The 2003 Products of the Year 2003 Loudspeaker
Quad ESL-989 (review) ($8500-$9350/pair; reviewed by Larry Greenhill, Art Dudley, & John Atkinson, Vol.25 No.11 & Vol.26 No.5, November 2002 & May 2003)
Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):
Audio Physic Virgo III (review) ($6995/pair; reviewed by Brian Damkroger, Vol.26 No.9, September 2003)
Dynaudio Confidence C4 (review) ($16,000/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.26 No.3, March 2003)
Focal-JMlab Grande Utopia Be (review) ($80,000/pair; reviewed by Paul Messenger, Vol.26 No.9, September 2003)
InnerSound Eros Mk.III (review) ($7995/pair; reviewed by Larry Greenhill & John Atkinson, Vol.26 Nos.4 & 5, April & May 2003)
Joseph Audio RM33si Signature (review) ($7499-$7799/pair; reviewed by Chip Stern & John Atkinson, Vol.24 No.10, Vol.25 No.1, & Vol.26 No.1, October 2001, January 2002, & January 2003)
Mission Pilastro (review) ($40,000/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.25 No.12, December 2002)
Sonus Faber Cremona ($7495/pair; reviewed by Sam Tellig, Vol.26 No.1, January 2003)
Totem Acoustic 1 Signature (review) ($1995/pair; reviewed by Larry Greenhill, Vol.21 No.1 & Vol.26 No.4, January 1997 & April 2003)
Triangle Magellan ($32,900/pair; reviewed by Sam Tellig, Vol.26 No.6, June 2003)
Wilson Audio Specialties WATT/Puppy 7 (review) ($22,400/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer, Vol.26 No.9, September 2003)
Wilson Benesch Arc (review) ($3825/pair; reviewed by John Marks, Vol.25 No.11, November 2002)
What better way to celebrate the longest-surviving electrostatic speaker in continuous production—now in its 23rd year of sales—than to name its current incarnation Stereophile's "Loudspeaker of 2003"? Deserving not only for its longevity but also for its improvement with age, the ESL-989 is the third version of Quad's groundbreaking ESL-63, and features two extra bass panels for improved low-frequency performance (-6dB at 30Hz vs the '988's 35Hz rating) compared with the otherwise identical ESL-63, which has now morphed into the ESL-988.
Despite the contenders being universally superb examples of the modern speaker designer's art, the ballot wasn't even close—the ESL-989 got more first-place votes than any other contender.
In his November 2002 (Vol.25 No.11) review, Larry Greenhill reflected, "Kicking back and listening to the Quad ESL-989's warmth, transparency, transient response, and power...I couldn't think of another loudspeaker I'd rather own." Art Dudley looked back on the '989's predecessors fondly but was untouched by nostalgia: "The relatively Spartan cachet of the original is a thing of the past, and the company that made it has changed forever—but the new model is better in almost every way, not to mention one of the best you can buy, period." Likewise, John Atkinson found the ESL-989s to be the best loudspeakers he had ever experienced in terms of midrange magic and imaging.
Though it's still unable to reach down to the 20Hz extreme required for a full-range Class A rating in "Recommended Components," and it gives up ultimate dynamic range in favor of midrange perfection, we proudly make room for the ESL-989 to sit in our "Restricted Extreme LF" subcategory, happily sacrificing those last few hertz and decibels.