By the early part of the new millennium, ‘retro’ was all the rage and in hi-fi the revival of the BBC LS3/5a loudspeaker spearheaded the movement. The guilty truth was however that – even back then – this iconic little mini-monitor was a deeply flawed, if charming, design. It could be easily improved on using new drive units, cabinet technology and crossover design, but then of course it wouldn’t be an LS3/5a, would it? This was the remit of Spendor’s S3/5se; launched in 2003 it was more of a spiritual successor than a direct evolution – a thoroughly modern rework retaining nothing except the original cabinet dimensions of 305x165x190mm.
It’s an interesting reimagining of the classic small speaker. The 4.7kg cabinet is relatively thin in a bid to dissolve resonance quickly rather than hold it in; the side, top and bottom panels are 9mm MDF with 6mm thick bitumen damping panels. A special low reflectivity acoustic grade foam made from a soft polyether material is used as wadding. There’s a chamfered opening around the tweeter dome, designed to improve its on-off axis frequency response. This se version gets a carefully matched 19mm Scanspeak unit, in its own chamber which is vented into a second damped acoustic chamber. The 140mm mid/bass driver is a rigid glass reinforced polypropylene injection moulding with a profiled black homopolymer (polypropylene) cone. The surround is synthetic butyl rubber, and the 8-ohm voice coil is wound on a 25mm diameter Kapton former. The dust cap has an influence on the sound, and was deliberately designed to maintain the ‘BBC sound’, says Spendor’s Philip Swift.
This (£950 on launch) se version has silver plated high purity mono-crystal copper conductors and low loss dielectric sleeve, alongside selected crossover components for improved performance, alongside the aforementioned Scanspeak tweeter replacing a Vifa type. The se handles an extra 55 watts power and is theoretically easier to drive thanks to claimed minimum impedance of 6 ohms instead of the S3/5’s 4.9 ohm minimum. As ever with Spendor, the cabinetry is done to a high standard and overall finish is excellent.
Sonically, the S3/5se is uncannily similar to the LS3/5a yet strangely different. It is polite in that familiar BBC way, and has a wonderful couthness and poise to it. It is very well balanced, with just a hint of extra ‘presence’ in the midband region, and has a wonderfully open and free quality, especially with less densely packed music. There’s no sense of compression at low to medium listening levels, and generally the sound is extremely vice-free; the great thing about the S3/5se is the manner in which it just gets out of the way.
Whatever type of music you play, the Spendor just takes you into it; the sense of scale and depth is excellent considering its diminutive dimensions, and it lets the soundstage run free. The downside is that it cannot defy the law of physics, and doesn’t flourish with really bass-heavy dance music for example. Low frequencies are limited, and there’s little of any meaning going on below 120Hz; that said, what bass there is, is very tuneful and taut. Feed it classical, jazz, rock or pop and it’s a joy – but leave the drum and bass for a larger loudspeaker!
One of the great things about the Spendor S3/5se is its LS3/5a-a-like sound, yet it costs less than one third of the baby BBC box. You can pick up a really good pair for £500, and decent but used ones for two thirds of this – something you can’t say for the LS3/5a. It’s a great secondhand bargain, and if you have a small space and catholic music tastes, then overlook it at your peril!