Ask most people the question: “Does size matter?” And the answer will be: “Yes it matters; loudspeakers should be small, preferably invisible”. The sonically sensitive however, have no concern about size at all and could live happily with anything from a Bose Acoustimass to a Focal Grand Utopia. But to deal with domestic circumstances we sometimes compromise and try to lay our hands on a pair of high quality monitor speakers, suitable for stands or even, heaven forfend, a bookshelf. One brand that has made monitors for a long time and always to a high standard is Spendor, which is now offering the latest version of a speaker with a baffle surface that is a lot smaller than a sheet of A4 paper.
The Spendor D1 is the successor to the luxury SA1 and so many other models from Spendor. The closed box is only six and a half inches wide but accommodates a Spendor 150mm woofer, with their EP77 cone, situated under the new LPZ tweeter. One pair of terminals is available on the back and the front is covered with a magnetically attached grill. While the mid/bass cone is a polymer reinforced with Kevlar, itself interesting enough and a Spendor creation, it is the LPZ tweeter that arouses most intrigue. It is a new development by Spendor based on an old principle. Readers of about my age might remember the Spendor BC1, a fabulous loudspeaker from the seventies, with a tweeter placed behind a foil, a tweeter that added to the excellent performance of the woofer and midrange. The LPZ tweeter is its new form and has a micro perforated stainless steel mesh cover with a polyamide fabric foil behind it. The cover and foil act as an acoustic load for the tweeter diaphragm, mechanically and acoustically balancing the load in front of and behind the tweeter. This technique is said to shape the power response of the tweeter, improving the phase and correcting the path length to blend better with the mid/bass driver. Spendor calls it LPZ which stands for Linear Pressure Zone. The power handling of the tweeter is improved by the use of fluid cooling. The crossover inside the small box uses real gold plated conductors and internal wiring is silver plated. Spendor’s specifications show that sensitivity is only 85dB, but I find this rather optimistic, since the D1 was power hungry with my Naim NAP 100 amplifier. The load it presents however is friendly with an eight Ohms nominal impedance dropping no further than 6.7 Ohms. It is available in Spendor dark, Spendor white or dark ebony. The review pair is finished in white and looks luxurious to say the least.
For the review I use a Naim UnitiQute as a network streamer and preamp combined with the aforementioned Naim NAP 100 power amplifier. Files stored on my NAS include FLAC, ALAC and WAV formats ranging from 16bit/44.1kHz to 24bit/192kHz. The NAS and the UnitiQute are attached to my AudioQuest Carbon wired and Cisco/Linksys switched home network with AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet cables. A very expensive Crystal Cable Ultra interlink resides between the Qute and NAP. Loudspeaker cabling is Chord Company Epic Super. Target MR60 stands with sand filled legs do the support work under the D1, Spendor will soon ship its own low-mass stands that compliment the Spendor dynamic damping cabinet. But these were not available at the time of writing.
Playing the Spendor D1 right after a pair of very expressive, bass reflex loaded, large monitors were removed from the stands, is like dating Kate Royal (not apparently a reference to the Duchess of Cambridge but a lyric soprano. Ed) after a night out with Miley Cyrus. Sure they both sing, but their public personas are totally different. The Spendor is more the Kate Royal and also more suited to her voice since, it is better balanced for classical music than rock in any form. On her CD A Lesson In Love Kate’s voice is lovely on the D1, with nice dynamic range, full expression and as pure as it should be. The supporting piano is captured best in the mid and high notes, the small size of the box restricts the low end and takes away the ‘grand’ of the grand piano. Those more interested in the voice than the orchestra need look no further, those after more low end will find it elsewhere in the Spendor range. I get the same result with the CD Guilty Pleasures by Renée Fleming, the orchestra in the background is more obvious and shows that integration between instruments and voice is absolutely fine. The crossover from tweeter to woofer is flawless and cannot be heard thanks in part to the small baffle and the use of LPZ technology. I notice once more how power hungry this small system is when reaching for the remote control, but the D1 is easily capable of handling more Watts without sounding hard or rough. With both artists much of the energy is kept between the loudspeakers, it doesn’t reach into the room corners and the vertical plane is smaller than I am used to; both singers seem to be around four and a half foot tall. A higher stand or positioning on an open bookshelf should help to move voices up. With delicate classical work such as the 24bits/88.2kHz recording of the Retrospect Ensemble playing Ten Sonatas In Four Parts composed by Henri Purcell, the D1 shows a nice balance between the metal of the strings and the woodwork of the harpsichord. Violin takes the lead and a sad cello follows the other two instruments. Small scale classical work is excellent on the D1, proving its roots lie with Spendor. As long as enough power is available the reproduction is dynamic and fast, the NAP 100 delivers 50 Watts per channel and that seems to be perfect. When the harpsichord is left aside and organ comes in, in the second series of sonatas, even the lower registers appear and add some of their weight. At the top end it could do with some extra sparkle to make the performance more energetic and more involving.
Moving on to jazz and Carol Kidd’s A Place In My Heart. Her voice makes me smile instantly. On Pennies From Heaven the big band is big enough for me, powerful too. Again there is not enough height in the stereo image, a strange phenomenon with the D1, but brass instruments have bite and drums rumble along. Take Five by the Dave Brubeck Quartet is excellent, the ensemble is smaller, more in line with the speaker’s size and that is a real benefit. Every note is clear, drums fast and detailed, bass a little small but who cares when the saxophone is so good. Next the modern recording technique of Fourplay punches into the room with 101 Eastbound and finally the sound stage gets larger, it takes high volume levels and works best with instruments only, this time a mumbling voice is reduced to five foot high or less. The result as a whole is vivacious, powerful and playful. It shows that the limited size of the D1 is not a disadvantage if you like a wide open, clear midrange with booming bass crawling up the walls. Allan Taylor’s deep voice combined with his guitar playing proves how flat the D1’s frequency response is, it’s very well-balanced. With jazz a lot of the politeness of classical has gone, time to lay an ear on some pop music before I reach my conclusion. I let Adele, Katie Melua, Sade and other singers do their stuff and follow them with Dire Straits, Fleetwood Mac, Seal and John Legend. Most of this music delivers a similar result; tuneful but on the polite side. It’s easy to recognize a good from a bad recording and hear the limitations of the recording, but it never rocks your balls off. This is more to do with the tuning of the D1 than its size. Easy pop or lounge music is fine, but hammering pop never really gets out into the open. This is probably the intention considering results with small and expensive Spendors in the past.
Reaching a conclusion is not the easy, I want to make sure the reader understands the capabilities of the Spendor D1, but also recognise its limitations. On the plus side, the D1 is uncoloured enough to enjoy the nuances of classical music, it is for instance easy to recognise the differences in violins. Voices are extremely well reproduced, either male for female for all genres. Opera singers get all the applause they deserve, but it’s no different with jazz or pop singers. Integration between the loudspeaker units is near perfect, both in the near field and when you sit further away in a living room. Turning to pop this is not a loudspeaker that will blow you out of your chair, it is simply too polite, too rounded and doesn’t have enough power to explode. You can play any pop you like, but I would look elsewhere if I listened to pop and/or rock only. With baroque, opera, smaller orchestras, jazz from trio to big band, the D1 shines and lives up to expectations at its price.