Stereophile's Products of 1992 Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice

Quad ESL-63 USA Monitor loudspeaker ($4995/pair plus $265/pair Arcici stands; reviewed by J. Gordon Holt, Vol.6 Nos.4 & 5, April & May 1983; Anthony H. Cordesman, Vol.7 Nos.2 & 7, Spring & Fall 1984; Sam Tellig, Vol.8 No.3, July 1985; Martin Colloms, Vol.10 No.1, January 1987; Larry Greenhill, Vol.12 No.2, February 1989; John Atkinson & Sam Tellig, Vol.12 No.6, June 1989 Review)

When we conceived our annual awards, the "Editor's Choice" idea surfaced as a way of recognizing products that have stood the test of time. An aspect of this industry that irritates me more than any other is its constant emphasis on the new and exciting, the novel and intriguing. A superb-sounding product that has been around for more than a year or two tends to be overlooked in the hustle.

When my wife and I bought a home here in New Mexico, we were puzzled by the reticence of our predominantly Hispanic neighbors. It was explained to me, however, that the real New Mexicans are so used to Anglos like us moving in, staying awhile, perhaps exploiting the local economy, then moving out, all in the space of a couple of years, that they don't see the point in investing any effort to get to know them. Let the newcomers stay around for a few years, however, and show some commitment to the community, and then they might feel it worth finding out who you are.

I feel this way about the High End. When a company replaces a line of components less than a year old with a whole new line which in turn will be replaced in less than a year, I start to wonder if it's even worth reading the promotional literature. Perhaps I should wait a year. When I'm asked to recommend products, I fall back on mature components, products that have proven performance that satisfies in the long haul.

Quad's ESL-63 is one such piece. I first heard this electrostatic loudspeaker in prototype form in early 1981, the speakers sitting on kitchen chairs in Peter ("P.J.") Walker's lab. The source was a live concert broadcast on the BBC's Radio 3 classical network; the music was a cello sonata, from whom and by whom long forgotten. Sitting in the speakers' nearfield, I felt I could reach out and touch the musicians, such was the sense of "being there." Though there are now many good loudspeakers that can turn this trick without turning a hair, I hadn't heard this degree of palpability from any other speaker at that time. Listening to production Quads in Martin Colloms's listening room a few months later, I spent an afternoon enthusing over the facts that: a) the ESL-63's own lack of coloration enabled me to hear so clearly the colorations of the different microphones used on different instruments within the mix of a typical rock recording, and b) the ESL-63s' superbly precise imaging allowed me to hear so clearly the soundstaging differences between the stereo microphone techniques used on typical classical recordings.

Extended experience allowed me to realize that, as good as the '63 is, it could be better. It doesn't go loud. It doesn't go deep. It needs to be used on stands to get the cleanest upper bass. (The recommended Arcicis clamp the speaker in a loving embrace, stiffening the rather torsion-prone frame.) The limited lateral dispersion in the top two octaves renders the sound rather dull for those who sit more than 10' away in well-damped rooms. There is a slight fizzle in the mid-treble that annoys some listeners more than others. But in the areas where it excels, it still outperforms almost every other speaker.

Peter Walker has since retired, handing Quad over to his son Ross. But with his finest speaker now in its second decade and in slightly revised USA Monitor form, it's still one of the best loudspeakers around, combining innovative engineering with fundamentally accurate, musically honest sound. If you haven't heard the ESL-63, you should. If you have heard it, but decided not to buy it, give it another listen.

dalethorn's picture

Sonus Faber speaker: I bought their first headphone, the Pryma ($550) in 2015, yet it's still essentially unknown months later in headphone circles. So do I assume their speakers have fallen out of audiophile favor?

Spica SC-30 budget speakers: I think Stereophile's earlier reviews of the Advent and the FMI-80 fell into this category, or maybe even moreso.

michael green's picture

Thank you Stereophile for the mention and Guy for the fun listening! "92" was an exciting time!

michael green