Too often, changes seem to be made for change’s sake. So excuse me if I feel a little cynical when one of my favourite loudspeakers is unceremoniously replaced with a new, ‘improved’ model, especially when the affection for that speaker is invested in both its historical antecedents and a current version that I consider a small-box reference. The model in question is Spendor’s SA1: I loved the original and always preferred it to the LS3/5A. I loved the recent version and have come to rely on it for both reviewing and listening pleasure. This goes way beyond a reviewer’s fling or even a steady relationship. This is a marriage that’s fast approaching Ruby Wedding status. How dare that man Swift (that being Philip, emininence gris at Spendor) simply dump the SA1?
In fact, it’s not just the speaker that’s gone. Just to add insult to injury the model designation has been changed, too. Thing’s were definitely not looking good, but just when my seething outrage was threatening to bubble over, I received a cardboard carton of familiar size and minimal weight – at least by audio standards. Inside was a pair of the brand spanking new D1s, sporting exactly the same attractive proportions as my much-loved SA1s. Okay, so they didn’t have the glossy Zebrano finish, but their darker, satin-coated veneers were certainly classy. I could feel myself starting to waver… Still, the proof of the pudding would be in the eating – or, in this case, the listening – so plenty of scope for disappointment yet.
Which is when a strange and wholly unexpected thing happened. Even from cold, the new D1s were clearly impressive, but more than that, it was just as clear that they were musically superior to the SA1 in every single respect. There was nothing subtle about this: there were no swings or roundabouts involved: the D1 was just plain better than the SA1 – and by a considerable margin. Now, this is not supposed to happen. I love(d) the SA1, finding it preferable to any of the equivalent sub-miniatures out there. It was a genuinely great little speaker. So how come the D1 comes along and all of sudden it makes the SA1 sound broken? Because that’s exactly what happened: all of a sudden my concerns over the new model were transferred to its predecessor as I started wondering how I could have tolerated its now obvious flaws?
The answer of course lies in expectation. We judge by what we think is possible and what is possible is defined by what is. It’s not that the SA1 is a bad speaker. It really is a genuinely excellent performer, especially compared to its peers. But the D1 is a class apart and it shows. So I guess the question becomes, why the great leap forward?