Quad Reference ESL-2805 loudspeaker Page 2
Once the ESL-2805 has been plugged into the wall, a rocker switch turns on the AC power. A rotary control above the binding posts allows the illumination level of the Quad logo at the base of the panel to be adjusted. The ESL-2805 may be made in China, but its overall fit'n'finish is both superb and superior to my decades-old memory of the original ESL-63. A nice touch is the inclusion, with each pair of speakers, of a copy of the coffee-table book Quad: The Closest Approach, by Ken Kessler.
Setting up the Quad Reference ESL-2805s in my room was straightforward, with some experimentation in positioning to optimize the low-bass/upper-bass transition. In this respect, the '2805s were easier to set up than the '989s, which had two extra low-frequency panels. I toed-in each speaker, which, with the slight tiltback of the panels that the cone feet provide, aimed the centers of the two panels at my ears.
Reproducing the dual-mono pink-noise track from my Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH015-2), the ESL-2805s proved very tolerant of slight changes in listener position, though the top octave dropped off quite quickly when I moved my head more than a few inches to the side. However, I heard very little vertical-venetian-blind effect. (This term, coined by the late J. Gordon Holt, refers to drastic and repetitive changes in tonal balance as you move your head to the side.) There were no obvious frequency "hot spots" in the Quads' upper-frequency reproduction of the pink noise, which sounded smooth. However, the pink-noise bass was a little "lumpy," there being a slight burbling quality to the speaker's low frequencies.
The low-frequency, 1/3-octave warble tones from Editor's Choice had good weight down to 40Hz, though the 32Hz warble was obviously being helped by my room's lowest-frequency resonant mode. The warble tones centered on 25 and 20Hz were inaudible. The half-stepspaced toneburst track on Editor's Choicein each channel by turns, a chromatic scale from C at 32.7Hz to C at 4.186kHz, then back down againwas more cleanly reproduced than with any other speaker I have auditioned in my room. There was none of the usual "aliasing" that I hear with box speakers, in which a ghost descending scale is superimposed on the ascending chromatic scale. Nor was there any of the fudging of the starts and ends of the bass tonebursts that is typical of ported speakers.
Though I had found that placing the ESL-63s on the floor gave the upper bass a rather "puddingy" quality, the channel ID and phase tracks on Editor's Choice, which feature my Fender bass guitar, sounded clean and uncolored through the ESL-2805s, with little low-frequency hangover. This is perhaps a benefit of the '2805's stiffer construction and that tensioned rear truss. However, long-term listening revealed a certain "drummy" quality to the Quad's bassthis is a tensioned diaphragm, after all. While this was never a problem with orchestral recordings, the ESL-2805 is not going to be the first choice for those who value the low-frequency impact you need for high-level rock music.
Nevertheless, Pino Palladino's superbly empathetic bass playing on Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles (ALAC, ripped from DVD, Sony 722727) was given full measure by the Quads, particularly when it came to the evenness of Palladino's palm-damped notes in the slow blues "Out of My Mind." I've been a fan of Palladino's since he played that unforgettable flanged-fretless bass line in Paul Young's early-1980s cover of Marvin Gaye's "Wherever I Lay My Hat." (Seeing him subbing for the recently departed John Entwistle at Madison Square Garden in the Who's 2002 US tour was a mind-blower.) So out came the plastic, and I blew 99 at the iTunes store on the Young track, which I hadn't heard in almost 20 years. Okay, it was a 256kbps AAC file, but through the Quads, with their lack of coloration and superb definition of the leading edges of transients, that unique growling quality of Palladino's Music Man Stingray bass had me repeatedly hitting Repeat. It was so evocative, I swear I could feel my hair getting bigger and acquiring gel!
But no one could accuse the ESL-2805 of maximum rock'n'roll. I recently bought from HDtracks the 24-bit/96kHz version of our July 2011 "Recording of the Month," Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What (original CD, Hear Music HRM-32814). This album has grown on me since the CD came outSimon is back to the form he showed a quarter-century ago with Hearts and Bones and Gracelandbut the mix is upfront and somewhat in the listener's face, as seems to be mandatory these days, even with an album like this that will be mostly bought by alter kockers like me, who still value dynamic subtlety. (I'm not against compression per sethe heavily compressed, tremolo'd acoustic guitar in track 2, "The Afterlife," is so right for the music.) The Quads did a fine job of untangling this album's complex mixes, but things like the four-in-bar kick drum in the opener, "Get Ready for Christmas Day," as well as "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light," sounded too ponderous.
Am I contradicting myself, talking about the Quad's superb definition of the leading edges of the sound of bass guitar, while pointing out the relative lack of low-frequency impact? No. The former concerns the where and the when of the musical notes' reproduction, the latter the visceral result. And there was no doubt that the ESL-2805 handled music's wheres and whens better than almost any other speaker I have used except the BBC LS3/5a, which is more colored and has less dynamic-range capability than the Quad; and the Vivid B-1, which I reviewed in October 2011, and which is significantly more expensive.