Besides having excellent image specificity the SA1’s create a larger listening window than many small monitors. Minor changes in your listening position shouldn’t create any image shifts, and with the Spendor SA1’s they don’t. The Spendors allowed me greater freedom of movement at my desktop than even the much smaller-footprint Role Kayak speakers. This was especially surprising since the Roles had been the reigning champs at producing the most wiggle room in my desktop system.
Some audiophiles feel that a soft dome tweeter, while it may be smooth and musical, gives up a certain amount of resolution and acuity to metal or ribbon drivers. The SA1’s resolution of low-level detail ranks with small monitors that use more exotic materials. Compared to the Paradigm S1, which has a titanium tweeter, the Spendor SA1 displayed an equal level of detail and musical information. Also the Spendor’s top end had a similar amount of air and openness.
The midrange is where most of the music is, and the SA1’s do a wonderful job of getting that midrange right. Whether it’s Willie Nelson’s beery baritone or Todd Rundgren’s reedy tenor the SA1’s capture each vocalist’s unique harmonic signature with complete veracity. Female vocalists also retain all their individuality. I’m a huge Tori Amos fan. On her Past The Mission EP CD Amos performs a live version of “The Waitress.” The SA1’s preserve every aspect of her sometimes less than subtle lyrics and delivery: “And I believe in peace, BITCH!”
I mentioned earlier that I used a subwoofer with the SA1’s. Actually I used several subwoofers in my room-based system—two for each channel. Since the SA1 has a sealed cabinet with no bass-enhancing ports or vents to increase its low-frequency output, if you want to get anything below 80Hz (the specifications state that the speaker is down 3dB at 75Hz) you’re going to have to mate it with a subwoofer.
The good news is since it doesn’t have any ports or vents there are no group-delay issues or bass humps that might prevent the SA1 from mating seamlessly with a sub. Only the Spendor’s low efficiency of 85dB could present any problem. That’s because you will need to set your subwoofer’s input settings higher than with more efficient speakers. Depending on the subwoofer, you might detect some audible hum, since subwoofers are prone to a 120Hz hum when their input controls are turned up. But when you get the blend right, which shouldn’t be too tough, the SA1’s will do a more than serviceable job delivering the leading edge of a bass instrument while the subs deliver the body and fundamentals.
When speakers are on my computer desktop I often rest my fingers on their surfaces to see how much the cabinets vibrate. Due to Spendor’s “thin-wall damped panel design” the SA1’s cabinet sides and top vibrate more than any mini-monitor I’ve had in my home. But unlike cheap plastic computer speakers where cabinet vibrations have a noticeably negative effect on the speaker’s performance, the SA1’s cabinet vibrations don’t seem to have any influence on the speaker’s ability to image or resolve low-level details. I can only assume that Spendor’s unconventional cabinet design works just as its designers intended.
I’ve read too many reviews where pricey mini-monitors were crowned as the best. I can’t in good conscience claim that coronet for the Spendor SA1. Not that it doesn’t deserve a title, since it combines a compelling set of attributes and has few deficiencies, but it’s not my place to bestow crowns.
Due to its not insubstantial price of $2195 a pair the Spendor SA1 has a lot of competition for your attention. But for a small listening room the SA1 may well prove to be a far more musically rewarding choice than the vast majority of larger, more physically imposing transducers.
If you are assembling a high-end nearfield computer desktop system, the Spendor SA1 deserves to be among your top-five must-audition options. I have yet to experience any speaker whose sonic characteristics are better suited to the demands of extended intimate listening. In a desktop environment the SA1 ranks as a grand champion, and if not worthy of a crown, it has certainly earned membership in my personal mini-monitor pantheon.