Spendor BC1 Loudspeakers Reviewed
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Of the many beloved British institutions diminished in recent years by non-elected, 'think-tank' bureaucrats, the BBC ranks alongside the Royal Mail, the NHS and British Rail as among the most keenly mourned. Younger readers probably won't believe that 'BBC' once meant more than 'Boring Biased Channels' found at the beginning of the Sky directory, or that it was capable of fielding radio personalities of greater intellect and tact than Jonathan Ross. But most quickly forgotten because they existed 'behind the scenes' were the far-from-glamorous, yet utterly unique engineering departments.
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Yes, the BBC was once paved the way in recording techniques, in digital technology and - most relevant in the context of
While I am as guilty as any of elevating the LS3/5A to the deified status it deserves, we mustn't forget it was but one of a series of speakers designed to meet BBC standards - when BBC standards meant something. And probably the most influential of all, even more so than the tiny and therefore limited-appeal LS3/5A, was its big sister, the BC1. And why would it be more influential? Simply because it was a more satisfactory, truly full-range system for primary use in a room larger that 12x16ft. And it so embodied what has since become known as 'the BBC sound' that it's just as iconic.
Competition and Comparison
You can compare the Spendor BC1 loudspeakers by reading our reviews for the Rogers db 101 loudspeaker and the Sonus faber Concerto GP loudspeaker. You can also find more information by visiting our Floorstanding Speakers section.
Although a commercial offering - there was an edition with proper BBC 'LS' nomenclature; see the box 'BC1 Origins' - the speaker was truly 'of the BBC'. But it was innovative, too, and would influence British speaker design for a couple of decades through the pioneering use of plastics for woofers. During the 1960s and 1970s, the BBC approach (revived by Doug Stirling for the LS3/5A V2) was to use cabinets made with 'thin wall', heavily-damped plywood panels, with front baffle and back panel fixed by screws, providing further 'lossy' mechanical coupling. The BC1 followed this practice, its enclosure made from 3/8in birch ply, battened at the joints, with 3/8in bitumen-impregnated felt bonded to the inside of the panels to provide damping.
A 3-way bass reflex system intended to operate in a free-standing position, the BC1 was normally found on a dedicated trolley - a no-no in these days of spikes and earthquake-resistant speaker fixing. I had my circa 1976 pair restored at Spendor a few years ago and was able to try them both with the trolleys and on 12in stands. While they look so 'right' on the trolleys, those wheeled frames do not help the speaker's Achilles' Heel: sloppy lower octaves.
Like the LS3/5A, the BC1 excels in the mid-band. Unlike the LS3/5A, it goes loud enough to satisfy most domestic needs and the bass below, say, 100Hz, is substantial, extended, deep and 'musical'. What it isn't, however, is tight, totally controlled nor fast enough by today's standards. Spen Hughes even noted that, as the BBC was addressing a pop market 30 years ago, Auntie rejected the design on first approach because 'the main request was for more power.'
Which is not to say that you can't use this classic as a real-world speaker circa 2005. I found that decent 12in stands, a carefully-chosen pair of cables and a robust but sweet-sounding solid-state amp can work magic with the BC1; think Primare amps, Musical Fidelity's mid-level models, Marantz PM-15S1. On the valve front, try the PrimaLuna ProLogue 2 if you're on a budget, McIntosh MC275 if you're not.
With a little effort, you'll hear vocals and acoustic instruments with a warmth and richness that defies the trend toward artifice that mars modern sound preferences for people who have heard live performances. Careful matching will create a system free of sibilance, with surprising good imaging and a realistically dimensioned soundstage. It earns its place in 'Classic Kit' because that's precisely what it is: a vintage component that, despite a couple of traits that date it slightly, is perfectly useable 35 years after its birth. And if you have even the tiniest tendency toward the anachrophilic, the BC1 isn't just a good place to start your retro-hi-fi adventure: it's an
Because BC1s sold to serious audiophiles who cared about their systems, and because the speaker enjoyed a healthy production run, there's good news for collectors: BC1s are not hard to find in good condition, and the prices are embarrassingly low. I've seen them for as little as £150 per pair, but £300-£400 seems the going price for a mint pair. Why so cheap? Two things: firstly, fairly large, floor-standing speakers that need to be used away from the walls are currently out of fashion, and secondly, the aforementioned bass - hardly what one would call 'tight' or 'modern' - eliminates a certain type of listener. This is not the speaker through which to revel in techno. There never was the likelihood of special editions for either Kraftwerk or NWA.
As for 'collectormania' trivia, Derek Hughes provided some basic data. 'Spendor was started in 1969, although a few BC1s were produced in the previous year. The last ones were produced in 1994; the final serial number was 27,024. Factory finishes included teak, walnut, rosewood and black oak. Collectors and purists might like to note a few notable design changes:
1) A change from white PVC to black surround at S/N 7,396 (mid 1975)
2) It was uprated to 55W power handling from S/N 13,000 (June 1977, and the magnet
colour changed from blue to red to signify this)
3) Ferrite magnets were employed from S/N 20,600
'Variants were few: The BC1A included a built-in 25W or 50W amplifier. The BC1/3 was a later, revised version using a 38mm HF/mid driver and a 19mm SHF driver. The BC1/69 was a limited edition, luxury, upgraded anniversary model based on the original specification.' And to put them into perspective, they cost just under £75
But there is no better summing-up of the allure of the BC1 than remarks made in the September 2004 issue of
Fortunately, the new owners of Spendor are aware that links to the BBC of yore are not to be squandered, in contrast to the shabby way the BBC itself treated its own engineering department. Thus it would seem that they are doing more than most to keep alive the sound of classic BBC monitors: smooth, accurate, uncoloured and, above all, genteel. Even if we never see a 21st Century BC1
BOX: Spendor BC1 Specification
Impedance 8 ohms nominal
HF Drive Unit Coles 4001G, Celestion HF1300
LF Drive Unit Spendor 200mm, 26mm coil
Sensitivity 84dB/1W/1m (74dB/1V/1m)
Power handling 55W
Frequency resp 50Hz to 15kHz
Crossover point 3kHz and 13kHz
Pair matching within 1dB
Dimensions 635x300x300mm (HDW)
BOX: BC1 Origins
Derek Hughes supplied a copy of a wonderful letter from 1980, sent by his father, Spencer Hughes, to
The Spendor BC1 was not, as it has so many times been described, a development of the BBC loudspeaker type LS3/6. Perhaps a short history of the lead into, and the development, of the two systems may be of interest.
From the very early days, even before hi-fi, the BBC has designed its own monitor loudspeaker systems as commercial systems were not, and most are still not, accurate enough for broadcast work. These designs were based on available units matched by, what were in those days, very complex crossover networks and mounted in custom designed cabinets.
During the mid-1960s, the development work carried out by the BBC had advanced to a stage which was beyond the capabilities of the available paper pulp cone bass units. The decision was taking to investigate the possibilities of using some form of plastic as a cone and surround material. It was assumed that plastic would be a consistent material unlike paper pulp, which to some degree seemed to depend on the mood of pulp stirrer. Over the years it has been found that it was not quite that easy.
The section of the BBC Research Department involved in this operation was headed by Mr. Del Shorter, now retired, with Mr. H.D. Harwood now of Harbeth Acoustics, second in command and myself completing the investigating team.
Some two years were spent making 12in unit cones in a variety of shapes and from a range of plastics; this could be a story on its own. The first successful unit was made from the now well-known Bextrene and used in the development of the BBC studio monitor type LS5/5. his loudspeaker was described in an article written by Mr. H.D. Harwood in the March 1968 issue of
My part, as a laboratory technician, in the operation was to do most of the actual work both on the plastic investigation and the development of the LS5/5. With that experience I decided that it should be possible to make a loudspeaker from scratch in the home environment. With the aid of our electric fire, a compressor working in reverse and an iron bedstead the first vacuum former was built. Bins full of malformed cones were produced before any measure of success was achieved and the first 8in unit was produced. This unit turned out to be almost certainly the first commercial 8in Bextrene driver and still arguably the best.
The first pair of BC1s was constructed using these units and Celestion HF1300 units. The cabinets were smaller than the current model and initial listening tests indicted that the performance could be improved by an increase in size, hence the present design. At this point it was all being done for fun.
The second pair of BC1s was made for a friend who took them to Merrow Sound of Guildford. The third pair was sold to Merrow Sound and Spendor was on the way to a small niche in the audio world.
Now some difficulties were beginning to arise as under the terms of my contract with the BBC, the design had to be offered to them. Fortunately the 'Pop' era had just started and the main request was for more power, so the BC1 was turned down. Around about this time there was a special requirement within the BBC for one pair of speakers about the size of the BC1s. Being a kind soul, I suggested that my design could be used, so I was given the task of producing an official version of the BC1, later designated the LS3/6.
This design used an 8in unit made by Research Department, the Celestion HF1300 and a redesigned crossover. The main change in the crossover was the addition of a large multi-tap autotransformer to allow adjustment of levels between the two units, normal BBC practice at that time.