SOPWAMTOS and CNO Review Continued

In the previous post, I wrote that Troels’ CNO-T25 compares favorably to my Spendor SP2/3, but I didn’t give a whole lot of description of the sound.  I’ll give some more impressions here, but first some caveats.  I’m not trying to do a professional style review where I try the speakers with different amps and cables and different room placements and cite the recordings I listen to and so on.  So this is just what I hear with my system in my room, your mileage, as they say, may vary.

I truly admire the Spendor company in this day when many companies have changed owners and are a familiar brand name but with little connection to the original company.  Spendor also has had some ownership changes, however many of Spendor’s employees have been there for a long time, and the current owner knew the founder Spencer Hughes (Spendor = Spencer and his wife Dorothy).  Current Spendor management, in my view, has shown respect for the Classic line by making limited refinements.  So Spendor is a rather different from many companies whose name may imply some great European or other heritage but in fact they are now owned by a big conglomerate and their products are manufactured say in China.  Spendor is a true manufacturer in that they build their own cabinets, they build their own woofers, they assemble their speakers, including the crossovers, all in the factory in England (the tweeters are made by Seas, same company that makes drivers for a lot of great speakers, including the CNO).  Spendor could be a member of SOPWAMTOS, founded by Bruce Gordon the bicycle builder – that’s the Society Of People Who Actually Make Their Own Sh*t, as opposed to companies that outsource production and just stick their brand label on the finished product, see http://www.bicycletimesmag.com/content/whats-sopwamtos-and-why-should-i-care.

And this is kind of random, but speaking of sticking your brand label on another company’s product, have you read about the Aston Martin Cygnet? With a new Bond movie out, Aston Martin is getting some more publicity, but I don’t think James Bond would chose the Cygnet as his getaway car.  Yeah they (Aston Martin) paint it and make the interior with fancy leather and trimmings, but it’s still a Toyota Scion iQ: http://www.astonmartin.com/cars/cygnet.

Back to audio, I hesitate to go overboard with comparisons to my pair of Spendors for several reasons.  First of all, my speakers are not the same as a current model that blog readers could go hear.  Spendor does have a model SP2/3 (called R2, the second revision) in its current lineup, and it looks the same and has the same (or nearly the same) dimensions as the older model, it is actually a different speaker – slightly different cone material, different woofer, different tweeter, and so on, although designed by some of the same people (Terry Miles) and with some similar design goals; you can read about it here: http://www.spendoraudio.com/HTML/SP23R2_main.html.

Anyway, I fed a mono signal to the CNO and to the Spendors, and switched back and forth, and here are the impressions.  They don’t sound the same, but the difference is somewhat subtle – they are both neutral enough that nothing jumps out at you when you switch.  The SP2/3s are definitely warmer, they have a little more closed in sound, they are smooth and a little more laid back in the upper midrange.  The CNO’s are both leaner in the lower midrange and have more bass – they have a clearer, more detailed sound.  Does that sound contradictory – leaner but more bass?  That’s how I hear it.  High frequencies to me are not noticeably different – it’s not like one speaker is “brighter.”

I am speculating here, but the Spendor has a relatively wide baffle, and the CNO has a narrow front baffle, and I think that the wider baffle may contribute a bit to the more diffuse and warm sound of the Spendors.  As I wrote before, the CNO has a more spatious sound, I imagine a pair of them would create a different and perhaps more precise stereo image than the Spendors.

I have a secondary audio system for watching movies/television with a pair of Bowers and Wilkins 601s (the original ones) fed by an older NAD receiver and an Adcom DAC, pretty good, but not real high end stuff.  As a test, I created a mismatched stereo pair with the left speaker being the CNO and the right speaker the B&W 601.  Wow.  The CNO is a much better speaker.  The B&W has an attractive tonality, and movies sound good.  But listening to music with the 601s didn’t excite me, but just adding one CNO made a huge difference – the music was much clearer, more dynamic and exciting.

A few more brief comparisons.  I had a listen to Bowers and Wilkins PM1, and also their 805 Diamond speakers.  Of course, different amp, different room, so it’s not apples to apples, but here are my impressions.  The PM1 at first impressed me, but then I listened to a male pop singer (Michael Buble) and started hearing an emphasis on sibilants and a certain nasality, I felt disappointed.  The 805 Diamonds were very clear – my son listened with me and felt their clarity was better than the CNO, but I found the sound sterile and uninvolving.  Take that with a grain of salt.  What I think is so great about the CNO is the balance between clarity and making music enjoyable to listen to.  Although I listen mostly to jazz and smaller chamber or solo classical music, my teenage sons like their pop and compressed mp3s, and they sound good on the CNO.

One more thought about the CNO.  Although it is presented on Troel’s site as a floorstanding speaker, I had good results making it as a monitor style speaker.  Here is a particularly interesting monitor mplementation using vertically stacked slices:  http://www.troelsgravesen.dk/CNO_Christoffer.htm, and you can imagine that if the port was in the rear the speaker could be fairly compact.  Because of the narrow front baffle, and depending on how tall you make the cabinet (if the port is in the rear, it could probably be a fairly compact 14″ or so in height), it doesn’t take up a whole lot more space than many so called “mini-monitors,” but it’s a much more full bodied sounding speaker than the ones I’ve heard with smaller 5″ or 6″ woofers.  So it’s a versatile design and I think competitive with loudspeakers that sell for quite a bit more (these days, the Spendor SP2/3s cost about $4,300) than the cost of DIY CNOs.

So that’s a wrap for comparisons.

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