Mention the name Quad to many home theater enthusiasts and you might get nothing more than a blank stare, but mention the same name to high-end audio enthusiasts and you are likely to see broad smiles of recognition appear. The reason for this is that the British firm is famous, at least within the audiophile community, for both its superb tube and solid state electronics and especially for the legendary Quad electrostatic loudspeaker—or ESL, for short. Ever since the ESL first appeared back in the 1950s, Quad’s electrostatic speakers—now in their fourth iteration—have been winning music lovers’ hearts, minds and ears, earning iconic status as among the greatest loudspeakers ever made.
If you have ever heard a set of Quad ESL speakers in action, you can probably understand why they are so widely revered. Few competing designs offer a more balanced combination of resolution, imaging, neutrality and stunning sonic purity—a combination of virtues that makes the Quads incredibly faithful to whatever types of material you choose to play. Not for nothing is Quad’s slogan, “The Closest Approach to the Original Sound.” Even so, many would question whether Quad’s electrostats are appropriate for home theater systems, since several pragmatic considerations limit their appeal. Specifically, they are large and unusually shaped, tricky to place for best results, harder to drive than conventional loudspeakers, tend not to sound their best when played very loudly, and are very expensive.
Given these factors, it was perhaps inevitable that enthusiasts would ask if Quad could develop a series of conventional speakers that would preserve essential elements of the Quad electrostatic sound, yet that would also be capable of handling the dynamic demands of movie soundtracks and that would be more traditional in appearance, easier to install and to drive, and—above all—more affordable. Happily, the answer to this wish list turns out to be Quad’s L2-series of “electrodynamic” loudspeakers, which are the subject of this review. Purists might object that because the L2 models are built in China, not in Great Britain, they are therefore not “real” Quads, but this is errant nonsense.
Unlike many A/V manufacturers building products in Asia, Quad enjoys an extremely close and cooperative relationship with its Chinese factory, in part because both Quad and its factory are owned by the same parent company, International Audio Group (or IAG, for short). Consequently, the factory builds nothing but Quad products and Quad even stations some of its own full-time British employees in China to live and work alongside their Chinese counterparts. The result is a range of speakers that realize the cost benefits of offshore manufacturing, featuring extremely high-tech components and assembly techniques while retaining an unmistakable touch of old-world craftsmanship and charm.
For this review, I assembled a 5.1-channel surround system based on a pair Quad’s flagship 22L2 floorstanders, used as main speakers, an L2 Centre center-channel speaker, a pair of 11L2 bookshelf monitors used as surround speakers, and a 300-watt L2 Subwoofer. The entire system sells for $4896—or less than half what a pair of Quad’s model 2905 electrostats would cost. Does the L2 system uphold Quad’s traditional sonic family values? That’s one of the key questions I’ll attempt to answer in this review. I’ll also try to assess ways in which the new L2-series speakers improve upon Quad’s earlier generation L-series models, which the L2’s effectively replace.
Consider this system if: you seek a speaker system that offers on the one hand exceptional detail, delicacy, and clarity, yet that on the other hand powerfully conveys a sense of dynamic energy and life, both for music and movie playback. The subwoofer is a major strong point, offering greater power, depth and controllability than many in its class. And did I mention that the system’s woodwork and finish quality is drop-dead gorgeous?
Look further if: you are by nature a comparison shopper, since there are worthy competitors in or near this price class, from manufacturers such as Monitor Audio, Paradigm, and PSB—to name just three. Even so, the Quad system’s balanced mix of killer workmanship and refined yet powerful sound is tough to beat—especially so in light of the system’s sensible (though certainly not cheap) pricing.
Transparency and Focus: 10
Imaging and Soundstaging: 9
Tonal Balance: 9.5
Bass Extension: 9
Bass Pitch Definition: 9
Bass Dynamics: 9.5