Quad 2912 vs Martin Logan ESL 11a


I am seriously considering electrostatic speakers although living in a part of the world where dealership for both brands do not have all models on hand for audition. While the 2912's were unavailable, a Quad 2812 was available a month ago for audition. It was in an all Quad setup, with a solid state and a 40  watts tube amp for comparison. In a 4 x 4m room, the music was very engaging playing Miles, Coltrane, and Heifetz. Transparency and speed were plenty evident, and  there was a warmth and solidity ( coherence ?) that was a pleasant surprise.  

Last weekend,  audition of  the Martin Logan's esl X was arranged . This is a few step down from the 11a's. Although it was in a totally different system, the ML seemed to be of a different sound signature. Brighter, more air? Ultimately I was not  impressed with the X's, the woofer seemed not to integrate well with the panels. And the salesperson admitted as mush. He said an audition could be arranged in a week or two for the 11a. 

While I wait for a proper audition of the ML 11a,  I would appreciate any comment specific to these two speaker models. Not all electrostatic speakers are created equal, as I have found out.   If the choice came down to the two, what are the issues that needs to be considered?
ledoux1238
Not a M.L. fan. My initial thought would be to move the direction of the Quads.
Franking, after auditioning the Quad 2812, I was quite taken by the speakers. I was ready to go with Quads. But reviews for ML masterpiece series are really positive. Decided to wait.

I do worry about QC issues with the newer Quads. I have read user reviews regarding the stability of the panels. I live in a part of the world where humidity is a real issue. I have been warned off electrostatics by friends. However, from what I have read, both brands recognize and acknowledge the humidity problem. And apparently both panels are less susceptible to humidity degradations. Still I have read problems....


I have no experience with the Quads. I do own a pair of the ML 11A’s and love them. They are fast transparent and airy. They deliver awesome highs without being fatiguing. The mids are full and warm and do not get cluttered. The bass is fast and rich.
There is a big difference between the masterpiece series and the rest of the Martin Logan line up. I suggest taking a listen to the 11A’s and see for your self.
@pvmike2 Thanks for that assessment. I have arranged an audition of the 11a this weekend. Looking forward to confirming that the integration of bass with electrostatic panel is not an issue. I will report back shortly.
I'd vote for the Quads. ML's always sound too bright to me and a bit tizzy, and the bass doesn't match the speed of the stats. But of course your own ears have to be the judge!
I would consider room geometry and how much fiddling you want to contend with to set them up properly. I have heard, but not owned, Quads. I currently have M-L Summit X's, having owned the M-L Odyssey's and Magneplanars in the past.  

I'm well satisfied with the bass especially on the newer M-L's that include DSP. With my "older" Summit X's without DSP, the bass integrates well with 95% of the material I play. With Quads, you might end up adding subwoofers to augment the last octave.
The ESL 11a's are very similar in sound to the Summit X's to my ears. I've found with M-L designs that the lower midrange and midbass tends to get richer and fuller as the panels get wider (i.e. ESL 13, 15, and CLX). Of course, the price also goes up.

I think the main thing to consider is that the ML's behave as a line source due to the geometry of the stators. With M-L's, at least in "normal" sized rooms, you will need extensive diffusion treatment on the rear wall behind the speakers to mitigate comb filtering effects that can cause VERY annoying peaks in response in the upper midrange / lower highs. They also like to be a fair distance from the side walls, as well. Upper frequency response is fairly sensitive to toe-in (mine are pointed straight ahead) and rake angle (adjustable with the supplied footers).   They require time and patience to optimize.
I auditioned the ML 11a yesterday. The speakers were not optimized in their placement and the source was a smart phone streaming through Tidal, although with Anthem electronics. Given less than optimal conditions, and no more than 40 minutes of listening, I came away impressed. Listened to Heifetz's rendition of  Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, Miles' Kind of Blue, and Krall + Bennett. 

To My ears @josh358 , they were anything but bright although compared to the Quad 2812 I heard a month back, they were on the cool side. The sound was very coherent, bass and upper ranges were coming from one place.  The soundstage was not as wide as I had expected, as well something weird with imaging. I kind of put those down as not properly set up. The sense of ease with which the music flowed was very nice. I am leaning towards the ML. 

With the post by @hthaller  pointing out the issue of room size/configuration, it would be prudent to consider the fit of the two speakers with my room. I have a 3.2 x 9 M room. With the Quads at almost 70 cm wide, I'll be left with 1.8 M between the inner edges of the speakers if they were to be pushed to the edge of the room. While distance between the rear wall is more critical, I wonder if the Quads might not be  squeezed, hence poor soundstaging. With the smaller foot print of the ML's, perhaps it's a better fit. And after reading @hthaller 's post, I wonder if maybe ML 9a, the smaller brother of 11a, might not be an even better fit? Cheaper, too. 

I would arrange another Quad audition before a final decision.  May have more question for @hthaller if I were to go the ML route. But thank you for all your suggestions.
this is just my opinion. the one thing to remember is with the 9a the base speakers are passive meaning they will not be driven by their own amps. this translates to what amp are you using and will it have enough bottom end. I also have a small listening space and the 11a's fit well as can be expected. the speakers sit 4' from the side walls and the rear of the speakers are about 1.5' from the rear wall. The speakers were set up by the personnel that have been setting up sound systems from the store I bought them from. they took about 3 hours to get them placed. 
pvmike
Post removed 
just remembered the 9A does not have room correction either

Ledoux we sell neither of these loudspeakers 

Used to own Quad ESL 63 so the newer versions are still very similar.

The Quads all suffer from rolled off extreme top end and the bass response isn't that clean, a bit wooly.

The ML are the better overall design, the curved panel helps create a more focused soundstage and the bass response is far better.

You may also want to check out the Mura SP1 at $15k these are the best panel hybrid speakes we have ever heard.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ 
@pvmike, Thanks for sharing you speaker placement info.  I would have thought that 4' and 1.5' from side and rear walls respectively were too close, not enough space to breathe.  But if professionals set up the speakers in your room with those final placement dimensions, then maybe my room size is possible to accommodate the 11a's. I do expect a fair amount of work getting the speakers to sound good as @hthaller mentioned, even with the final ARC adjustments. 

@audiotroy, thanks for your comments, I kind of understand your thoughts on the Quads. The rolled off highs and bass response were noticeable, although I wouln't  call the bass 'wooly'. 

It would seem that there are more nods to ML than Quads. I am definitely doing a second Quad audition just to make sure I agree.

Thanks so far to all your comments!
ML’s for me, I have the latest panel Monolith’s, and a friend has the Summits, they just do everything well, even hard rock.
They have a bigger sweet spot thanks to the curved panel.
More air around them the better, for sound staging, nothing in between them for as far back as you can get, this increases depth perception.

This setup is critical.:
From the central seated position in a darkened room, shine a torch from the top of your head at the panel, the reflection back should be half way up the esl panel and 1/3rd from the inner edge, for both speakers. Then prepare to be amazed, imaging even outside the speakers like you never thought possible.

Cheers George
Soundlabs are currently the best ESLs made and they will ship anywhere. Far superior to any ML or Quad and they will play loud and are extremely reliable. You do not have to audition them. Just read all the reviews.

Toe in is critical arc will help a lot too. I still need to do room correction even without room correction my system sounds awesome
@ mijostyn, I had done some research on Sound Lab.  Given my situation with lower power tube amps, unavailibily of  dealer support, and frankly, pricing that is out of my range, there is close to zero possibility of my owning a pair of Sound Lab speakers. I must confess a sense of envy when a recommendation for a pair of speaker would include, '.. You do not have to audition them..". They must be amazing! Alas, not for me.

Hi George, Thanks for the straight up recommendation. Monolith is one of the very early ML to come out. And  it seems that are many loyal fans of the speakers with active crossover and the possibility of bi-amping. 

One of my concerns is the maintenance of the Mylar panels. But it seems that committed users treat it precisely as a maintenance issue to be dealt with rather than a nuisance.


Been devoted to the sound of planar speaker designs beginning in the 70's, and have lived with various models from Magnepan, Acoustat and Martin Logan over the past 40 years.

I've owned the 11A for two years at this point, and have been quite happy with them. An amplifier that can reveal their best potential is key. The huge sound stage, well-integrated bass response, open and clear mids, detailed but smooth top end, that these have always been capable of are presented to great effect with the Carver Crimson 275 (which provides plenty of power given the speakers utilize their own woofer amplifiers).

Using the same all-tube front end, had also tried a couple of well-reviewed class-D designs plus a Rogue Stereo 100; each sounded quite nice, but it did not take long at all to appreciate the Carver's elevated performance once installed in my setup.
I own the previous model, ML Montis, also with 11 inch panels.  I am very happy with the sound.  When I was auditioning, I was very much unimpressed with MLs lower end offerings.  Would love at some point to get the 13a's.
jtucker
  One of my concerns is the maintenance of the Mylar panels.

This goes for any ESL's
No problems, depends how you treat them, by doing below you'll get an easy 10+ years out of the panels.
  
Don't smoke any kind of stuff in the same room
No direct sunlight on them, or have them in a damp basement. 
Don't have dust all over the place, or dog/cat hair  
Vacuum panels once a month, front and rear
Don't leave them powered 24/7, switch them on 1/2hr before listening.

Cheers George
  
@georgehifi  Of the five points to 10+ years of maintenance-free ESL usage, I can fulfill all the requirements except one, dampness. With the rainy season  upon us in my part of the world, it's a constant 70%-80% humidity level. In fact it kind of hovers around that level pretty much three quarters of the year. Dehumidifiers are a must in the listening room. I need to reconcile seriously a dehumidifier blowing pretty much constantly in the room. 
Thank you for the maintenance advice.

I wonder also if my 40 watt Von Gaylord tube amp is adequate to drive the 11's. The 11's having powered woofers are less of an issue?
With the rainy season upon us in my part of the world, it’s a constant 70%-80% humidity level.

I’m in Sydney, known also to be very humid, but I’m talking more basement 24/7 dampness that will induce mould growth on the mylar panels ect.

I wonder also if my 40 watt Von Gaylord tube amp is adequate to drive the 11’s
It’ll work as they have an active bass, but won’t be the best for them.

Cheers George
Hi George, No,  It's not that kind of dampness. Going by your suggestion, I should be alright then.
tube amps are great. When it comes to ESL the problem lies in how the speaker looks to the amp with tubes they do not work well with the very low impedences the the panels can achieve they need lots of current. The panels act more like capacitors giving low to no negative feedback to the amp tubes like the feedback to my understanding. check out the Sanders white papers to better understand what is going on with these speakers
 
As far as maintenance goes I will unplug them vacuum them wipe them down and that’s it. I also use the covers that come with the speakers.  
@pvmike The Sanders Technical White Paper on Tube vs Transistor , which you recommended, opens up a whole new can of worms. I understand Sander's argument. And it doesn't seem to bode well for my 40 watt tube amp driving ESL speakers. Need to do more research.

Thanks!