Yet another Quad 57 Experience


Ho hum, some will say...can we not mention this speaker again?
Obviously not!

I recently had yet another demonstration of this loudspeaker's power; one that 'solidified' some of my judgements.
Let it be said, I am one of those people who, after a lifetime of searching, finally found The Music in the form of the Quad ESL 57s; "Walker's Wonders" as they have been dubbed. As a musician (piano) my search has been simple but quite circuitous: finding a speaker that makes music that I recognize to be real was not an easy process.

Much has been written about this speaker. Many of you will have read glowing accounts of its ability in the all-important midrange. But these are just words.

And this is what happened last week...

I had the opportunity to buy a mint pair of the 57's successors; the Quad 63s as they are known. As expected, the set-up was easy, given that the 63 is a strict dipole (so rear reflections have to be taken into account). What was immediately apparent is that the 63s had a little more bass and a little more dynamic capability. The midrange (as many reviewers have noted) however was not quite in the same league as its predecessor.
I listened to a variety of music (mostly vinyl sourced): everything from rock thru to plainsong and was relatively well pleased.
After three days I unhooked them and went back to the 57s. Relief.

A good friend, who also has a pair of 57s, was most curious to hear the 63s, so out they came again.
Firstly we listened to two pieces of music, one rock, and one mostly acoustic vocal, both thru the 57s. Two minutes later we did the same thru the 63s.

Thirty seconds in, we began to talk about what we were hearing.
This is the interesting point, the epiphany if you will.
Neither of us would have dreamed of speaking during the first 'performance'. Not only was the music compelling (as good music invariably is) but it would have seemed unseemly to have done so. The 63s permitted the interruption.

For me this is a crucial point. To talk when listening to reproduced music is perfectly permissible: during a live performance, much less so. It was brought home to me again with great clarity that the Quad 57, this old-fashioned space-heater of a thing, despite all its faults (and it has a few) makes music like nothing else I have ever heard. Any attempt to 'improve' this speaker seems doomed: the improvements seem inevitable to come at at too great a cost.

I would petition that this speaker has an ability like none other, before or since. Is it just the midrange, or the phase coherence (for which the 57 is also famous for)? I wonder. Like many other devotees I find it impossible to believe that this seeming magic-trick of a speaker could ever, ever, be improved.

Peter Walker: you were a genius!
57s4me
You really ought to listen some time to original Quads without their heavy metal grills and without their Mylar dust covers. Forget about it.
Nicely written.
You're a lucky guy.......
Thirty seconds in, we began to talk about what we were hearing.
This is the interesting point, the epiphany if you will.
Neither of us would have dreamed of speaking during the first 'performance'. Not only was the music compelling (as good music invariably is) but it would have seemed unseemly to have done so. The 63s permitted the interruption.
Not a fair conclusion, I think. With the 63's, you were hearing the selection a second time and the focus of what you were doing was to compare the sound and the experience to the earlier listening. Do you see the problems there? I'm not saying you reached the wrong conclusion (I owned 57's for 20 years, I get it), just that your approach may have helped lead you there.
I did get the pleasure of listening to Quads (first time ever) don't know which model, at the NYC 2012 show. I think It was my favorite sounding room. I would try putting the 57's away and live with the 63's exclusively for at least a month to get very well accustomed to them. Then switch back in the 57's. Either way, I am very interested in your comparison. You may just have to change your user ID, just kidding!
Great and informative Post 57' !
The 57's are a musical experience. I had two buddies in the late 80s with 57s. They had modified the speakers by taking off the grills and base and mounting them in a wood frame. They had concrete block weighing down the wood frames. It was very industrial looking and the two copper sheets were staring back at me. In fact, you should see your face in each panel if you are in the optimum position. Hooked up to tube gear they were magical. I heard the 63s in a shop a few years ago- nice but not quite the same as the 57s in my mind; not the vocals anyway.
57s4me, "It was brought home to me again with great clarity that the Quad 57, this old-fashioned space-heater of a thing, despite all its faults (and it has a few) makes music like nothing else I have ever heard."

I agree wholeheartedly.

My one and only criticism is they lack the last octave and a half on the bottom end. That said, the bass they do produce is outstanding in terms of quality. Given their holistic performance, I happily live with this shortcoming. I find the knock on their inability to play loud false, as I listen at 95dB in the listening chair with no sense of straining them.

As you said, in comparison to them, no other speaker produces anything that comes as close to actual music. When you think an average pair goes for under $2K, you wonder why audiophiles spend so (especially, these days) much for (often drastically) inferior sound.
This thread takes me back more years than I remember, or care to remember. I recall that the 57s and 63s were the darlings of the high-end B&M audio shop that I used to hang out at in the 70s and 80s.

Some background recollections, which may not be entirely accurate. Would sure appreciate some clarification and correction where appropriate.

First, I generally recall that one of the few drawbacks of the early Quad ESLs was their power handing ceiling coupled with a correlative limitation on dynamic range. I think the 63s addressed this issue (at least in part) with improved protective circuitry and better power handling ability.

Second, I also seem to recall that the 63s had a pretty sophisticated time delay feature built into the ESL array and circuitry. The purpose of the foregoing refinement was to simulate sound propagation emanating from a point source and then rippling outward. I do not recall if this improved sound. The comments above suggest maybe not.

Last point is a question, actually 3 Qs. One, if one wanted to pick up a well-done rebuild, which outfit would the Quad lovers recommend? Two, would the use of a subwoofer be a good supplement? Three, how do the old 57s/63s (assume rebuilt with modern protection circuits) compare to modern Quads, i.e., 2805s or 2905s? I've read many horror stories about Quad owners blowing panels and still complaining about acoustic dynamics.

As a matter of curiosity, I've always had a hankering to pick-up a pair of rebuilt 57s or 63s just to hear their acoustic capabilities.

Thanks for the memories.
Hello all,

I've tried posting this response thru the system, but it appeared to be rejected. If it appears twice, then my apologies!

Drubin,

Yes, point taken. The experimental method lacked rigor. But, in defense, I did gladly spend three days of listening to the 63s, and had already drawn certain conclusions for myself. Of course (at least not yet anyway) I don't spend much time talking to myself: the demo with my friend, and its result, was a kind of icing on the cake in terms of coming to a final position regarding the comparison.

Bifwynne,

Your points too are well taken. The 57s do have their limitations dynamically. Attempts have been made to stack Quads, and (erroneously I think) to add super-tweeters, all in an attempt to produce more sound. Having heard a number of thusly modified systems I have usually been left lukewarm. Certainly louder, and no doubt a greater treble presence, but the imaging and overall coherence seemed to suffer.
The subject of subwoofers is contentious. I do use a very slight boost in the 30Hz range, almost unnoticeable, as it probably should be, and I find this to be perfectly acceptable. My subwoofer is a modest 8" unit, and I think it integrates quite well.The old Gradient units, dipolar, and as rare as hen's teeth, are apparently the best match, if they can be found. Apparently these had the right 'speed' for the 57s.
My neighbor has a pair of 2905s: beautifully articulate, great dynamics, and an impressive bass reach, but again it's the midrange that seems to pay the price. Incredibly frustrating in some ways!

There have been some shoot-outs between 'new' rebuilt 57s, one in particular in one of the English mags. If I recall correctly, there was a consensus that Wayne Picquet in Florida was King of the Hill (http://quadsunlimited.us). It would seem that he is 'spiritually' the closest to Peter Walker, and he would be my go-to guy should anything ever go badly wrong with my beloved pair.

The 63s were certainly a sophisticated concept: the time-delay from the centre, and the resultant pinpoint imaging is breathtaking. I suppose imaging is not enough to confer greatness, but it certainly was a great strength.

Finally, in answer to Geoffkait: I simply wouldn't dare! I do believe that there might be an attendant removing-of-the-veil associated with this, but the fragility of the naked 57 would make me impossibly nervous. Maybe one day, if I ever get my hands an another pair....
I heard that most high end speaker companies have a pair of 57's just for comparison. I always wanted a pair but room limitations would not allow.