Electrostatic versus conventional speakers

I have never heard a pair of electrostatic speakers. With that being said, what are the pros and cons of electrostatics versus conventional speakers. I'm not in the market for speakers but am just curious

Are they superior to conventional speakers? If so, in what ways? Are they sensitive to tube versus solid state amps? Do they have issues with reliability? Etc.
I would recommend that you find some audio affectionadio near you and listen to some. Post your zip code, if you are near 93012, you can listen to mine! There is nothing like an out-of-the-box experience.
An audiophile in our area bought a pair of Quad ESL-63's a few years ago from a police auction for $200. It seems the police confiscated them in a drug bust and an officer took them home and hooked them up to his receiver. The resulting horrible sound convinced him that they were broken.
ESL's are pure capacitive loads and require a very stable amplifier circuit. Most, but not all, audiophile amplifiers are designed to accommodate such difficult loads, but better to check with the manufacturer first.
I’ve got a pair of Acoustat Spectra 33 electrostatic speakers. I got them new in 1988 and still use they every now and then. They have a pin point soundstage and are very intimate. The listener’s sweet spot is tight, much smaller the box speakers. They will disappear into this huge wall of sound.

Now here’s why I don’t use them full time. It’s dynamics. The bass is where they leave me wanting more. I’ve tried subwoofers but cone speakers have trouble mating with such a fast speakers. Another down side is power, they like high powered, high current class A amps. If all I listened to was acoustic recordings they may never had been replaced but this old guy likes to rock.

I don’t think they are better than box type designs, they are just different. Mine have never given me any problems and I used them for 11 years.

If you ever get to Las Vegas Nevada look me up.

Hello ,

For a reasonable answer please list your room size, electronics and current speakers.
Many things have changed in audio since 1988--not the least of which is the dynamic potential that one gets from 'todays' electrostatics.
Twenty two years ago--electrostatics were VERY inefficient, lacked bass and offered limited dynamics when compared to traditional speakers.
The latest version of the Sound Labs are considered to be efficient, @ 88/89/90 db efficient. Their bass goes into the 24 hz region, they present a benign load, very stable--and they are reliable. (Check out their unpretentious web site and get some surprising numbers).
The A-1's that I owned for 3 or so years were WONDERFUL--incredibly transparent--lacking in the cabinet colorations, they allow you to become 'lost' in the music in a way that many dynamics do not. Of course, at first, they sound so different, it's a bit disconcerting to some listeners--but after just a few moments, most folks hone in on the uncolored, smoothe, distortion free (almost) sound. VERY realistic, very low coloration, and nowadays great bass and for me, completely acceptable dynamics.
Pink Floyd at 110db, no...but then...


As Lrsky pointed out, there’s been some changes over the last years with flat speakers. No doubt they’ve improved.

From my perspective, they are indeed different. Not better nor worse than any other sort. They seem to have a non directionality about them. Though often IF matched well with amp (s) they image exceptionally well. Better than many box speakers I’ve heard.

They also consume some room geography. They need space to be set up well. Many need substantial power output. Bass is an issue moving from cone types into panels for many.

If you’ve ever heard dipole speakers or IOW omni directional speakers, you have gotten a tip on the sound of electrostats. Very unfatiguing and relaxing sounding transducers whose sound surrounds your ears rather than beats on them.

The only ones I’ve liked were actually hybrids. Powered sub units down below, and panels up top. The Martin Logan Odysseys sounded OK to me… and The top Magnapan sounded ok to me years earlier too. But the sweet spot is tight, the bass won’t ever thunder or impact the way it should, they need space for proper setup.

But they’ll never hurt your ears, image like no body’s business and esthetically will be a real conversation piece…. OOOh… and the bigger … the better in terms of lower end reproduction.
If you ever get to Las Vegas Nevada look me up.

I believe the OP is one of your neighbors.
This Wikipedia article has a pretty good summary of advantages and disadvantages:


Among the many advantages discussed in the article, I would particularly emphasize clean transient response, i.e., the ability to stop moving instantly when the music demands it. The article addresses this with the sentence "Musical transparency can be better than in electrodynamic speakers because the radiating surface has much less mass than most other drivers and is therefore far less capable of storing energy to be released later."

I would add to its list of disadvantages the criticality of choosing the right amplifier. As was mentioned above, an electrostatic is, from the amplifier's perspective, essentially a giant capacitor. Therefore its impedance at high frequencies will dip down to very low values, perhaps 1 ohm or so at 20kHz (and a highly capacitive 1 ohm, not a resistive 1 ohm which would be easier to handle). The amplifier has to be able to drive that comfortably, but at the same time it has to avoid tipping up the frequency response at high frequencies, which would occur if the amplifier's output impedance is substantially less than the speaker's design is predicated on.

In other words, the lower the amplifier's output impedance (which equals damping factor divided into 8 ohms, and which is negligibly small for most solid state amplifiers), the greater the increase in current that will result from the speaker's diminishing impedance at high frequencies. If the output impedance of the amp is not a reasonable match to what the speaker designer intended, excessive brightness in the upper treble can result from that increase in current. In many cases, a tube amp will be the best choice.

-- Al
The reason that I asked this question was that the new Magneplanar 1.7 was getting very good reviews and at $2,000 are affordable.

To answer a couple of questions that were asked. I live in Henderson Nevada. My listening room is 18X16. My amp is a 300 watt Bryston. My current speakers are B&W 804 Nautilus which are about 8 years old.

I appreciate the replys to my question. I'll probably have to listen to some electrostatic speakers the next time I am in the Los Angeles area. To my knolwedge there are no dealers in my area.
The reason that I asked this question was that the new Magneplanar 1.7 was getting very good reviews and at $2,000 are affordable.
Be aware that the Maggie's are not electrostatics. They have a lot of characteristics in common with electrostatics, due basically to the fact that both are planar. However, among many other differences the impedance and amplifier compatibility issues that I mentioned above are very different for Maggies. See the Technology page and the FAQ page at the Magnepan site.

-- Al

The 1,7 will not be a problem to drive with the bryston and is a real bargain at that price. That said a better amp would work and the sound is a lot different from the B&W , much more transparent natural sounding, with a bit less imaging capability.

They will have to sit 4-5 feet( min) into your room, so make sure your room make up, decor and WAF will accommodate this setup.
Are Martin Logan's considered "electro-static" by you? If so, I think Ultimate Electronics and Best Buy's (gack) "Magnolia Home Theater" have those to listen to in Vegas (not sure, call first).

Premiere used to sell Marin Logans until Ultimate started carrying them (looking at your system would lead me to believe you bought it from Premiere).
Weseixas, do they have to be 4-5' from side walls too or just rear walls?
That said a better amp would work and the sound is a lot different from the B&W , much more transparent natural sounding

Yes indeed.
06-28-10: Admranger
Weseixas, do they have to be 4-5' from side walls too or just rear walls?


2ft from sidewalls and typically 4-5 feet min from rear wall.

The rear wall is more critical , so if you do not have the 2 ft from the sidewall a bit closer with some toe-in can work, of course listening distance plays a factor here 2 .

Admranger ,

give both the ML and the Maggies a listen , IMO the Maggies win hands down and is better priced. Setup will be similar with distance from the backwall, etc ....

Proper room treatment will let you have them closer to the rear wall( ie-baffles or heavy drapes).