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REVIEW: Spatial Audio M3 Sapphire Speakers

Posted on September 8, 2020 at 20:09:17

Posts: 665
Location: Virginia
Joined: May 5, 2008
Model: M3 Sapphire
Category: Speakers
Suggested Retail Price: $4,950
Description: Full Range Open Baffle Design
Manufacturer URL: Spatial Audio

Review by Dr.Phil on September 08, 2020 at 20:09:18
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for the M3 Sapphire

Open Box speaker design. One design I've not tried though one of my 1st speakers the DQ10 were open baffle except for the woofer which was a sealed boxed. I am not one to change gear as some do, I usually keep what I find I enjoy and tweak the system as I see fit to. For the past 8 years, my speaker of choice has been Quad ESL 63's rebuild to as new along with an upgraded power supply. Worked done by Kent at Electrostatic solutions. These Quads had all that the golden ERA of Quad had and then some, better dynamics, more extended top, and bottom. Imaging was scary good where 3-4 voices stood in completely there own space in the sound stage. I Still love them and what they do no speaker can do and current designs with hyped up highs need not apply. In fact, I heard two major brands at 20K that could not touch the Quads.

I wanted a change while keeping the Quads for an awhile longer perhaps or for good or I might sell them if I could find a speaker that I could live with. After doing some research I can across Spatial Audio, and I used YouTube to watch interviews with Clayton who is the designer and seemed like a straight shooter. He can across very knowledgeable on open baffle design speakers and their benefits over boxed dynamic speakers. I gave him a call and sure enough, he gave me straight answers to my questions and even the tough one on what will I give up from what I enjoy about the Quad ESL 63's. His answer was some of the coherency, and transparency that all Quads have to do to their inherent design. But I would find much more dynamics, better extension both top and bottom, and a speaker still with very fast transit speed along with more realistic imaging height wise and while still sounding unboxy and open like the Quads.

Well I took the leap in faith and purchased a set I found from a reviewer who had high praise for them and who lived in my state, Spatial was running 6-8 weeks backlog due to sales. So with one-day delivery vs. 6-8 weeks and $1,000 savings made it the way to go. He told me most of the long burn-in was done when he arrived. He stayed to help me set them up as a starting point then left. We set them up 3' from the front wall where I left them for 2 days. During that time I just let them run and took note of what I was missing, and it was bass and low-end dynamics. It was there but not present as the mids and highs.

So I finally read the owner's manual! Really, Duh.

One suggestion made was 36" out front from wall to start, which I did. It then stated wait 48 hours and either pull them further out 6" from the front wall or back 6", whichever one gives you the most mid-bass and bass is the distance to keep. Meaning you were in a bass canceling zone, (nordal area in the room). The louder dynamic bass area is a better location.

Well in my room and I believe due to not having the wall behind me where I sit, loft with the family room behind me and below on the main level, going back 6" to 30" from the back wall made a huge difference, now they had bass, full rich and deep, I also tried 33" also and that was very good also with better depth to the image away from the speaker. Going to do the final measurements of toe-in. My room of course as bass traps and other diffusion panels.

I decided to stay with 33" front the front wall today.

The speakers disappear, imaging is not bloated like planar speakers or lacking height like my Quads (on some records they image way above the speaker top). Bass is dynamic, impressive buy unlike box speakers clean with no bloat or room incurred bumps in smooth bass transition. The bass is different in that it is not pushed at you or ahead of the mid's and highs, they work together evenly which if you only had boxed speakers that would take some adjustment, but with owning Quads not much so. But I will have to adjust to such extension in the upper frequency where the Quads never reproduced.

Quads due to being limited at extension gives you the most important reproduction of music, the areas that our ears love, and you don't miss the rest, bass in my room with my rebuilt Quads was around 35Hz and even some bass at 33Hz at normal listening levels, with a good mid-bass that added body to vocals and was addicting. so what the Quads do right no speakers can do, they are seamless, natural and due to the roll-off at the top, what you hear and what you focus on is really where music lives, and you don't miss the very top end that is a bit rolled off, but what they give you is so very real-sounding.

The SA M3's sound more open and pure, deep vocals have weight but are more open, highs are fast, yet not in your face, mid-bass is not bloated so the mids stay open and uncolored, while the deep bass remains firm and clean like an open baffle speaker should if done correctly and that is the key if done right using the right woofers designed for open box applications. In the past woofers used were for sealed or vented speakers and they did not work well, thus the loss of bass due to cancelation from the back wave canceling the front wave.

Like the Quad a speaker and unlike 99% of speakers sold, the open baffle is off the tried and true path also. So they will sound different to some extent, but they sound good on all music, details are excellent, and it is coherent and balanced. They are not a dark and full sounding speaker, which I do gravitate towards but I enjoy my music being soulful and fun to listen to. That I am enjoying the Spatial M3 shows an old audiophile can learn a new trick and throws the old bias out the window that open baffle cannot reproduce bass. Not true with this design. Will the bass as upfront and always present as a sealed box no, but when the recording has the bass it is there in spades. Stand up bass is the best I've ever heard.

I don't always like to spike speakers, it all depends and there is no set rule you have to, though people automatically do because they think they have to. Yes, they can tighten the bottom end up, but they also can shift the presence areas from the top down, and take the soul out of the music, and leave nothing but a clean sound that as nothing to do with how real music sounds, my Quads with spikes sound aggressive, bright and the highs stick out like a sore thumb, took me 30 seconds and they off, and the round pucks used for the feet and balance returned. I've tried the SA M3's both ways and I am most likely keeping the front spikes off. They are solid with the back spike left on and very stable.

I must note the design quality, this is a well designed and beautifully constructed speaker. WBT speaker connectors, real wood front panel, weighs about 65 lbs, so easy to move and setup. and they look good in the room, my wife saw them and said wow they look nice to fit into the room. My speakers are walnut.

With Quads, my McIntosh power amp showed 40 watts being used at times if not more on some dynamics, with the M3's 4-10 watts. This speaker would be great with a 70-watt tube amp, even a rebuilt Will Vincent Dynaco stereo 70. I think with tubes you have true magic and these speakers are shown with tube gear a lot. With my solid-state gear, they sound musical fast and open but not analytical at all. I've played several types of music from the '30s, '40s, '50s, Jazz, Blues, Swings, Vocals, and Audiophile favorites, like For Duke, Jazz at the Pawnshop, SACD, and Redbook CDs, the feeling you get listening to them is what on the recording which is what a speaker should be.

I will say this where they beat my Quads is upper-mids and up, on the 1930's recordings, you can hear the noise from the vinyl they had to use as clear as day, like your playing a record, with the Quads you hear it at such a low level. Things like shakers, snare drums, kick drums came to life with the M3's, with the Quads all there but very laid back but nice to listen to, the Quads do not offend, that is the beauty of them. I played some Big-band music to see what the M3's could do, and my wife said it best "that sounds like a Big Band playing" Horns and the speed and bite of live instruments and the dynamics and ebb and flow of the music was superb.

A Spatial open baffle speaker is a game-changer for this type of design. The "past" limitation is gone, for the most part, they also make models higher up the product line with powered woofers with DSP, AMT drivers for the highs.

You can purchase directly currently $4,999 plus shipping with a 30 day trial period. With so few Audio stores remaining this is not an issue for many because its very heard to hear a speaker you like locally anymore, some areas no high-end audio stores so this is the future plus you save the extra cost of the dealer marking up the selling price so to make a profit to stay in business. So look at it as buying at dealer cost.

Product Weakness: Lack of one note booming bass.
Product Strengths: Transparent, dynamic, open, clean bass

Associated Equipment for this Review:

Amplifier: McIntosh MC 402
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Luxman C-800F
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Marantz SA-10
Speakers: Quad ESL 63
Cables/Interconnects: LessLoss
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Various
Room Size (LxWxH): 15 x 11 x 8
Room Comments/Treatments: Bass Traps, Diffusers
Time Period/Length of Audition: one week
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): PS Audio P-12
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner
Your System (if other than home audition): N/A



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RE: REVIEW: Spatial Audio M3 Sapphire Speakers, posted on September 12, 2020 at 07:06:02

Posts: 665
Location: Virginia
Joined: May 5, 2008
After 6 days of playing them they have changed night and day, the woofers have opened up and become much more dynamic, deep and the midrange has gained body and the highs extended and airy. I will comment on this in a few weeks. How much change? I pulled the subs out of the system. Anyone who buys these needs to allow time for those woofers to open up, if not you will want to give up, don't they only need time in use. These are not thin or bright sounding, they are dynamic sounding, depending on your past speakers that can take some adjustment. Mid-bass has improved as the woofers loosened up. Much more output now from the lower mid-range down, but the clarity of the midrange and highs remain. I am sure these will continue to improve over the next month, so I will update this post then. So far these speakers is living up to the high expectations set by owners and reviewers, and Clayton himself. He has built a classic at a great price.



RE: REVIEW: Spatial Audio M3 Sapphire Speakers, posted on September 15, 2020 at 12:11:02

Posts: 665
Location: Virginia
Joined: May 5, 2008
Today I finally found the best spot for the M3 in my room, after moving them in and out, closer and then further from my seat, and then after these breaking in, I wound up about where I had my Quads, and this spot when I first received them was the spot I felt the bass/Mid-Bass was lacking. Well no more. I played a big symphony Dvorak Symphony No. 7. This was one of the recordings I played on day one, so I felt this be a good one to see how far these speakers had come. Well, night and day might be a touch rich, but dam close. The weight was there now, the Tympani drum was there and the more realistic that I've ever heard it, the low rosin tone of the cellos was nicely rendered in fact the whole section was there now in full. The midrange was still very open, and alive, so the improvement in the mid-bass down did not color the midrange on up. This recording sounded like a Merurcy Living Presence should, Next, I played the same movement but now from the Cleveland Orch, under George Zell, they had their own sound, and being from Cleveland I have heard the Cleveland Orch, and this recording came across as the orch. sounds, rich full and 100% Cleveland Orch, the recording is typical for Columbia back then, a touch hot in the strings, but the M3's still gave you an enjoyable listening, even with the slight touch of the strings being hot on this recording, not the speakers.

The big thing about these speakers and well any speaker is finding the right spot to make them work in your room. I had them more spread out and toed in so the hit me between my neck and shoulder. I then toed them in another 1/4" and the sound stage lock-in, but I was still feeling something was not as focused and as could be, so I walked behind my chair, about 18" and listened and sure enough, the whole presentation was lock-in and sounded like you were listening to a full-sized orch as one would live. This told me I had to pull the speakers close to getting this same imaging and sound, so 3" in for each speaker, checked toes-in and played the recordings again and bam nailed it, Speed, Dynamics, Bottom End, all there.

2nd thing I've learned depending on your seating and distance, you have to try both sizes of spikes, in my room the smaller set makes the tweeter hit me to direct and throws off the balance so more upper midrange and highs, take the spikes off and just use the cone fit that you interest the spike into brings a big improvement in presence, and dynamics, I could live with that, but I added the taller spikes and kept a lot of what I liked with no spikes, but gained in detail in the bottom end. So for now the tall spikes are my choice.

I've read where some say the vocals sound hollow, well it's not the speaker it is your setup, your tilt is off on the speaker from where you are sitting, so if you're using the short spikes, then try the taller ones, also toe-in you must play with it, so in other words, its takes no time and effort to get them right and NO different than any other good speaker.

Everything Clayton says about his speakers is a fact, we cannot hear them at a dealer so it is good to know what he says is not just a sale pitch but honest information. On top of that he willing to talk with you, and in fact called me to see how the speakers were coming along and answer some questions that I had but had no info to understand some of my concerns about toe-in and how it affects this speaker, etc. He answered every question and give me all the time I needed. The main thing he said and something he hears a lot is where the bottom end, and in almost every case they call him back in a month and said "I am glad I allowed the time to let the woofers break-in. Well, I can a test to that, add me to the list. Buy these expect a break-in period that just the nature of the beast. These speakers also do not break up as the dynamics increase, sometimes, I have to turn the volume down because they can soar as the music demands it, getting used to this dynamic range takes some getting used to. Finally, my wife says "they really sound good" that means a lot because she is not an Audiophile, she just enjoys the music, but today she said from downstairs the Cleveland Orch sounds terrific it sounds like they are in Severance Hall. (This is where they perform). Great acoustics.

A friend of mine purchased Shanahan speakers and they told him about a year, in fact, warned him, the speaker has 17 drivers, I spoke with him about mine, and he said Clayton is most likely right, his took almost a year to come into there own. So he told me also to hang in. Also, corner bass traps are a must, they are misunderstood by the general public, they don't kill bass they improve bass, Clayton suggests for me to by a 2nd pair and use them from floor to ceiling in the 2 corners behind the speaker, I may try that down the road, the pair I have now are doing just fine to my ear if it keeps getting better wow!

Well to end this, I will say those who own these know how good they are, for the money a value off the charts. I am sure over the next 2-3 weeks this will continue to improve. They love my McIntosh 400 watt, the ease and dynamics are unmatched in any speaker I've owned, perhaps my Dynaudio Confidence 5's were good in that area, but not close to the M3's. I also must note due to the size and weight these are easy to move and position by oneself in fact easy even when the spikes are on, you can toe them in and out with ease. Even moving them side to side is doable.

So if you have interest in open baffle speakers, then give Clayton a call, he will help you pick the right speaker for your room, for mine, it was the M3"s not the X-series. and he was correct. Call me one happy customer, and glad I took a chance on these speakers, hang in with them learn them, set them upright, and then sit back and enjoy for many, many years to come. The only change I may make is to add a tube preamp, just to see what tubes might add. Speakers, I think I am finished for a long time. I have 2 world-class sounding speakers now the Quads ESL 63's and the M3's. Not sure I'll keep 2 sets so I might sell the Quads and just enjoy the M3's, and let someone else enjoy my Quads who may have never heard them in their life.

Hope my feedback is helpful to folks with an interest in OB speakers. :D



RE: REVIEW: Spatial Audio M3 Sapphire Speakers, posted on September 17, 2020 at 18:05:17

Posts: 760
Joined: July 6, 2001
Nice review! Always have liked OB speakers. Would love to hear a set of Spatials some day...


Happy Listening!


RE: REVIEW: Spatial Audio M3 Sapphire Speakers, posted on December 22, 2020 at 14:21:17

Posts: 151
Location: Auckland
Joined: March 6, 2002

This is a fantastic review - and exactly what I was looking for. Thank you so much.

These SPATIAL AUDIO M3 SAPPHIRE speakers appear to offer a lot for the money - not cheap, but competitive [I believe] - but there are precious few reviews available. On that basis, I am very surprised that there has not been more feedback and chatter around your excellent review here.

The M3's virtues are very well explored by you in your review - particularly in comparison to your beloved [legendary] QUAD ESLs.

Obviously, the M3s sound is different to the QUADS, so I wanted to ask you the following question:

Do you think a SPATIAL AUDIO M3 SAPPHIRE owner - hearing the QUAD ESL for the very first time - could be persuaded to "upgrade" to the QUADS?

Or are the M3s simply a better all-round proposition?


RE: REVIEW: Spatial Audio M3 Sapphire Speakers, posted on February 9, 2021 at 20:40:44

Posts: 11
Location: W Los Angeles, CA
Joined: July 21, 2008
I am a long-time Quad owner. The only other line of speakers that have made me stop & take notice were Spatials. Having heard them several times at various audio shows, I was very favorably impressed & plan to buy a pair at some point. I won't get rid of my Quads, though.


RE: REVIEW: Spatial Audio M3 Sapphire Speakers, posted on June 19, 2021 at 08:58:21

Posts: 665
Location: Virginia
Joined: May 5, 2008
Update. I have been living with the M3's for several months and they have fully broken in, the bass is impactful, clean with authority when on the recording. After they had settled in I wanted to try the 4-ohm output from my McIntosh amp, I read online where that was suggested and I had not tried it due to wanting them to burn in 1st. What was so enjoyable on the 8-ohm tap, turned into another speaker using the 4-ohm output taps. Highs, midrange, bass, imaging, depth of field, soundstage, and details became more natural with more dynamics. The improvement was not shocking because I heard this once before using the Dynaudio Confidence 5's when the 4-ohm outputs were used but that was years ago and I had forgotten about that speaker. So if you have an amp that allows you to try different outputs, as all-tube amps do, and McIntosh better solid-state amps do by all means give them a try, and if you open baffle Spatial Audio speakers it is a must. Just a superb speaker.


RE: REVIEW: Spatial Audio M3 Sapphire Speakers, posted on June 19, 2021 at 09:13:10

Posts: 665
Location: Virginia
Joined: May 5, 2008
You are talking two different speakers, I can tell you a few Quad owners I know have the Spatial's and said it is the only speaker they could live with after Quads. One sold theirs as I did. The Quads center there sound wonderful, they are enjoyable to listen to, but you don't have the top and bottom of the extensions and of course, room depended on the dynamic range but having said that what they do right is dam good and better than many 20K speakers I heard while I owned them. The one strong point of the Quad is that wide launch of the music wave, from across the whole panel, so in that sense, things sound larger, not higher but more of everything in the room. I did an update on my review and tried the 4-ohm taps on my amp, and wow what an improvement, now I have what the Quads did right, but now with the added top and bottom, better imaging, and some of that larger size that makes instruments sound real, plus you don't have to worry about arcing the speakers if you drive them louder as you did with the Quads and mine were even better in that department after Electrostatic Solution did a full rebuild from the panels to the power supply and they could play loud enough for me, but a good kick drum coming in might cause the speakers to arc, with the M3's not worried what so ever, and for the 1st time I can feel the bass pressure hitting me if in the recording. Quads were great, would buy them again in a heartbeat, but I no longer miss them, the M3's do all the Quads can in many areas but now with no concerns of dynamic range peaks. I told my wife I now have peace of mind. M3's are superb.


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