No shrinking violet!

No shrinking violet!

Teksten er oversatt fra min opprinnelige, norske tekst. Originalen vil bli bearbeidet, og dukker senere opp i Fidelity.

NOTE: The text is a translation from my original Norwegian article, Bear with me; my native language is Norwegian, the translation may be a bit sloppy here and there. Hope it’s possible to understand, but if not, give me a hint, and we’ll sort it out.

A4. Here in Norway that’s the name of the most common printing paper available, figuratively also meaning the most average you can think of. Now, just that does not at all fit these small Spendor speakers; in fact, they are everything but A4!


Floorstanders as they are, they rise 81 cm above the floorboards while the cabinet is just 16.5 cm wide. The depth is 27 cm, all in all small, and kind of anonymous, in a normal listening room. (Note here that there is an A2 too, a toddler of a floor-standing speaker!) It is also intriguing that Spendor claims that they have put a 180 mm bass driver in a 165 mm wide speaker cabinet. Some fish story! Here, the folding rule came into play, people, and it does not lie. Fair enough, they use the full width, I’ll accept this as a 6.5-inch driver, in a modern world this translates to about 165 mm. That’s all you have available, Spendor, period. I will return to the given spec’s along the way; Spendor says that they work between 34 Hz ​and 25 kHz, and, initially I wonder if this little speaker really can go all the way down to the mid 30’s. Further, sensitivity is stated at moderate 86 dB / 1W / 1m, crossover frequency at the slightly daring 3.7 kHz, and recommended amplifier power between 25 and 150 watts. I promise that Spendor does not get a simple run here; I’ve used 4 very different amplifiers on these speakers, putting them through the paces. What I found was truly surprising!


I have previously been thoroughly impressed by the bigger and older model A6R, a truly unique speaker, and Spendor is still on the right track, no doubt. They have obviously put in all the experience from the A6R model, and then some, in construction of these moderate, yet surprisingly powerful speakers. In general they’re really easy to place, but I also found that even though they sound happy just about anywhere, there’s a damn troll living in these speakers. To fool this troll out in the open, you need to fiddle a little extra with positioning, room and feet. Do not put them too far apart. Do not put them too close to the walls. Give’em toe in; there’s no problem even if you actually see a bit of the outer speaker walls from the listening position. Then come the final tweaks; a touch better balance if you lean them slightly backwards. Furthermore, I am very fond of the feet from Finite; the so-called Ceraballs. And then, the balance falls into place, and the sound spreads like a color palette all over the stage, and then some. I bet this speaker must have a first-order filter; the pinpointing and room information is not by any means usual. Check out Roger Waters’ dog (“Amused to death”) on Spendor A4, if you wonder where it has its dog house. Top of the line, period.


I begin carefully and let a small amplifier drive the small speakers. Rega Brio R is currently sold for very good price here in Norway, you fathers wake up, run out and invest in amplifiers for children and grandchildren. I have already done just that and thwarted this little gold lump from my daughter. It drives A4 with ease, and more than hints to what these speakers like to play with. The combination plays rhythmic and playful, dynamic, open and airy, just a tad restrained at low volumes. When adding some power, Spendor A4 responds with a totally captivating presence. The listening tests show us that Brio R possesses a number of the desired features for a very moderate amount of money, but also points out that these speakers deserve even more. A quick, elegant and rhythmically strong amplifier is recommended, typically classic British quality amplifiers like Audiolab, Exposure, Roksan, Naim, and more. And of course, also a bigger Rega.

But we don’t in any way let the little Brio win on walk-over; we directly throw on it the both brutal and airy “Night Walker” with Danish artist Trentemøller. Together, the small amp and the small speakers forms a formidable team; we get an amazing insight, and the first association that strikes me, is the superbly resolved and slightly dark sounding Focal Elear headphones, and that’s no small compliment! But let’s be realistic, with a critical attitude I’d like to say it’s a bit rough at the top, and a little bit over the top in the lower regions, showing a little lack of control. It is the mid that shines, audible on all music examples. “Angel” with Massive Attack shows it clearly; From the midrange to the top we get an incomprehensible insight, while downward it’s a bit soggy. But tough and heavy it is; a fat, embracing and nearly shameless reproduction, just sit back, smile and dig in. With Nazareth’s “Hair of the Dog”, we are struggling a bit more, though. Works okay, but does not succeed in the carefree “take no prisoner”-attitude that this song needs. The result can be regarded as “passed” but not with flying colors. In fact, here it becomes a bit towards simplicity, hardness and a tad chaotic; the reason is also clear, we need a a more obvious energy in the mid bass (“the party-lump”), around 80 – 100 Hz. This points to a certain modesty of the overall expression, also emphasized when we play the explosive horns from “Moten Swing”. It will not be as intense and sudden as we know it, slightly restrained, but fine, is the conclusion.

Rega BrioRrsa-m3ex_front

It’s when we crank up the movie music from Batman, Hans Zimmer’s “A Dark Knight”, we really understand that something extraordinary is on its way. Wow, this is dramatic! In the name of truth, it is a bit simplistic, but with a surprisingly large dynamic expression, also in the bass area. It is simply a bit incomprehensible how big and heavy this depth charge of a song actually comes through. More careful listening indicates that it looses a little grip in the deepest pulses, by that getting bigger and heavier than the recording really is, charming, but not fully realistic. At the opposite end, where few instruments float in a glass-clear atmosphere, such as songs by the likes of Sophie Zelmani, this combination truly shines. Here, Spendor A4 player plays close to insanely good, a touch towards warmth, still within boundaries. With today’s price of Rega Brio R (the previous version is still available in Norway), this is a fantastic combination, which, despite the few mentioned shortcomings, can represent a sensible start to a Spendor A4 setup.

But of course we can ‘t stop there! I talked about quick, elegant amplifiers, and in addition to the typical British amps, the idea of a good class D also struck along the way. Therefore, a Micromega PW-250 is replacing the Rega, this is a solid and well-built Class D power amplifier of approximately 150W in 8 Ohm, and 250 honest watt with 4 Ohms load. It is interesting to experience how much more controlling this amplifier is, in many ways typically class D, a really serious one at that, too.

The frequency test shows the same basic features as Rega Brio, and, with the mentioned control and higher power, it goes a bit deeper and we have usable output below 20 Hz, in fact. Yes, I wrote under twenty. Not that it shakes the room, but it’s there, and you can feel it. Generally, the frequency curve is relatively flat, but my listening room adds a little extra in the range of 40 to 45 Hz, also about the double of that frequency, although slightly less accentuated there. The speakers go fairly flat down to 35 Hz, just as Spendor claims, from there it rolls off steeply, but, as mentioned, we also have a useable signal significantly deeper. In short, this is next to abnormal and totally amazing, when we look at the size of this speaker. This must be a world record for something this small, or what?

Timbres are not richer than from Rega, rather on the contrary, as a matter of fact. But tidiness and calm is present in spades, especially in the lower regions, where the difference is significant. As mentioned above, the loudspeaker is a touch warm sounding, but does not have the typical “party booster” in the area just under 100 Hz, to create illusion of something bigger and more powerful. Still, we get this warm, embracing sound that also gives an interesting experience of size, albeit in a different way. From the bossy and controlling Micromega amplifier, we get limited frivolity and drama, but also a better organization and more rigid behavior. Perhaps it’s more boring, but clearly more correct and controlled. At this time, we really start to see a picture of a unique speaker, one that grows surprisingly and convincingly with the tasks thrown at it.


To find out how far we can stretch this very moderate construction, we put in one of my absolute favorites, the Japanese integrated amplifier Spec RSA M3EX. Spec plays in many ways as a high-quality tube amplifier, and the speakers now get the chance to shine with all its strengths, convincing obviousness, and a silky poker face. We start the ball with the unique Canadian jazz singer Molly Johnson, and her intense version of “Do’t explain”. It floods over us and totally takes over our mind, while the piano tones blow to the horizon, over the ocean, into the sky. Such a reproduction simply does something to you, here we are so close to the artist that it will be a kind of personal meeting, which does not leave the listener unaffected.

We drive the small toddlers hard, we let a solid drum solo emphasize the speaker’s tuning; the rich and somewhat polite sound, holds back some of the savageness of the drums, smoothening it, but still conveying it deliciously. You could also assume, then, that the gangster rap will be a little laidback, or restrained with such small speakers, but no way! This is surprisingly realistic and fat sounding, here’s much info in the area of 40Hz, emphasizing weight and mood. On this music style the Spendor / Spec-duo is blessed with steel control, still it comes through heavier than we’ve heard from anything so small, ever. On top of this fat, pulsating clay, the vocals and the backdrop floats effortlessly, airy and playful. No small speakers fix this better! But hey, misunderstand me correctly; The Spendopr A4’s are small speakers, and the laws of nature apply, but correctly done, you can use these laws as tools for intelligent illusion art, and that’s just the way these speakers are working. They make you believe in the reproduction, although it’s not necessarily 100% possible.


I have saved the pick in the basket to the end, by inserting the Audio Note P2 SE Signature in the set-up; a pure and simple 18 watt tube amplifier with very good output transformers. Here, the story has come to an end; the sound actually has many similarities with the Rega, but at the same time clearly more punchy, magical and present. The resolution is all the way up there on par with the Spec, but overall, this combination has an even heavier expression. The frequency response shows the same features as the other ones, but incredibly this low powered amp is the one showing the best control below 40 Hz; the output so low in the frequency trange that it is inconceivable! At the same time, we can now detect a small, but audible port sound in the range of 30 – 35 Hz when throttling up a bit. Lots of air moves in and out of that gap, I tell you! This blissful reproduction shows with all possible clarity, a speaker that is an easy load, the P2 has full control, and clearly benefits from the collaboration with the A4. Besides, it also works wonderfully on low volume, it’s no exaggeration claiming that P2 / A4 is a match made in heaven!

Amused to death

Then it’s time to emphasize the strengths of a phase correct loudspeaker, so Roger Waters is again put on the stage with “Amused to Death” and the song “Three wishes”. Well, it appears as assumed, it’s a completely unbelievable capability of three dimensional, pinpointed, clear and easy-to-read sound, that exists way above and outside any sensible understanding. The bass pulses are powerful and calm, as from the opening of the gates to Hell, it is totally clear and well-organized, and, suddenly it is possible to detect a kind of layering of the “waves” flowing all over us. Again, the speakers are not big, but they are unbelievably clever at pretending, so bear in mind that there are obviously bigger and more powerful reproducers for sale out there. But the balance and the calm nature this combination is not at all common. Therefore, Hans Zimmer is brought back back to the stage as well, “Dark Knight” is again filling the room with its huge drama, it is as if the deepest power of darkness manifest themselves in the listening room. It’s absolutely magical, with gorgeous timbres and strong intensity, in short it’s completely immersive. At the same time, it is served with a surprisingly large dynamic contrast, it is delicious and a little intimidating, in some ways. Spendor A4 is simply too small to be this big!

At the very opposite end of these brutal music examples, we find the Norwegian “singing” songwriter Ole Paus, and his “Stjerner i rennesteinen” (“Stars in the gutter”). A small, simple ensemble, a warped song, but my how close, atmospheric and emotional this comes across. Again timbral character, presence, yes, the whole experience of the soul of music is wonderfully presented.


It should have been raised beyond doubt, then, after this shamelessly positive review, that Spendor A4 has charmed me completely. Therefore, in the name of decency, I must underline a few points, so nobody gets the idea that such a small speaker can do anything in the world better than any other speaker. That is, of course, not the case. First and foremost, it is important for the reader to understand that the author is convinced that a simple 2-way constructions, for several reasons, is the best way to build loudspeakers. Of course, no universal consensus on that, but the kind of reproduction coming from that type of speakers, certainly takes me closer to the artist. Secondly, one must also understand that a small box, and a single 6.5-inch woofer in each speaker, can not in any way copy a 15-inch woofer, not even a 10-inch, it will in the best of worlds just be a convincing imitation. Furthermore, there are clear limitations to how loud they can play, and how large room you can fill with sound, with the after all limited resources we have available with these small units. As long as the room is under 30 square meters (around 320 square feet), and you’re placing the speakers carefully, you’re good. There are, of course, also speakers in the price range challenging the A4’s; The most immediate example is Kudos, which builds speakers according to the same principles. Ok, that was the reality orientation, people, now to the conclusion…

As mentioned above, Spendor A4 is by no means a shrinking violet. Such a small, seemingly bashful speaker, should not at all have the ability to play with such a wide range of capabilities. But A4 does it anyway! It comes across much bigger than it is, it delivers almost all musical styles with supreme conviction, with great timbral character, light footed, rhythmic and heavy, furthermore, it does so with sound images of a size strictly speaking should not be allowed for boxes this small! Actually, it sometimes seems like the laws of nature are ignored when playing A4, but of course, this is only the intelligent exploitation of these laws, creating this amazing illusion art. The hi-fi salesmen may, unfortunately, have to fight a bit to close the sales of these small speakers for around GBP 2,200, (NOK 26,000, -). But remember this: No matter how much piano laquer and how many speaker units you can get for that amount of money, you will not be able to fill the house with better, more convincing and realistic music!

Spendor A4, small, floor standing speakers, NOK  25 900,- / par

(GBP approximately GBP 2200 / pair)

Importør: Audioaktøren / Norsk Hifi senter