David and Goliath: A Review of the Spendor S3/5 and the Seas Curv Loudspeakers

The BBC LS 3/5A is one of the most famous loudspeaker designs, and for many years Spendor was one of the licensees.  In the late 1990s, the parts (woofer) were no longer available and commercial production of the LS 3/5A ceased, and Spendor introduced their model S3/5 as a replacement.  I have a pair of Spendor S3/5 loudspeakers in my bedroom.  They are a relatively small, sealed loudspeaker (HWD = 305 mm X 165 mm X 180 mm, or about 12″ X 6.5″ X 7.1″) with a 5″ Spendor-made polypropylene cone woofer and a 3/4″ soft dome, I believe made by Vifa.  A very positive review of the Spendor S3/5 is: http://www.enjoythemusic.com/magazine/equipment/0601/spendor35.htm, and here’s the key point: “ The Spendor S3/5 is simply in the top ranks of what I have ever heard and (most probably) the best small speaker manufactured today.”  Now that review was written in 2001, and since then Spendor has come out with the S3/5 SE (special edition), followed by the R1 (revision 1) version, and now the R2.  Anyway, mine are the original version, about 14 years old I think.

I recently finished building the Seas Curv loudspeaker, designed by Troels Gravesen, see http://www.troelsgravesen.dk/SEAS-CURV.htm.  Troels’ design calls for a cabinet of 8.5 litre volume with dimensions of (HWD) 305 mm X 190 mm X 260 mm, pretty close in height and width to the Spendor S3/5, about 25 mm/1 inch wider and a bit deeper.

Here is my Seas Curv side by side with the Spendor S3/5:

seas_curv_spendor_s35The real difference is in the depth, you can see my “maxi”  Seas Curv is a lot deeper:

seas_curv_spendor_s35_sideHad I built the Seas Curv following Troels’ design, the cabinets would have been similarly sized.  The Seas Curv’s woofer is bigger than the Spendor, and I made the cabinet a plus-size version, about 50 mm / 2″ higher and quite a bit deeper to give an internal volume of about 12 litres.  Another difference between the two speakers is the port (hole) in the Seas Curv; the Spendor S3/5 is a sealed cabinet.

The Spendor S3/5 works well in my bedroom where it is positioned close to a rear wall.  Although the Spendor does not produce deep bass, it is a very satisfying speaker to listen to for most music and even movies – it has a rich, full-bodied sound.

To compare the Curv and the Spendor S3/5, I brought both to my “great room” where they were positioned on top of a low cabinet well in the middle of the large room.  I used one of each speaker, and used my iPad to airplay lossless files in mono, and the balance control on the iPad allowed me to switch the sound between the two.  I used my Rotel PreAmp/Processor with my old Luxman receiver acting as power amplifier.  If you want to know about my speaker cables and interconnects, well, I’m not the reviewer for you!

In my opinion, the Spendor is not at its best in a large room away from walls – it is a small speaker and better suited for a bedroom and a bit of bass reinforcement from a rear wall.  Also, to my ears, smaller speakers do not sound as open or natural as larger speakers – I prefer (in the big room) my Spendor SP2/3 to the Spendor S3/5s.

It was an interesting comparison, but it became clear that the Seas Curv and the Spendor are quite different sounding speakers.  An immediate difference – the Spendor S3/5 is less sensitive, for a given volume setting it doesn’t sound as loud as the Curv.  The Curv sounds like the bigger speaker – it has more bass for sure, that is partly because I built a version with a larger cabinet.  The Spendor though has a smoother sound, but in the large great room I found it a bit boring – upper midrange notes from an alto saxophone or violin didn’t have much bite with the Spendor, the sound was distant.  The Seas Curv was a much livelier and more detailed / “exciting” sound.  I don’t mean the bass was boomy or the treble was bright. But in the mid-range, to my ears, the Curv brought out more of the real texture of the notes, the sound was more detailed and less smoothed over than the Spendor.

I don’t have measuring equipment, so I can only describe what I heard.  Both speakers did a good job on vocals and sounded natural/neutral.  When listening to most instruments, the Seas Curv had a more forward midrange, more of a “close up” perspective, and with more detail.  The Spendor was smooth, and more like listening from further away.

Which is the better speaker?  I judge the two to be in the same league so its more about preference.  The Spendor is highly regarded, and I found the Seas Curv very satisfying and in some ways superior.  Hard for me to know your preference, for me, I’ll keep the Spendors in my bedroom where its smooth sound and limited bass works well when placed close to a rear wall, and I’ll be using the Seas Curv in a more open room where the bigger/livelier/more close up sound is a better match.

Thanks for reading!

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