I found that, under some circumstances, the 9L Active system could sound just slightly under-damped in the mid-bass region, though this could be mitigated by repositioning the speaker either closer to or further from the back wall of the room. However, another great option—and one that proved very effective for me—is to try placing the 9L Active speakers on small foam damping pads. I placed a set of Teo Audio “Damping Diamonds-in-the-Rough” foam pads beneath the Quad speakers and got great results. With the Teo pads in place, bass power and punch remained, while textures tightened up and traces of looseness melted away.
Second, the 9L Active system addresses the problem of treble edginess and glare in two ways. First, Quad’s 1-inch fabric dome tweeter is unusually smooth sounding, which is always a good starting point, and second—in the 9L Active—Quad gives the tweeter a judicious bit of high-frequency roll-off rather than the more-or-less ruler flat response curves used in its 11L and 12L Studio Active speakers. Again, purists might object to this touch of treble roll-off as a sonic coloration, but if so I would argue that it is a coloration that serves the music well if you start with the baseline assumption that the listener will be seated roughly at arm’s length from the speakers. The roll-off is subtle and shallow enough that you can still hear plenty of high frequency overtones and harmonics in the music, but at the same time it gently suppresses many of the treble response anomalies and “rough edges” that could potentially tug at your ears and disrupt the flow of the music. For many listeners, I think this will seem a brilliant design compromise where a small amount of accuracy has been sacrificed in order to buy a large increase in overall listenability.
Finally, the 9L Active tackles desktop imaging and soundstaging issues, partly through its calculated touch of treble roll-off, but especially by doing a remarkably good job of driver integration. Individually, the 9L Active’s mid-bass driver and tweeter are both capable of very high levels of resolution and focus, but what’s really impressive is the way that they play together. From the upper bass through the body of the midrange and on up into the lower treble region, frequency response is for the most part neutral, with—and this is the real kicker—almost no sense of transitioning from one driver to the other. As a result, the 9L Active throws wide, deep, well-focused and highly three-dimensional soundstages that unfold well behind the plane of the speakers.
One overarching comment I would offer is that, while the 9L Active system performs very well when fed by high-quality analog sources, it was at its best when fed lossless digital audio files via its USB DAC input. When so driven, the 9L Active system exhibited heightened qualities of focus and resolution, which is especially impressive when you consider that some USB DACs cost as much or more than the entire 9L Active system does.
To experience the richness and three-dimensionality of which the 9L Active system is capable, try listening to a well-made recording of symphonic material, such as Leon Jessel’s Parade of the Wooden Soldiers as conducted by Frederick Fennel on the Dallas Wind Symphony Sampler [Reference Recordings]. Under normal circumstances, large-scale symphonic works tend more to expose the weaknesses than the strengths of most desktop systems, but no so with the Quad 9L Active system. Instead, the familiar march theme of Parade of the Wooden Soldiers unfolded with real power, weight, and a jaunty, brassy exuberance. In my notebook, I jotted that the sound of the Quad system was “lush, smooth, big, and dynamically expressive.” What is more, the wonderful three-dimensional qualities for which Reference Recordings are justly famous were reproduced beautifully through the Quads. It’s an eerie but very pleasurable experience to sit perhaps two feet from the Quads, yet to hear them cast a wide and deep soundstage whose arc extends well beyond the back wall of the room.
But the Quad 9L Active is more than just a “classical music” speaker system, as you’ll discover if you put on a record such as the 30th Anniversary edition of Pink Floyd’s iconic Dark Side of the Moon [Capitol]. On “Breathe”, for example, the classic “heartbeat” intro had real depth, weight, and punch through the Quad system, though of course not the subterranean lows you would hear through a true full-range system. Similarly, the various small treble textural details that made this album seem such a marvel when it was first released were captured by the Quads with a kind of smooth, effortless clarity and focus. Most importantly, as the lyric of the song begins, the vocalist sounded evocative and alive though the 9L Actives, yet not at all shrill or edgy (as can often be the case when this record is played through lesser systems). My listening notes for this track read, “expansive, percussive, never shrill, with a response curve whose shape means you don’t miss the very low bass of which the track is capable.” That, in a way, stands as good summation of what’s so very right about the 9L Active system.