Tuesday, 14 March 2017

BBC calling - Spendor vs. Harbeth

BBC monitors.
And BBC sound. What’s that?
The origin is going back to the ’70s great period of the English broadcasting studios. A crew of few enginers created a new standard of the speakers used in studios. Their work focused in two main areas: technical improvements as distorsion-minimalise and bandwidth-normalise. And creating better human sound reproduction. It was the main project – please remember the age of radio BBC news. Later, some solutions adopted by the commercial hifi world – now called BBC school.

After many decades this technical philosophy still exists, some founder companies disappeared and people mixed a lot; nowadays several small and two great names associated this BBC method of the sound reproduction, Harbeth and Spendor.

There are some special technical solutions inside.
Thin-wall cabinet damped with bitumen  or composite plastic-gum pads. Really thin walls means even 9mm or so. 

A story started in ordinary way: the complicated transportation of over-weighted monitors needed a solution: make them lighter. A light thin wall cabinet had an unexpected and enormous sound improvement. At that time it was a real rebellion – nowadays too. Please check any textbook about the loudspeaker building, will be found that resonance is ab ovo bad and demonic and builder has to block it at all using thick double or triple heavy walls – so academic theory caused big giants and serious-sized and tons weighted monsters.

How can it be possible?
Let’s think about.
Cubical space always has resonant spikes  – it’s a pure physics. 

Please try it: just speak into the hole of the removed driver. Sadly, theese anomalies colour the mid-sounds in very bad way and bass extension has serious injuries.
Boxy sound. Yes, I understand the open-baffle fans, they are absolutely right.

Human voice is destroyed by a nuclear-attack – male speaker in low volume will be almost unreadable. Please remember BBC project started from here. 
Luckily the story is not so horrible because the walls are resonated by these frequencies automatically in higher volume; transforming into another frequency and walls/bitumen eliminates the bad energy. Thinner walls – more resonance-heating  – less coloured and better sound.

Let’s see the enemies.
Thick wall – I mean really thick – is a dead materia. Impossible to move. But the energy of the resonance peaks still exists and wants to shake something. Anything. The only area what can be vibrated now is the driver’s membrane – should I explain the wrong effects? Of course, they are clever boys too; doing some crossover-manouvers and careful selection of drivers to avoid bad effects. Of course you need an elevator to move it.

In real life both schools can create good speakers but the fact is that thin-wall cabinets sing another way especially on the mid section and the human voice. Just to give an example of the frequency of the midrange, here we can find piano, viola da gamba, soprano arias, and the harpsichord is included as well. 

That’s why the classical music and the BBC song meet each other, even they fall in a BIG love..

The usually heavy midbass drivers were made of special bextrene (came from car-industry) or a BBC-developed polypropylene. It is not so easy at all; like to move a coal wagon up- and down, well even  Aluminium is lighter. Is it a kind of masochism? Not, it works as a mechanical filterresulting of a much more natural interpretation.  

We can find good quality tweeters, usually Scan-Speaks or nowadays one of the expensive Seas or Audax domes.  

The crossovers are rather complicated units, with high slop-rate and full of autotrafos or ferrit-core inductors and several condensers and resistors inside, the overall response is equalized very well.

Spendor SP2.
Why to choose it?  It was the very first version of the new concept after the BC-1’s triumph. A new creation. Was it succesfull? Definitely, yes. Please note that SP2 and later variants, (SP2/2; 2/3) are the best-selling Spendors including studio applications as well. 

The appearance of this monitor: a scandale. The absence of dust-cap is looks like is abandoned DIY-project. The mid-bass driver is a hand treated polypropylen. 

The tweeter is a ferrofluid cooled Scan-Speak D2008 – quite expensive and good sounding even nowadays,

Very thin copper cables inside. Ferrit-core inductors and cheap-looking MKP caps in the crossover. The cabinet is 11-13 mm thin, there are bituminous dampening felts inside. Due to the aging, the color is yellowish now; yes, disgusting. Black factorial finish. Terminals came from the 2nd World War.

Harbeth M30.1 
It’s an enormously over-hyped speaker all over the hi-fi literature; seems 30.1 is a real star these days. I bought it for myself.

The M30.1 is a well-looking two-way front-vented bass-reflex monitor. The mid-bass features a new very sturdy RADIAL-2 system. Tweeters are manufactured by SEAS from Norway, according to Alan Shaw’s required specification, the response is flat in the wide frequency band. 

Really flat and extremly wide – must be some space technology in the background  I think. Crossover is fine, up-to-date creation. The cabinet is thin-wall, dampening felts inside, high quality OFC wires, expensive terminals.
Finish is wonderful.

SP2 is a bit taller and a little bit bigger than the M30.1, but theM30.1 is wider.  Both of them can use the very same stand-offs.

Harbeth very recently is among the best monitors, and it is very-very musical. The price of the hifi set is not real important to get the best from the 30.1. HighEnd stuff can be fine but low cost is not problem.The tweeter is just excellent. In a big room some users advised to install a subwoofer too. 
Spendor SP2 is choosy, sometimes prefers the SE tubed gear and sometimes hates. Many owners complain about bass and top end problems. Otherwise the SP2(/3) is very musical, the midrange is excellent, some hifi-writers from England kept it as a standard for a long time. 

Prices: The new versions almost cost the same, but right now there is a ratio of 1:8, because Harbeth is quite new but SP2 is about 30 years old. 

Test equipments.
Front end is very strong – ML 512. No any complaisance. Power blocks have the patrician blood too – Heed Nexus. Cables are from Acoustic Zen Absolute ones, full symmetrical path. Ultra-light metal stands.


Go a head.
First listen to SP2

Piano, Frescobaldi
There is a very smooth noise to hear, the audience wait for the piano-player, he arrives, light applause, he sits down – there is a thud, followed by a small zip-like voice. I did listen to lots of kind of music, but this is so revealing, even the applause is extremly living. Then he is talking about Frescobaldi on the piano.
It is a real frisson, I feel  chill run up my spine at once. It is so emotionally charged and the soundstage is so tremendous, that here is a holographic 3-D sound now in my room. Even you can see a real piano. Big and black. Shining. Everything is dynamic and realistic. I feel I can reach and touch the performer.

Change to Folia SACD 

The drum just great, it better to say “brutal”. Bass is very clear, fast enough and punchy when needed. Very strange. 10 minutes ago my AN-E speaker with its 27Hz sub-capability could not perform this attack. Now it’s clear that lowest bass is filtered by my room strongly, the topic is not about 27Hz, rather mix of bass-interferences. But the deepest bass I've ever listened in my room. S100 was too big hereI am sure.

Soprano aria, not an easy cake at all

Here shows up BBC’s heart of matter with a staggering entrance. Rising and emerging. The nuclear submarine breaks to the quite surface. Extremly wonderful. 

There is a strange another layer somewhere inside – AN here is obscured by colours a lot.

What about 30.1?


A trilling moment rises again. Feels quitter, or it needs more power? Basically the presentation is same, very-very similar. What about the 30 year age difference, do we get more with 30.1 than our old performer can show as? The low bottom is a bit missing, and the soundstage moves a bit back. Very revealing and smooth. The piano is still there, a bit dimmed, but still enjoyable. A little bit plane Jane.

Folia shows more differences than the piano. Less dramatic, less colored, the upper highs seems are filmed by a sensitive membrane. A faithfully reproduced live music. But not shining as the SP2. Or 30.1 is more gently? SP2 is attacking heavily and there is a drama, 30.1 talks round; SP2 a real hysterica. 


Very good, very similar to the SP2. There is a light sensitive aura on the voice. The old Scan-Speak cannot do like that. I am sure the owners of Super HL5 still wish the magical tweeter of 30.1 –  it’s easy to understand. Calm and well-balanced. The very lowbottom is still missing. Grey colours - appearing, that ultra light foreign accent on Montserrat voice - disappearing.

Change back to SP2, check the sound again, do we need the magic tweeter of the 30.1?
The music is more airy, faster, more beauty and better – no question at all. A bigger sound is presented by SP2 or do show more than the reality? I don’t know.  The 30.1 is a very balanced, well-adjusted and a bit cooler and less coloured than the SP2, but something important is missing.
Back to the AN-E. Jesus. Loudness buttom in on. How could I stand it…? Missing internal musical metaphysics.

Finally I did try a longer period with the Harbeth. But I couldn’t. I am always missed the wider spectra, the attack and attraction of the SP2. 


The duel has finished. 

Should we make any final conclusion? Go ahead to buy a SP2 for a cheap? Well, be careful. I still remember the presentation of SP2 using different gears. Because I use to have it. Fine piano representation was followed by a confused middle-band and airless top high. Tubed gear with SP2 is good or rather average, but very nice ratio of price/value. In a different room we can hear diminished bass, in a different hifi chain all this goes upside-down. The sensitivity of Harbeth speaker to the quality of the HIFI chain is minimalized, and Spendor monitors are well known about their dependence on it.

And I just remembered the Harbeth speakers as the star of the Budapest HighEnd Show in 2016.

Yes, and what about the amplifier-speaker matching? My symmetrically built Heed Nexus is designed very special way; two amps in opposite per chanel, phases summerized just before the speaker terminals. “There is no problem with complicated crossovers” – Mr. Huszti the owner of Heed Audio mentioned before. Another amplifier will show another listening result. Or not…?

It was a huge help for you, wasn’t?
In summary, in my room SP2 is better a lot, no pardon. 

Well, after telling you a pack of lies, I can now have a nice cup of coffee and listen to the last track of Cantiga’s cd. That track is incredible, I have to repeat again… I was waiting for this moment all the day even during this article-creating.
This is the most important of the BBC story
Keep the listeners inside of our beloved passion. Inside of the music.


What about the end of my story? SP2 presentation was so excellent that I sold my beloved AN-E, and bought a 30.1 waiting for the miracle. After the listenings I sold the 30.1 – it was horribly complicated and financially painful -  and re-bought my ex-SP2. After half a year still staying in my listening room. I am a happy owner of the Spendor SP2s - just like 15 years ago. The story is pretty much the same in the painting of Escher - was mentioned by my friend when I asked him to get the Spendors back. 

I am walking always up, and arrived to the very same place, all that’s about the hifi. 
The good news is, that we had a chance to listen a number of very good music.

My friends said about this article - very polite. But I don’t want a war or machine-guns of Harbeth fans. 

This article is a right compass for who has exactly the same equipments and wires and CDs and etc…as I have. Please, only for them.
What about the others?
What about you?
I don’t know.
Take it easy. 

It’s a diary only.
Click on the articles about music.

More interesting I hope.

November, 2016.

*         *         *

March, 2020.

Still in use?
Was a really long walk with SP2?

After some months - means early spring of 2017 - there were some listenings to search after the next step.
Several BBC monitors made really great performances. Spendor's 100 serias, SP1/2 variants; Harbeth SHL5 and 40; even an old Rogers Studio; and some ls3/5as, of course.
Older and newer speakers - I felt a light sound-diversity of course but there were no any bad-sounding competitors; they are walking around the imagined 'BBC sound' on different way.

Finally, forced by my personal taste, I've choosen a pair of Spendor SP1.
Then I got to know that it was the last speaker created by Spencer Hughes.
Still in my room.

Since there no any wish to change anything.

Dust on the devices.
Dust on the wires.
No any cable-test.

Music is gong on.
You can not imagine this excellency of sound.

CDs are arriving from the discogs.com.


March, 2021.

There was a direct comparsion between Spendor SP1 and Spendor S100.
Almost the same age.
S100 - the great legend, said better sound than any newer BBC variants. Price is horror, to get it - impossible.
Really, the sound is very good, excellent bass and very sophisticated performance.
On classical music, especially with overtone-sensitive instruments as clavichord and viola and piano - SP1 is much better. Enormously.

What a suprise.


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