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Spendor SA200

Active Monitors By Paul White
Published December 1996

A pair of active small studio monitors with the Spendor pedigree have to be worth investigation. Gumshoe Paul White pulls his hat low, dons his mac and checks them out.

The Spendor name may be unfamiliar to some SOS readers, but it has been associated with broadcast monitoring for around a quarter of a century, ever since Spencer and Dorothy Hughes, co‑founders of the company, created the name by amalgamating their own. Before starting Spendor, Spencer Hughes worked in the BBC's research department. The BBC's in‑house monitors at that time had a reputation for accuracy and neutrality, and building upon that expertise, Spendor took quality monitoring into the commercial world. Today, the company's loudspeakers are used in recording and broadcast studios around the world.

Though the Spendor reputation was originally built on monitors optimised for classical music, the company has recently designed a series of speakers to meet the specific needs of monitoring in a contemporary music environment — the SA200 and the SA300. The SA200, reviewed here, is a two‑way active system and competes well on cost with active systems from other reputable manufacturers.

First Of The Small Spendors?

Constructionally, these monitors are fairly conventional, and employ a reflex cabinet design with a rectangular front port. The cabinet is made from MDF with an attractive, dark grey textured finish, and the front panel has a distinctive chamfered profile to help reduce cabinet edge diffraction effects. Inside the cabinet, bitumen panels are used to provide further mechanical damping, and the power amp assembly is mounted at the back of the cabinet, where a large‑area, shallow heatsink is visible. Input connections are via balanced XLRs.

Handling the top‑end frequencies is a 25mm, ferrofluid‑cooled, silk‑dome Vifa D27TG tweeter. Vifa (a Scandinavian company) tweeters are used in several leading hi‑fi and studio monitor designs, and this one sits in a smoothly‑profiled surround, presumably to reduce diffraction effects and to help control the dispersion characteristics. Spendor's own mid/bass driver reproduces the rest of the spectrum. This is a 160mm unit with a filled homopolymer cone, suspended in a compliant rubber surround. Two amplifiers are built into the SA200 cabinet, a 50W unit to drive the tweeter, and a 130W unit to drive the bass and mid range. The crossover frequency is set at 3.5kHz, nicely above the vulnerable speech mid band, and judging by the circuit diagram, the crossover has a fairly steep slope to minimise overlap effects at the crossover point.

Although these are fairly powerful speakers, capable of peaking at 116dB SPL at 1m, they are actually quite light for active monitors, weighing in at just 12kg each. The cabinet measures 380 x 220 x 260 mm, which makes the SA200s comparable in size to other powered monitors like the Genelec 1030As or Event 20/20s (reviewed in SOS June 1994 and July 1996 respectively). A green LED set into the tweeter surround shows when the units are switched on, and a delayed switch‑on/off circuit prevent speaker thumps when powering the system up or down.

User Mods

By providing a generous power supply with a correctly‑ported box, Spendor have managed to get an impressive low‑frequency performance out of these speakers, but in acknowledgement of the different room types in which the speakers may be used, each cabinet has a set of screwdriver‑accessible controls on the rear panel to allow the response to be modified. A gain preset is provided to allow the monitors to be matched to the output levels of different mixers. In addition, to prevent the speakers from being overworked by frequencies lower than they were designed to handle, there's a subsonic filter, which can be switched to operate at 50, 70 or 90Hz. The default setting is 50Hz for normal applications.

Two further controls relate to high‑ and low‑frequency tilt. LF Tilt is a shelving control operating from 500Hz down, and can provide up to 3dB of cut or boost in 1dB steps. If a speaker is mounted close to a wall, its bass end will be enhanced, so a little bass cut may help to restore accuracy. On the other hand, if the room tends to absorb bass, then a gentle bass rise can be introduced to compensate. A similar Tilt control modifies the high‑frequency end of the spectrum, operating above 4kHz. The Tilt controls shouldn't be expected to compensate for really badly behaved rooms, but should rather be seen as tools for fine‑tuning performance in an already reasonable room. If in doubt, the Tilt controls should be left in their flat position, but it's nice to have the option for adjustment if it proves necessary.

No matter how loud a sound studio monitors are capable of making, there's always an engineer who wants to make them louder still, and this often results in a distorted sound, a fried driver, or both. Spendor are obviously familiar with this tendency, because they've put in a protection circuit, which monitors the levels to the SA200's bass and treble drivers, and operates a muting circuit whenever the drivers are in danger of damage. Under normal circumstances, the protection doesn't operate, not even at punishingly high SPLs.


After hooking up the input XLRs to my mixer, I dug out my usual collection of test CDs and got down to some serious listening. The results were both surprising and impressive — not only did the SA200s sound inherently 'right', they also exhibited more bass extension than I'd imagined they would from the spec. What's more, the bass extension was deep and smooth, not just peaked up to make kick drums sound impressive — bass synth pads and pedal notes came over full and even‑sounding, with no 'rogue' notes or odd dead spots.

Well‑designed active speakers invariably sound tighter and better controlled than their passive equivalents, and the SA200s operate seemingly effortlessly, revealing depth, detail and transient articulation. The sound doesn't become ragged until you push the levels up to the point where your ears start to retreat into your skull and the speaker cones beat against their end‑stops! Another feature of active speakers is that the stereo imaging is often more precise than you'd expect from equivalent passive models, but the SA200s exceeded all expectations here, by producing some of the clearest imaging I've heard to date. Playing back excerpts from Roger Waters' Amused to Death album quite clearly revealed the QSound tricks employed to push the sound effects outside the speakers, and the illusion was so convincing that I found myself looking up to confirm that the speakers really weren't that far apart. What's more, the listening 'sweet spot' is quite wide.


It would seem that Spendor's reputation is well deserved; they've managed to build a very revealing pair of monitors that really let you hear what a recording sounds like without trying to flatter the result. The overall sound is clear, well balanced and detailed, and there's no tendency to harshness or splashiness, which makes listening on the SA200s far less fatiguing than it is with many studio monitors. While the bass extension isn't as great as you'd expect from full‑range, full‑size studio monitors, it is certainly up to the job of nearfield monitoring in large studios, as well as full‑range monitoring in smaller studios, where the control room may not have the benefit of thorough acoustic treatment. What's more, the SA200's stereo imaging is as good as I've heard: there's plenty of level, and there are no significant vices to report. A really nice monitor — and good‑looking too.


  • Even, accurate sound with good bass extension.
  • Excellent stereo imaging.
  • Plenty of level.
  • Controls to optimise the response in different rooms.


  • Though good value, these monitors will still, sadly, be beyond the financial means of many private studio owners.


The SA200 is a good value, high performance monitor for discerning mixing, editing and post‑pro applications.