The set up I have used both of these loudspeakers in a variety of spaces and with quite a few different front ends, but for purposes of direct side by side comparing though I used our demo room which is approximately 6 x 6.5 metres and set the speakers beside each other (the 8 and 9 that is) pointing in at the listening position. They were a goodly distance from the side and rear walls. Certainly further than many would perhaps have to choose in a normal domestic environment, but I have also set up both speakers in customers homes at the normal .5 to 1.0 metre distance from the rear wall and quite close to side walls (1 to 2 metres). I have noticed a generally fuller sound in these 'normal' set ups rather than my demo room set-up and have not ever noticed any major trade off in imaging but I suppose in theory at least there probably should be. In the demo room I had the speakers perhaps 2.5m to 3m apart and 3m from my chair/lounge. Unfortunately there is a very long and low cabinet in our demo room to stack amps and CD players etc on and this stops the speakers from being located back against the wall. I personally feel I have heard the nines sound better in a few customers homes than at my place and this is in part the room and of course also the amp and CD/turntable. Some of these folk had serious front ends!
My reason for mentioning all this is to form the first part of the comparison. The nine is generally a fair bit tougher to set up for best performance. The S8e is almost always happy to sound sweet wherever you park them after removal from their cardboard sarcophagus. The nines on the other hand can be a bit distressing at times due to their somewhat ordinary performance until a) They're properly run in, b) They're sited in part of the room that they take a liking to and c) The partnering equipment is as much to their liking as the view from the room position that they seem most comfortable in. Once everything is right they really can sing though, but in a different way to the eights. In a bigger way!
Bigger not just in the general sense of more output at the frequency extremes but a bigger stage and definitely more detail than not just the eights but all Spendor loudspeakers with perhaps the exception of the marvellous SP100. The nine is definitely the big daddy of the range and not unlike most more serious hifi products they need more effort with set-up to get the pay-off that they are capable in theory to deliver.
So on to the listening-
I used the same tracks for comparison as the previous review of S6e versus S8e. I noted that compared with the eights easy to listen to version of 'Adam at the window' by Mary Black that the nines offered more detail and a bigger stage. Perhaps also an urgency to the performance that the S8e doesn't offer. Minor inflections in Ms Black's vocal and little odd sounds (percussion) were far more obvious through the bigger speaker and yet delivered still in a very listenable and non fatiguing fashion. The bottom line is though that the nines did not sound as 'sweet' on this track as the eights, and most other Spendors for that matter. The bass though was distinctly more tuneful and bopped along with more spirit than the eights. The extra bass extension (that the larger speaker in theory offers) was not of any great value on this track but the extra pace and articulation was enjoyable and offered less intrusion into the lower registers of the midband.
I have to tell you that it is very difficult to say one sounded as such 'better' than the other, but they are different.
On the Supertramp classic album 'Crime of the century' the nines could be played a little louder than the eights before any compression or distress could be detected. This was at very loud playback levels. The bass again was more enjoyable but the eight always amazes me with what it can do with only two drive units and a box! Strangely on this recording it was harder to tell apart the two speakers in the mid range. Maybe the male vocal range performance of the 8 and 9 is more similar than the female range? Again stage width was obviously superior on the 9 with instruments appearing at the very edge if not outside of the distance between the speakers. Both are very dynamically capable but the nine just has that extra vigour that can certainly add some extra excitement to big sounding recordings. This recording offered more through the 9's than the 8's and the 9 would be my preference for Supertramp and perhaps many other complex recordings that are meant to sound 'big'. Floyd comes to mind and certainly rock in general from my experience of listening to these two speakers is more impressive and enjoyable through the nines.
Rickie Lee also sounded more convincing through the bigger speaker but maybe lost some 'sweetness' along the way that the 8 offers in spades. I really am torn...
Moving on from music and the direct comparison... One of the reasons this review has taken so long to come out is that I just couldn't (and stall can't) decide which speaker I prefer for 2 channel music.
I have listened and listened and listened and really come back to very much what I have written above everytime. The nine is bigger, more detailed, has better bass and is harder to set-up for a nicely balanced performance. The eight is a typical Spendor loudspeaker with a modern level of sensitivity, dynamics and detail with a bass that is stunningly good considering what it has to work with. It is also gifted with a real balance that makes them very easy to listen to but at the same time very exciting.
I love both of them for music. If I listened mostly to modern dynamic music or big orchestra's I would take the nine, but there might be times when I would wonder how this or that would sound through the eight and perhaps wonder whether I made the right choice. But this is all in 2 channel, when you switch on some extra channels and put on a movie the choice becomes very easy.
The nine is the winner!! If you listen to and watch movies that is. The bass is simply stunning and as long as your amp/receiver has a decent amount of grunt you will never want for a sub. The incredibly well integrated bass that is on offer rather than the remote boomy one note garbage that comes out of most so called 'subs' adds a whole new level of enjoyment to movies. No longer do you have to listen to dialogue through rumbling and groaning. With the nine at the helm you hear deep tight bass only when you are meant too. I can only assume that the linearity of the bass response is so far superior because it avoids the various nasty side effects that the addition of a sub can/does cause in the 40Hz - 80Hz region.
Did I mention the incredible tautness of bass unlike any sub you will hear except of course the truly serious ones that cost maybe $5k+ (and most of those are ordinary). And you will certainly never get your sub system to sound as together as the nines do.
So the nine does have a place and its a very important one. Its the top of the 'S' series and that's an important position in itself. It also offers greater performance in a number of area's for those that listen to music only. The trade off seems to be that the sound loses some of the "Spendor Magic". Not much but a bit and I suppose considering it costs more than the eight you would hope to get more magic not less. The sound on music is maybe closer to an 800 series B&W or a top of line ProAc than an old school Spendor from 20 years ago. Unlike those other brands it costs no where near as much and I think is an easier to listen to option that sounds more like music and less like expensive hifi. Mind you the big ProAcs really are nice! But the $$$$!!! Phew!
If you have an interest in movies though then quite simply the nines are the go. The eights cannot deliver the convincing bass that many movies offer and demand. The nines sail through and also allow you to make savings by you not needing to purchase a subwoofer. The S9es coupled with a C9e and a few SR5's is one hell of an AV system. Very well tonally and timbre matched, they all sing the same tune and the result is movie (and maybe multi channel music) heaven.
I hope these notes give you some insight into the differences between these two excellent speakers. I have many happy customers who have S9e and many happy customers who have S8e. I don't think any of them would trade their speakers in. I don't think you can choose the wrong speaker as you would almost certainly be very chuffed with either as I feel they offer greater music listening pleasure than any other speaker in their price range but the nine has en extra few pounds of performance up its sleeve for bigger music and movies.
Feel free to ring on the toll free 1300 139 552 number or email to chat about which one might suit your needs best.