Spendor SA1 & AVI ADM 9.1T

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The Background When I was using my Quad/MF/Spendor system I had two requirements to satisfy before I could leave it all alone: 1) Change the amplifier to improve bass control, helping more dynamic music at louder volumes. 2) Buy a DAC to improve the sound of TV and to support an Apple Airport Express for a move into computer audio. I'm getting married soon and the idea of children isn't ridiculous. So, the system also needs to be simple to use with less objects to protect/hide/camouflage! Hmmm, not an easy mix of needs to satisfy without spending a lot of money. First thoughts were whether I could get away with mono-blocking the Quad with a second 405 whilst adding a DAC. OK, that was a bachelor thought. Six power cables/sockets, not including the sub nor AEX, doesn't make for a simple solution let alone the power up and down process. I would have enjoyed every second of such a system though, with two amazing chunks of retro metal stacked up on show. I really like the 405, probably because my dad had one driving massive transmission line speakers with a Revox turntable; that's another story, one with rattling windows! Thoughts quickly moved onto a Naim Supernait with its alleged high quality amplifier and DAC, all in one chic box that apparently should be left switched on for days before it comes "onto song". Hmmmm, true or not such an approach isn't my style and would never happen. £2,600 for a new one auditioned at my local dealer. That's a lot of money in one swipe for an amp that gets mixed reviews. Well, it's just a lot of money. OK, what else? A Naim Nait XS and Rega DAC? A better configuration than pre/power but still one box more than I really wanted, one more remote control and one more set of leads. Quite appealing but at £1,800 or so is still a lot of cash to find and a little outside of the annual toys budget. I'm impatient. What about those AVI ADMs that a friend bought a year or two ago. They seem like a nice idea and if I'm quick I can beat any price rises and VAT hikes. That was my excuse anyway, shhhh. A larger cabinet, a little more bass extension than the Spendors, a "zero box" solution, a design ethos that I like. I don't go for heavy bass or bright treble but instead value speed, imaging and detail. As long as it's not hard-sounding. The AVIs seem to deliver all of this for £1,125. Is there a catch? Why didn't I buy these before? The AVI S2000MP preamp I paired with the Quad was a real revelation for the money I paid for it. It was so clean compared to the Rotel RA03 (pre section) I was using before and was a really, really good upgrade. It cost me £25 more than the price of one of my Chord cables. Coupled with an impressive demo of a complete AVI S2000 mono-block system, AVI's credentials were proven to me. Next up was a spontaneous trip to Nick21's for a demo of the ADMs. I've written this up before but I wasn't convinced. I was sitting far too close to the ADMs and the sound was a bit hollow. Something didn't add up. Davemartin then offered another demo in a larger room with the sub. I've talked about this before too but I was blown away this time. The ADMs sounded sublime and the sub was mind-blowing. So tight and fast! It took me about an hour of being at Dave's to decide that I was ordering some. The next thing I knew I was loading some 9.1Ts into my car boot. No, not Dave's, my delivery. AVI ADM Vs. Spendor et al With the SA1s, Spendor have managed to keep hold of their legendary smoothness whilst making it all seem a bit more alive than previous LS3/5 incarnations. The balance is very slightly rolled off at the top with less air than, say the Proac 1SC, with a fast bass. Very fast. The paradoxical thing is that they still seem to have some warmth in the bass despite their speed and tautness. Perhaps this is attributable to an upper bass lift, making them sound larger and less anaemic than their size suggests, with the lowest registers being kept reined-in by the infinite baffle cabinets. I'm not an expert and any listening has been done with both the Quad or Rotel RA03 amp and MF X-ray CDP. I have no idea whether I happened upon two amps that give the same signature with the SA1s but I doubt it. The SA1s sound very together, no doubt due to the range covered by the main driver, crossing over to the tweeter at 4.8kHz. I'm not convinced that they like to go very loud as they ran out of puff with some bass heavy material (Erykah Badu, Baduizm) despite a fairly powerful amp. This is where I was hoping an amp upgrade would help things along a bit and I'm confident it would. Compared to this combination, the AVIs sound leaner, more neutral, more transparent, faster(!), more detailed (a lot) and more open. What else is there to say? They just get it all right and I don't have much to write about in terms of colour or character. With less colour, more detail and greater control the sound is quite a contrast to begin with. It doesn't take long to acclimatise to the presentation but they demand your attention. The Spendors seem to place singers further back and the sound is generally more laid-back. I find that the best test for this is Pavarotti's Nessun Dorma, where it sounds like you take a seat at the rear of a large and empty auditorium. Their bass isn't going to satisfy all-out rockers but there's a sub to solve that. And it really does. I suggest that if you want to hear some rocky grittiness then choose music with it in, don't rely on the AVIs to add it. The imaging is incisive, creating a crystal clear and transparent window on the music. Studio air has never sounded so good! They play loud too. Very loud indeed before showing any sign of losing control. It's almost disturbing. The Spendors are an easier listen. The system was giving me less detail, greater warmth and made sure not to upset, painting an oil of the music with some artistic license. The AVIs demand your attention more, they produce a photograph of the music to make sure that you hear what there is to hear, no more and no less. I've heard people describe the Spendor house sound as being romantic and in the SA1s you can hear a painstakingly designed tonal balance. They've really thought it through. With the AVIs you can hear the house sound of accuracy and of very high quality indeed. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to make the Spendors appear to be mushy and boring, they're not, but I'm trying to find the best way to describe some differences. Which you prefer is likely to come down to taste. Some people look for a coloured presentation of the source material, perhaps bass heavy, perhaps very forward. I've tried this and become quite frustrated with how some music sounds. Some will look for a system that suits a certain style of listening, perhaps requiring overt smoothness to not distract from work. It doesn't matter how you justify it as long as the music is how you want to hear it. I've grown very fond of the Spendors and I've had many hours of pleasure from them. The AVIs have taken the experience to a new level, one where I can get closer to the music, literally. Maybe not everyone wants to do that. Two things have become clear to me in this venture into ADM ownership (aside from the music, of course): #1 Choosing true hi-fi accuracy doesn't result in less musical emotion. It's a non-sequiter. Reading that statement back, it looks ridiculous. Unfortunately it's a theme I've witnessed in the world of hifi. #2 The AVI ADMs represent ridiculous value for money in the current hifi market place. John Lewis should stock them, I'm convinced they'd sell. I'm thanking God everyday that I didn't spend a fortune on some more passive kit. ...oh, and the Spendors in zebrano on the matching stands look better... [:)]
 

Craig M.

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Mar 20, 2008
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very balanced review iggle, well done!

i know exactly what you mean by accuracy, there is something about the word that makes you think it will be clinical and sterile, when the opposite is true - it means musical; because you are, after all, listening to music.

i think the adms are brilliant value, they are very similar to my system. i get the detail, dynamics and most of the speed. i have greater bass depth and slightly stronger bass, but the adms counter with a clearer, more natural mid and astonishing imaging. and they do go loud, i gave up before they did in my room.

ultimately, i prefer what i have, it just works better with more of my music, but with your tastes in music iggle, i haven't heard anything that sounds better. not sure if it's your cup of tea, but liberian girl from the bad album by michael jackson sounds fantastic on them.
 
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Anonymous

Guest
Excellent review Iggle very informative and interesting read, I'm glad you are enjoying your system.
Ick
 
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Anonymous

Guest
Cheers chaps. I listen to Michael Jackson material quite a lot. It's produced superbly and, yes, Liberian Girl sounds great! The material is produced better than pretty much any other pop music I've ever heard.
 
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Anonymous

Guest
igglebert:Cheers chaps. I listen to Michael Jackson material quite a lot. It's produced superbly and, yes, Liberian Girl sounds great! The material is produced better than pretty much any other pop music I've ever heard.

Well congratulations on getting married, fantastic. If the patter of tiny feet appear, then watch those Zebrano stands. " like a red rag to a bull"
 

plastic penguin

Well-known member
Nice one!

Firstly, congrats on the marriage.

Can understand the accuracy bit, lesser amps/speakers have the neutrality but give away some vitality. You've described the old set-up as slightly warmer, so is that the speakers causing the warmth or a combination of amp and speakers? Certainly when I heard the SA-1s, albeit a fairly brief affair, they sounded very neutral.

It's great you've found your musical niche...
 

chebby

Well-known member
Jun 2, 2008
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An excellent read! Thanks.

Has it all, including a nice bit of hifi history regarding your father's system.

I wish more hifi reviews had a bit of a story to engage the reader.
 
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Anonymous

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I,ll make a small wager that this time next year he will be telling us how good his ATC SCM 50s are
 
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Anonymous

Guest
johnnyjazz:I,ll make a small wager that this time next year he will be telling us how good his ATC SCM 50s are


No chance. No chance at all. Ugly, over-priced lumps!
 
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Anonymous

Guest
plastic penguin:
Nice one!

Firstly, congrats on the marriage.

Can understand the accuracy bit, lesser amps/speakers have the neutrality but give away some vitality. You've described the old set-up as slightly warmer, so is that the speakers causing the warmth or a combination of amp and speakers? Certainly when I heard the SA-1s, albeit a fairly brief affair, they sounded very neutral.

It's great you've found your musical niche...


I can't really say for certain the cause of the warmth because I haven't done enough testing with a variety of kit. I think the SA1s probably have a little colour in their sound to add a small degree of warmth in the lower end though.
 

SSM

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Jan 1, 2010
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Congratulations on the marriage.
Alert: one nice guy taken out of the market!


That's a lovely write-up on Spendor vs AVI. I'd been considering getting the SA1 last month but decided to look around for other alternatives that can handle higher sound levels and are flatter in the mid-bass frequency response. (The SA1 does have a boost in that region, according to two mags' measurements
)

Ironically I am thinking of giving the Neutron 5 a try. I had the IV before and liked its taut and ruler-flat bass response. When I get to the AVI dealer I'll make sure to hear the ADMs too. Thanks for the inspiration.

cheerSS
 
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Anonymous

Guest
Good to hear from you SSM, you're too kind!

I think that the SA1's sound will work for many people, especially if you have a small room and want to get a big sound. They're remarkable at achieveing this.

Def try the ADMs as they're quite something. They might not float your boat but it's difficult not to be impressed by what they do, even ignoring the price. Another plus is you can fund them with the sale of amps and cables


P3ESR out of the running then?
 

SSM

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Jan 1, 2010
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igglebert:P3ESR out of the running then?

Yup, for now. I shall wait until I'm irrevocably stuck into my middle age before I do the Harbeth thing and join Droodzilla on his rocking chair. He has just upgraded to some unCompact monsters.


The lovely S3/5R will be my only Spendor then. A possible summer tryst with the Neutron 5 aside, the money for my next serious mini monitor purchase will be diverted from Blighty and on to sunny Italy. Them sun-kissed Europeans make some really handsome small speakers indeed!
I just hope they are more practical in use and more durable than designer Itie shoes.


Will keep a surreptitious eye on your ongoing ADM reports. My positive experience with the Neutron IV predisposes me to AVI ownership again, but I find the lack of a volume level indicator on the 9.1 most daunting. That may take some getting use to.

cheerSS
 

Diamond Joe

Well-known member
Mar 1, 2008
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Nice review igglebert, and smashing pictures too
, wish I could put my thoughts down in such a comprehensive fashion.

Got a couple of questions though, and maybe I missed something here: do you have both sets of speakers set up in the same room? and do you plan to sell one pair?

And good luck with your forthcoming marriage.
 
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Anonymous

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Thanks for your kind comments.

I have just sold the amps and so don't intend on running both systems. The AVIs are here to stay
 

Singslinger

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Jul 31, 2010
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Great write-up and fantastic pix - thanks for taking the effort!

I own the SA1s as well as the Harbeth P3ESRs (driven mainly by Naim NAC 82, 2HiCaps and 2xNAP135s) and - although it's a close thing - I have to say that I prefer the SA1s over the Harbeths (but only just).

The Harbeths are great little speakers and probably more neutral than the SA1s with marginally better bass but I find the Spendors' midrange to be unbeatable. It's one of those odd situations where I prefer a coloured sound to one that's more uncoloured...Anyway, thanks again for the review, I enjoyed reading it very much!

PS I've only just ordered the SA1s matching stands - can't wait for them to arrive!

PPS I agree that the SA1s can do an admirable job filling a room with sound - and although some might beg to differ, I find the bass adequate for my tastes.
 

Diamond Joe

Well-known member
Mar 1, 2008
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igglebert:Thanks for your kind comments.

I have just sold the amps and so don't intend on running both systems. The AVIs are here to stay


Ahh, right ho, I didn't realise you'd flogged the amps. Long live the AVIs then.
 

Diamond Joe

Well-known member
Mar 1, 2008
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18,545
oh p.s. I meant to say that this comment made me chuckle: "...because my dad had one driving massive transmission line speakers with a
Revox turntable; that's another story, one with rattling windows!"
 
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Anonymous

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igglebert:johnnyjazz:I,ll make a small wager that this time next year he will be telling us how good his ATC SCM 50s are


No chance. No chance at all. Ugly, over-priced lumps! Oh, ok iggle, the wife wants an active system for the largish spare room (less wires etc), now based on your quick review i don,t think i will be auditioning the ATCs any time soon
. Congratulations on the wedding plans, hope both of you have a happy, healthy long life together.
 
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Anonymous

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How far do you sit from the AVI ADM9.1s', igglebert? And how big is your room?
 
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Anonymous

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My room is about 4m x 4m, but is a little more complicated due to a large chimney breast. I sit about 3m away from the speakers and they're about 3m apart. I have them square, as opposed to toed-in. I find that this maintains a better tonal balance and wide soundstage.
 
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Anonymous

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I use my 9.1's square on to firing down a 35' room and my sub is in a corner between a speaker on it's stand and a settee and it does not boom!
Nick
 
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Anonymous

Guest
My room is 3,7 meters by 5,2 mtr.

The distance between the 3,7 mtr wall and my listening position is 3,2 meter. My speakers are 40cm from the wall.

So I sit only 2,8 mtr from the speakers. distance between the speakers is 2 meter.
 

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