Spending Time With A Spendor Loudspeaker (Part 1)

9/12/2014 11:38:04 AM

Hi-fi firms have begun in garages. The English Spendor company was started in a bathtub. Or was it a kitchen sink? By days in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Spencer Hughes worked as part of the BBC’s loudspeaker research team. Among other accomplishments, he helped develop the 5" midrange/woofer for the fabled LS3/5A loudspeaker. As speaker designers from Henry Kloss to Sonus Faber’s Franco Serblin have told me, designing a successful 5" driver is “a doddle” (British for easy) compared to creating an 8" or larger cone. “It becomes harder to maintain clarity, focus, speed, and midrange accuracy,” the late Sr. Serblin told me over a latte.

Description: BC 1

BC 1

Hughes, apparently, thought the same. At home he struggled long and hard to develop an 8" mid/ woofer cone of Bextrene, a mix of acetate and cellulose. Misshapen cones piled up in his garage, until he got the cone’s consistency just right. Since he was still on staff at the BBC, Hughes felt honor-bound to offer them his new driver and the speaker design that used it. But the bigwigs there told him they wanted something more suited to modern music—ie, raucous rock. Free to strike out on his own, Hughes agreed to pay the BBC a small royalty for each BC1 that he and his wife, Dorothy, sold through their new company: Spen(cer) + Dor(othy) = Spendor. Soon after Spendor Audio Systems started production, the BBC changed its tune. Maybe they could use a larger, more accurate studio monitor after all. They began ordering BC1s. (Civilization carries on at the BBC’s Radio 3.) Later, the BBC developed its own version, the LS3/6, which it licensed to Rogers Audio, which was then owned by Hughes’s former BBC colleague, Jim Rogers. Stirling Broadcast makes a BBC-licensed version today.

For the BC1, Spendor sent out for a tweeter: a Celestion HF1300. Using OEM HF drivers has been Spendor’s custom ever since. Spendor makes their own midrange and bass drivers in-house, but producing tweeters is an entirely different process. Some companies, like Focal, make woofers and tweeters in separate facilities. I’ve seen men and women making woofers, but only women assembling tweeters.

Description: the SP1/2R2 is a direct descendant of the BC1

The SP1/2R2 is a direct descendant of the BC1

Spendor is now owned by a chap named Philip Swift, himself a speaker designer and co-founder of Audiolab. The factory is in Hailsham, in East Sussex. The speaker cabinets are produced elsewhere in England. Spendor’s Classic series is still in production—the SP1/2R2 is a direct descendant of the BC1: same size, same lossy, resonant, thinwalled wooden cabinet, same BBC-studio sound— BBC 3, at any rate. (What a joy it is to have BBC 3, which remains devoted to classical programming, via Internet radio.) Sales are especially strong in Asia. I owned a pair of BC1s from 1974 to 1978, and a pair of original SP1s in the mid-1980s. I’d describe the sound of Spendor’s Classic models as extended and sweet in the treble, smooth but ever so slightly polite in the midrange, and somewhat warm in the bass. I used to feel a somewhat spiritual attachment to the speakers, especially the BC1—as if they were handmade musical instruments, something almost alive. I would stroke the cabinets before going to bed. Goodnight, Spencer (the left speaker). Goodnight, Dorothy (the right). 40 years on, Spendor is still known for getting the midrange right. I was delighted to discover that this has been carried over to their new floorstanding model, the D7. It sells for $6495/pair (add $1000 for a premium finish). No stands necessary.


Description: The D7 sells for $6495/pair (add $1000 for a premium finish)

The D7 sells for $6495/pair (add $1000 for a premium finish)

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