When companies like Spendor bring out a new speaker, a company who over the past forty plus years has built up a reputation in the hi-fi industry for setting standards in speaker manufacturing, a person should get excited. I must admit, I was excited and anticipated the arrival of the newest Spendor speaker to enter the A-Line. The A5R replaces the A5, which received a good amount of positive press since their release. It wasn't going to be easy for Spendor to top the A5, and to do so they had to rethink and almost completely revise the new speaker.
Unpacking the A5R I was as giddy as a school boy on Christmas morning. As I removed them from their boxes the first thing I noticed was their size; but maybe my mind was playing tricks on me as the dark walnut finish differed from the cherry finish I was familiar with seeing the A5 in. Once I screwed in the spikes and set A5R up next to their predecessors, I can confirm my sanity is still intact, the newcomers are 4 centimetres taller while the width and depth are exactly the same as the last version. The new measurements are (HxWxD) 83 x 16.5 x 25 centimetres, making them a small floorstander in my book.
With the grills off the changes were more apparent; the advancements in drive units, trickled down from the D7 speakers, are obvious to the naked eye. In the A5, the low frequency drive unit was the EP39 driver, replacing it in the A5R is a Kevlar composite cone, like the one found in the D7 (only smaller, 15cm instead of 18cm). Spendor believes with this extremely light weight composite, the accuracy and timing in the low frequency reproduction in the A5R has been vastly improved. Again, the old EP38 drive unit in the A5, which is visually distinctive with it frosted transparent material, has been replaced with a smaller version of the EP77 polymer cone found in the D7 and A6R; this driver should bring more clarity and timbre accuracy to the new speaker's midrange. From what I can tell, the tweeter has been left in place from the A5, which is their 22 millimeter wide-surround Ferro-fluid cooled high frequency driver. However, the company feels with the latest crossover unit that incorporates audio-grade capacitors and inductors, pure gold conductors with black dampening, their 22mm tweeter assimilates seamlessly with the new drive units.
Taking a walk around the A5R speakers, one can appreciate good craftsmanship. The wood veneers are top notch and without blemish. The actual construction is what one has come to expect from Spendor, nothing less than admirable. But something seemed to be missing as I made my way to the rear of the speaker; over time I expect to see the signature Spendor Linear Flow Reflex port at the bottom of their floorstanding speakers. The A5R is a sealed cabinet design. I came to find out that with the sealed cabinet, the increased sensitivity of the drive units, and with refinements in Spendor's asymmetric bracing and dynamic damping systems, the design team at Spendor were able to remove unwanted bass smearing that can wreak havoc with small floorstanding speakers without any loss of low frequency response (on paper, the new A5R goes down 26Hz lower than the A5, making its frequency response 34Hz to 25kHz).
So I must now ask the question that most of you are thinking - Did the new and improved Spendor A5R sound better than their forbearers? And I must answer in all honesty...in leaps and bounds.
As mentioned in previous reviews, I like to keep it as simple as possible when reviewing a product. I do not like to throw to many things into the mix. I want amplification that performs well at its price point and that sounds good to my ears. I want a source that will present the music as close to how the musician/producer intended it to be heard.
With this in mind, I decided to audition the A5R speakers with kit in a similar price bracket; the Quad Elite Pre and QSP as my amplifiers (£2,048 for the pair) and the Naim ND5 XS streamer/network player (£2,060) as my source. I also had on hand, the Naim XS 2 integrated amplifier (£1,650). I used the RCA analogue output from the ND5 XS, knowing I would use the Quad kit for the majority of my time with the Spendors. When it came time to switch over to the Naim, the use of the RCA analogue output would help minimize the differences interconnects have between the Naim and Quad amplifiers (in regards to the five pin din interconnect Naim supply and the Chord Company's Cadenza Reference RCA interconnect). I am a firm believer in the value of high quality interconnects and speaker cable. A system is only as good as its weakest link and I did not want my cabling intruding on how the A5R would perform.
The Elite Pre and QSP made up my reference system for years before I upgraded to the Quad Platinum DMP and Stereo power amplifier, and then to the Quad Classic II Integrated valve amplifier. I have a special place in my heart (and ears for that matter) for Quad kit, but do not get me wrong, Naim amplification has always intrigued me and whenever it finds its way into my listening room I enjoy every minute of it; probably because of how different it is from my Quad amplifiers. Naim sources, their CD players and streamer/network players, are some of the best I have listen to at their receptive price points. The detail they draw from their playback format always seems to amaze me. You cannot hide from a Naim source, if the production of an album is poor, the Naim will tell you so and vice versa. They are not the most "romantic" in nature but I always find myself asking if Naim just got it right - let the source pull out the information and let the amplification and speakers give it a 'voice.' I guess its food for thought.
Again, mentioned in previous reviews, my listening room is not perfect; it is about 600 centimetres by 400 centimetres with an inlet in one of the corners stretching the room out by 50 centimetres in both directions. Due the room acoustics, I find that systems are best placed along the six meter wall. My head then rests about 229 centimetres from the front baffles of the speakers, with the speakers positioned 125 centimetres from the centre. With a slight toe in, I found the A5R speakers to give their best performance - the inner rear corner of the speakers were 20 centimetres from the wall, while the outer rear corners were 22 centimetres. Some may find they work best closer or further out from the rear wall, and/or positioned more or less on-axis. Being a sealed enclosure, the A5R speakers will allow you to position them closer to the rear wall then most speakers that are vented without boomy bass. It wasn't difficult for me to find the 'sweet spot', but like any speaker, taking the time to find what works best in your listening room will really make these speakers sing.
Out Of The Box:
I have to make this clear - these speakers need to be run in. Out of the box, they sounded thin and confined without any weight in the bottom end. But yet I heard potential and I know Philip Swift and his team at Spendor wouldn't produce a speaker not worth the asking price. Personally, I have spent too much time around Spendor speakers to give up on them that easily; so I stopped listening to them and let them run in. When I was confident that they had over 100 hours of playback on them, I sat down for a listen. I know that seems like an awful long time to run a set of speakers in, however when you take into consideration how long speakers last, the time soon becomes just a blink of an eye.
Now that they were properly warmed up, I substituted my reference speakers with the A5R. I was a bit taken back at first. It wasn't that the A5R pair didn't sound good, just different. They sounded completely different and miles better than they did brand new. If I did a blind-test, playing an out-of-the-box set of A5R and a set of run in A5R, I would believe it was two different sets of speakers playing. My initial reaction, substituting them for my reference speakers, had more to do with becoming accustomed to listening to a flat response monitor where there is not much coloration, if any at all. Again, do not mistake me, the A5R sounded different but nonetheless great. For me, the Spendors were like a seductive mistress who slowly lures you in with a look across a crowded room. It took a while for me to see how enticing the A5R sound and how attractive they can be to a person who has limited space and still wants a floorstanding speaker.
What really surprised me was the amount of sound that comes out of these speakers. During my time with the A5R I would sometimes close my eyes and I swear every time I did, I felt like I was listening to a speaker at least two times their size. For a speaker this size, the sound-staging is huge. My favourite track to listen to how well a pair of speakers can create the illusion of a soundstage is 'Take Five' on Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet (24bit/176kHz download). Like any set of speakers, the placement of the A5R is crucial. It took me a New York minute to find it, but once I did I heard beauty. I could picture Joe Morello, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, and Eugene Wright exactly where they're supposed to be. It is easy for a speaker to mash everything together and only give you an idea of where each musician is located. The A5R were spot on. The width and depth of the soundstage was good and better than I anticipated. I must admit my Harbeths are more transparent and give a better illusion of a three dimensional stage, but considering their price is over 1.5 times that of the A5R, one would expect it to be better. In writing that, there is one aspect of the song where the A5R topped the Harbeths. The speed and agility of the mid/low frequency response was fantastic. (I do not know how many times I wrote "fast", "lightning speed", "super-fast", etc. during my listening sessions with the A5R). During Morello's solo his drum rolls can either sound lifeless or like your standing right in front of him. Through the Spendors they were like lightning strikes in a silent field, so clean and with such speed, I had to listen to it again and again. The A5R's ability to handle a range of dynamic contrast also caught my attention during 'Take Five.' From the subtleties of Desmond's sax playing and Brubeck's work on the piano to Morello's cymbal work, the A5R never flinched nor hesitated to present the dynamics in a realistic manner.
The A5R speakers have a nice silkiness to the midrange that gives them a nice natural sound. I did not hear any coloration within this frequency range; it is pretty obvious when the midrange isn't right. It seems as though the new EP77 drive unit works well within the sealed cabinet. On Lorde's debut album Pure Heroine (16bit/44.1kHz CD rip), Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor's (also known as Lorde) voice sounded fresh, young and never stressed. She sings with such ease that makes it seem effortless and if a speaker isn't up to the job they can quickly ruin her voice. The timbre accuracy on voices and instruments is very good. Ben Howard's debut album Every Kingdom, is a perfect example of how a well-produced album can allow a person with a good hi-fi system to hear the nuances in the vocals and instruments which bring us one step closer to achieving audio playback nirvana. Howard's guitar seems so clean and lifelike with my Harbeths, I am happy to say the A5R did not disappoint. During the intro song, 'Old Pines', I could practically hear the minute vibrations the guitar body makes. The tonal balance on the A5R is night and day when compared to the A5 model.
From New To Old, And Then Back To New:
Replacing the A5R with the A5, I didn't expect the change to be as drastic as it was. There are two songs, which I have mentioned in previous reviews that have become my acid test when it comes to bass reproduction. The first is Jack Johnson's 'Rodeo Clowns' from his album On and On (16bit/44.1kHz CD rip). The other song is 'Cross Channel' by Aphrodite on his self-titled album Aphrodite (16bit/44.1kHz CD rip).
Merlo Podlewski plays the bass in 'Rodeo Clowns' and on some systems/speakers it can destroy the song within seconds of him entering. The A5R handled his bass exceptionally well; I enjoyed it so much through the Quad/Naim/A5R system I played it at least five times in a row. Again with the Naim/Naim/A5R system, I enjoyed it enough to make a comment in my listening notes that simply reads "right on." With both systems driving the A5R the tonal balance was "right on" the money; Adam Topol's cymbal and high-hat work did not splash across the soundstage, nor was it harsh to my ears. Topol's light touch was textured, delicate and did not draw unwanted attention to it through the A5R. Johnson's voice did not sound like it was coming from a box but instead floated centre stage as if he was sitting right in front of me. Again, Podlewski's bass was not overwhelming nor was it slow and muddy, the A5R kept him in pace with the rest of the song making it an absolute joy to listen to.
Putting on 'Cross Channel' by Aphrodite, I really got a feel for the low frequency extensions the A5R claims on paper to have. They sounded bigger than life and deeper than a speaker should at its size. It is easy for a system/speaker to get a few aspects of this song correct and leave the rest of to the wind; however, both the Quad/Naim/A5R and the Naim/Naim/A5R did a wonderful job at reproducing it. I have to admit, I preferred it through the Naim/Naim/A5R system, and it gave the song a nice “in-your-face" punch that the Quad just couldn't muster. It is always a good sign when you want to get up and dance and if Aphrodite is played through a system that can handle him, I find myself wanting to shake-a-leg.
And then I switched over to the A5 speakers...
I'll keep this brief. I could only listen to each song, through each system arrangement, once. The tonal balance was completely off. The bass overwhelmed every aspect of each song. I had to move the A5 about 50 centimetres from the wall to calm the boomy bass. The bass was slow and muddy. In consequence to the exaggerated low frequency reproduction of the A5, the midrange and high frequencies seemed to get congested, lost in translation if you may. Now for those who are reading this and own a pair of the A5, don't think I am knocking your speakers. You have to understand that the low frequency response of the A5R is so fast and accurate, a person gets used to hearing things a certain way and when that changes it’s like waking up with cold water splashed in your face. I have to say, the revised version, the A5R, works on the foundation the A5 built and goes beyond anything it can produce. After listening to each song once, I switched back the A5R and just sat back and enjoyed the music.
Philip Swift and his team at Spendor have really done a marvellous job at revising the A5 into the A5R. They have created a speaker that is easier to drive than its predecessor, a speaker that is more tonally balanced, and by doing so will happily work in a wider range of systems. By incorporating the advancements found in the D7, they were able to make A5R with a sealed cabinet. This cabinet design makes the speakers more approachable for those who have limited space and want floorstanding speakers. It's nice to see that companies, like Spendor, are putting a lot of effort into producing speakers that are versatile and sit comfortably and confidently in their price point.
The A5R has a lot of competition out there from companies like Bowers and Wilkins, Dali, Focal, Linn, Neat Acoustics - just to name a few. However, Spendor has done something special here; creating a floorstanding speaker that works well in smaller rooms will put these above many others in the same price point. I think it is remarkable that they can design, produce, and manufacture here in the UK and still be competitive in the market. I highly recommend those who are looking for speakers, standmount and/or floorstanding, around the £2,000 mark. Take time to audition these speakers, these little beauty were built to impress.
I didn't part easily with the A5R. I had been enticed by the Spendor "sound", and like a seductive mistress, I enjoyed every minute of it.
For further information about Spendor click HERE
Amplifier(s): Quad Elite Pre (SRP = £849), Quad Elite QSP (SRP = £1,199), and Naim XS 2 (SRP = £1,650)
Source: Naim ND5 XS (SRP = £2,060)
Reference Speakers: Harbeth Super HL5 Plus (SRP = from £3,250)
Speakers: Spendor A5R (SRP = £1,995) and Spendor A5 (SRP = £1,795)
Speaker Cable: The Chord Company Signature Reference (SRP = £200 per meter terminated)
Analog Interconnects: The Chord Company Cadenza Reference RCA (SRP from £250)
Speaker Stands: Something Solid XF (SRP = £300)