Review: Quad 12L-A Active Monitor
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.
SCD-CE775 SACD player
Tributaires SCA-300 Interconnect
Chang Lightspeed CLS-3200
Lovan Affiniti 24 Inch stands
Quad 12L passive