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Speakers

A terrific speaker from the UK and a slender German amplifier make beautiful music together

The Audiophiliac auditions the Spendor SP2/3R2 speakers, mated with a Stein Music Stateline Amp 2, and discovers an awesome combination.

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Spendor SP2/3R2 speakers (left), Stein Music Stateline Amp2 (right) Steve Guttenberg/CNET

You don't see a lot of big bookshelf speakers anymore, and that's a shame. Granted, they're nowhere as fashionable as skinny towers or pint-size mini-speakers, but big speakers deliver a scale and power that more stylish contenders fail to muster. That's what crossed my mind as I checked out the Spendor SP2/3R2 bookshelf speakers (21.4 x 10.8 x 12.8 inches, 545 x 275 x 325 mm), and the speakers caught my ear within seconds of hearing it at Sound by Singer in New York City. There's an engaging quality to the SP2/3R2's sound, precisely because it supplies a rare gravitas to the music, whatever the genre. Vocals sound more human, more full-bodied than they do on most speakers.

The Spendor engineering team focuses on the job at hand, making the best sound possible, within the price range of the model. That's an increasingly rare perspective, most speaker manufacturers go the other way and lavish resources on making speakers that seduce the eye first, sound quality is a secondary concern. I find the SP2/3R2 rather handsome, but it looks like a 1970s design. The fit and finish of the real wood cabinet is miles ahead of vintage speakers, and it definitely sounds better than speakers did 30 or 40 years ago.

Following the British tradition, the SP2/3R2 is a two-way design, with a large front baffle, an 8-inch polymer woofer with a die-cast magnesium alloy frame made in Spendor's factory, and a 0.75-inch fabric dome tweeter. The cabinet may look like a rather conventional, massive medium-density fiberboard box, but the real cherrywood cabinet features unusually thin walls with rubberized damping panels. The speakers have acoustically engineered grilles that reduce acoustic interaction and free-flowing bass ports for improved low-end response. The SP2/3R2 has an easy-to-drive 8 ohm load so it's compatible with all solid-state and tube amplifiers.

The Stein Music Stateline Amp 2 stereo integrated amplifier is an understated, low profile design. The Stateline Amp 2 is made in Germany. It's rated at 20 watts per channel, has five pairs of RCA analog inputs, and a built-in digital converter with RCA and USB inputs. The Stateline Amp 2 accepts sample rates up to 96-kHz. I was a little concerned about the 20-watt power rating, but the SP2/3R2s' dynamics and loudness capabilities weren't shortchanged. The Stateline Amp 2 and the SP2/3R2 were a magical combination.

The Spendor SP2/3R2 speakers retail for $4,295/£2,495 per pair, and the Stein Music Stateline Amp 2 goes for $3,000 in the US, and €1,998 in Europe.