new listening room, the Spendors are perfect.

As for the other models, the larger classic Spendors would have been too big. Bigger footprint plus a need for stands. However, I have heard them. Sonically they might even be a bit more neutral than the S series but didn't meet the size constraints. Conversely, the smaller S3/5 or 3/1 models still needed a stand and wouldn't have the bass the S5e is capable of.
Hi Chris,

I have the Spendor S8e and they better the M12/QR in every category except for one, and its close, but the Maggies convey instrumental action a little better.
The Maggies are still musical speakers though.

Good Luck!*>)

Hello and thanks for writing this interesting review.
Seems like Spendor and Proac get consistently great reviews.
I owned Proac 3.8s for a brief period and concur these are great sounding speakers.
I sold them because they needed more volume, to open up and sing, than I could accommodate in my humble apartment (those pesky neighbors!).

My question: How do the Spendors sound at low to moderate volume?
> low to moderate volume?

I generally listen in the 80 to 85 dB range (averaged setting, C scale) but will sometimes listen at a lower volume. Many speakers need a bit of volume to sound their best but I've been very impressed with them at reduced volume. They maintain their imaging and neutrality at lower volumes. However, the same caveat as before applies. You've got to be in-position.
I too have the S5es. I bought them blind (or rather, deaf) because I live in New Zealand, where there is no agent. My decision was based on reviews. I have found them to be a superbly balanced, neutral speaker, with a very incisive way of getting into the real music. I suppose they are at their best on chamber music, where their timbral accuracy is most striking. For such a small speaker, they have a sense of scale which is almost unbelievable; not so much power as scale. They are remarkably seamless, too, so that the listener becomes less concerned with bass, treble or other bands of frequency.

In response to the reader who asked about low volume, one thing I have noticed since buying the Spendors is that I tend to listen at a lower volume than before, because they are no less satisfying when played moderately.

As a matter of interest, my ancillary equipment comprises Unico Hybrid amp, Rotel 1072 CD player, and Kimber Timbre interconnect. I also use a REL Storm 3 subwoofer.

Peter Joyce (visitor)