The Splendid Spendor SR5 Loudspeaker
by Ian White
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"I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your wall down" - Sarah, ex-wife
"You know... that a blank wall is an appalling thing to look at. The wall of a museum -- a canvas -- a piece of film -- or a guy sitting in front of a typewriter. Then, you start out to do something -- that vague thing called creation. The beginning strikes awe within you."
-- Edward Steichen, Wisdom
Have I ever mentioned how much I detest modern construction?
Anyone who has purchased or rented a home in the suburbs over the past fifteen years knows exactly when I am talking about. There is nothing more infuriating than trying to hang a decent piece of artwork, only to discover that the matzo that Moses and the Israelites produced the night before they fled Egypt is thicker than the wall in your living room. Whatever happened to brick or cinderblock covered with plaster? Apparently, you need to spend more than $400,000 to get brick or a properly built wall.
With that in mind, I decided that in-wall speakers were not really all that practical based on the paper-thin construction of my house and I could only imagine how bloated the bass would sound with such a poor foundation. Some of you are probably puzzled as to why I would be interested in cutting five holes in my living room wall, especially when I already own five free-standing loudspeakers and a rather large subwoofer.
I must confess that I am truly jealous of people whose spouses are understanding enough to allow them to set-up their systems in the manner that would be serve the sound and not the aesthetics of the room. For the better part of two years, my wife tolerated the large floor-standers and stand-mounted loudspeakers that graced our home. One evening, she decided that either the system disappeared or she did.
While the purpose of this review is not to drag the rather fine people at Spendor into my marital hell, they did almost permanently curse me with this new and innovative speaker that they came up with.
After my wife finished her forty-five minute barrage, I kept my cool and calmly explained that the solution to her problem was either a set of in-wall speakers from Morel or B&W, or a set of on-wall speakers from
Magnepan, Gallo, Morel, or Spendor.
The next morning, I drew out a diagram of the living room and explained where each speaker would go and how it would be installed. The in-wall speaker option drew rave reviews when I mentioned that five holes would have to be cut in the wall and that we had to be sure about which model we were going to select because it would be a nightmare to change later. The death knell for the in-wall speaker solution was the explanation that I could not cut a hole in the wall and slide in my Linn Sizmik
12.45 subwoofer. In reality, I could have picked up the phone and probably traded-in my Sizmik for the in-wall version, but who was going to explain the hole to the landlord when me moved?
I Know... Blame It On Saddam
The concept of using an on-wall speaker didn't really appeal to me for a number of reasons; specifically the cost of most of the available products, the lack of synergy between the various options and what I already own, and this silly idea that has been stuck in my head for years that on-wall systems sound terrible.
Some in-wall/on-wall systems do sound like dreck and are a serious waste of money.
I have listened to dozens of them in people's homes and I find them less than optimal when it comes to clarity, volume, bass response, and most have been on the analytical side of the spectrum.
Why would anyone spend $30,000 on a soulless, dry sounding system that could be mistaken for a glorified boombox?
There is no place like Rachel Weisz's home...
As you can probably imagine, things really started to head south at Chez White, and I began having this really intense dream about Rachel Weisz and installing a system in her home. Shame on anyone who thought it was going to be anything out of the ordinary.
It was a cold and rainy night, as I made my way through the west end of London trying to locate the home of my first and only customer. Had I not reached out and pulled Colin Firth out of the path of that runaway double-decker bus on Oxford Street, I would still be serving cod and chips at the Seashell. Mr. Firth was so appreciative that not only did he pass my card around in the elite circles of British cinema, but he had personally recommended my services to the ravishing Ms. Weisz and the ever-peculiar Rowan Atkinson. Mr. Bean was going to have to wait because on this evening I was going to convince Ms. Weisz on the merits of five on-wall speakers in her reading room which happened to measure 18' x 13' x
9'... ironically, the same dimensions of my living room.
When I pulled up to the curb in front of her home, I began to sweat. Damn the British and their ineffective deodorant. I looked into the mirror and checked to see if my teeth were clean, performed the fresh breath test, and fixed my tie. There was no turning back because I could see that all of the lights were on and someone was looking at the car from a second storey window.
I pulled the collar up on my raincoat and ran to the door, only to slip as I rang the doorbell.
The introduction would not have been so humiliating had Ms. Weisz not made the trip down to the front door and opened it just as I was in mid-air, twisting like a drunken circus clown. My landing was on par with a Harrier on the deck of the HMS Ark Royal in high seas -minus the bumpy part.
"Oh my dear lord, are you okay?" she asked with a degree of genuine concern that was quickly replaced with laughter.
"No, please don't get yourself all wet and dirty helping me up, I'll be fine" I responded.
"No, let me help you…you look like you could use some help."
As I let my surprisingly warm and most helpful client lift me out of the gutter, I began to apologize profusely and promised not to be standing in a puddle of water while inspecting the wires in her walls.
"Oh…do you have to make a mess of my walls demonstrating the system?" she asked with a growing feeling of apprehension about the entire affair.
"Actually, the best part of this system is that the speakers get placed flush on the walls and not actually inside of them saving a great deal of time and money" I responded before she could muster up the courage to toss me out of her home.
"Do you need any help bringing them inside? I really don't mind helping," she asked.
Slightly stunned that this celebrity was prepared to run out into the rain and help me carry five relatively solid speakers into her home, I responded with the creativity and flair of an Oxford Professor.
"Ahh…it's your eye shadow."
Ms. Weisz pulled her weight by carrying two of the five SR5s as I struggled with the remaining three, a Linn Sizmik
12.45 subwoofer, and a few hundred feet of speaker wire.
While she ran into the kitchen to make us a pot of tea, I began measuring the room and calculating the exact location for each speaker. Ms. Weisz had decided to install the system in a room that was less than ideal (as far as dimensions were concerned) but it did have solid walls, thanks to a number of built-in bookshelves was echo free, and made the human voice sound fairly immediate and crisp. We should all have rooms this good.
When she came back into the room, I had calmed down a great deal and was starting to feel like I was in my "happy" place. Her hair had begun to curl up as a result of the rain and she looked as radiant in the flesh as she did on the screen.
She passed me a cup of tea and began to explain what she was looking for and why she was interested in the SR5s.
"I want something that will blend visually into the room, play loud enough that I can enjoy the full power of Mozart and Shostakovich, not sound like crap with the Beatles or Pink Floyd, and make me sweat when I hear Ella."
"It also needs to work with what I already own, and allow me to add DVD and surround sound to it at a later date."
"Not only do I believe that this set-up will work for you, but I suspect that you might want to install a pair in your bedroom and kitchen as well once you get used to their sonic limitations," I responded.
"Tell me about them," she replied as she uncrossed her legs and pulled them up on to the couch.
"First of all, you have to understand that they are somewhat limited due to their size and design in the bass. Before you uncross those legs and show me the door, please understand that I have a remedy for that situation. The SR5's unique shape allows me to not only place it on your wall, but also swivel it slightly toward your listening position to optimize the sound. Depending on how it sounds to your ears, we can flip the speaker and use it with the tweeter on the bottom. The design allows us to experiment with that."
"I like what I am hearing so far."
"The SR5s are a two-way sealed monitor using a very high quality 140mm bass/midrange unit with a very large shielded magnet and 90mm polypropylene cone. The tweeter is a 25mm coated fabric dome and sounds extremely smooth. The speaker is relatively easy to drive at 88dB, 8 ohms, and really only needs about 25 watts to really fill this room up with sound. Each speaker weighs 12.8 pounds and is 12.1" x 12.2" x 6.9". Its frequency response is rated at
90Hz to 20kHz (+/- 3dB), but I think you'll notice that its bass response rolls off quite a lot and really requires a subwoofer to fill in the rest of the bass."
"Hey, if I wanted techno-babble, I'd call my lawyer and agent and let them bore me with my next movie deal," she shot back with a grin that suggested that she was impressed with my knowledge but really wanted to hear them.
"One last thing though…they attach to the wall with this bracket and I promise to be very neat when I drill."
The process of installing the front pair of speakers and making sure that they were exactly at the same level and firmly attached to the wall took less than an hour and the rosenut veneer looked quite smart against her cream colored walls. While I sweated and adjusted, she read the latest James Elroy and seemed to grin at all of the dirty parts. The final set-up placed the tweeter of each speaker 39" from the floor and 36" from the sidewalls to the middle of the baffle. There was exactly six feet from tweeter to tweeter that helped create a very spacious sound.
"They do look very pretty. Can I put a television in-between them?" she asked.
"Mam, all of these speakers are shielded so there is no danger of damaging your television," I responded.
"Well, this lady is impressed so far but would like to hear some music." She then slid across the leather loveseat and made room for me.
It must have been a sign from the man above, but she had exactly the same system that I did back at home, with the exception of a Naim NAP 200 solid-state amp to go along with her Conrad-Johnson MV60 tube amp. I cued up a copy of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony No. 7 and let the music play. I could tell that she was immediately impressed with the clarity and proper tonality of the instruments, but I noticed that the bottom end of the sound came across as somewhat lightweight. It was quick and tight, but it needed some meat on those bones. Like many British designs, the treble was also somewhat restrained but I could tell that it wasn't bothering my client at all.
"This sounds so crisp, yet without any of that edge that bothered me about those French speakers," she offered. "I am really quite amazed at how much depth there is to the sound with them on the wall. I would have expected them to sound somewhat flat."
"The only thing that I don't like is that the bass seems like it could use some help."
"That is why I brought you one of these," I responded and pointed towards the Linn Sizmik
12.45 subwoofer which I had set-up along the long wall of the room and 4 feet from the corner. "Let's listen again and see what you think with the subwoofer crossing over at 120Hz."
The subwoofer worked as I knew it would and all of a sudden the system energized the room and the New York Philharmonic came to life with not only gusto but with improved depth and soundstage width. Ms. Weisz came to the realization that she was dealing with a genius and we spent the better part of the night listening to Ella, Miles,
Ry, Elton, Tori, Cobain, and Roger Waters.
The final agreement was that the SR5s had some limitations in the bass, which required a subwoofer of significant quality to keep up with the overall sound quality of the on-walls. We also agreed that while the speaker sounded very nice with the solid-state Naim amp, it needed the warmth and body of the EL-34 tube amplifier for a more balanced presentation in-between
250Hz to 4kHz. I was hoping to introduce Ms. Weisz to the beauty of a 45-based SET amp that evening, but the SR5s require a lot more power than that and we made a date to try that in her new bedroom system.
As I walked back to my car the next morning after an intoxicating night of real fun with a sweetheart of a lady, I folded up her
cheque, placed it in my wallet, and stood and watched as the sun came up over Canary Warf and a new day began.
A new day indeed.
Type: two-way on-wall stereo/surround loudspeaker
Tweeter: 25mm coated fabric dome, damped vented enclosure
Midrange/Woofer: 140mm ep38 polymer cone
Frequency Response: 90Hz to 20kHz (±3dB)
Dispersion: Within 3dB of response on reference axis
Horizontal over 40° arc (±20°)
Vertical over 20° arc ( ±10°)
Impedance: 8 ohms (minimum 6.0 ohms)
Crossover Frequency: 5kHz
Power Handling: 125 watts into 8 ohms
Connections: Gold plated bi-wireable terminals
Dimensions: 12.1 x 12.2 x 6.9 (HxWxD in inches)
Weight: 12.8 lbs.
Accessories Supplied: Stainless steel wall bracket and fixings
Cabinet: Real wood veneer in Cherry, Maple, Rosenut, Black Ash
Price: Depending on configuration $1,000 to $1,250 per pair
Spendor Audio Systems Ltd.
Station Road Industrial Estate
Hailsham, East Sussex BN27 2ER UK
Voice: +44 (0) 1323 843474
33 McWhirt Loop #108
Fredricksburg, Virginia 22406
Voice: (800) 659-3711