Review: Spendor S8e Speaker

Category: Speakers

After spending about a year and a half with my Spendor S5e speakers, I recently upgraded to the S8e model. For those unfamiliar with the Spendor brand, the company was started in the late 1960's by Spencer and Dorothy Hughes, who put their BBC experience in speaker design to good use. Their BC1 model, originally designed for professional monitor use, quickly acquired a cult status among music lovers and is revered by many to this day, though long since out of production.

Though Spendor still makes a "classic" series of monitor speakers, they have a wide box style and require stand mounting to perform correctly. A few years ago they came out with the "S" series which stand directly on the floor and are of the more current slim cabinet style.

The S5e is the smallest of the floor standing series and is the one I've lived with for over a year. It is a wonderful, smooth, and quite musical speaker. (See my earlier review for this speaker.)

However, with its small woofers (two 5 1/2" units) it is not the last word in bass performance. I also found the cabinet a bit short in that from a normal sitting position so I found myself looking slightly down at the sonic image. And finally, while the cause is just speculation on my part, the midrange could be ever so slightly congested on complex material. One possibility that occurred to me is that with two woofers (one handles bass and midrange while the other handles only bass up to 700 Hz) there may be some interference. Another suggestion was the crossover complexity may have been the cause.

In any event, I stumbled into an excellent deal for a pair of S8e speakers and decided to jump at it. While the S5e is a superb speaker for the money, the S8e is in another league.

One of Spendor's advertising points for the S series is they are less picky about room position than their classic speakers. The latter need stands and should be well away from rear and side walls. The S series are said to more flexible if a speaker must be close to a wall. In my room, I've got a couple of feet on each side from the side walls, but the speakers need to be closer to the rear wall than I'd like. I initially tried the S8es in the same spot as the S5es but found moving the larger speakers a little further apart and toeing them in a bit more gave a better image and more overall finesse. I'd say the S8es are a shade pickier regarding placement than the S5es, but still very room friendly compared to many speakers.

Now having several listening sessions with a wide variety of material under my belt, I can report the S8e fully addresses the limitations of it's smaller brother. The bass is solid and deep without booming, the extra cabinet height addresses image issue noted above, and the midrange is completely clear while maintaining the beautiful tone balance that made Spendors famous.

Reduced to a one line explanation of the difference between the two, the larger S8e is simply more effortless when playing music. The tone balance is extremely natural - there is no etching of highs or extra tizziness that sounds initially impressive but quickly becomes tiring. The midrange isn't forward or recessed; it is not overly lean nor does it provide extra warmth or bloom. Bass is solid, deep and well defined. A plucked bass doesn't sound like a bowed one. If the bass drum is kicked at the same time a bass guitar is plucked, you can spot two different sounds and not a muddled combination.

Female vocals are gorgeous. Cassandra Wilson's breathy "Shall We Dance" brings you to the front row of a small night club. Jennifer Warne's "Hard Times Come Again No More" is an a cappella track with a small group of singers. The voices are clear, well positioned and they stay put. Even the soft, low male voice is perfect; it often gets lost in the shuffle, especially on more forward sounding speakers.

Solo classical piano (Beethoven sonatas) had the piano in the room, but not in your face. The tone balance was even up and down the scale with the bass maintaining power and clarity without muddiness.

With a well recorded male voice, regardless of genre, the artist is there as they should be, neither thin or tubby, and remains clearly distinct.

Acoustic instruments are spot-on, whether the zing of Leo Kottke's 12 string guitar, the rasp of the bow on a violin or the bite of a jazz sax. They are just there, sounding real.

Poor and mediocre recordings are still poor or medicore, but more often than not benefit from the neutrality. Speakers with extra etching, too much bass or an unnatural midrange often become unlistenable with a poor recording. The Spendors give you a fighting chance and with the volume of over-processed recordings being released these days, that's important.

The S5e is still a remarkable speaker for the money. It is very musical, easy to place in a room and drive, but will still handle some serious power. I found it punched considerably above it's weight when comparing it to similarly priced competition. That said, the S8e fully addresses all aspects of the S5e's limitations. Yes, the S8e costs 60% more than the S5e, but it is still a modestly priced speaker given that many speakers these days are many multiples of the S8e's current $3,200 list price. For those who are interested in music, Spendors should be on anyone's short list of speakers to audition.

Associated gear
Squeezebox 3, Lavry DA-10, Bel Canto S300.
Great review! You're running a lot of power into these -- should I be concerned about my scrappy little Naim Nait5i being up to the job? I understand these are 88db into 8ohm, which isn't terrible but isn't ideal for an itty-bitty integrated like my little Nait. Also, what about all this I've been hearing about finicky soundstage? It doesn't sound from your review like you had any trouble getting these to image for you. Reactions?
Thanks for the compliment. Sometimes it is tough to write accurately about equipment you like without veering into overt gushiness.

The sensitivity of the S8e is 89 dB. While not qualifying as a high-efficiency speaker, they do a pretty good job with any power that is fed them. If I found the right model, it looks like your Naim amp is 50 watts. I think that'll be fine with two caveats added. One is that you're not a true head-banger in terms of volume. (If you are, these are probably the wrong speaker for you regardless of amp power.) Second, it also assumes your listening room is not overly large.

My typical average volume for serious listening is usually not more than 85 dB or so. I think you amp would be fine at that level. The key (in my estimation) is whether you are hearing any clipping distortion when you listen. If you need to make a decision before you hear the combo, what is the efficiency of the speakers you're using right now with your Naim? If you're in the same range you should be OK with the Spendors as I haven't found them to be a difficult speaker to drive. (My prior amps were a pair of old 60 watt Dynaco MkIII tube monoblocks.)

As noted in my review above, I did find the S8e a bit pickier about placement than the S5e but still didn't think they were too hard to position. One thing about Spendors is they do have a relatively smallish sweet spot. This is probably due to the fact that crossover from the 8" driver is at 4 KHz. However, this can actually be an advantage in a particularly live room since there isn't quite as much reflection in the range of the upper primary frequencies where the ear is sensitive. The disadvantage is the sense of sound-stage fades quickly as you move out of the ideal listening position.

I find they image very nicely for me, but I will preface that by stating I'm not a imaging freak. I do not require my speakers to have more accurate imaging than what I hear at live venues. Some people are particularly taken by super precise imaging and there are probably other speakers that do that better. However, I find the Spendors are just a beautifully balanced mix of musical characteristics. A great, very accurate midrange tone balance, smooth highs without the tizziness that is popular with some, solid bass, natural transient response, and a realistic sound-stage that doesn't "wander." Best of all for me is that they are more free from listener fatigue than any other speaker I've heard in that price range.

In short, if your goal is to enjoyably listen to lots of music they are simply a great choice.