Quad Active Speakers 11l and 12l history/future
I have been using 12l actives for a while now and really think that they are phenomenal. In terms of extension, raw dynamic capability and finesse they are superb at their price points. Even more importantly these speakers sound good with all types of music. I know everyone likes to think that they have chosen the absolute best way to spend their dollars and rhetoric like this is all too common but considering the success the L series has had and the inherent advantages active designs bring to the table I really think that these are something special.
The history of these speakers is confusing. Back in 2003/2004 Quad first released the 12l active. They were branded as a "Studio Pro" series. At this point the 11l active did not exist. However, there was a passive "Studio Pro" monitor that that was voiced differently than the regular 12l with a slightly different crossover point. Many of these were sold on eBay at huge discounts because there was cracking in the lacquer finish- a manufacturing issue that plagued almost every single speaker that came off of the line. The retail on the original 12l actives was $2000/ pr. Black was the only color available. The speakers were extremely low margin apparently and coupled with the manufacturing issues Quad dropped the line.
In the beginning of last year Quad re-introduced the active line, but dropped the “studio pro” designation. They also dropped the passive version but added the 11l active model. These speakers are built in a different facility and have some very small changes, the volume control for example is a little different and a few other small meaningless changes that I am forgetting off of the top of my head. No longer are there any issues with cracking. The new MSRP for the 12l actives is $1600/pr. The 11ls retail for $1099. Quad now markets these for home theater and multimedia applications. The owners manual was re-written and they come boxed individually – the first series shipped in pairs just like the regular 11l and 12l. Black is still the predominate color- although I have seen the 11ls advertised in silver.
All of Quads active speakers, (both generation 1 and 2) are bi-amped with 40 watts going to a dome tweeter and 60 wpc dedicated to the woofer. If you need to brush up on active speaker technology see this; http://www.audioasylum.com/audio/speakers/messages/102781.html (It is more than just a speaker with built in amps) The internal amps utilize Quads “current dumping” technology- the same that their stand alone SS amps like the 909 have. (again run a search it is pretty cool stuff)
What is really going on with these is a mystery of some sorts. They seem to be the black sheep of the Quad family; most dealers don’t stock them, the specs on their website are wrong, (specifically x-over points and low frequency extension) and there generally doesn’t seem to be a lot of effort being put into marketing the product. For example, TAS reviewed the 11l active in November and gave it a glowing review. However, Quad does not even link the review on their site. Instead they have a pathetic but positive review from some rag that is about 150 words. The overall marketing in regards to multimedia/pro audio is also bizarre. It almost seems that Quad is worried about losing customers to their active designs. As a consumer, why I am going to go out and buy a 21l and a 909 amp for close to $4k when I can get a $1600 bookshelf that outperforms it? (And trust me the 12l actives run circles around the 21ls) So lets largely ignore the product and cater it to niche markets.
Why have them at all then? I don’t know. I could be way off on this but it all doesn’t seem to add up…
The 12ls have deep and powerful bass (powered subwoofers are “active” designs to get an idea of what I am talking about) a rich midrange and sparkling top end. They measure flat, and sound a little different than most audiophile speakers that have the popular “midrange dip”. They are best as an all around performer. Do they have the soul of a little 3.5 watter driving a single driver speaker- not quite. They don’t have the sheer delicateness and air that is sooo addicting in planars/stats either, but you can throw any genre at they will excel. Try listening to rap on Magnepans, or Zeppelin on a low powered SET combo. No fun. Try listening to the bass guitar on the 12ls at 105 db- they absolutely hammer while keeping all their integrity and composure. Fun. I have mine mated with a tube line-stage and the combo is phenomenal. Good enough that I am here writing this and not clicking refresh in the classifieds.
This is my attempt to promote active designs and possibly provide a little insight to the Quad line. For those who have taken the plunge on these- the lack of info can be discouraging. Hopefully the review of the 11l active in The Absolute Sound will help get these into the mainstream. For $600 on ebay they can give many a true look into the world of hifi. If you have less than $10k in your system you might consider picking these up for an audition.