When it comes to loudspeaker technology I am a keen advocate of cutting edge design, so bring it on; lets have the new diaphragm materials, beryllium, diamond and ceramics; I’m up for it all. But on the odd occasion when I get the chance to listen to “classic’ designs from thirty years ago, I am always surprised at just how damn good they often sound particularly given the benefit of modern amplification and all the assets that we never considered at the time; spikes, speaker cables and other such ancillaries, and lets not forget positioning. While certain aspects of loudspeaker performance – such as distortion and power handling have considerably improved over the years, and the consistency of the average budget loudspeaker has become dramatically better with the availability of design and measurement software such as MLSSA, I often wonder if we have really moved forward that much. For all of the perceived improvements with say, greater resolution and lower (or maybe just different) colouration, have we in fact moved a couple of steps to the side of the track and off in a different direction? Is it possible that the same factors that have averaged out loudspeaker performance across the board to a predictable ‘good’ have in fact removed the spark and individuality or worse still, true innovation? When I am confronted with (and often bored potless) by yet another formulaic approach to the domestically acceptable slim floorstander I sometimes feel that the answer is, “Yes, maybe we have lost our way.”
The SP100 is definitely not of the slim variety and it’s not a floorstander, although its dimensions are possibly ameliorated to an extent by the prefix ‘monitor’ so I guess domestic acceptability was not top on the list of design criteria, and do bear in mind that Spendor make other ranges more in tune with those requirements that contribute toward domestic harmony. Speaking for myself, I was kind of excited about the idea of getting a ‘proper’ loudspeaker into my listening room rather than something with lots of little drivers that would look more at home in a church. And best of all its got a twelve inch bass unit. I think that the Spendors have a basic, functional elegance particularly with the black finish, comments from others have been a little less kind, although one particular female visitor having been converted by an evenings listening (and a decent bottle of wine) declared them ‘impressively ugly’. The word monitor might also ring a few alarm bells; these days I try to keep a very distinct line between equipment used in the studio for work and at home for pleasure, as more than ever I find the two mutually incompatible, although there have been one or two exceptions... The company was founded in the late sixties by ex-BBC engineer Spencer Hughes and his wife Doreen (Spen/ Dor for anyone who didn’t know) to produce professional monitors based upon Spencer’s research at the BBC, where one of the main criteria was for tonal neutrality. The BC1 proved to be one of the most influential loudspeakers ever to emanate from this country, and became something of a standard presence in a large number of radio and television studios throughout Europe. A two-way design pairing the then radical bextrene cone with a Celestion HF1300 tweeter (later augmented with the Coles HF4001) it possessed a midrange performance that was astonishingly uncoloured, even if the dynamic range was a bit limited and the bass a little under-damped. It was not surprising that it became a successful hi-fi loudspeaker for those whose musical tastes did not demand massive power handling and seismic bottom end, and it also kicked off the whole concept of stands, but that’s another story.
A couple of years later came the BC3, a three way full range design which incorporated a 13” woofer with a similar mid and top unit, which aimed to offer a more extended bandwidth and greater power handling, although not enough to make it a hit in the rock and pop world where apart from anything else it sounded too ‘nice’ when compared to the JBL’s and Westlake’s that were in common use at the time. This is the lineage from which the SP100 has evolved. The 80s saw the introduction of the SA3 where the mid range unit was dispensed with and the 12” bass was engineered to work up to 1200Hz before crossing over to the large Audax HD13D34H soft dome tweeter. This was followed by the S100 designed by Spencer’s son Derek (also an ex-BBC engineer) saw a return to a three way design which subsequently developed into the SP100 a few years later. Having been in production for well over a decade, problems sourcing core materials for its manufacture have recently led to a revision of the design under the auspices of Philip Swift (previously responsible for Audiolab) who in 2001 acquired both the company and the challenge of revitalising Spendor for the 21st century, and while new and contemporary ranges have been very successfully introduced, much of the tradition has been retained. For example, Spendor is one of the few remaining British companies that still manufacture their own drive units; the 12” bass unit for example takes nearly three days to produce, with multiple layers of viscoelastic damping that has to be applied by hand.