Quad ESL-989 electrostatic loudspeaker Page 5

The '989's treble range was effortless—grain-free, smooth, beguiling, and extended. There was no extra brightness, steeliness, or metallic edge. I heard the great stick definition and good, warm undertones characteristic of the 20" Zildjian Custom Ride cast-bronze cymbals played by Brady Blade on Spyboy. Chimes heard through the Quad had a magical sheen, as heard on Prelude and Aztec Dance from Owen Reed's Fiesta Mexicana (Reference RR-38CD). Paul Simon's vocal sibilants on "Trailways Bus," from Songs from the Capeman (CD, Warner Bros. 46814-2), didn't offend, but sounded natural and light. Billy Drummond's brushed ride cymbal in the opening of "The Mooche," from the Jerome Harris Quintet's Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), had the right amount of buzz and shimmer.

Some music was just too dynamic to enjoy at high volume levels. If there are no SPL limits, the drum solo in "The Maker," from Spyboy, is a mind-blowing experience as rim shots, tom-tom beats, and kick-drum notes explode high above the muttering and conversations of the crowd. They also activated the triacs of both '989s when I gave in to temptation and increased the volume, which happened often.

Compared to my veteran ESL-63s, the ESL-989s had more bass, more inner detailing, more depth and sense of spatial location, and a much more extended top end. Besides its more prominent bass response, the '989 sounded sweeter and more detailed than the '63, through which applause and vinyl record noise were softer, less apparent. Both Quad designs were less efficient than speakers I've tested recently, and neither could play dynamic music crazy-loud.

Does the Quad ESL-989 correct the criticisms this magazine has made in the past about the ESL-63? In some ways yes, in others no. With its 50% greater driver area, the '989's frequency extremes were significantly better than the ESL-63's. It reached down to 30Hz in my room, and provided satisfying deep-bass pipe-organ notes. However, it still couldn't reach the 20Hz extreme required for a full-range Class A rating in "Recommended Components."

The ESL-989 didn't require Arcici stands to achieve clean upper bass or to avoid the "slight fizzle in the mid-treble" that so annoyed Richard Heyser (footnote 3), as the 5 degrees backtilt and the more rigid frame have reduced the floor bounce that caused these problems. In fact, the ESL-989's treble and upper-midrange responses equaled those of the $46,500/pair Burmester B-99 I reviewed last June, showing that even at $8000/pair the ESL-989 offers strong value for money.

However, the '989 did not play much louder than the '63, and you've got to determine the maximum volume for the electronics and the room if you want to avoid triggering the protection circuit. This might convince some audiophiles to seek an electrostatic speaker with wider power limits, such as MartinLogan's Prodigy ($10,000/pair), whose dynamic woofer permits it to play 10dB louder. As for moving-coil speakers, "companies like B&W, Sonus Faber, Wilson Audio, and Thiel were just getting started when the Quad appeared, and they haven't stood still," noted Sam Tellig in the November 2001 issue.

The Quad ESL-989 is a study in contrasts. It delivers topnotch imaging, smoothness, focus, low distortion, and low listening fatigue. Yet as supplied, its binding posts accept only 22-gauge wire, or cables terminated with pins. Even with better terminals, the '989 won't break any leases, because its protection circuit will shut things down before the party gets going. This may lead some to use the '989 in smaller, less damped rooms, paired with amplifiers in the middle power range, playing classical music and jazz.

Not I. Kicking back and listening to the Quad ESL-989s' warmth, transparency, transient response, and power as they played Keith Johnson's recording of Eugene Gigout's Grand Chorus in Dialogue, from Pomp and Pipes (CD, Reference RR-58 HDCD), I couldn't think of another loudspeaker I'd rather own.

Footnote 3: The late Richard Heyser was one of the first reviewers to advocate (in the June 1985 Audio, Vol.69 No.6, pp.116-120) lifting the Quad ESL-63 off the floor to avoid floor-bounce interference. [Another was Martin Colloms in the UK.—Ed.] Heyser was bothered by fuzz on "upper-register transients" that sounded like distortion. Yet the ESL-63 had very low distortion. Using sophisticated FFT and energy-time curve analysis of the 10' listening condition, Heyser discovered that sound reflected from the floor interfered with the '63's direct sound and exacerbated the audibility of this "fuzz."
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