What Hi-Fi (UK)
Spendor’s latest Classic speakers, the Sonos Roam, amps from Cambridge and Technics and more, all reviewed and rated
If you’re after a great sounding premium standmounter, there’s a plentiful supply on the market. But if you want those speakers to be small, unfussy in nature and sound great without being pampered, that choice dwindles significantly. This is where Spendor’s new Classic 4/5 come in.
These are the smallest speakers in the company’s retro-themed Classic range, but that doesn’t mean they’re reliant on nostalgia for their appeal. In many ways, the 4/5 are as modern as they come, despite a heritage that leans on BBC research carried out half a century ago.
Never less than refined
We’ve long admired Spendor’s 22mm polyamide wide-surround dome tweeter and are glad to find it here. Having heard it in various models over recent years, we’ve never found it sounding less than insightful and refined. Here, it’s mated to an in-house 15cm EP77 polymer mid/ bass via a carefully calibrated singlewired crossover.
The crossover frequency is set unusually high at 4.2khz (rather than the more common 2.0-3.0khz range). That means the larger unit handles the critical midrange region all by itself, which is likely to be a good thing.
The Classic 4/5’s cabinet design is unusual too. It’s a sealed construction that prioritises low-end agility and tunefulness over muscle. Spendor’s engineers have made a brave choice here, as most rivals will be ported, giving them a (theoretical) advantage in sensitivity and low-end punch. This cabinet is where the BBC influence is most apparent. It follows the heavily damped, thin-walled construction method, which allows the panels to flex a little, but in a controlled way.
Most modern speaker boxes are made to be as rigid as possible. This has sonic advantages in low-end precision, but can push cabinet resonances up into the midrange where our ears are most sensitive. The BBC approach moves those issues to lower frequencies, where they become less noticeable.
We have no complaints about the Classic 4/5’s build quality. That 31cm tall cabinet is neatly made and nicely veneered. It’s available in two real-wood options, cherry or walnut, and looks smart in both. As with the rest of the recently revised Classic range, the styling is a little cleaner and smarter than before. The grille is now magnetically held and easier to remove, for example.
These speakers are impressively unfussy about placement. You’ll need to put some effort in if you want to optimise the results, but if you don’t, they still sound more than acceptable. That’s not something that can be said for the vast majority of speakers at this, or any, price.
Ideally, these should be placed on solid speaker stands. Spendor makes a nicely engineered dedicated set, but they’re pretty pricey at £795. We don’t think they’re essential either, as swapping the Classic 4/5 to the likes of Custom Designs’ FS104 Signature still gives fine results at little more than a quarter of the outlay.
We try the Classic 4/5 in all sorts of places – up against a wall, on a bookshelf and well into the room – and in each case they make the best of the situation. They never sound anything less than listenable, though aspects such as stereo imaging and outright clarity do suffer.
At their best, around 30cm out into the room with a touch of angling towards the listening position, they set up a wonderfully open, focused and expansive soundstage. When we close our eyes, we can’t pinpoint the position of the speakers, which points to a well behaved cabinet design.
These Spendors are almost as accommodating about partnering equipment. They will happily work with all-in-one systems such as Arcam’s SA30, but still have enough sonic stretch to fully show the performance advantages of moving to premium separates. We get great results with a Naim Nait XS 3 stereo amplifier, fronted by the likes of NAD’S C658 music streamer and the CDI CD player from Cyrus.
Note that the speaker’s rated sensitivity is pretty low at 84db/w/m, so don’t expect to get high volume levels from low-powered amplifiers, even though Spendor has taken care not to make the Classic 4/5 an unduly difficult electrical load.
If you accept that nothing the size of a shoebox can produce furniture-rattling bass or be truly comfortable at party levels, there’s little to criticise in the Classic 4/5’s performance.
We can sum up the sound of these Spendors in three words: insightful, balanced and refined. They resolve so much detail, but always present it in an understated yet organised way. There are no hard edges or brightly lit treble to add excitement, nor is there a significant attempt to flavour the frequency response to make the Classic 4/5 appear more generous in the bass than they are.
These are honest speakers that try to communicate the music in a natural and even-handed manner. Where they do err from absolute transparency, it’s done with smoothness and grace.
We play Mahler’s Symphony No.2 and these standmounts are happy tracking the complex instrumentation. There’s a sense of assured calm coupled to expressive dynamics and a surprising amount of punch. There isn’t the scale or outright authority that larger rivals bring, but the Classic 4/5 compensate with a seamless and cohesive presentation that makes most of their rivals sound uneven.
These speakers render instrumental textures superbly, capturing the energy and majesty of the orchestra well. Tonally, they’re well-judged despite the limited low-end reach. Some small speakers can sound top heavy, but the Classic 4/5 have enough in terms of low frequency heft to satisfy, particularly when used in a smaller room.
We listen to a wide range of music in our time with these Spendors, and their broad range of talents mean that they’re as happy playing Nina Simone as they are Kendrick Lamar. Given our experiences with other members of the Classic family, it comes as no surprise that these
Spendors have an excellent midrange. It’s wonderfully articulate and fluid, conveying the passion in Simone’s performance of Strange Fruit brilliantly.
Their surefooted timing and ability to track rhythms is much less expected. While these are in no way a full-throttle dance machine, they do a surprisingly good job with Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly set. The 4/5 even sound as though they’re enjoying it, which is something unheard of with previousgeneration models from this range.
If you’re looking for a top class small speaker to work in a smaller room or with compromised positioning, these Spendors are hard to beat. They’re undoubtedly one of the stars of Spendor’s current Classic series.