The Audio Analogue AAcento and Spendor Classic 2/3 - A Marriage Made in Heaven

 

Some thoughts on the Audio analogue AACento amplifier and Spendor 2/3 speakers – review by the Hi-Fi Guru – no stranger to serious High End Hi-Fi Systems!

The Audio Analogue AAcento

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Balance is an elusive quality in audio reproduction. By "balance", I mean that ineffable quality where a system sounds just right: where the listener is inexorably drawn to focus on the music and not the equipment.

For now, though, focus on the equipment we must: but be assured that what I was overwhelmingly struck by when I listened to these two fine components was just how balanced and musical the entire presentation was. Moreover, that musicality endured whatever type of music I listened to.

This even-handedness across genres is a real sign of quality. It is much easier for a designer to emphasise a particular quality, speed, tonality, space etc. than it is to bring balance and focus across the spectrum.

Historically, Audio Analogue’s electronics have always impressed me, but the new line-up represents a definite step forward. That step, however, is made in the context of sticking to some very solid principles of audio engineering. For example, there is generous linear (i.e. non-switch mode) power supply with a 480 watt transformer and generous filter capacitance. The stiffness of this power supply can be seen by the fact that the AAcento doubles its’ power output when connected to a four ohm load (the effective impedance of most modern speakers).

There is also the fact that neither the preamp nor power stage in this integrated utilise negative feedback which, while killing distortion, can also rob the music of soul and tonality.

Lastly, there is the beautiful casework which brings the amp’s weight to 14KG and benefits in reducing microphony.

It all adds up to an amp which is beguilingly smooth sounding, but not at the expense of musical engagement. In the old adage of grace, pace and space, the AAcento scores on all those fronts. It also has scale and weight without sounding in any way overblown.

Facilities wise, the amp has a well-executed electronic volume control, something which I’ve found always sounds better than conductive track based “pots” when done right. And it is also nice to see a balanced input as well as plenty of single ended in’s, and a high quality headphone input.

The AAcento also benefits from a phono stage. And in auditioning the amp on vinyl it was apparent that this is no makeweight. There is an impressive consistency to the sound across both the phono and digital inputs when using high quality sources with each. I would have no hesitation in putting the AAcento’s phono stage on an equal footing with stand-alone units costing a decent fraction of the amp’s total price.

In summary, the AAcento is a very well designed and specified superb sounding amplifier that would form the heart of a proper high end hi fi system and all at a very reasonable price for the quality on offer. Highly commended.


The Spendor Classic 2/3

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Spendor now has a comprehensive line up of speakers, with floor mounts and stand mounted speakers covering three main lines: the A-Line D-Line and the Classic series. But for those not familiar with the background to Spendor, it made its name with its line of “BBC Monitor” type-speakers, drawing on the heritage of BBC classic monitors from the era when the BBC developed its own technology in house. This was hardly surprising since Spencer Hughes, the company’s founder originally worked as an engineer with the ‘Beeb’.

Such is the post-modern enthusiasm for BBC type speakers, that hardly a week goes by without an announcement of yet another clone of the famed LS 3/5a. Well, I’m exaggerating, but not by that much.

However, fond as I am for a trip down memory lane, speaker technology has advanced a lot since the 1960s, particularly in regard to materials science. Nevertheless, there are considerable strengths in the BBC-type approach that, when combined with the best of modern technology, can yield great results. The Spendor Classic line 2/3 eloquently testifies to this.

A staple of the broadcast monitor line-up is the so called “50 litre box”. Traditionally this comprised a two way speaker of moderate dimensions that will work equally well in the confines of a control room or normal domestic setting. This cabinet size is big enough to offer decent bass extension (down to 35 Hz which is comfortably below the low e string on bass guitar), while being pretty flexible in working in moderate to medium sized domestic spaces. The accompanying drive unit line up typically featured an eight inch (200mm) bass mid unit and a dome tweeter sized to match.

Surprise, surprise, this is exactly what we find in the modern 2/3. But the devil is in the detail! While Spendor is hardly effusive about its products the company has this to say about the 2/3: “Our new models are built around a totally new generation of Spendor drive units. Featuring advanced polymer and Kevlar cones, cast magnesium alloy chassis, high-efficiency motor systems, optimised electro-dynamic damping and excellent thermal dissipation, they deliver a truly captivating sound with unprecedented transparency and dynamic contrast.”

It is particularly noteworthy that Spendor makes both its cabinets and drive units in-house. Whereas “manufacturers” buying in their drive units are largely reliant to crossover design a vertically integrated manufacturer has far greater flexibility to tailor different elements of the package.

Our listening tests bear this out. While the speaker looks superficially similar to the SP2 of old, the sound is transformed. Most importantly, it has not lost that gorgeous midrange neutrality and precise stereo imaging which always marked out these designs. But in terms of frequency extension and dynamic range, the 2/3 is a different kettle of fish entirely. This reflects improvements across the range to the drive units, cabinet construction and damping and crossover design.

In listening in the demo room, mainly with the Audio Analogue AAcento, I have been bowled over by how tuneful this speaker is in the bass and how generally coherent and lifelike it is. The combination really is a match made in heaven so much so that if I had to jettison by (dramatically more expensive) reference system, this is a combination I could happily live with and really is a must hear.

But entirely on its own merits, the 2/3 deserves an audition for anyone in the market for a moderately priced monitor quality speaker that will partner with a wide range of amplifiers.

Specifications: Efficiency 88db; Frequency Response 35-25KHz; Power 25-200 Watts; Impedance 8 Ohms.


 
Mark Reid