An honest musical transducer; for many this will mark the end of the loudspeaker quest. In a small room, the S3/5R has a passion for accuracy and music that’s wonderfully un-hi-fi in approach, but it’s not the first choice for Nine Inch Nails fans.
Superb with voices
Bass lacks depth
Can seem a bit boring at first
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Surprisingly, Spendor's 'Classic' S3/5 loudspeaker has been around for more than a decade, quietly filling the gap made when the evergreen BBC-designed LS3/5a speaker became hard to pin down.
Why 'surprisingly'? Because the UK company hardly sold any of these small standmount monitors in the home country.
With the newly revised S3/5R, the company is hoping to return to the UK once more, placing their products in Blighty's dealers for the first time in years.
Spendor's classic design
Spendor puts these speakers in its 'Classic' range; at a little over a decade old, the S3/5 is almost too fresh-faced to deserve Classic status in Spendorland. If anything deserves the 'classic' title though, it's the S3/5R.
It's a quintessentially British two-way sealed thin-walled, heavy-damped box speaker design, cut to the same cloth as the BBC LS3/5a design.
The speaker cabinet retains the same basic dimensions of the previous S3/5 model and is, more or less, the same size as speakers like the LS3/5a and original Linn Kan small box speakers.
The principle differences between the S3/5R and its predecessor, are a different form of damping material (on the inside) and the move from bi-wire back to single-wired speaker connection.
The move back to single wire connection is to ensure consistency; use different grades of cable for the treble and bass end and you can - in extremis - create an unbalanced sound. The rubberised internal damping pads are said to be stable across a wider temperature range than their bitumenised predecessors, which is also claimed to make the speaker more consistent.
Inside the speaker units
The big changes are to the drivers, with a new Spendor-built 140mm homopolymer polypropylene bass driver with a 25mm voice coil and focusing magnet motor pole extension (that bullet-shaped phase plug), which helps to make the speaker driver more consistent sounding.
This is better ventilated than previous Spendor drive units, too, which means it can take power more readily than before.
Spendor doesn't make its own tweeters, handing the task on to Vifa, but there's a change here, too. The S3/5R's bass unit necessitated a move to a new 20mm soft dome tweeter.
In the process, the new unit has less spurious output than the previous tweeter, which is said to keep the tweeter sweeter and cleaner in the high frequencies.
With the move to single wired input and new drivers throughout, the crossover had to be completely redesigned. Board mounted, the new crossover circuit has been completely redesigned and re-laid out to minimise magnetic interaction between the inductors.
It also required new filters and higher-saturation inductors to help the new drivers fit the S3/5R profile.
The crossover layout is said to improve phase alignment and helps Spendor's well-known goal of pair-matching the speakers to within a single dB. In other words, this is not a revoicing, more a series of refinements.
Owners of the original S3/5 speakers would have no need to 'upgrade' whatsoever. The advantages of a decade's worth of materials, science developments and technological updates, makes for a far better on-paper speaker and a slightly sonically improved model.
This also leaves the S3/5se (based upon the original S3/5) ripe for upgrade (for the record, the S3/5se is basically the S3/5 with improved components, that some think is more 'upbeat' in the process).
The Spendor S3/5R's target audience is not readily swayed by glib sales pitches; nor is the speaker intended for those who still scan the charts for the next Big Thing.
Instead, this is a monitoring device for those who love their music (especially if that music is acoustic, or lightly amplified) and require a device that can reproduce that as accurately as possible. This sounds obvious, but is a surprisingly difficult and demanding task to achieve.
In fact, the first draft of the review missed this completely, but we were falling into the classic audiophile trap; picking out 'highlights' instead of listening to whole passages of music.
That changed over the course of a dinner party, as the sound produced from the S3/5R wasn't just 'relaxing', it was insightful and possessed of a rare integrity regardless of the music playing. That alone made it worthy of a substantial rethink.
Sitting afresh with the speaker, listening to whole tracks (even whole discs) instead of snippets produced a major about face. What was hitherto 'boring' was unforced and tonally bang on.
The S3/5R didn't draw attention to itself in any way, and this soon became a wholly positive experience. Other speakers may prove more immediate and more directly alluring, turning into 'tweaked' presentations in comparison to the S3/5R.
Stunning voice quality
Perhaps the biggest revelation is the human voice. The speaker's portrayal of voices is bettered by none and matched by only a few rival speakers, irrespective of price.
Tune into Radio 4's Gardener's Question Time on a Sunday afternoon and suddenly Bob Flowerdew and John Cushnie start arguing over radishes in your living room, without any intermediaries... they just sound like living, breathing embodied beings in the room.
There's a 'but' coming. Some don't need or want to be matured. Some are ripe enough as is, and those people will find this speaker dynamically flat sounding on a lot of music.
This doesn't need to be guitar shredding metal or techno at 250 bpm; the S3/5R doesn't sound as free with Stevie Ray Vaughan's version of Texas Flood as we'd like, either.
This isn't a major problem - the music's time signature is kept intact, it goes louder than you would expect from a small LS3/5a derived box and the sounds of the individual instruments are tonally as accurate as you could imagine. And the sound is certainly free from the boxes.
Lack of bass
However, it lacks some of the cut-loose easy dynamic range needed to play the blues with alacrity. How big an issue is this? Well, the LS3/5a was far less dynamic than this speaker and it sold by the truckload for nigh on three decades. And not all of those went to classical, opera, folk and spoken word fans.
So, unless you dream of playing power chords at lose-your-hearing levels, this minor limitation will not bother you. So maybe this dynamic 'freedom' of other speakers is another form of deviation from correct sound.
There's also a physical limitation, but this is far less of an issue in the real world. This is a small loudspeaker, with no port to slow it down, make it less tonally precise or artificially lower the bass.
As such, deep bass is not an option - but this is clearly stated in the accompanying literature. In the context of the sort of small to medium-sized room the S3/5R is intended for, the gentle bass roll-off prevents the speaker from sounding boomy by 'setting off' the room.
This does mean the speaker doesn't 'scale' well, though; the overall presentation is wholly right-sized for smaller rooms, but move it into a bigger room and the sound stays small-room sized.
The last loudspeaker you ever buy
Consider the S3/5R as your final exam in hi-fi. If you have the right room and the maturity to look past the flashy presentation of many speakers, this could be the last loudspeaker you ever buy.
Even if you 'fail' this exam and choose more immediately exciting speakers, remember that S3/5R's will still be waiting for you to grow up.
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