The 2003 Products of the Year 2003 Product of the Year
Quad ESL-989 loudspeaker (see "Loudspeakers")
Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):
Classé Omega monoblock power amplifier
dCS Verdi-Purcell-Elgar Plus SACD/CD playback system
Focal-JMlab Grande Utopia Be loudspeaker
Manley Steelhead phono preamplifier
Naim NAC-552 preamplifier
Parasound Halo JC 1 monoblock power amplifier
SME 30/2 turntable
VTL TL-7.5 Reference preamplifier
Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 7 loudspeaker
Slow and steady wins the race again.
The Quad ESL-989 barely edged out two of our Amplification winners—the earth-quaking Parasound Halo JC 1 and the world-beating VTL TL-7.5—to take home the top prize. Quad's original ESL speaker made its début in 1957 as "a genuine breakthrough, not just a refinement of something else," and the ESL-989 is the latest descendant of what became known as "Walker's Wonder." The '989's immediate predecessor, the ESL-63, placed second among John Atkinson's list of the 100 most important audio products since 1962 and was his very first "Editor's Choice," back in 1992. While the '989 still may not be perfect—who wants perfection, anyway?—its improvements are undeniable: more bass, more inner detailing, more depth and sense of spatial location, and a more extended top end, while preserving the original's alluring midrange and holographic imaging.
Can it continue to improve? Sadly, given Peter Walker's poor health these days (footnote 1) it's likely that the ESL-989 represents the end of the road for his vision. Which makes it a fitting recipient of Stereophile's recognition. [I am sad to report that as I was preparing this article for Web publication, I heard the news that Peter had passed away.—JA]
Footnote 1: In September 2003, Quad published a lavish coffee-table book honoring Peter Walker. Quad: The Closest Approach (ISBN 0-9545742-0-6) has been compiled and edited by veteran audio commentator Ken Kessler, and includes interviews with PJW, his son Ross, and long-time Quad designer Mike Albinson, as well as reminiscences by many audio industry notables (including myself). More details can be found here.—John Atkinson