OK - so we promised that October's coverage of the Cicable crossover and the Stirling would be the last LS3/5A-related piece for some time, but we hadn't reckoned on Spendor. Philip Swift, formerly of the late, lamented Audiolab, bought Spendor; the first speaker to emerge under his aegis is a sibling to the S-3/5. And we all know that the S-3/5 (1) uses a genuine LS3/5A cabinet rotated 90 degrees and (2) that it is one helluva modern surrogate for the BBC masterpiece. The S3 is identical to the S-3/5 in every respect save the crossover, internal wiring and the slightly sculpted, 'acoustically engineered' grille, these changes providing different voicing and behaviour.
Swift likes to think of it as a more 'universal' speaker, likely to find homes in systems ranging from non-audiophile (i.e. non-tweaked-to-the-limits) stereo systems to compact A/V set-ups. Although it's only a dB or so more sensitive, the voicing is punchier and seemingly louder, so you start to get the drift immediately. On the other hand...
First, though, the facts. The S3 uses a Spendor-made 130mm bass/mid driver with homopolymer cone and a Vifa-made 19mm fabric dome tweeter, mounted in a cabinet measuring 165x190x305mm (WxDxH). The new crossover was designed 'from scratch' and features a new layout and completely different components, including low-loss polypropylene film caps. As the drivers remain the same, almost inevitably the crossover point is the same as the S-3/5's 4.5kHz. The system's nominal impedance is 8 ohms, and the frequency response is (±3dB) 80Hz-20kHz; Spendor matches a pair of S3s to within 1dB. On the practical side, the S3 boasts 'vintage' sensitivity of 85dB/1W/1m, and handles 80W. Spendor reckons that the S3 is good for maximum SPLs of 101dB at 1 metre; I made 'em go louder without breaking, but don't tell Phil.
Compare the factory specs with those of the S-3/5, and you see that - in addition to an extra dB of sensitivity - it handles another 10W, but its frequency response is less tightly defined; the earlier model is spec'd at 70Hz-20kHz, +/-2dB. Swift supplied a pair of S-3/5S for comparison, proving immediately that specifications hardly tell the story. But then we know that numbers freaks are sorry, misguided souls who can't get laid.
Each 4.7kg speaker is finished in real wood veneers - the review pair arrived in a gorgeous light cherry - and the back is fitted with CE-approved, gold-plated 4mm terminal posts. They can be bi-wired, the mode I used for the listening tests, and they accept banana plugs thanks to some clever soul coming up with a design featuring screw-in blanking plugs to make the terminals CE-kosher, rather than the sort which need a drill or corkscrew to remove.
During the sessions, I used the speaker with and without grilles. Like LS3/5As but unlike S-3/5s, the S3 was designed for grille-on usage. As grilles, Swift states, 'I know most manufacturers prefer their loudspeakers to be used with the grilles off, but that's like designing an attractive kitchen and then leaving the cupboard doors off!' My advice? Leave 'em on, or they sound a tad spitty.
Connected to amps ranging from the Musical Fidelity M3 to Quad's II/forty, the S3 showed that it liked power, and that it could take whatever you fed it. Blessedly, though, it didn't need to be playing loudly to deliver all of its worth, and apartment dwellers will never need to reach for a loudness button late at night. The S3 sounds bigger than the S-3/5, with fuller bass and a much more open soundstage, but it's also more aggressive and forward. Thus, it will probably find favour with those who slap it straight onto an A/V receiver of the Asian Persuasion, fed the latest instalment of Die Hard or Pitch Black at the max.
But that would be to deny its way with acoustic music, textured voices and other material which needs delicate handling. Swift was right: this speaker is 'universal' in that it rises to most occasions with minimum fuss. Unlike the S-3/5, which almost begs the wave of the tweaker's hand, the S3 sounds - at worst, and with minimal attention paid to set-up - good. But treat it like its purist sister, with careful cable and stand selection, and it just gets better. The only caution I can add is that the S3 can tend toward the bright, which tells you something else: it loves valves.
The S3 sells for 599.90 per pair. At that price, this handsome mini-monitor is a hands-down winner.