Let me start with saying it would be helpful to read my last Beatnik Column, Beatnik’s Pet Peeve #3 Modern Bass. Now, on to the introduction.
After living with the Quads from the time I was 18 until I was in my late 20s(some of that time with stacked Quads) my expectations of what an audio system should do grew up around the sound of the Quads. It was Ken Askew, my college friend from Baylor University, who introduce me to Quad ESL 42 years ago. So, when I was over at his house not long ago to hear his system he asked if I would like to borrow his Wayne Picquet-rebuilt Quad ESL while he was remodeling his house. Of course, I jumped on the opportunity.
Ken seems to be very generous with his Quads. Back in 1997/98 he loaned a pair of brand new German built Quad ESL to Art Dudley to review in Listener, before he even got the speakers himself. Even though in the pictures these German built Quads look a lot like the pair I have, they are not. The fit and finish of the German built Quad ESL was much better than early Quad ESL. Ken says the fit and finish of the Picquit Quad ESL is even better. They sure look better than any Quad ESLs I have ever seen. More importantly, Ken says they sound much better than German built Quad ESL.
Knowing I was going to have the Quads in my house soon, I begin trying to figure out what amp I wanted to use with them. Years ago in my 20s, when I owned the Quad 57 my two favorite amps to use with them were the Bedini 25/25 and even better, the original 25-watt Electrocompaniet. Both of these were Class A transistor amps. I was not able to find anyone who had either of these two to spare, so I begin to look for a current production amp that was a low-wattage Class A amp. There were less choices available than I had expected, but the just-released Pass Labs XA30.8 looked perfect on paper. When you combined this with the fact that one of the constants at audio shows is how good rooms with Pass Labs amps sound, it was an easy decision. I requested an XA30.8 for review and the people at Pass Labs were nice enough to send me one.
I had not had a pair of original Quad ESL in any of my listening rooms in around 30 years. So, the big question was would they sound as good as I remembered or had they become better and better in my mind over the years? By the way the reason I got rid of my stacked Quads was that I had to move into a smaller house and went down the mini-monitor road for a good many years. Anyway, back to the question, would they sound anything like I remembered? The answer is yes, but with fascinating differences I had not remembered.
In my review of the Line Magnetic Audio LM 755i Field Coil Speakers I said, “If there are any speakers that the LM Audio 755i remind me of, it would be the Quad 57s and the original LS3/5A British monitors.” Well, I’m happy to know that my auditory memory is better than I thought. For after hearing the Quads, I agree with this statement even more now. Not that they sound alike, but they have a very similar tonal balance and both have an incredible natural way with the human voice. The wonderful thing is that the original Quad ESL as rebuilt by Picquet have this wonderful tonal balance without a box. So, you don’t get the cabinet resonance of the Line Magnetic LM 755i and the Quad plays deeper with much better bass.
If you’re not familiar with the original Quad ESL, the patents were issued in 1954 and the first pair was sold in 1957. This is why they are sometimes called Quad 54 or 57, but that was never their name or model number. The ESL was the world´s first full-range electrostatic loudspeaker. In the 25 years of its production, 60,000 Quads were sold. The design was radical, incorporating panels sandwiching an ultra-thin sheet of PET film. They are 31 inches tall, 35.5 inches wide and10.5 inches wide at the bottom where the transformer and power supply are located. The electrostatic panels themselves are slightly curved, covered with metal mesh on each side and about 1.5 inches deep. The metal covers most often or black or bronze colored, but I have seen a rare pair of white and silver.
My memories about the Quad included both positives and negatives. So, let me talk about a few of them. I should mention a couple of things before I start. First, neither of the two pairs I owned were brand new and one pair had the tweeter panels replaced. I think it’s safe to say that very few Quad owners have heard a pair that fully met specs. I also think if I had heard this pair of Quads years ago I would have thought that they were much better than any speaker I had heard. Which means I wasted a lot of time and money over the years when I should have just kept one pair of Quad and sold the other instead of just saying they were too big. Over the last 10 years though, I have had the chance to experience Audio Note E, Teresonic Ingenium XR and the DeVore Orangutan. All of these bring things to the listening experience that the Quads do not, but none of them do other things as well as the Quads. So, let’s get on talking about those positive and negative memories.
Starting with the positives, my overwhelming memory was how well they reproduce the human voice. I can say even now, I still have not heard another speaker that reproduces the human voice in such a natural and realistic way as the Quad does. This especially is obvious when listening to several people singing at once, a choral group, an ensemble or even backup singers. The Teresonic and the DeVore Orangutan both reproduce the voice ever so slightly more transparent and the voices sound a little more energetic; but neither play voices as naturally and realistic as the Quad. I really like the Teresonic and the DeVore, and as I listen longer I’ll try to come to grip with which I prefer. I can say this: I find the Quad more consistently listenable over more genres and with less perfect LPs.
The second positive memory would be the way they let the music just flow naturally into the room. You shouldn’t expect a planar to perform like a dynamic speaker in the way they launch the music into the room. You’re not going to experience music with them in the same way you would with a dynamic speaker that has a powerful magnet that can really pump sound out into the room. For example, the bass of the Klipsch corner horns, the Altec A7, the Burwell & Sons Homage speakers, the Linn Audio Loudspeakers Athenaeum, and the Quad ESL all have about the same bass range. They all move a lot of air because of the large area of the bass drivers or in the case of the Quad, the bass panels. The dynamic speakers produce this bass like a piston that pumps the music out into the room. The Quad ESLs have a very palpable bass that comes out in a wave that is launched both behind and in front of the speakers. None of these speakers go quite as low as the Teresonic Ingeniums or nearly as low as the Audio Note E, or the DeVore Orangutan, but all of them including the Quad ESL lets your body physically feel the bass more than the Teresonic or the Audio Note. The sound of the Quad ESL comes so naturally into the room that you never feel it is forced. That is how I remembered it and the current pair does this even better than I remembered.
I also remember the Quad ESL having the clearest window on a performance of any speaker I had heard. This would certainly have still been true for me as little as 8 years ago, but both the Teresonic Ingenium XR and the DeVore Orangutan are ever so slightly more transparent, more immediate and more alive sounding. The Teresonics are significantly faster sounding. Part of the reason for this is that all three speakers offer a different prospective. The Teresonics are much more like sitting in the very front, the Orangutans more like a few rows behind the prospective of the Teresonics, and the Quads are more like midway back, but not too distant.
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