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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Speakers

Full-on high-end sound from an incredibly compact audio system

The Audiophiliac auditions the Spendor S3/5R2 speakers and Naim Uniti 2 CD player/amplifier.

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The Spendor S3/5R2 speakers and Naim Uniti 2 CD player/amplifier Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I've always admired the sound of Spendor speakers, especially their smaller bookshelf models. That's what ran through my head as I started listening to the S3/5R2, Spendor's least expensive and smallest bookshelf speaker at the Innovative Audio Showroom in New York City. The listening room was small, maybe 14 by 20 feet (3.65 by 6 meters) -- that's about average for around here, but the S3/5R2 really filled the room. I'd go so far as to say the sound was seductive. It was so warm and sweet, and vocals in particular really shined, so I paid more attention to lyrics, and that's always a good sign.

This is a little speaker, standing a mere 12 inches (305mm) tall; it has a 5.5-inch (140mm) woofer, and a 1-inch (22mm) dome tweeter. It's an 8-ohm impedance design. The S3/5R2 is available in black ash as well as beautifully finished dark walnut, cherry and light oak real wood veneers. Spendors are designed and made in the UK.

Jerry Garcia and David Grisman's jazz-inflected bluegrass "So What?" CD had me tapping my feet, and Garcia's acoustic guitar and Grisman's mandolin were perfectly rendered. The speakers' soundstage was projected forward and out into the room.

Neil Young's "Harvest" album was next, and again, the S3/5R2's way with vocals took center stage. There was an unforced, organic quality to the sound with these little speakers paired with the Naim Uniti 2 amp -- together they just let the music flow. The 40-plus-year-old recording sounded fresh and new.

The Naim Uniti 2 all-in-one unit, which serves as CD player, music streamer, high-res digital converter and 70-watt-per-channel stereo power amp completed the system. Naim products are also designed and manufactured in the UK.

The Spendor/Naim system is an ideal small-room hi-fi. Don't expect speakers this small to rock your world, but if you listen at more moderate volume levels, and seek a refined, clear sound, the Spendor S3/5R2 and Naim Uniti 2 system deserves an audition.

The Spendor S3/5R2 retails for $1,595 a pair in the US, £950 in the UK and AU$2,199 in Australia. The Naim Uniti 2 retails for $5,595 in the US, and £2,795 in the UK. Of course, substituting less-expensive electronics would help bring the bottom line down, so I'd also recommend using NAD or Rotel components with the Spendor S3/5R2 speakers.