I first saw a working prototype of the Quad 9L Active desktop loudspeaker more than a year ago (at CES 2009), and thought from the outset that it was a cleverly conceived product that might make a great review subject for Playback. Now, more than a year after that first glimpse, the 9L Active has been tweaked, revised and refined en route to final production, yet without losing any of the cool features that made it seem like such a good idea in the first place.
What exactly are those features? Well, for starters, the 9L Active package, which sells for $800, includes two very compact, self-powered bookshelf speakers that leverage drive unit technology from Quad’s critically acclaimed L-series loudspeakers. Further, the 9L Active package is set up to support three inputs: digital audio via a USB port (yes, the 9L Active features its own built-in USB DAC), plus analog audio via either a front-panel mounted stereo mini-jack or a rear panel-mounted stereo pair of RCA jacks. Finally, the system is supplied with an assortment of necessary hook-up cables, plus a small, easy-to-use remote control unit. In a nutshell, then, the 9L Active system stands as a very high quality, plug-and-play, desktop-audio-in-a-box package, where all you need to add is a PC, a personal digital music player/disc player or a preamp (or any combination of these).
But the 9L Active system is also quite different from any of Quad’s earlier self-powered bookshelf speakers. Whereas Quad’s 11L and 12L Studio Active self-powered speakers were voiced primarily for use as true monitoring speakers, the 9L Active system is in every way—including speaker voicing—geared specifically for desktop use (a design choice we’ll comment on in depth in the SONIC CHARACTER section of this review, below).
In practice, this means the 9L Active system aims to provide a bigger, richer and thus more satisfying sound than most desktop rigs, yet while preserving many of the core sonic qualities that have made Quad’s higher-end speaker systems famous. Does it succeed? That’s a key question we will answer in this review.
Consider this self-powered desktop speaker if: you seek a desktop audio system that offers many of the sonic attributes of higher-end speaker systems (excellent detail, focus and soundstaging, with beautiful integration between drivers), yet that deliberately produces a warmer, richer, more full-bodied and more evocative sound than most desktop systems can. While some purists might consider the 9L Active’s “euphonic” voicing touches to be colorations (which, in a sense, they are), the fact is that the system manages to convey more of the feel of listening to a full-sized hifi system than to a small and potentially underwhelming and anemic-sounding traditional desktop system. At $800, the 9L Active system is certainly not cheap, yet we think it’s a bargain given the results you achieve.
Look further if: you want a self-powered speaker system to use for professional monitoring purposes or as a whole-room audio system. While the 9L Active certainly could be used for either of those applications, Quad’s 11L or 12L Studio Active models would frankly be a better fit, though at significantly higher costs. But for simply relaxing and enjoying music at your desktop, the 9L Active system is tough to beat.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced self-powered speakers)