Spendor Classic 4/5 Mini Monitor Review
Mark Gusew samples Spendor’s modern re-imagining of the classic BBC LS3/5a mini monitor…
Classic 4/5 Mini Monitor
AUD $3,495 RRP
The BBC LS3/5a is one of the most popular and iconic studio monitors ever created. Designed to work inside the BBC’s outside broadcast vans, it had to be transparent enough for engineers to ensure the quality of the sound being recorded. It proved so successful that even now, some forty-five years later, it is still being manufactured under license by several companies. Spendor Audio played a part in the LS3/5a story – and now has a range of ‘Classic’ speakers running in parallel to its modern, contemporary ‘A-Line’ and ‘D-Line’ designs.
The AUD $3,495 Classic 4/5 is Spendor’s very own ‘re-imagined’ LS3/5a, you might say. It’s a modern speaker in its own right, but impossible to consider it without a nod to what came before. It has similar dimensions to the BBC classic – 308x188x165mm – and is designed to work in smaller rooms and/or confined spaces, thanks in no small part to infinite baffle cabinet loading which lets you place it fairly close to a boundary wall.
For many, the fact that the Classic 4/5 doesn’t have prodigious, deep bass will actually be a good thing. Its lack of a bass reflex port keeps the low end tight and taut, and the cabinet’s small internal volume means that the low end rolls off a little earlier than larger stand mounters. Spendor claims a frequency response of 55Hz to 25kHz, but there is no stated roll-off numbers at those frequency extremes. Infinite baffle designs are relatively few and far between these days. Most designers tend to go for the ‘sugar rush’ of a reflex port that confers better bass extension and/or higher sensitivity. However, ports also introduce phase issues, timing problems and/or a lack of coherence if not done just right – so it is swings and roundabouts.
Despite its sober appearance, the Classic 4/5 is thoroughly modern under the skin. Its driver complement comprises a 22mm fluid-cooled, dome tweeter and a 150mm mid/bass driver. The latter’s cone is made of EP77 ‘engineering polymer’ with a central Kevlar composite stabiliser dome that remains fixed while the cone vibrates. Its chassis is made from cast magnesium alloy, which is light, strong and naturally self-damping. The crossover kicks in at 4.2kHz. Much effort has been put into making the cabinets just right, says Spendor, and a new elastomer damping material is used.
The entire loudspeaker – including the drivers and cabinets – is designed, manufactured and assembled in England; Spendor has an artisan’s approach to manufacturing, with much of the work done by hand. The attention to detail is self-evident in the fit and finish of the product. Two natural veneer finishes are available – Cherry and Natural Walnut – and both look lovely. Removing the magnetically attached grill shows impeccable craftsmanship.
With a single set of binding posts, set-up is straightforward. The bottom of each speaker has four small stand-offs to protect the surfaces. The Classic 4/5 is designed to work best on stands about 70cm high, bringing it to ear height. The manual suggests placement two to three metres apart, towed in, and a similar distance to the listening position. Each should be at least 20cm from the rear wall and 30cm from the side walls.
With a quoted sensitivity of just 84dB/1w/1m, this little loudspeaker needs a reasonably powerful amplifier to give of its best – and so my Cambridge Audio Edge A integrated (with 100W RMS per channel under the hood) was duly deployed. I also used a Line Magnetic LM-805iA single-ended triode tube amplifier (rated at 48W RMS per side) to get extra perspective, and this also worked very well.
The most striking thing about the Classic 4/5’s sound is its clarity. The speaker easily revealed the two quite different tonal characters of the solid-state and tube amplifiers driving it, for example. Yet whichever was doing the work, the Spendor sounded silky smooth in a way that’s not common for modern loudspeakers, and especially mini-monitors. It has a distinctively ‘Spendor’ purity of tone, for example, a very natural midband largely devoid of colouration. This is especially apparent with the human voice; I found myself listening to lots of female vocals with acoustic instruments as accompaniment.
A Case of You by Joni Mitchell sounded as fresh as anything. It’s from classic 1971 album Blue, and features Joni playing the unusual Appalachian dulcimer, which could be almost be mistaken for sounding like a ukulele. She’s accompanied by the accomplished James Taylor on guitar, while her voice is as free as her spirit – and the emotion of her performance was clearly conveyed by the Classic 4/5. I heard an immediacy and intimacy to her vocals. The interplay between her dulcimer and Taylor’s acoustic guitar also sounded sensationally real, playing perfectly to this speaker’s strengths.
Tanita Tikaram’s Twist in My Sobriety was another joy to hear. This speaker made it so easy to home in on her voice, and understand how it dominates the song. The great thing is that the Spendor isn’t shouty yet doesn’t sound veiled; by contrast, many modern designs can be too in-your-face, in their quest to spray detail out at you. The Classic 4/5’s presentation hangs back a tad, drawing you into the music rather than firing it out. I found myself leaning forward into the music, peering into the recorded acoustic rather than trying to shield myself from it. Yet when the occasion demands, this speaker rises up and gets up close; the very lively Free Me by Joss Stone, for example, wasn’t backward in coming forward.
The synthesiser on The Ballad of Lucy Jordan by Marianne Faithful had loads of presence and energy, filling the room. Indeed, this speaker soundstages surprisingly well considering its diminutive dimensions; in a modestly sized listening space, it certainly fills it up. Some careful positioning tweaks further improved the recorded acoustic; I adjusted the right speaker by a couple of centimetres and heard an improvement to the precision of the stereo imaging.
I also noticed that as a pair, they work best quite toed in, facing directly at the seating position, as per the factory recommendation. If you take care to position them, they reward by disappearing into the room. If this little Spendor doesn’t sound magic in your home, it won’t be the loudspeaker’s fault, it’s how you have set things up. Hearing Vienna Teng sing Say Uncle was a “wow moment” for me. The Spendors served up immense soundstage, leading me to feel as if she was singing only to me, beside her piano. This speaker’s spatial prowess was undimmed by the sound of a full orchestra; I tried a selection of classic pieces and loved the depth perspective that the Classic 4/5 was able to bring.
Orchestral music showcased this little loudspeaker’s inner detail. One hears the colour and texture of the instruments – the brassiness of horns, the silkiness of strings, the deep resonance of the cello. Piano music also proved a pleasure, the Spendor sounding alive with the attack, sustain and decay of the real instrument. An all-male a cappella piece – Men I Trust’s Offertorio was reproduced with warmth, clarity, texture, depth and transparency. If you prioritise programme material such as this, then the Classic 4/5 is remarkably capable.
The downside is, of course, its bass response. In no way would you call it bad, it’s just that there isn’t much of it compared to most other loudspeakers. It doesn’t deliver prestigious amounts of low-end notes, but the interesting thing is that – especially in a smaller sized listening room – you don’t really miss it. This is partly down to the fact that what bass the Classic 4/5 does have, is so crisp and tuneful that your brain fills in the gaps lower down. Put simply, the speaker tells you a lot about what would be happening, if it had a greater cabinet volume or larger drivers, and lets your imagination do the rest. That’s why listening to a small speaker such as this will surprise even those used to largish floorstanders – once they get used to the lack of bottom end, the problem simply goes away.
The other limitation imposed by its diminutive dimensions is that at really high volumes, there’s a bit more compression than you’d want. Actually, the Classic 4/5 goes surprisingly loud – gracefully – but ultimately it can’t move air like a big JBL. Happily, because its transient speed is so good, you can get your kicks at more realistic listening levels. Its bass may not be strong, but boy is it fast – this Spendor just powers any song along. It’s so musically enjoyable that listeners don’t focus on negative aspects – instead, they happily give it a free pass.
Spendor’s Classic 4/5 blew away my preconceptions of what’s possible from such a diminutive design. I enjoyed this affordable loudspeaker far more than some more expensive and larger counterparts. Open, even, balanced and smooth, yet lyrical, articulate, expressive and engaging – there is so much to like here.
For more information, visit Spendor.
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.