How about “If ever a speaker screamed for a subwoofer, the S-3/5 is it”? Or maybe even “The speaker is beautifully assembled, sensibly priced, almost universal in its unfussiness, refined to the point of gentility and so easy to set up with a subwoofer that Spendor really ought to produce a dedicated model
Was I second-guessing Spendor? Shame on me for not thinking that they didn’t already have the answer to my pleas. For here it is: the Sub 3, and, naturally, it was made for the S3/5 and other models in the Spendor Elegance range. Hell, it even works nicely with the LS3/5A and with the small Martin Logans, but that’s jumping the gun. It’s just that there’s no law which says it can only be used with Spendor speakers, so I went a little bit crazy.
Measuring 20.5×17.5×12.25in (HWD), the Sub 3 is slightly larger than the REL Strata III which graces my A/V listening room. The enclosure – cherry veneered for the review sample, but available in other finishes – is made from ‘high grade’ MDF, with substantial internal bracing; a knock merely hurts your knuckles. It weighs 20kg and houses a 130W amplifier which drove the Spendor-made, long-throw 10in woofer to levels high enough to cope with large rooms or the excesses of home cinema. The woofer, mounted to fire downward, is made with a rigid PVC cone and is shielded with a ‘balanced magnet’. Frequency range is stated as 33-85Hz, with the user-adjustable crossover operating over 50-90Hz.
As seems to be the fashion for UK-made subwoofers, it bears a finned control panel, but on one of the narrow sides. If that, then, constitutes the back, then it’s a welcome change: you get to look at the narrower aspect of the unit rather than the wider. The controls, as well as gold-plated phono inputs, are grouped on this panel; they include a phase switch, a level control and a crossover rotary with settings at 50, 60, 65 and 70Hz, the latter recommended for the S-3/5. As with the REL, there’s no front panel-mounted on-off tell-tale light.
Matching this to other speakers isn’t a problem, as the controls allow plenty of flexibility. But to provide it with a pure bass feed, I used it with the Lexicon MC-1 multi-channel processor in both 2-channel and 5.1 channel form, accessing the Lexicon’s set-up regime for the bass adjustments; I used the Sub 3’s volume control strictly for coarse setting, tuning it to the 10th of decibel with the Lexicon. Surprisingly, it does get that critical when using it for pure music; in A/V mode, there’s a tendency to set it up for maximum output prior to the onset of severe break-up, finesse be damned.
What I didn’t expect was such an audible difference in its performance when compared to the mighty REL. Given the paucity of essential information way down below, it was still far too easy to tell one subwoofer from the other – an experience which upset my wish to hang onto the audiophilic notion that subwoofers are for headbanging tossers.
Read more about the Spendor S-3 subwoofer on Page 2.
Indeed, in an attempt to test all subwoofers’ general worthlessness,
I turned the unit upside down and watched large segments of three
particularly bombastic DVDs and then listened to a handful of powerful
audio CDs with my hand resting on the driver cone. I was flummoxed by
the substantial amount of time in which I felt absolutely no vibration
whatsoever. And in case my finger tips are numbed beyond usefulness, I
repeated it with the main power amps off, so that signal was reaching
only the sub. Most of the time, it issued nary a peep.
And yet the sound suffered when it was removed. Clearly, subwoofers
are best tested (subjectively) by having the listener audition the
system first with the subwoofer, followed by its removal. While larger
speakers do not need the augmentation – the Wilson WATT Puppy System 6
and the Avalon Avatar to hand go deep enough for any sane human being –
both the small Spendor and LS3/5As benefit from the added weight.
Spendor’s Sub 3 presents an alternative to the REL in a curious way.
It’s as if the two were designed to cancel each other out, in that
one’s strength is precisely the other’s weakness. Their characters were
truly in opposition. The Spendor is smooth, the REL occasionally; this
is more noticeable on pure music than sound effects. The REL has
audibly greater speed; the Spendor has more weight. The REL has punch
and attack; the Spendor offers finesse and subtlety. The net result, at
least in my experience, is that the Spendor fares better with pure
music, while the REL seems more at home with cinematic applications.
Aesthetically, there’s not much in it: nearly all subwoofers are
simply boring cubist forms, the tedium relieved by the choice of wooden
veneer. (I await the world’s first truly ‘styled’ subwoofer, the
forthcoming Sonus Faber unit, to find an alternative to gigantic
building blocks in the lounge.) Price? The Spendor is 695 – par for
the course and directly comparable to a REL or two and plenty of others.
So this isn’t exactly offering you an easy way out: I can’t say buy
by brand, politics, country of origin or prejudice. Subwoofers have
their own sounds, and the Spendor’s is one which favours small British
monitors like the S-3/5 and, yes, the LS3/5A, the latter profiting from
the Spendor’s sheer refinement. It fares better with music than sound
effects. Which, by my reckoning, makes it a subwoofer for grown-ups. So
am I impressed? You bet.