Quad S-2 loudspeaker Page 2

Recorded at the now-closed Avatar Studios, Bringin' It evokes the classic big bands of Count Basie and Thad Jones–Mel Lewis, with nods to Oliver Nelson and Nelson Riddle. But Bringin' It is pure Christian McBride—rock-'em sock-'em big-band dynamics and polished swing performed with the kind of enthusiasm and soul that are atypical among today's math-jazz merchants and their methodical, grant-enabled compositions. The Quad S-2s made the most of Bringin' It, from McBride's sinewy double-bass notes and drummer Quincy Phillips's steaming pulse to the assembled brass and reed instruments' shouted choruses and heated vamps. This album sounded very big, very dynamic, and very extended through the Quads. Fun!

The ribbon tweeter's aptitude for exceptional horizontal dispersion was gracefully evident with the McBride LP and every recording I put through the Quads, providing "black" backgrounds, zero noise floor, and distortion-free treble notes. No conventional dome tweeter I've heard has delivered these levels of purity, clarity, and extension allied to force. The S-2 sometimes sounded literally incandescent, its music signal driven more than released, its sound more focused and injected into the room than a static delivery of recorded notes. This quality appeared again and again, from my go-to Blue Note LPs and new Newvelle Records LPs (see below), to old Steely Dan and Tom Petty LPs and CDs of various genres. The S-2s consistently drew me in and glued me to my listening seat. Each recording was a revelation, a chance to get lost in the music.

The S-2s didn't focus my attention on their electromechanical properties, but on the music. Not often did I think, Those ribbons are super revealing! Instead, they enabled full saturation and immersion of mind, brain, and body in the wonder of music (footnote 1). As I type this in my office, aka my kitchen, I hear cymbal rolls and piano swirls from the stereo in the living room. The instruments, even their echoes down the hall, sound beautiful. Not live beautiful—I don't care about the debate between live vs studio sound. I care about beauty, and the S-2s delivered that, every time.


Back to Blue Maqams: Performed by Anouar Brahem, multi-instrumentalist Django Bates, double bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Jack DeJohnette, the music on this recording was revealed as alive and glowing, all sinew and guts and beauty and light. The music was forceful, potent, sweet, dizzying. The Quad S-2s re-created the opulent harmonic complexities created by these master musicians in thrall to their instruments. They made me marvel at the sound of each instrument, and its cohesion and coherence on the soundstage. Holland's bass was juicy, rich, practically tumescent. The Quads resolved the microtonalities and air-moving force of DeJohnette's drums and cymbals, as well as the spaces between his notes, where the energy and mystery of his genius lives.

Two Chet Atkins albums originally released by RCA Victor in 1957 and 1961 capitalized on the then-new fascination with stereo, and have recently been reissued by Sundazed/Modern Harmonic: Hi-Fi in Focus (MH-8061) and Chet Atkins' Workshop (MH-8064). Pressed at RTI, the reissue LPs reveal Atkins's brilliant guitar work and the albums' conceptually dated sonic presentations, which nonetheless still hold a certain allure for fans of space-age bachelor-pad music such as I. The albums stand on their own merits due to the honeyed tone of Atkins's guitar and technically meticulous playing. Jazz guitarists Jim Hall, Johnny Smith, and Barney Kessel may have been more astute and revered, but none trumped Atkins in terms of pure touch and tone. He typically recorded basic tracks at RCA, then refined the music in his home studio, which was no doubt a marvel of its day. The sound on both discs is rich, clean, clear as a bell, and quite dynamic.

Take 2
I listened to the Atkins discs with the Quad S-2s in my larger rig, and again, it wasn't the ribbon tweeters' upper frequencies that first grabbed my attention, but the deeply extended, richly tonal electric-bass notes, delivered with fine texture and copious weight. The S-2s' bass reproduction was in a league of its own for a stand-mounted speaker, even with the low-watt Haut-Brion amplifier. Atkins's solo in "Yesterdays," from Hi-Fi in Focus (1957), was all silvery highs and gleaming lower-register softness—near perfection for fans of holy electric-guitar magic. Sweet, pure, full of tactile flavor and tone, Atkins's guitar playing was certainly "God"-like, nine years before Eric Clapton earned that moniker in 1966 with the release of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton (LP, Decca LK 4804).

The Quads also revealed the Denon DL-103 cartridge's typically forward if natural-sounding soul—as well as, to an unfriendly degree, the arid sound of acoustic guitarist Ross Hammond on his Follow Your Heart (LP, Prescott 5638871488). Beck's Morning Phase (LP, Capitol B001983901) was as well defined as I've heard it, the S-2s re-creating the massive, Phil Spector–like sound of the voices, rock band, and orchestra with spooky splendor. Though the recording is a smidgen processed-sounding, the S-2s cast an immense soundstage, the largest and most-fleshed-out I've heard from any pair of small speakers in my penthouse system. But there was also a sense of stress to the treble and midrange, the low-power Haut-Brion begging to be taken off-line.

When I returned to the Music Hall and Heed components in my smaller system, the S-2s wowed me further. My buzz continued unabated for hours.

Elan Mehler is on a serious roll. His Newvelle Records label releases jazz records at a fast clip, but the quality never suffers. Two of my favorites are Hope, by the Kevin Hays and Lionel Loueke Duo (LP, Newvelle NV008LP), and Midnight Sun, the first release by the Chris Tordini Trio (LP, Newvelle NV010LP). On the latter, double bassist Tordini is accompanied by guitarist Greg Ruggiero and singer Becca Stevens, and the trio's emotional performance of "My Funny Valentine" is one for the ages. The Quad S-2s killed me with this disc, leaving me with emotions spent and senses satisfied. They reproduced Stevens's soul-baring, wondrous singing with a sense of magical realism rare for any pair of speakers to achieve. The S-2s followed suit with the trio's reading of "Everything Happens to Me"—their hot swing and mischievous gait are wonderful stuff. This charming album gets my late vote for one of 2017's best.


Then I went mad—I pulled out electronica old and new, jazz older and newer, more Chet Atkins, and more mourning Beck in Morning Phase. It's times like these, me brothers, when reviewing audio is like playing tiddlywinks with the Gods on Mount Olympus. I hit that golden groove in which every LP and CD sounded not good, but great. In my experience, this happens more often with lower-priced gear than with platinum systems.

Through the Quad S-2s, the electronic robo-jazz of "Turkey Dog Coma," from Flying Lotus's You're Dead! (LP, Warp WARPLP256), revealed its sample-studded, digital-driven heart as never before. Finally, I got it—this flashy music's myriad layers were truthfully presented on a flat soundstage with an oddly artificial sheen. The S-2s were consistently transparent to the source, regardless of pedigree. They cut loose with Jimmy Smith's The Sermon! (LP, Blue Note BLP 4011), easily revealing his Hammond B3 organ's weird mechanical sounds and the pristine cymbal work of drummer Donald Bailey. Now Chet Atkins's guitar sounded delicate, grain-free, and pure as country moonshine. Next, I dropped on the Music Hall the eponymous compilation Kraftwerk (2 LPs, Vertigo 6641 077), played "Ruckzuck," and was again struck by the Quads' sonic purity. Kraftwerk's ubiquitous squirming synths sounded crisp and shiny, never etched. Clean, rich, dynamic—this is electronic music for plowing the lower 40 on your hybrid tractor.

To hit their stride, I would guess the Quad S-2s require power in the 45–65Wpc range. Careful positioning is necessary for a coherent sweet spot. And if there's junk anywhere upstream in your hi-fi, the S-2 will mercilessly reveal it, warts and all. These are all good things. Even better, the S-2 is fabulously dynamic, well extended, pure and clean in its revealing upper-frequency range, and offers the best low-end bass traction of any stand-mounted speaker I've heard in my MacDougal Street digs. The Quad S-2s provided me with many hours of happy listening, and left me wringing-wet with emotion and, yes, humble gratitude. Absolutely recommended.

Footnote 1: I once asked guitarist and composer Pat Metheny, "What most challenges you day to day as a musician?" He replied (I paraphrase), "What is music? Really, what is it? That's what I'm still trying to discover."
US distributor: MoFi Distribution
1811 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue
Chicago, IL 60660
(312) 738-5025

Axiom05's picture

"Although the tweeter's output leads that of the woofer, their outputs meld relatively well, even if this graph does suggest that the optimal blend occurs just below the tweeter axis."

From the graph, how do you determine that the optimal blend is just below the tweeter axis? Thanks!

John Atkinson's picture
Axiom05 wrote:
From the graph, how do you determine that the optimal blend is just below the tweeter axis?

That very slight discontinuity in the step response just below the time axis at approximately 3.8ms suggests that the woofer's output needs to be moved forward in time a little. This could be achieved by moving the listener's ears down or the speakers up an inch or so.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Axiom05's picture

I see that this same discontinuity is seen between the tweeter and the midrange of the B&W 800 Diamond and the 802 D3. This is consistent with the fact that the intended listening axis is just below the tweeter axis and why these speakers usually need a little forward tilt to sound best.

supamark's picture

those are some unusually dimensioned rooms... your building must be very very old.

ken mac's picture

No, really.

supamark's picture

Old houses/buildings always have weird dimensions. Everything is a "one-off" design. Hope (for your sake) it's rent controlled lol, that's become some mighty expensive real estate. Visited Manhatten before Guiliani was mayor, was a fun and interesting place (that sadly no longer exists).

Charles E Flynn's picture

From page 3 at http://www.quad-hifi.co.uk/upload/files/manual/20150817100845_23.pdf :

Quad crossover networks separate the treble and bass networks into two distinct sections, each connected by a dedicated pair of terminal posts. The enables the treble and bass components to be separately driven for optimum performance.

ken mac's picture

I would've loved to bi-wire these monitors for the review, but I have no bi-wire cables. Something to consider, for sure...

Charles E Flynn's picture

AudioQuest has an interesting set of recommendations regarding bi-wiring at http://www.audioquest.com/resource_tools/downloads/literature/learning_modules/Understanding-BiWiring.pdf .

They make two potentially strategy-altering points that I have not seen widely discussed :

"Is BiWiring so important that you should spend twice as much on speaker cable?

BiWiring is actually a way to get higher performance for the same expenditure. The BiWiring question is not about how much money to spend, but how to maximize performance and value."

Later, the article has a diagram showing how a speaker that is capable of being bi-wired should be wired if it is not being bi-wired. The diagram is contrary to what many speaker makers show in their instructions. I asked a local dealer about this diagram, and he replied that "Everybody at the trade shows knows about this and wires their speakers that way." The relevant section is titled "Using Full Range Cables On BiWire Capable Speakers".

spacehound's picture

That well-known purveyor of snake oil sold via pseudo-scientific total gibberish, just wants to sell you twice as much of its overpriced lengths of wire.

"Full range cables"?

At the frequencies that even the best speakers are capable of even a straightened coathanger is "full range" and will supply far more current than any speaker will ever need.

Ortofan's picture

... now:

Charles E Flynn's picture

Thanks for taking the trouble to find the current link for the Audioquest article about bi-wiring. I think it is worth saving the pdf for future reference.

DougM's picture

Seems to be an awesome little speaker for $999. I like the way many more manufacturers are using ribbon or AMT type tweeters these days. And, the IAG family of companies is really making some great affordable stuff, another example being the Diamond series from Wharfedale. I have the older Diamond 9.1s, and they sound great. And you gotta love a reviewer who uses Chet for some of his test discs. Great Taste!

ken mac's picture

I had the 10.2, absolutely wonderful speaker. Chet is the best!

Charles E Flynn's picture


ken mac's picture


mrkaic's picture

I have pair of slightly cheaper Quad S-1's and I drive them with a Quad VA-One. One gnarly combo, warmly recommended.

spacehound's picture

There are so many of these around at all sorts of prices that the speaker industry will soon be able to offer every hifi enthusiast in the world a different one.

Long-time listener's picture

"Both recordings presented nonfussy senses of immediacy and intimacy."

Senses? Excuse me, but hearing and sight would be two different *senses.* But since the immediacy and intimacy you speak of both came to you via your hearing, why not write, as everyone else does, "a wonderful sense of immediacy and intimacy." Forest here, not trees.

gbougard's picture

These speakers look yummy as hell, yet after reading your review, I don't know if those are for me
I produce Jamaican music with Sly & Robbie, one of the world's HEAVIEST rhythm sections, and love to listen to Reggae, Dancehall Hip Hop and Funk.
All these musics are bass and drum-heavy and the music you use to evaluate the speakers is not.
So do you think you could pop a record like DUBRISING by Sly & Robbie and crank it all the way to 11 and report back to me with your impression on how these speakers behaved when subjected to real drum and bass and heavy beats.

iListen's picture

Which integrated would you pair with these?
Quads own? or the Sphinx?

toofastdad's picture

I just ordered a pair of Quad S2 speakers, do you think that pairing them with a NAD 3020 will have favourable results?

toofastdad's picture

Using the above combo Sly & Robbie sound amazing, the bass is very warm and rich — great speakers, I'm really pleased with my purchase. I just ordered a Musical Fidelity M2Si amp which I guess will make these babies sing. Joe Cocker's Sheffield Steel sounds really good (Sly & Robbie on drums and bass).

Oldoiler 1963's picture

You probably already have them and are enjoying them by now. I use a 20w Cary amp and the sound is amazing.