Review: Quad U S A ESL-989 Speaker

Category: Speakers

I have owned the QUAD ESL-989 for over a year now, and will not think of giving it up for any other speaker. They suit my musical tastes perfectly, as I listen solely to classical music, and particularly enjoy vocal music, especially Bach's cantatas.

The most important aspects of sound to me are precise definition, and reproduction, and the QUAD speakers do this nearly perfectly. They allow pinpoint resolution of each component of the orchestra, but I cannot solely attribute this to the speakers alone, as my amplifier, pre-amplifier, and SACD player also have a significant role to play in musical reproduction.

As I mentioned, the sound stage is unparalleled. The upper- and mid-range frequencies are flawless. The bass (which I only hear when listening to the organ or cello) is precise and causes my body to resonate, as well as the furniture that I sit on, but oddly enough it does not shake the floor, so I must say that this would be the only weak point of the speakers.

I have heard speakers that cost 30 times the price of the QUAD's, and they don't come close to matching the precise sound reproduction. I don't think I'll ever own any other pair of speakers.

Associated gear
Cardas Golden Reference speaker cables
What are your electronics and how much power are you driving them with.

I have an almost complete QUAD system: I am driving the speakers with the QUAD II-forty monoblocks. My pre- is the QUAD QC-24, and my source is usually the Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista CD/SACD player.

One weakness that I regularly notice is that at high volumes and high frequencies (i.e. loud soprano), I will hear some distortion, but my amps and pre- are near the speakers, as a matter of necessity, because of limited space, and I suspect that this fault is due to feedback because of my mediocre setup.
"I have heard speakers that cost 30 times the price of the QUAD's, and they don't come close to matching the precise sound reproduction."

OK let's see 30 X $8000 = $240,000

What $240,000 speakers were blown away by the quads?? come on. You lose your credibility and it makes the whole review supsect.
Doesn't mark my credibility down: it makes one question the validity of spending more than 10k on a pair of speakers. What does that extra 200k do? Nothing that I can tell!
I have always liked the Quads...any Quads. I agree with you that the most expensive isn't necessarily the best. If you listen to classical and/or jazz, you probably go to a lot of live concerts and instinctively seek gear that doesn't sizzle your ears off, yet still has a lively and detailed midrange. I have owned $80,000 Dynaudio speakers (bought 'em used, thankfully, and sold 'em for just a tad more than I paid for 'em) that don't do any better than the Quads in anything close to a normal room, although they can fill a large warehouse
with loud music. On most of my software, my $6,000 Triangle Volantes sound closer to what I have heard in live concerts than the Dynaudios did, although the latter were more spectacular and did better in extremely large rooms. I agree with you: hyperbole is a valid rhetorical device, and your point is well made, even though there may not be any "stock" $250,000 speakers out there. Robm, don't be such a literalist -- it's the music that counts, and Quads are among the very few speakers that can recreate a good slice of the "live" experience in your living room. No system can make an auditorium out of your house, but Quads can give you the same goosebumps...and that's more than I can say for Wisdoms, Wilsons, Dynaudios, Nolas, JM Utopias, or other systems I HAVE heard that cost more than a new Porsche...and won't fill a room with anything any closer to "live" than the Quads will. Happy listening.

I have a pair of Quad's 989 too and enjoy them a lot. I had many planars in the past (CLSII, Final, Quad's ESL63 USA, Sound Lab Auras,Apogee Mini-Grand's, Magnepan 3.6). The Quads are the most complete speakers that I had in terms of soundstage, coherence, overall natural sound reproduction and in a reasonable size package. The Sound Lab's were close to that quality too. All the other ones were lacking something or adding too much. I use Audio Research gear to drive them. Have anyone tried to pull the sock down and with what kind of sound results ans aestetics ?

Claude, I have a friend who has tried these Quads with the sock down, and I have heard and seen them both ways at his place -- to my ears, the sound doesn't improve. It is DIFFERENT ever so slightly, audible only on some material, but it's too close a call to say the quality improves or declines. And the aesthetics are horrible. Also, I think the manufacturer warns against the possibility of damaging the exposed panels. These speakers are so good that there is simply no reason, in my opinion, to try to tweak them to a higher state of performance, other than trying different room orientations, amplifiers, etc. I suspect any musical flaws in the performance of the Quad 989's are due strictly to equipment mismatches, difficult room set-up conditions, or bad software.
Gerald Clifton,
I have the ESL-63, so I can't comment on the sound of the 989 specifically, except to say that Drbond's description of the 989 sound applies as well to the ESL-63.

Now, as for the socks: The socks are there for aesthetic reasons, however the metal grille underneath is for personal safety. Behind the metal grille, there is a thin plastic membrane - a dustcover - which is there for the longevity of the panels. Some people claim a sonic benefit from removing combinations of all three (sock, metal grille, dustcover. Removing the dustcover may or may not be harmful to your speakers, depending on the dust and humidity of the environment. I personally would never take the metal grille off.

I believe I have found 'my' speakers in the ESL-63, and I can't or rather don't want to spend the $$$ on the potentially better 989s - at least not until the next bout of audiphile nevrosis hits me.

Take care,

- Harald
Nice review. I had heard a pair of Quad electrostats in a hotel room for the first time and it was am absolute let down. The speaker looked so big in that tiny room.
Then I got a chance to visit a dealer and that setup really blew me away. He was using ultra-expensive gear form Nagra and tubes. They are amazing speakers, especially for the clarity and being so musical. Some vocals seem eerily real. The only thing these speakers cannot do is the deep bass - of which I am not a fan. I found them tonally very soothing.
I have similar feelings for my Quad dynamic speakers.
Hello Fellow Goners,
I am late to the party, however, I would like to note:
First, Clifton (Gkcc3) thank for your excellent point that "NO" speaker is going to sound like an auditorium performance in ones living room.
Just not going to happen.
Second, everyones actual hearing capacities are very different,
making any equipment review fodder for debate, I'm OK with that.
Third, Music is Art.
We all may sit at the same concert and come away with different views of the performance.
It's all subjective and that's OK as well.
Now here is my point.
I have and play a '66 Steinway M that is next to my Quad ESL 989s powered by a Wolcott P120. I play by ear so when I am learning a piece and I'm listening to Nat Cole, Oscar Peterson, Monk, Chuck Leavell, Basie, Ashkenazy,
Emil Gilels, Diana K or whomever, the Piano reproduction through the Quad 989s is very close.

Is it perfect, no, it can't be. One is live the other a reproduction, but it is very close top to bottom to the Steinway.
This is what I hear with my ears, for what it's worth.
Until then remember, "Art can Beautify the Dull" so enjoy it while you can.
My two cents,