Have You Ever Owned QUADS?



I’m curious how many members here have owned any model of Quad Electrostatic speakers at any point.

I ask because I’d just been watching the video of John Atkinson’s presentation about his life in music and audio, and of course at one point early on he’d owned the original Quad ESL 57s.

When I got back into high end audio in the mid 90’s, back then it was still something of a badge of honour, or an audiophile rite, to have owned Quads at some point. The cliche was that you either still owned them, or you loved them, but became too cognisent of their deficiencies, and moved on....though always at the price of trying to get what the Quads did...but more....an elusive journey. The Quads always "haunt" you in the background.

Here’s my old Quads story:

I’d grown up listening to my Dad’s Kef 105.2 speakers and Carver Holographic amps, so I was well versed in high end sound, great imaging etc.

But like many it was my encounter with a Pal’s set of Quad ESL speakers - the 63s paired with a Dynaco ST-70 tube amp - that re-opened my mind to the possibilities in high end audio. That completely clear window, transparency, detail, lack of any box artifacts!

So inevitably my first "real" high end set up started with the ESL-63s (with a Conrad Johnson MV55 tube amp). Eventually I paired them with the Gradient di-pole subwoofers specially built for the ESL 63s, which were about as seamless a subwoofer/panel match as I’ve ever heard. I’ll never forget the huge wall of transparent sound that system produced.

But they were in a fairly small living room and the back monoliths, especially sitting on the Gradient subs, looked like huge room dividers. So aesthetics was one reason to start looking at other speakers.

Another was that, I’d sometimes bring up my old pair of little Thiel 02 speakers and set them up, and when I did I found I was getting something that I was missing from the Quads that I really liked. One was a more open, warm tone. For all their transparency, the Quads actually sounded just tad toward the "dark, rich" side, and a tiny bit in the charcoalish tone for instruments and voices. The box speakers (and some others I’d listened to) seemed to have a bit more "rightness" in the upper frequencies and "woody, organic" tone.

The other thing was that that really separated the box speaker from the Quads was the sheer palability and aliveness of the sound coming from the box speaker. The Quads presented amazing apparitions of vocalists and instruments, but they tended to sound as if in another room from me, not really moving the air so much, like viewing through a glass window. Whereas instruments like trumpets, bongos, drums, strummed guitar just rippled the air of the room coming from the little Thiels. I felt more connected and moved by what was going on through the Thiels.

So I ended up looking for a dynamic speaker replacement. I ended up replacing my Quad/Gradients with Von Schweikert VR-4 Gen 2 speakers, which were full range, and sounded big and rich in the midrange like the quads, and projected as huge and boxless a soundstage as I’d ever heard. They were as close to the "Quads in a box speaker, but doing all the things I want dynamically" as I found at the time.

Naturally, being an audiophile I moved on from the VR speakers as well.

But I have to say, even though I’ve had many great speakers pass through my home, I’m not sure I’ve ever truly surpassed or equaled the sound of the ESL-63s/Gradient combo. Maybe it’s a bit of memory distortion as well over time, but it was such a BIG wall of sound, and so hugely midrange oriented.

I’d never go back to ESLs as I know they don’t in the end satisfy me.

Still, the Quads still haunt me - but more the ESL 57s. I actually prefer the tone of the 57s to the 63s, finding them a bit more warm, golden toned and a bit more dense sounding. If I could fit the 57s anywhere in my home I’d have them as a second system.

How ’bout you folks?

Time has moved on, so I doubt the Quads still feature as much as a right of passage for audiophiles. But I’m curious about their status at this point in the journey of people on this forum.
prof
Ha....
great post
i also moved from a set of KEF ( 104 ab ) to 57’s
i worked at a Quad/KEF/Vandersteen/Apogee/Acoustat/Soundlab/Beveridge.... etc dealer, so I know the 105.2 very, very well
Premier 3 and MV-45a
very nice but as you say... missing something 
BTW Brother has a pair of Theil 02 to this day, a magical 2 way :-)
stacked the 57, moving in direction of Levinson HQD
sold it all to go back to University......
now a happy long time Vandersteen owner....
I’ve been into audio for just over 50 years.  Music and reproduction of accurate sound is one of my life passions.  I have had numerous systems over the years, and have settled for some time on my beloved refurbished Quad ESL57’s.  They are absolutely wonderful.

I alternate between these and my Harbeth Super SLH5 plus.  I tend to use the Harbeth’s when I want a little more from Fusion, Rock, etc.......But the Quads are in about 80% of the time.

They are run by a Jeff Roland Concentra 2 integrated.  I stream Tidal, but mostly still spin cd’s through an ARC cd9.

My system is complete based around the Quads, and I could not be more satisfied.  Every vocalist is performing just for me right in my room!
Bought my first pair in 1973 and had them restored last year after they were sitting for years in crates. In the meantime, I had used a pair of Crosby-modded '63s, from roughly 1990 to 2005 or so. 
My old 57s with a fresh restoration sound fabulous-- matched with a pair of old Quad II amps that were sympathetically restored and re-glassed with GEC KT 66s.
Yep, they definitely have limitations. But, what's there is glorious. 
Over the years I had used subs, ribbon tweets, etc. Now, no ancillary speakers. Small-ish room (a front parlor in an old Victorian Queen Anne house). They aren't my main system, so when I play them, I'm doing it purely for the enjoyment of those speakers. There is something uncanny about the midrange which, to my knowledge, has never been duplicated. (A reason why I prefer the 57 to the later Quad models, which are better all around speakers in terms of usability, bandwidth, dispersion, etc, but don't have the magic of the 57). 
My main speaker progression since 2000:

ESL-63 - loved them, my first big boy speakers. If I knew what I know now, I would have kept them and saved tons of money chasing its sound. Alas, I traded them in for a new pair of ESL-988's.

Apogee Stage - Had these at the same time as the ESL-63s. An almost perfect speaker for me (went down to 25hz and could play fairly loud), except it had a small sweet spot that required staying seated. Much better lower bass than the 63's.

ESL-988 - frustrating, as the protection circuit kicked in when the volume reached peaks of 82db. Traded them in to the same dealer for another pair. Same thing, the protection circuit would turn off the speakers right when the music was getting good. I sold them and got a pair of Merlins.

Merlin VSM-MXe - The designer modeled the sound of the VSM's after the 63s. That appealed to me. Not quite as full bodied and tonally saturated as the Quads, but they disappeared better in my smallish room, with improved imaging and soundstaging. Held onto these for 8 years.

ESL-57 - beautiful midrange tone and transparency, especially with my OTL amp. Picked these up locally for a good price and alternated them with the Merlins. A panel went bad and I chose to sell the speakers and move on.

Magnepan IIIa - another nice pair of speakers I had at the same time as the Merlins and 57s. My wife did not like the look of the white grill cloth - she called them the Abominable Snowmen - so off they went.

Von Schweikert db99 - they disappear and do the imaging and soundstaging thing like my Merlins but with more meat on the bones. These go down to 21hz, -3db. Having now gone full range, I am not going back. But I still daydream occasionally about the tonally rich, clear, and transparent sound of the ESL-57s and ESL-63s.

People, including my speaker savant buddy, told me for a very, very long time the Quad ESL57s represented the antithesis of my sort of sound.  People consider me a head banger, with a serious penchant for volume and some battleship gun low frequencies.

Wanted to hear them for a very long time due to the supposed otherworldly synergy with OTL amplifiers, which I used to favor, along with that famed speed, openness, and clarity.  Had a couple of opportunities to try them, but they evaporated whenever I went for it.  Fast forward a few years later, and Robin Wyatt pairs the ESL57s with Miyajima OTL amps at the NY Audio Show, and I hear a sense of sheer palpability, naturalness, and ultimate realness I couldn't remember ever experiencing in many years of audio.

Well, here I am the proud owner of a pair of ESL57.  Folks knocked them for decades for the lack of volume and low frequencies, everyone knows that.  EVERY loudspeaker, indeed EVERY audio component is flawed.  Now, if me listening to them at 95 dB at the listening chair represents a loudness handicap, so be it.  True, they don't deliver blow you back or sledgehammer bass, but they go down to 40 Hz, and how many loudspeakers actually do the bottom octave correctly?  What the Quads do is sound more like real life and real music than any other loudspeaker ever created.

For what it's worth, I've spent a lot of time with the ESL63 and the iterations thereafter.  Just don't do it for me.  As The Doctor labeled it, pipe and slippers sound
These are great Quad stories! 

I'm getting very envious of those who own, or who have owned, the 57s.

A few years ago I was actually offered a pair of beautiful quality 57s FOR FREE!  (A fellow audiophile, aging, realizing he wasn't listening enough to them these days do them justice).

But try as I might I couldn't figure out a way to fit them in the house.  They are too wide to sit permanently in my listening/viewing room.  And I have nowhere to store them due to their awkward shape.

That really sucked having to let those go.
Nostalgia gets in your eyes. Or, perhaps we should say nostalgia gets in your ears. 
@douglas_schroeder "Nostalgia gets in your eyes. Or, perhaps we should say nostalgia gets in your ears."

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be...
I was aware for years of the Quad 57's superiority over the typical box speaker. Yet not until I heard a pair driven by a pair of Futterman H3AA's did I realize what I had been missing! Seamless coherency from top to bottom! I decided then and there I must have the same system! At home I had a really impressive four speaker biamped system (active x-over and four amps) that could rock the house. So I sold it all and bought a pair of 57's and a Futterman OTL. These I used daily for 19 years, until circumstances forced me to sell. Now, in the last two years I have again purchased 57's - one pair from Rhode Island and one pair from England! And a pair of nicely restored Futterman H3AA's along with a Harvard Music H3 OTL! This for me is ne-plus-ultra sound! Sure, there are systems that play louder and go deeper - but the venerable Quads + Futtermans have the "magic" that makes me want to keep listening!
I do not pay any attention whatsoever to subjective evaluations or impressions or feelings regarding Quad 57s unless that person has removed the metal grills AND the plastic dust covers, mounted the speakers on Arcicci stands and upgraded the rather generic power supply cables. Oh, and uses tube electronics.
@geoffkait  Removing the grills and dust covers makes them dandy flying bug killers! And don't forget the prying fingers of little kids!
Fortunately I had neither. 
@roberjerman- good for you. I wanted to own a Futterman back in the day, but viewed it (perhaps wrongly) as the amp equivalent of a London/Decca cartridge- high risk/high reward.
@geoffkait - I think you are swiping too broadly, Geoff. I agree about getting the speakers up to improve their performance-- I had mine mounted on Arcicci stands back in the day, but the glory of the speaker still shines through without removing the grill and dust cover. I'm not using fancy power cords or cables in this system either (though I appreciate what they can do and use such stuff in my main system). The Quads, with a refurbishment, a protection circuit, and better connectors, are still very satisfying, a joy to hear. 

I occasionally visited a local tube amp designer who had double-stacked ESL-57s - I think he also employed a ribbon tweeter.

Talk about a wall o' transparent sound!  It was always a treat listening to that system.  Low WAF though....

(Though as I remember actress Faye Dunaway, of all people, had I think stacked quads!).
Faye Dunaway? Honestly, she doesn’t strike me as a stacked Quads kind of gal. But I guess ya never know.
I know what you mean, goeff.  I always pictured Faye as being a more "high sensitivity horns w. single ended triode amps" type of gal.

Wonders never cease.
Quad ESL’s, The Peter Walker wonders we call them, as they are a small miracle of engineering and devotion to try and accomplish where all others failed. We, is my brother and I, because he was the first to own a set of Quad ESL’s and I sneaked into his bedroom to listen when he was out.

Now we both own a set ESL-63.

But .... the good restauration of the 63’s has been a nightmare over the years. Several times I have had them refurbished for good money and most of the times I was disappointed about the result I got for that amount of money. I reside in Europe so maybe the good rebuilders are not around here.

So 2,5 years ago after another disappointment that set me back Euro 3.500 I decided to buy a scrap pair of ESL-63 and dismantle them to investigate what went wrong, and why the refurbished ESL’s never sounded as they should.

I will not go into debate whether the original ESL supersedes the ESL-63, but for me the fact that Peter Walker spend another 17 years to improve on the original ESL design says it all, but they are two totally different sets of speakers with both pros and cons.

I started out with my own set of ESL’s paired with the Quad II and 22 pre when I moved from my parents house to my own living space. But the cost of replacing tubes, damaged ESL panels urged me to move on. And the next step was a set of ESL-63 which, as the original ESL and Quad II set, I bought second-hand.

This set with early serial numbers 3219-3220 still has a dominant place in my current living room 35 years later.

But as I mentioned, I was not satisfied with the refurbish jobs done by several companies. The worst of them being Quad Musikwiedergabe in Gering Germany. This company has bought old original Quad equipment, but has a 100% commercial approach, which means: High price, low quality.

So when we started tearing down the scrap ESL-63’s we found out what went wrong in the refurbishing. Long story short, there is no (technical) respect for the delicate design Peter Walker brought into this HiFi world, and most people don’t understand the things that can go wrong when you don’t respect the original design.

So now 2,5 years into our research, with lost of failures, money and hard lessons learned we have now rebuild our own set of ESL-63 to the standard we always wanted, but never could get.

And so now we come to the point to what the ESL-63 is and what it can do.

It can reproduce human voice like no other loudspeaker can. It has distortion levels lower than any loudspeaker around. It’s bass is very tight and goes as low as 37 Hz without distortion. Try that with any conus speaker. Can it play loud? Loud enough for me. It has a soundstage and three dimensional audio image that make the speaker tottaly dissapear. So, I love them. The delay lines, when working properly only after a very good rebuild, give you a holographic sound image that places you in the music. Today I drive them with Schiit Freya pre-amp, Schiit Yggdrasil DAC and Schiit Vidar power amps, although the last ones are not the best match.

Will I ever replace my ESL-63’s for a conus speaker. Simple answer: NEVER! The Peter Walker design in my humble opinion is still a technical and design wonder, even after 35 years. I got to respect it more and more the more we found out during our rebuilding project. Nothing in this speaker is done by accident, everything is very well thought through and in a very delicate balance. Maybe, maybe if we finish this project we will start on the original ESL’s as they now have a cult status. The ESL-63 project was and still is a beautiful trip into the mind of a genius that Peter Walker was.

I’ve owned my pair of ESL-57 since the 70’s and have always kept them in good shape, with one (transformer?) repair a while back. They still sound great. I haven’t owned any other speakers since then, although I often listen to others at shops and friends’ houses. I’m very impressed with many other speakers, but when I get home to my Quads, I hear something that was missing in other speakers. Maybe it’s not something missing, but something extra-exaggerated in other speakers. The Quads are just simply true. Yes, I have to sit in just the right spot for maximum enjoyment. Yes, I arrange my furniture around the placement of my Quads, but you do those kind of things for members of your family.

I listen almost exclusively to acoustic music (classical, jazz, voice) and that is where Quads shine, I think. I use either my Audio Research heat-generating Classic 30 tube amp in Winter and the old, reliable Quad 303 in Summer. I’ve had to replace the capacitors in the 303 once. I hear amp differences, but I would’t say one was better than the other. I listen to vinyl (Linn LP12) and digital (ripped CD/HDCD/SACD) with external DAC and enjoy both. Again, I hear differences, but can’t say one is better than the other.

There are many things in the audio world that are fads and many things that are the Emperor’s new clothes, but Quads ain’t either of those!
@tjbearman "I often listen to others at shops and friends’ houses. I’m very impressed with many other speakers, but when I get home to my Quads, I hear something that was missing in other speakers. Maybe it’s not something missing, but something extra-exaggerated in other speakers. The Quads are just simply true."

VERY true, and very well put
Had a bronze pair back in the 80s but they rattled and creaked. Sold them for Spendors. Immediately realized I lost something but got used to it. Six years ago, I bought an immaculate black pair with consecutive serial numbers on Agon. Mounted on 18" oak stands and driven by refurbished tube amps from the fifties, they sound glorious and play as loud as I need without any issues. See VIrtual Systems for more info.

I've always wanted a pair with the bronze grills!  I like that look.

Jeeze, it feels like I started this thread just to make myself jealous!
I purchased a total rebuilt pair of ESL 63 from Electrostatic Solutions and I have never enjoyed the music as much as I do today. I found a better power cord improved the speaker, and I added a Martin Logan Depth-i sub crossed at 35Hz.

They play as loud as I would like especially after Kent of Electrostatic Solutions rebuild. Kent’s power supply redesign did wonders to the 63. He got the idea to try it after wondering why the Stax Electrostatic speakers sound so good, and better in some ways and he narrowed it down to the Stax power board/supply. I no longer even think about another speaker, that says volumes.
I have a pair of 57's that are currently in storage. They sound SO sweet when paired with my Quad II monoblocs.  I also have two sets of arcing 63's that at some point in time, I will ship to Kent McCollum at ElectroStatic Solutions for refurbishment into one set of working 63's. Such is life when the home you have can only accommodate one system...

Thanks for your post! It reminded me that I definitely need to pull those 57's out of storage and run them for awhile. The last time I ran them was the summer of 2014. 

Cheers!
I had naked Quads, no grills no dust cover, up on Arcicci stands, all tube electronics with regulated everything, Special Edition Mapleshade turntable on a 2 Hz iso stand and 500 feet of air tubing, upgraded Quad power cords, sounded very good, right? But when I went to Fulton floorstanding speakers I realized how much the Quads lack in dynamic range and bass slam and pop. That’s the way it goes sometimes.