Spendor S3/5R2 5.0 review

What happens when you make an AV package out of the original broadcast monitor?

For many years, it's been fashionable for brands to point to their heritage in studio and professional work to bolster their credibility when selling you speakers for the home. What you see here from Spendor, in the shape of its S3/5R2, is one of the ultimate expressions of that as a concept. 

These little speakers are the spiritual descendents of the BBC LS3/5a broadcast monitor. This was designed in the late 1960s to allow the BBC to monitor outdoor broadcasts, because all existing small speakers at the time weren't deemed up the job. 

Having designed the LS3/5a, the Beeb realised that it was unable to manufacture them in the quantities needed. It therefore contracted some speaker manufacturers to build them under license. One of these companies was Spendor, which produced the original LS3/5a speaker for many years. Yet Spendor differs from most other companies involved with LS3/5a production in that it took the basic design and evolved it. As such, the S3/5R2 is the smallest member of the Classic range and a 21st century take on the original. 

The apple hasn't fallen too far from the tree in this instance, though. The S3/5R2 is still a two-way, sealed cabinet loudspeaker. And the dimensions remain rather 'old school' compared to more modern thinking. Each speaker is a whisker over 30cm tall and 16.5cm wide – which is normal enough – but at a slender 18.5cm deep they are more compact than most rivals. They are rather more flexible too, as there is no bass port, and can even be wall mounted. Spendor offers a mount to do this.  

Of course, the physics-minded of you will be looking at those dimensions and the lack of a port and thinking that the Spendor is unlikely to be much of a bass monster. And you'd be right up to a point. The original purpose of the LS3/5a was to monitor speech, not really requiring much in the way of low-end extension. Yet the bass depth of the S3/5R2 is rather more than its ancestor. 

This is thanks to a 5.5in polymer driver revised for this R2 model. It's partnered with a 0.86in soft dome tweeter, complete with wide surround, that is used in all Spendor Classic speakers. The bass driver gives the S3/5R2 a claimed low-end response of 75Hz (+/- 3dB). Hardly seismic but sufficient for an acceptable sub crossover. And Spendor claims that this increase in low-end presence hasn't come at the expense of the midrange transparency that the LS3/5a is renowned for. 

The CR3 centre speaker uses a different naming system but is fairly obviously derived from the S3/5R2. It features the same dual driver array but is adapted to lie on its side. Like its stereo brethren, the CR3 is sealed. 

This package might not be the last word in statement design but it is beautifully finished and very handsome. Our samples arrived in a cherry veneer (there are black ash, light oak and dark walnut options) and they manage to feel like furniture rather than AV equipment. In a good way.

Keeping up with the times

There's a temptation when dealing with a speaker with origins nearly fifty years old to assume that this will have a direct bearing on how it sounds – as if everything played through them is going to magically transmogrify into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This is very wide of the mark. The reason why the LS3/5a remains a revered speaker is that in terms of detail, cohesion and tonality it is exceptional, and this is very much the case with the Spendors.

With this array let loose with Zack and Gray's arrival at the park in Jurassic World, these traits are demonstrated to impressive effect. The dense, overlaid voices and effects are prised open into an involving and believable soundfield. Snippets of conversation, and the day-to-day sounds of the park, are turned into a space that you are very much part of. Nothing is being forced into your attention artificially. 

This resolving power is capable of handling action, too. The initial attempts to contain the Indominus are conveyed with an effortless sense of detail and three-dimensionality. The Spendors don't deviate from the idea that their job is to add believability to onscreen images, and they manage this with absolute assurance. And even with levels pegged at the firmly antisocial, they remain smooth and refined, yet still extract every last detail from the soundmix. 

There is tonal realism to the Spendors that isn't just impressive at this price, it's impressive at any price. They can seemingly handle any voice, instrument or effect in their frequency range and reproduce it with weight, scale and honesty, nailing the difference between sounding good and sounding real.

And if you ask the Spendors to reproduce something more sedate than dino mayhem, the results are no less ear-pleasing. There's an effortless sense of timing that really shines through, resulting in a crisp, clean soundstage and rhythmic reproduction of musical scores. 

You will need a similarly top-notch subwoofer to go with them, though. Used with a BK Electronics P300-SB, the results are pretty good but even this well-sorted piece of engineering doesn't feel as fleet of foot as the Spendors. Unfortunately, the company doesn't manufacture subs, so there's no aesthetic match available.

Time and time again across film and TV material, these speakers deliver a performance that almost perfectly balances the requirements of insight, tonality and placement. The CR3 centre channel integrates well with the left and rights and allows for a seamless arc of sound with no obvious gap. Some rivals can provide a greater sense of immediate excitement, with higher-frequencies that bite harder and bass that punches deeper, but few of them will be as adept at providing long-term listening satisfaction and that wonderful sense of transparency.

Go on, be brave...  

While the asking price of this array certainly isn't budget, there are a lot of rival packages to consider. Opting for a quintet of speakers with public service broadcaster DNA from a small British manufacturer, when there are space age materials and radical designs doing the rounds elsewhere, takes some bravery. Yet having spent time with them, I find myself smitten by these little standmounts and their natural, compelling sound signature.


Spendor S3/5R2+CR3 (5.0)

We say: An outstanding compact speaker system that balances tonality, detail, excitement and refinement in an elegant package. You just need to add a subwoofer

Performance: 4.5/5
Design: 4/5
Features: 4.5/5
Overall: 4.5/5


Drive units: 1 x 5.5in Ep39 polymer midbass driver; 1 x 0.86in soft dome tweeter  Enclosure: Sealed  Frequency response (claimed): 75Hz-20kHz  Sensitivity (claimed): 84dB  Power handling: 100W  Dimensions: 165(w) x 305(h) x 180(d)mm  Weight: 4.6kg

Drive units: 1 x 5.5in Ep39 Polymer midbass driver; 1 x 0.86in soft dome tweeter  Enclosure: Sealed  Frequency response (claimed): 75Hz-20kHz  Sensitivity (claimed): 84dB  Power handling: 100W  Dimensions: 305(w) x 160(h) x 180(d)mm  Weight: 4.6kg