From Quad ESL-63 to Spire

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Mark.Yudkin

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The Quads
Well, one of my Quad ESL-63's decided to go wrong again - popping noises - signalling yet another (the sixth!) repair involving shipping the speaker from Zürich Switzerland, with a courier or transporter, to Huntingdon in UK. The postal service won't transport such a large or heavy package and the new Quad importer has continued the policy of using Quad Musikwiedergabe in Germany, although they are not part of IAG and refurbish panels rather than replacing them with new ones. So with another expensive bill for a 20 year old speaker that had had all of its panels replaced only 6 years previously, it seemed that it may be time to get new speakers. Budget was up to ca CHF 10,000 (ca USD 12,000), for a speaker that has to last ca 20 years.

With Quad being out for reasons of inadequate local support, the obvious replacement - the ESL-2805 - could be excluded with a tear in the eye. Its taller brother, the ESL-2905 was anyway out of the question due to placement before a window.

Non-ML Non-Options
There are some ESL manufacturers other than Martin Logan - perhaps the best known being Soundlabs and King's Audio, but with no local distribution, purchasing one of their models meant having the same quandary as the Quads - and if I was going to buy something without quality local support, then new Quad ESL-2805's were anyway the obvious route to audio nirvana.

The other interesting planar membrane speaker option is radia planar - used in the ML Architectural series, and also for a while by Martin Logan in other speakers, for example in the Fresco i's I have. As with Soundlabs and King's Audio, lack of local distribution precluded serious consideration.

Home Trial
Armed with the basic facts but only rough pricing, I contacted the dealer from whom I'd bought the Depth i and Fresco i's. The response: we no longer sell Martin Logan. Googling uncovered the official local dealer, later confirmed by the importer's response to my web site inquiry. I send an email, get a response, actual pricing, and an indication that he's going to be closed for two weeks starting the next day, which is Easter Friday. This is looking bad - I need to decide repair or replace, not wait, but the dealer has indicated that he's reachable by e-mail. I go home, a little frustrated, but ready to face the next challenge: asking the CHF 10,000 question "may I have money we don't have for new speakers we can't afford?"

Before I can even report the details to my wife over dinner and face the music, the phone rings and my wife picks it. Surprise! It's the dealer telling her half the story, including that he's seen my comment that I need to decide quickly. He's phoning to offer a two week loan of his demonstration Ethos. It makes no difference to him whether they're standing around in his closed shop, or are with me. We can decide if we want to try them out, phone him at home in the morning and collect them.

With the CLX and Summit X priced way over our maximally stretched budget, the Spire and Ethos are basically the limit. So my wife and I discuss the 10K question, and decide to go ahead and borrow the Ethos. Connect them up, plug them in, recalibrate the AV9's speaker trims and put on some music.

The Ethos Experience
As always when you get a new toy to play with, you try out specific sources, only later do you quit fiddling around and just use the kit as it was meant to be used. We were no different. On went the award-winning multichannel SACD of Vivaldi's La Stravaganza with Rachel Podger and Arte Dei Suonatori on Collins Classics - a source we had used extensively when we bought the Fresco i's and Depth i to complement the Quads in a surround sound setup, but also some of the most stylish Vivaldi playing on record. First reactions: more clinical, more air around the instruments, but less full and not that "wall of sound" the Quads gave. As with the Quads, we had no physical centre speaker.

I assumed (incorrectly?) the effect to be due to the limited rear sound radiation. The woofer section primarily fires forwards, but even the curved panel spreads the sound at the front whilst focussing it at the rear. The Quads with their delay rings have absolute dipolar symmetry, and their imaging is fantastic. Checking with the dealer after his return also reveals that the Ethos have been well run in.

Anyway, we switch from the surround sound SACD to Leifs' Baldr on a BIS CD. It's hard to know how to set the level on this CD, as it starts very quietly and slowly builds up. Reaction after the first scene (Dance of the Creatures of the Earth): clear, clinical, but too restrained. My wife has a preference for the clinicality of the new speakers - and she prefers the looks. I'm still not convinced, but do appreciate the more clinical sound. We agree that imaging is good. I figure I need to try increasing the volume.

When one's being listening to Leifs' Baldr, it's sort of obvious that one puts on Tveitt's Baldur's Dream, also on BIS. Each of us hears his opinion reconfirmed. So we stop fiddling around and watch the first DVD with three episodes of Lark Rise to Candleford Series 4 on DVD. We now know the speakers are not in any way fatiguing - we just enjoyed Lark Rise to Candleford and only stopped as we had other activities planned for the evening.

Next day I try something I don't know - a CD of orchestral works by Matthew Curtis with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Gavin Sutherland on Campion that I'd just bought and not yet heard. This time we hear the CD through and I again have a problem that the sound is not full - a weakness around the cello / viola. As an experiment I replay the final piece "Outward Bound", but switching the AV9's "direct" on and off (all sound through the Ethos vs 80Hz crossover between the Ethos and Depth i). My wife says she can't hear any difference, and I agree.

I then decide to test something a little less "typical" - Tiensuu's nemo on a mulitchannel Alba SACD - a work for ensemble, sampler and live-electronics, where the electronics are even bounced around the room, swirling around you. At this stage I figure I'm being silly with all these attempt to catch the speakers out - they're obviously worth their price.

Otherwise we're using the speakers as we would normally - TV (romances, James Bond film), CDs, DVDs (even Akutosh Gowariker's 3.5 hour What's Your Raashee? (13 songs - a record?) while the wife is out and I can watch at my volumes). We decide to buy, but I prefer the Spires, hoping that the larger panel and lower crossover will address the little niggles. I order the Spires.

Of course the real test would have been with ESL-2805's in the same room. Unfortunately, this was not possible as no dealer here has both Quad and Martin Logan.

The Spires
My hope is that the Spires will address the niggles mentioned above, but I rather suspect that the specific issues will not really be resolved, and the absence of a downwards facing passive radiator has me concerned that in some ways, I'll have even less of that soundstage the Quads so wonderfully create.

As it turned out, the Spires, which we've now had for 3 months, address all the fears. The 28% price difference over the Ethos is more than justified. Imaging is better and the space between the speakers no longer sounds "empty".

I have found a speaker that can successfully replace the Quad ESLs - doing some things better (greater detail and clinicality), even if coming short in others. I'll miss not having Quads, but a lot less than I'd feared, and I even get some improvements as compensation for my loss. If only the CLX wasn't so ludicrously expensive!

- An Australian in Switzerland

Arcam: AV9, P1000, DV137, CD82, DT91. Martin Logan: Spire, Fresco i (surrounds & rears), Depth i.
 
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roberto

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Hola and welcome Mark. I was a Quad user long time ago and had a lot of service issues too. Thanks you for sharing us your adventure (with all respect). Spires will give you a total of stress-free music, and offering all the benefits of all electrostatic speakers. Once you lisen to an electrostatic, you are hooked. Your ears deserve the best, and I strong believe that the Spires are the best bang for the money. It is so good to know that you are very happy with them. Of course they are not perfect, but which speaker is perfect? Happy listening,
Roberto.
 
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