Review: Quad 12L-A Active Monitor

Category: Speakers

The 12L-A is from Quad’s "Studio Pro" line. There are two different speakers that the Pro series manual mentions; the 12L Active and the 12L passive. Don’t confuse the passive “Pro Studio” version with the standard 12L that has been discussed frequently in this forum. (There may, and most likely are differences, none that I am specifically aware of though)
The Active version is seemingly identical to the standard passive version (non-pro series) that I used as my primary speakers for the last year or so. I took out both owners’ manuals and a specs comparison revealed that the active monitor is slightly larger than the non-pro passive model. Only slightly, however as the differences were practically superficial. Besides the slight variation in size, the only other cosmetic difference is that instead of the typical “Quad” badges on the grills and units themselves the Active Reference Monitors carry and “Quad Studio Pro” badge that is roughly the same size.

The Quad 12LA is a bi-amped, two-way, rear ported monitor speaker with a crossover frequency of 1.8khz. (Slightly lower than the passive versions) The crossovers are active, meaning that the signal is divided before it is amplified which helps lessen the burden on the internal amplifiers and also allows for better integration and efficiency. The woofer is 6.5 inches in diameter and the tweeter is 1 inch and fluid cooled. The amplifiers that handle the bottom octaves are rated at 60 wpc. The complementary amps that handle everything above 1.8k are rated at 40 wpc. Frequency response is 45hz-24khz and maximum output is rated at a whopping 110 db. When looking at the speakers head-on the only indication that the speakers are active is two small LEDs that are located on the front, right, bottom corner of both speakers. One of them is purple/blue and indicates normal operation. The other is orange/yellow indicating an overload. Standard RCA and balanced XLR jacks are located directly beneath the heat sinks on the back. Both speakers also have gain controls and a low frequency "cut" switch that acts as a bass attenuator below 100hz. This is for placement close to a rear wall.

Listening up to this point was done with a Sony SCD-CE775 SACD changer running straight into the back of the speakers. The built in volume controls on the speakers were typically at 9 o'clock as the CD players fixed output is slightly north of 2 volts. Tributaries SCA-300 RCA interconnects acted as the conduits between the speakers and the disc spinner. I was able to compare the active studio monitors with a pair of passive 12ls being powered by a 30 watt Passion I10 el34 integrated. Speaker cables for this setup were a single run of Monster M1.5 while interconnects were IXOS Gamma Studio (the thick stuff). A Chang Lightspeed CLS-3200 filtered and distributed the juice.

Stands were Lovan Affinity or Target HR60. Both of which are 24 inches in height. (as recommended by manf) The speakers were 22 inches away from the side walls and 28 inches away from the rear. Slightly towed in. The speakers were roughly 7 feet apart so I sat 7 feet away. (Surprisingly I liked the sound of the cheaper Lovan’s better)

My initial impressions are that these speakers are quite good. They surpass the passive/tube combo in almost all respects.

As for my dislikes, these are not very romantic. Very musical but not romantic. They can sometimes expose flaws in the recordings- like many speakers can do. Some speakers can hide these better than others while not compromising that much in other areas. The Quad 12LA are ruthlessly revealing, by design.(Hence “Reference Studio Monitor”) I hate to use such a audiophile like term like ruthlessly revealing, but trying to explain this in more detail would take 3 paragraphs.

The likes, and there are a lot!
The speakers are extremely well balanced. Everything was proportional and sounded "right". The piano in "I Can See Clearly Now " on Holly Cole's "Don't Smoke in Bed" CD always emerged delicately and smoothly from behind her voice. I have listened to this track 500 times on 30 different speakers and never before had it sounded so natural. Based on memory---Not even Magnepans could match the detail and tonal balance the active speakers were providing. I got that rare WOW feeling.

One of the most remarkable attributes of this speaker is its explosiveness. Crescendos to drum solos all sound effortless. The upbeat side of Steely Dan really made these speakers shine. They carry a feeling of having infinite power within their range of operating frequency. Instruments had that sense of "weight" that made them truly believable. Cymbal decay and the brass contained on the Steely Dan disc were also very well done.

Female and male vocalists like Sarah MacLaughlin and Lionel Ritchie were also very satisfying. Imaging and sound staging was absolutely top notch. Front to back depth was particularly brilliant. There was no hint of the x-over showing itself, as the transition from the bottom to top driver was absolutely seamless. I listened to the chromatic scale on Stereophile’s Test CD #3 to verify my "real world" observations. You would be surprised how many “better” speakers fail miserably when given this seemingly easy task. The 12L-A was smooth all the way up and back down. No cabinet resonance or “squawking” could be detected, at all. (My past Mirage M5SI, Platinum Solo, Sony SS-M7 all failed this test)

Moving to Yo-Yo Ma “Solo” on SACD kicked things up to an entirely different level. Those of you familiar with this disk now that on track 5, Bright Sheng- IV “The Drunken Fisherman” you can hear an incredible amount of detail in the way the musicians fingers are actually moving on the strings. Even with an entry-level speaker like the Epos ELS-3 this can be heard relatively easily. With the 12L-A’s though the detail was nothing short of stunning. You can’t help but “see” his fingers moving on the instrument. I was so blown away by this I brought my non-audiophile fiancé up into my loft so she could take a listen. “Are you supposed to hear that? I don’t think so” was her remark. (I lost hope a long time ago!)

Every track I listened to sounded effortless and powerful including piano works by Yanni and Enya (not always the best recordings) The Stereophile Intermezzo disk that features a 12 foot Steinway was amazing. Works like this truly separated the Active monitors from their passive siblings. The el34 amp, while being very musically satisfying came up short in its ability to be ultimately convincing. I am not sure if it is the passive crossover or what, but the tubes and passives just sounded a little more veiled. I am very critical of the piano and the active reference monitors nail it.

Tracy Chapman sounded fantastic on the Active Monitors. Her voice was smooth and refined while still having plenty of the texture that sets her apart from everyone else. The bass guitar featured in many of her tracks also sounded well paced and true.

Another important note is that these speakers sound great even when you are not in a typical audiophile configuration. For example, my loft is accessed via a ladder off of the master bedroom. There is a half wall in the rear that overlooks the bedroom. Even while laying in bed, having the speakers 35 ft to my right and 15 feet over my head firing over that half wall- they still sounded great. Obviously they are not revealing the little things, but they are an absolute pleasure to listen to. They have a remarkable ability to not collapse when listening outside of the "zone".

To begin to sum these little numbers up I must say that this is one of the most well-rounded and balanced speakers that I have had a chance to hear in my room. An ability to absolutely explode with depth, weight and control while at the same time being ultra smooth in the midrange and never even hinting at being icy up top makes these speakers special. Are these the best speakers I have ever heard? Well no- I have been to too many salons in my day featuring the megabuck stuff so I cant go quite that far. However, they are true contenders in the below $3000 amp & speaker range. I am also confident that you will not get better results with the passive versions of these, even if you where to go with very high end amplification. I have not had much experience with Active units before, but I am going to be sure to keep my eyes open in the future. I never thought I would see the day where my heavy iron and glass filaments would get packed up, much less for solid state gear. But it has come and now passed. Every time I give a listen I become more and more comfortable with my decision. These are fantastic speakers. I highly recommend a listen.


Product Weakness: Never really sweet sounding, unforgiving. Active designs give us fewer pieces to upgrade!

Product Strengths: Balance, control, TNT like dynamics. Easy placement. Extremely immune to vertical and horzontal listeing fields.

Associated gear
SCD-CE775 SACD player
Tributaires SCA-300 Interconnect
Chang Lightspeed CLS-3200
Lovan Affiniti 24 Inch stands

Similar products
Quad 12L passive
Platinum Solo
Soliloquy 5.0
Sony SS-M7
Robr45- nice review, was looking at these on e-bay. wasn,t quite sure how to use them in a system so I bought the 12L pro studio passive. they came with a neutrik speakon connection so I had to convert my cables which eventually worked out fine. I'm kind of new to all this but I had a big smile when I was finally able to listen to them. now I'm working on the other parts of my system and enjoying it . thanks ..... tcp56
I have alwass admired the Quad line. Your review makes me admire the Quad line even more. I was not aware of this new model. Does Quad also make an active version of the little 11L? Just curious.
Thanks for the responses.

No, there is no active version of the 11l to my knowledge.

tcp; Quad moved their dynamic line of speakers in house before they launched this line. Before, speakers like the 10l were produced for Quad by Spendor. Quad redisigned the speakers from the ground up and makes almost all of the parts in house.

The finish is great too!

I love them
Hi, great review. I'm glad to hear your comments.
I'm actually more of a recording engineer/musician than an audiophile (though I certianly appreciate a great home stereo!). I wonder if you or anyone out there has any experience with the Wharfedale 8.2 pro actives. It appears that these are the same speakers as the Quad 12L active pro in most every respect: drivers, dimensions, amplifiers, and freq. response curve, except for 3 slight differences:
1. the Wharfedales are front- ported whereas the Quads are rear vented. Possibly a big difference when considering placement, I know.
2. The finish on the Quads is much fancier.
3. The Wharfedales are selling for about $275-$339 a pair- about 1/2 the price of the Quads!
I really want to hear from someone who has auditioned both the Quad 12L Active and the Wharfedale 8.2 actives before I spend my money. As I'm really using these for Pro Audio and not at home, finish is less important and sound quality is #1. I would be very greatful for any and all comments.
feel free to email me:
Did you ever get any response to your question? I would also like to know what difference in sound there is between the two units.
Did you make a purchase, and what did you go with?
I'm curious to know as well, but too lazy to call Wharfdale. As an aside, I own 2 pairs of the 12L Pro Actives and am absolutely THRILLED with them...wouldn't trade them for anything. Glad I jumped on the Ebay deals when I did. If you can't get the 12L Pro-Actives any more, try to find other pairs of active speakers. They are truly better than comparable passive speakers.
Active Near Field Reference Monitors are for a certain type of listener.
I am one of them, and what follows is my evaluation of the Wharfedale Pro 8.2 and 8.1 Active NFRM and how it physically compares to the Quad 12L/A.
I hope after reading this, maybe you’ll try this type of speaker and see what you like, or dislike about it. I’d like to hear back with any opinions on the subject.

Let me first describe a NFRM taken right from Wharfedale’s own booklet:

“The function of a Reference Monitor Loudspeaker System is to provide an accurate sonic reference for the operator/engineer thus enabling value decisions to be made in the recording and mixing process. The purpose of these devices is not simply to sound exciting or impressive – only to give an accurate and clean representation of the original sources and recording devices used. This must be done with the minimum destructive interaction with the room and consistently in a variety of environments. It is also essential that the Reference Monitor does not favor or exaggerate any part of the spectrum, but gives the engineer a reference for the real-world environment in which the program will be played and heard by the general public.”

It’s amazing how many people I’ve meet that use this type of speaker in a very large room, and sit too far away from the speaker as well.
Of course that’s no different than the nimrod writing this, who tried to fit his Klipschorns in a 9’ x 12’ listening room. Even the dog shook his head in disbelief. Oh well, that’s another story.
The point is every speaker, like every tool, is design to be used within certain limits, to get the maximum performance out of it. I think because some of us listen to speakers that may not be setup as they were intended, unintentionally give a shaded account of them, compared to their true potential with proper setup.
The other point to keep in mind, and I don’t see this mention very often, is like a musical instrument, most speakers are “voiced”. This means the speaker builder is trying to get a certain sound out of the speaker that he hopes will match up with most rooms and that the majority of people will choose over his competition. It might be a rise in the low bass, a dip in the midrange, a little lift in the treble, or some combination and variation of this.

With that said, I like listening to NFRM’s in my 9’ x 12’ room, more than any other type of speaker. I place the speakers on the long wall and listen about 7’ away from them. I use Standesign adjustable speaker stands, so I can place the tweeter of whatever speaker I’m using at the proper height. The distance I place the speakers from the front wall depends on if the port is in the front or back, or if it’s a sealed design.

Up until now, the best NFRM I’ve preferred for my needs is the: Acoustic Energy Evo 1.
This speaker is a result of certain trade-offs on a design, (the AE 1 @ $4000 pr.), to make it affordable (I paid $149 pr.) to the masses, as opposed to professional recording engineers. The aspects of the design change suits me just fine. The needs of most music listeners’ are much different than that of a professional recording studio, and the different people that will use the equipment. I feel the differences between the two are perfect for my needs, but may not be for yours.

Now, after hearing the Wharfedale Pro Active speakers, I wish I could hear the EVO’s bi-amped with an active crossover. I really think the main difference in the improvement of sound, from passive speakers to active ones, is not so much the bi-amping, but the active crossover. I myself just think the passive crossover unit presents a light veil over the sound of the music. The Evo 1’s have provisions to be either bi-wired, or bi-amped, but you are still using the passive crossover inside. You can tell the difference in sound right away when the two units are side by side.

The WHARFEDALE PRO 8.2A & 8.1A “Poor Man’s Quad?”

Let me start by saying, I have a variety of loudspeakers in my stable at any one time. Just like some musicians have different instruments they might like for one reason or another, I have various speakers for different musical presentation alternatives. The same is true for my electronics. With a dozen pairs on hand and the same number that no longer live here, NONE of them ever came with a booklet as informative as the one that comes with the Wharfedale Pro 8.2 & 8.1 (You can see it, or download it at their web site.)

Every speaker manufacturer could learn something from this. This booklet is so far ahead of the pack, that no speaker that I know of even comes close.
I think this kind of extensive booklet must only be for Wharfedale’s Pro line. I say this because, I just bought a new pair of Wharfedale Crystal 30 floor standers, and there wasn’t even a spec sheet in the box! They must have an A-team and B-team working there. (They should get together and talk.)

For a full overview and specifications of the 8.2 and 8.1, go to the web site:

Both Wharfs come with Iridium color laminate. It seems easy to maintain, and very durable…..and there is no way my wife would allow something that looks like that to go into our living room, or any room she’d be in for that matter. She would tell me to put them in my listening room, where no one will see them, but I really like this durable and easy to care for finish. It gives them a very professional look. (My Klipschorns were oiled oak, and she loved them…..well maybe liked them….no, I think tolerated is the better term.)

I think that both the 8.2 and 8.1 are great speakers to own. The two Wharfs have minor differences that may, or may not be important to you. You will have to decide for yourself, but here’s what I found.

The only physical difference between the two units is how they are tuned. The Wharf 8.2 volume is 0.73 cu.ft. with a single port in the front for the 6.5” woofer. This gives it an extension to 45Hz. Where as the 8.1, has a volume of 0.55 cu.ft. with a single port in the front for the 5” woofer. This gives it an extension to 50Hz. (For comparison, the Quad12L is 0.64 cu.ft. and the Quad 11L is 0.53 cu.ft.)
The amps are the exact same design and power rating. The only other difference between the two is, the 8.2 crossover is set to 1.9K Hz, compared to 2.0K Hz for the Wharf 8.1
The 8.2 also has a higher output of 108db, (due to the bigger woofer) vs. 106db for
the 8.1. Both share the same tweeter, and both use a bi-directional weave Kevlar woofers.

These are the physical differences I found between the Wharfs and the Quad 12L /A:

I don’t think anyone can argue the fact, that the biggest difference in price between the
Wharfedale Pro 8.2 A ($340 pr.), and the Quad 12L /A ($2000 pr.), is in their finish.
The Quad has a real wood finish that is sealed with 7 coats of lacquer and each coat is allowed to dry for 24 hours before the next one is applied. You can’t provide this kind of a quality finish with out putting a heavy price tag on it.
The Wharfedale, on the other hand, is probably assembled, finished and shipped within 24 hours! So this point is a no brainer. If you want a fine furniture finish, in your choice of woods, go with the Quad.
If a grey laminate finish will work for you, save some loot, and go with the Wharfs.

Here are the other differences I see between the Wharfs and the Quads.
The Wharfs have a front single port, compared to the Quads having dual ports in the rear. I’ve always had better results with the placement of front ported speakers in my 9’ x 12’ room. It seems with front ports, I don’t have to make trade offs between the sound stage, imaging, depth and the bass response.
Both the Quads and the Wharfs use the same amp and active crossover, the only difference is the crossover in the Quad is set at 1.8K Hz, and the Wharf at 1.9K Hz.
They both also seem to share the same drivers, or at least very similar ones.

The big difference is since the Quads have dual ports on the rear, the amplifier is physically smaller so as to fit it on the back of the cabinet without interfering with the ports. So basically they had to make the heat sinks on the Quads about half the size of the ones on the Wharfs. Call me crazy, but I figure, the larger the heat sinks, the cooler the unit will run. The cooler the unit runs, the longer it should last, and the better it should operate.

So it comes as no surprise to me that that the Quad 12L/A is no longer available. For the difference in price I would go with the Wharfedale’s every time. For me the 8.2 and 8.1 are the closest thing to having a set of Active Quads, and maybe even better, because now you can choose between a 12L/A or 11L/A active type of sound, depending on your needs, where as Quad made the 12L/A as their only active pro speaker.

I’ll finish by trying to describe the sound of Active NFM’s in general. This type of speaker shouldn’t sound sweet, warm, involving, or any other term people use to describe sound… should simply sound… TRUE. I mean what ever sound was trying to be recorded, should be reproduced the same way through these. Until you’ve experienced this sound for yourself, it’s very hard to describe with just the right words.

Some people won’t care for the sound of these at all, while others might feel this is what they have been looking for the whole time in a loudspeaker. You be the judge. I just know they work for me.

The Sound: If your taste in music is different than mine, then my comments on sound will mean nothing to you. If there is something listed here that you also like to listen to, let me know.
Alt. Pop: Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Peter Gabriel, Brian Ferry etc.
Orchestral: Gorecki, Hovanhass, Respeghi
Jazz: H. Cole, J. Monheit, D. Krall, A. Jamal

The Wharfedale Pro 8.2 Active:

What a great sounding speaker right out of the box. Although, I think any speaker using Kevlar, or any similar material, needs a long break-in time before they sound their best. Only after the break-in period do you hear them at their full potential. This may be something that changes with time, if it does, I’ll report back to you.
This is without a doubt, the most balanced speaker I’ve ever owned. From top to bottom the sound remains at a constant level, without ever favoring any certain portion of the frequency response. These also reproduce such a high level of detail in the recording that some listeners may be turned off by it. Some might feel it’s too much of a good thing, (Is that ever possible in audio??) I think the 8.2’s have a very slight hump to the bass to get a little more extension in the bottom end. Again, this is something I noticed in my room, with my amps, and my ears. You may have a different opinion after listening to them yourself. Heck, you might even like the bump!
I haven’t listened to the 8.1’s yet, (they’ll be here any day), but I bet they are a bit smoother. I think the 8.1 gives up the bass extension for a smoother response. I’m sure the 8.1’s will have enough bottom end for me, plus I intend to try a subwoofer with both models also. We’ll have to wait and see what develops.

The Wharfedale Pro 8.1 Active:

The 8.1’s are just about 3” shorter than the 8.2’s and have a 5” woofer crossed over at 2.0K Hz. The 8.2’s have the 6.5” and are crossed over at 1.9K Hz.
Aside from that, the two units are physically and electrically identical.
I just raised the 8.1’s up a few inches to put the tweeter at the same level as the 8.2’s, and made sure the SPL was the same as the 8.2’s, and sat back to compare them.
Both sets of speakers were used with a NAD 3300 integrated amplifier. By removing the jumpers on the back of the amp, I was able to connect the speakers directly to the preamp section using RCA cables. I set both speakers amps at their center detent position, which is 0db.

Since both the 8.2 & 8.1’s are so much alike, it’s understandable why they sound so similar.
They only differences I hear, (right out of the box), is that the 8.1’s seem to have lost the slight bump, along with the more extended bottom end of the 8.2’s. I also think the 8.1’s present even more detail than the 8.2’s. The difference between these two speakers can be compared to the differences between the Quad 12L and 11L. In other words, they’re close.

I would be very happy with either of these models at this point, but if I had to pick only one, and didn’t own a subwoofer, I’d go with the 8.2’s. Otherwise the 8.1’s would suit me better in my small room. I would never make such a decision though based on such a short trial period. I will keep both of these units for now, and make a decision after some time has passed. Then I’ll report back as to which one I prefer.

For now, I’ll have both sets of the Wharfs, and a set of Athena AS-F2’s, setup for an extended period, and see how well they compare with a wider variety of music in my room.

The Athena AS-F2 is my reference for comparison to any new speaker. These provide the things that are most important to me in a loudspeaker, at the absolute best price. At the moment, I feel these are the best deal in town, if your needs, and ear, are the same as mine. I like a full range, tube friendly, small footprint, dynamic, 2-way system,
front ported, efficient and well built pair of loudspeakers for $400.
Klipschorn, this is an astounding contribution to the discussion. Thanks for your observations and descriptions.

As stated above, I have two pair of the Quad 12L Actives and feel that they are the closest thing to "real" that I've ever heard...except for some truly high priced stuff from ATC, PMC, Westlake, and Genelec. After the Quad Actives, I could NEVER go back to "audiophile" speakers again, mostly because I hate the upper mid/low treble "warmth" voicing. The Quads sound fantastic, have incredible dynamic explosiveness, and the instruments sound like the actual thing. I know. I play several instruments.

In case folks aren't aware, the Quads have an active xover AND are each biamped. The tweeter has a 40 watter and the woofer a 60 watter. Although most folks probably assume this to be rather puny, it's really almost DOUBLE the wattage because you don't lose all the power thru the xover like you do in passive speakers. Are the amps in the Wharfdales the same specs as the Quads?

I'd be very curious to hear the Active Wharfdales some time. If they sound anything like their Quad sisters, they'd be a steal of a deal! Presently, I have the Quads x'ssed over to a Velo DD-12, and the result is fantabulous. One thing I'll say about the Quads is that they DO NOT have the exaggerated bass tip up that many "audiophile" speakers have. They slowly start rolling off at around 110-120hz, but still have significant enough power in the 60-80hz range...enough to cross over to a sub at 80hz.
People who ask small bookshelf speakers to reproduce solid 50-80hz loud spl levels are deluding themselves into thinking that speakers that size are actually capable of producing those sounds without a ton of distortion. Trust me, if you see that driver flapping around,'re hearing bloated, flabby, bass. Yeah, if you don't use a sub, it'll get you by, but they really aren't meant to do so.

You wanna know what the pro's think about distorted bass, just go to the Genelec site and see what size speaker they recommend for different sized rooms....

If anybody wants me to email them some choice articles about active speakers, feel free to contact me at

Thanks again, Klipschorn!

Go Active!
Does anyone knows if the amplifiers used in Quad 12L Active speakers (or Wharfdale Diamond 8.x Active) are using Quad's pattented "current dumping" circuit?

Yes Quad has 11L Active as well, somewhat smaller box, but same amps (60w bass / 40w tweeter) built in as in 12L Active. The amps are of the famous 'current dumping' design as found in their 909 power amp
When this review was written they did not exist. It took a couple years for the 11s to show up. There are 9s as well with an integrated USB dac.