I've owned the Spendor S8e and heard the Vandy, but not side by side.
First the Vandy 3A. It is a very good speaker but it did not send me to Nirvana. It does not have any major flaws but also seems to lack a rather indefinable magic that I look for in a speaker. I also know that Vandersteen has an avid following that feels they are incredible speakers.
The Spendor S8e is a more tightly focused speaker and has a relatively small sweet spot. However the midrange is wonderful and the speaker is very natural sounding. They have good bass and are reasonably efficient and not too hard to drive. Spendors are not a speaker for those who prefer a Kodachrome etch to their sound.
For full disclosure, I ended up selling the S8e and moved to the classic Spendor model SP1/2E. While the SP1/2E doesn't have the deeper bass of the S8e, I found the midrange yet another notch upwards. It is simply amazing and a stunning speaker for those who prefer a realistic and natural sound for acoustic instruments.
However, there is no substitute for listening for yourself. There are many who would make the opposite choice.
I owned Meadowlark Kestrel Hotrods and was considering Vandy 3s, but the dealer only had the model 2 in his shop. We also listened to a couple of JM Labs and Spendors. To my ears, by a huge margin, the Spendor S8e was the best speaker under $3K in his shop. I bought the S8e and loved it for several years. Great with voices.
I went looking to replace the Kestrel hoping to get more bass. The S8e still left me wanting more bass and I ended up owning subwoofers. Best thing that could have ever happened. I high-passed the S8e when I added the sub and it brought the speaker to a new/better level. Clarity improved dramatically. However, later M&K monitors shamed the S8e in soundstage and I've been with monitors ever since.
I have to cast a vote for the S8e's as well...though I too just sold mine after 3 years...just wanted to try something new (Merlin monitors).
In my small exposure to Vandy's I found them not to my liking, but have not lived with them.
Your musical taste stated above do fit Spendors to a "T".
Since I have owned neither I won't "talk my book" as many do about the system they own. I have heard both, many times and I would choose the Vandy's everytime. Especially with the refined and detailed music you describe listening to, the time and phase coherent nature of the Vandy's will be magical. I do like the Spendors, and they are a more impactful speaker and if you listened to more big orchestral or loud rock music then I would recommend the Spendors.
You will enjoy either of them, so good luck.
I also vote Vandy, but recommend you get rid of the silver I-C and speaker cables.
I would get used S 100s, available for under 3k. New ones, which look to use the same drivers, are approaching 10k. I use them myself.
a coin flip unless you own a cat.
I listened to both and wound up buying the S8es. I'd have to concur with Mlsstl above. The Vandersteens made nice sounds - especially with tubes, but the Spendors were a much tighter more focused sound. They image wonderfully, although they do have a relatively small sweet spot. They also become noticibly more transparent with the grills off. I've had mine for a little over four years now and I'm still very happy with them.
I listened to the S8e's against the Harbeth SHL-5 at a dealer and found the Harbeth a much more enjoyable speaker, and with more bass. Electronics were Quad. In that setting I found the Spendor's boring compared to the Harbeth. After bringing home the Harbeth's, I still own my Tyler Linbrooks, however, and have since sold the others.
I have not heard the Vandersteen, only the Quatro at a dealer. It was nice, but based on what I heard in a short audition it did not move me enough to consider further listening or switching. I would have called it a more refined and scientific sound than the others. Not enough time to really give a good analysis though.
Wow, thanks for all the fine input! Why did I think this would be easier? Every ones opinion, regardless of whether they prefer the Vandys or the Spendors, seems well founded.
Jimmy, your comments were particularly interesting due to my own feelings pertaining to my Vandy 2Ce's. I really, really appreciate the detail and accuracy, but they can seem too clinical, or uninvolving. Does that make sense?
I thought about getting some Vandy subs to supplement the low end and free up the mid-range in the 2Ce's, but that's a large, and further commitment toward the Vandy camp.
Incidentally, my room is not ideal. One (right speaker)end of the room is open to the dining room and kitchen and the ceilings are cathedral... but that's a whole other conundrum.
Incidentally, my room is not ideal.
Actually, that is a good argument for the Spendors. Their tight focus is one result of running a higher crossover point between an 8" mid/woofer and the tweeter. This makes them more directional in the mid-to-upper range of fundamentals where the ear is fairly sensitive.
While that gives them the small sweet spot, it also helps make them a bit more insensitive to room irregularities. I've got a room with a 7 foot opening immediately next to my right speaker with a small doorway and couch next to the left speaker. However, when you're positioned between the two speakers in that sweet spot, things just pop into focus with a very natural and easy 3-D quality.
In your case, if there is anyway to audition speakers in your own room before you buy, it'll be well worth it.
Yes, it does make sense. As many have said, I recommend taking your time; try as many as you can in your room while keeping your current speakers and comparing them against the new ones. Many dealers will let you take home a pair over a weekend and some manufacturers offer a home trial. You'll save yourself a lot of money and time if you go that route ! At the end hopefully you can find something you can enjoy for the long haul. There are so many great speakers out there... and so much depends on room size and issues (which you have) and associated equipment that limiting yourself to a couple models may have you searching again in a year or so.
Do you think that adding Vandy subs to my 2Ces' make a substantial difference in the overall character of my mains?