Bass is both well-defined and deeply extended, and can also be—when circumstances warrant—very powerful. Many systems in this price range have good subs, but ones that seem, when pushed to their limits, just a bit under-matched relative to their respective systems. The Quad L2 Subwoofer, however, can more than keep pace with the other elements of the L2 system so that, when big low frequency swells come along in music or movie soundtracks, the woofer always seems to have headroom to spare. Even though the Quad sub uses a large 12” woofer, I found that it sounded quite agile and was capable of much better than average pitch definition.
More so than many systems in its price class, Quad’s L2 system offer very good imaging and surround soundstaging. The ideal, of course, is to have speakers that “disappear,” so that sounds seem to emanate from precise, 3D points in space—not from the speaker enclosures, themselves. The Quad rig does a very good job in this respect, I think because the revised L2-series tweeters (and their associated “dispersion plates”) really do work as advertized, smoothing treble response both on and off-axis while enhancing dispersion. The result is that very subtle spatial and reverberant cues in music and movie soundtracks seem to float free from the speaker, rather than tugging at your ears in a distracting way. This, in turn, fosters the sort of very nearly seamless “wraparound” imaging that is highly prized by music and movie enthusiasts alike.
If you’ve heard the old myths about British loudspeakers sounding warm, fuzzy, and “polite,” you should know up front the Quad L2 system never got that memo. True, the L2 system is capable of great delicacy, but its sound is also precise, bold, dynamic, and alive—especially so on well-crafted movie soundtracks. During the opening scenes of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, the more delicate side of the Quad system comes into play, doing a great job with the subtle sound of wind in the ship’s rigging and sails, the almost subliminal creaking of the hull as the ship rolls on gentle ocean swells, and the sounds of a night watch officer deftly stepping around or ducking beneath crew members’ suspended hammocks as he makes his rounds below decks. These details are presented clearly, but without any extra emphasis or spotlighting, and perhaps for this reason they seem all the more believable.
But minutes later in the same film, a very different and more aggressive aspect of the L2 system’s sonic character is called upon. When the H.M.S. Surprise suffers a surprise attack from the French privateer Acheron, the ensuing racket is almost stupefying. Sounds of cannonball sizzling overhead, of heavy rope lines snapping, of yardarms falling, and of wooden planks and fixtures being blown to smithereens all fill the soundstage at once. What was very impressive was not just that the Quad system reproduced these sound effects with plenty of dynamic punch, but that it kept each of the sounds clear and distinct at the same time. What really wowed me, however, was the way the Quad rig handled the loud, sharp “craaAACK” and low-pitched “BOOoom” of the Surprise’s own cannons being fired. Typically this passage sounds at least somewhat compressed through most home theater systems, but through the Quad system it took on an altogether more powerful and incisive quality, momentarily pressurizing the listening room and slapping me in the chest with a potently concussive bass wave. This kind of realism is bracing, invigorating, and all too rare.
Those of you who have read my equipment reviews in the past know that I value speaker systems that can walk a sonic tightrope, of sorts, balancing dynamic energy, “grunt,” and muscle on the one hand against accuracy, detail, and finesse on the other, and I found the L2 system was extremely good at pulling off such balancing acts. To hear what I mean, try a track such as “If You Love Me Like You Say” from blues guitarist Debbie Davies’ Holdin’ Court [Vizztone]. Ms. Davies certainly qualifies as a “master of the Stratocaster,” and on this track makes judicious use of a wah-wah pedal to explore the more vocal, singing, crying and even howling qualities of her instrument’s voice. It’s a sound that is at once very precisely controlled, yet full of barely restrained energy and dynamic power. Add to this Casandra Faulconer’s granite-solid Fender bass lines and Don Castagno’s percussion (which combines Swiss-watch precision and old-school Arnold Schwarzenegger-style muscle), and you’ve got a track that demands excellence from a speaker system on many levels at once. And happily, the Quad L2 system does not disappoint, but rather wades right in and nails the penetrating howl of Davies’ guitar, the throaty drive and pulse of Faulconer’s bass, and the exquisite shimmer and pop of Castagno’s drum kit. Not many speaker systems in this class could have equaled the L2 system’s performance (though comparably-priced systems from Monitor Audio, Paradigm, and PSB—to name just three—might give it a run for its money).