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Spendor: the Classic 1/2 vs. the D7.2

  • Spendor — land of pipe and slippers; last century speakers that only a (gran)dad would own. So runs the lazy thinking. But attendees at this year’s Bristol or Munich hi-fi shows will likely attest to the Spendor bunkers being packed all weekend long, their unusual choice of electronic music bringing the boys to the yard. Some will have put their head around the door out of curiosity but this listener won’t have been the only one staying longer than intended.

    Spendor’s hold on show visitors came from music playing through their big Classic 100 & 200 speakers, models rooted in the last century. Rooted, not stuck. That led me to ask: what on earth would the British company’s newer models sound like? A good premise for a written piece – a Spendor shootout, ‘old’ versus new.

    Fast forward a few weeks and the recently updated Classic 1/2 standmounts (‘old’) and D7.2 floorstanders (‘new’) were delivered to Chez Wright by one (most genial) Philip Swift, owner of Spendor. I asked him about his choice of show music.

    “This kind of music places great demands on loudspeakers and equipment – while simple in nature, the textures, ebbs-flows, low frequencies, even distortion that are woven into cleverly created techno are incredibly revealing of system performance, this music can push many systems (big and small, regardless of price or playing level) rapidly out of their comfort zone – and that tells you a lot about the equipment capability – and why other company’s don’t dare to play this kind of music…”

    He also painted the Classic 1/2 and D7.2 as being cut from the same cloth but tailored to slightly different audiences. Aesthetics were reportedly a key consideration for the newer D line. There’s also a larger D9.2.

    Swift appears more a pragmatist than a stickler for audiophile niceties, happy to deploy his deep engineering knowledge in pursuit of solutions to real-world problems. For example, the D7.2’s floor-level ports that assist with in-room positioning (more on that below). From the time spent installing the speakers – we didn’t rush – it was obvious that Swift knows his stuff and that he is aiming high with both the Classic and D ranges. Let’s see how they compare.

    Description / technology
    Both Spendors are fairly sizeable loudspeakers. They’re not inexpensive either: £4,500 / $6,395 / €5,850 for the D7.2 floorstander and £5,600 / $7,995 / €7,300 for the Classic 1/2 standmount.

    We need stands for the Classic 1/2. Spendor supplied me with a pair of black open-frame stands from HiFi Racks. They are expensive at £600 but solidly built and good looking, and in my experience open stands work best for lossy-cabinet ‘BBC’ designs. Open frames allow the bottom panel to vibrate as intended. I went with the flow. There are, of course, alternatives.

    Classic 1/2 standmount
    A 3-way design, the Classic 1/2 marries bespoke Spendor 220mm & 150mm bass and midrange drivers to a 22mm wide-surround tweeter that ‘delivers smooth treble over a wide listening area’. Think bigger sweet spot. Two front-facing ports sit halfway up the front baffle.

    Being a ‘BBC’-design, this loudspeaker’s panels are designed, in part, to flex with the music. Unwanted vibrations are engineered out of the audible range to give a more relaxed sound that focuses us more on the music than the transducer. The Classic 1/2 updates these principles by ‘anchoring’ the thinner sidewalls to a rigid front baffle. Internal damping is placed in specific positions rather than covering whole panels. The net result is controlled movement of the thin panels at low frequencies, giving the speaker a gentle warmth.

    D7.2 floorstander
    A more traditional braced-cabinet design, the D7.2 uses different drivers to the Classic. Two diverse Spendor-designed 180mm drivers handle midrange and bass – an EP77 polymer cone for the mid/bass and a Kevlar composite for low bass. For the uppermost frequencies, Spendor’s LPZ (Linear Pressure Zone) tweeter puts a stainless steel plate in front of woven polyamide diaphragm. The plate not only looks fabulous and protects the diaphragm but it also creates a damped acoustic chamber in which the tweeter operates.

    Also notable is the D7.2’s lack of internal wadding that would otherwise damp its bass output. Taut and fast bass is the intended aim, which I felt was borne out in practice. The twin-venturi porting arrangement is also interesting, ensuring air exits smoothly (horizontally) at the rear of the cabinet base. This makes things more predictable – bass interacts with the floor – which makes for easier placement. Fyne’s Basstrax technology (used on their 500 series upwards) appears similar so the approach seems to have merit. Side note: Fyne’s large F1-10 worked well in a very small room at the 2018 Bristol Show.

    From the spec sheet:

    • Classic 1/2 87dB sensitivity, 8Ω impedance
    • D7.2 90dB sensitivity, 8Ω impedance (min 4)

    So neither should be overly difficult to drive.

    Aesthetics, fit & finish
    Both speakers are really well made. But then Spendor knows its ash from its elm bow thanks to its 2014 acquisition of specialist cabinet maker Timberworx.
    The Classic 1/2 is large and imposing for a standmount – 621x308x374mm HWD and 22kg – with their depth lending them a certain presence. Insert your own ‘brooding power’ analogy here. In my small-ish lounge, aesthetic harmony wasn’t quite achieved but that’s more of a comment on my room than the loudspeakers. Taken in isolation, the Classics are handsome beasts.

    The D7.2 floorstanders, on the other hand, were born pretty; a certain rightness to their physical proportions (950x192x338mm HWD) making them look positively sleek. A strong sense of aesthetic appeal is helped by floor spikes that screw into special plates on the base of the D7.2 — a discrete but very solid connection.

    The lack of feet extending outwards from the base maintains the D7.2’s elegant lines. We also get a surprisingly steady speaker, presumably in part due to its 21kg weight having a low centre of gravity. The floor level port is at the rear, with the speaker cable terminals neatly accommodated within.

    Both speakers sport black grills. The Classic 1/2’s are recessed into the front baffle making them trickier to take off. Slightly annoying given this loudspeaker sounds better grills-off but looks better with them on. Not so the D7.2, whose magnetic on-baffle grills detach easily, but I preferred both their looks and sonics without them anyway.

    The Classics are available in cherry or natural walnut, the D7.2 black ash, dark walnut, natural oak, satin white and cherry. Both review models were walnut. Overall, the Classic 1/2 speakers have beautiful cabinetry, the D7.2s are beautiful furniture. Each model does full justice to its price tag when judged on build quality alone.

    Positioning
    In my room, both speakers worked best with their front baffles positioned a metre from the front wall, two metres apart and toed-in slightly. There is, however, more flexibility with D7.2 thanks to that floor-level port: 25cm closer to the rear wall reduced image three-dimensionality slightly but had little impact on bass. Those with restricted space for loudspeakers should read this paragraph a second time.

    Review system
    Most of my listening was done with Simaudio’s MOON 390 streamer/DAC/pre (£4,950, review here) and 400M monoblocks (£7,200 a pair) with a Nordost Heimdall XLR cable (£900) between them. Expensive yes, but both speakers appreciated the step up from my Ayre AX-7e. The Moons’ greater output power (2 x 400W) may have helped. Speaker cables were Tellurium Q Black 2 (£270).

    Sound
    First impressions were of a warmer richer sound from the Classic 1/2 versus greater detail and transparency from the D7.2. The differences – particularly in the bass – were clear when switching between the two. Philip Swift’s ‘same cloth’ argument wasn’t really cutting it.

    Like the Classic 1/2, my normal Graham LS6 speakers are based on BBC-design principles. Perhaps no surprise then that my initial leaning was towards the Classic over the D7.2. The clarity and the tauter bass of the D7.2 remained an ongoing attraction that couldn’t be ignored. Over the course of extended listening sessions, each model charmed with its own blend of strengths, preferences flip-flopping as both revealed depths and nuances that a quick listen missed (see here for why this might be).

    The Classic 1/2
    The Classic 1/2’s sound is as big and meaty as the loudspeaker’s physical appearance, its in-room bass spec of 30Hz entirely believable. Its bass is distinct though, enveloping the listener rather than hitting hard; and perhaps better integrated with the music. It remains impactful when appropriate, it just isn’t highlighted per se.

    It does, however, take time to acclimatise to it – I even experimented with socks in the ports to tame the lower octaves ever so slightly. Bad move. Bass is tauter but elsewhere the ease and flow of music are significantly reduced; the magic vanishes.

    Dynamics are good but not quite top drawer – the Classic 1/2 stops just short of conjuring up the dynamic swings that driving rock often calls for. Nor does it give you the rawness, the sheer energy, that rock sometimes demands – the Classic’s top end is silky rather than unfiltered. The 1/2 goes loud with ease though, the Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ (Who’s Next) portraying Daltrey’s bombast whilst still allowing Entwistle’s intricate bass lines to shine through a dense mix.

    Full orchestral pieces fare equally well, the scale of music communicated wonderfully, as is the acoustic of the space in which it’s played – the Classic 1/2 paints a large image. One you can really hear into.

    Well recorded smaller-scale music sounds sublime. Qobuz surfaces husband & wife duo Slava and Sharon Grigoryan playing guitar & cello on Our Place. The beauty of the opener elicits a sigh from this listener, all thoughts of analysis lost to the moment.

    Overall the Classic 1/2 is a beautifully balanced speaker that focuses the listener on the music rather than analysis of the sound – a well-engineered update on the BBC thin-wall design principles.

    The D7.2
    The D7.2 contrasts the Classic 1/2’s take on music with a different set of attributes.

    A brighter light is shone on performers, the tone is drier but not dry, richness is replaced by precision. Bass is also significantly tighter, giving the impression it doesn’t reach as low as the Classic 1/2…until something like Grace Jones’ Hurricane slams you in the face, at which point an in-room spec of 29Hz comes properly to life.

    Treble extension is better than the Classic. The downside is that poor recordings are ruthlessly exposed, but the live feel lent to music is positively thrilling. The D7.2 isn’t always a comfortable listen – the potential for the treble to tip over into brightness just around the corner.

    Lest those comments make the D7.2 sound an uneven performer, we should also note its refinement. Voces8’s classical harmony won’t be to everyone’s taste but suffer for your art and listen to ‘Drop Drop Slow Tears’ from After Silence I. Remembrance. The precision – that word again – with which the D7.2 portrays each singer’s placement in the church is mesmerising, the contribution of each performer cleanly cut but the overall ensemble coming together quite beautifully. Or try The Shinya Fukumori Trio’s For 2 Akis for an alternative take on ‘haunting’.

    My sorties into ambient music continue to turn up the good stuff, most recently The Bersarin Quartet’s Methoden und Maschinen. The D7.2’s nail it: their brooding bass underpinning this work’s strong atmospherics; their extended treble literally startling on its more ‘mechanical’ sections; this Spendor’s transparency highlighting the music’s complexity and subtlety.

    Other than in positioning, the D7.2 perhaps requires more care than the Classic 1/2 when choosing matching kit – bright or forward equipment is best avoided. I’d love to hear ‘em with tubes somewhere in the chain. The listening environment will also matter more to the D7.2: they might sound hard in a reflective room. On recording quality, the Classic 1/2 is kinder to poorly mixed music.

    Get it right though and the D7.2 keeps forensic transparency in balance with midrange palpability and bass weight. They are uber-detailed but not gratuitously so. Drums in particular sound highly realistic.

    Summing up
    Both speakers are excellent, each in a different way.

    The Classic 1/2’s strength is its balance, all parts of the spectrum presented with equal aplomb. Big and bold when needed, nimble with smaller-scale pieces. Everything is treated so well. There’s also an ease to the Classic 1/2 that focuses the listener more on the music than the speaker.

    The D7.2 peps things up a bit. It focuses us more on the frequency extremes, controlled bass matched by extended treble, transparency and precision to the fore. Like the Classics 1/2, the D7.2 presents a wide acoustic image with a real sense of depth, but with the D7.2 you hear even deeper into the music. It’s a refined speaker, one that manages to sound a/live in a way that’s difficult to get out of your head once you’ve heard it.

    Choosing between them is not easy. Those with smaller rooms might be swayed by the aesthetics of the D7.2 and its positioning flexibility. Swift reminded me that these are often key factors whatever the size of room.

    On SQ the choice will be driven by the two distinct sonic signatures. With the Classic 1/2 flows over you, just relax and enjoy the experience. With the D7.2 music grabs you and won’t let go, demanding attention. Both are intoxicating and well worth a listen. Just make it a long one as a quick A/B won’t reveal the many subtle differences.

    Further information: Spendor

    Phil Wright

    Written by Phil Wright

    Phil is a Brit living in deepest Devon. Think: Tolkien's Shire but with killer cream teas. He's been around since digital audio's inception - he even wrote his dissertation on the introduction of the CD - but today's developments in both music and audio gear make him think 'we have never had it so good'. Phil is a Music-First audiophile with wide ranging tastes (Trad Jazz excepted): 5000 albums in his local library with the remainder coming from Tidal.

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