Quad ESL-2812

£6500

They don’t just look different, they sound it too. But they also make conventional speakers seem inadequate.

‘Legendary’ is a word bandied about by PR executives far too often. Can a smartphone case ever be described as ‘legendary’? We’ve seen it done. But forget the hyperbole, because Quad’s electrostatic speakers really are legendary.

For the ESL-2812, Quad has upgraded the internal power supply in terms of both layout and quality of components, strengthened and damped the frame that supports the diaphragm and made the grille more acoustically transparent so that it interferes even less with the sound.

All the details add up to a refinement of Quad’s electrostatic design, and that means they can initially sound quite odd if you’ve come from a life of listening to conventional speakers.

‘Odd’ doesn’t mean ‘bad’, though. They sound terrifically cohesive, for a start. There’s complete unity to the presentation from the lowest bass notes upwards, and that can all of a sudden make it seem as if all those conventional speakers you were listening to previously were a little bit broken.

As is often the case with electrostatics, the ESL-2812s produce exceptional midrange. Play a quality recording and vocals are delivered with beautiful subtlety and focus, and while there’s oodles of detail on show it’s always presented in a natural, rather than analytical, style.

There are impressive dynamics to go with that detail, and complicated tracks are marshalled with rhythmic certainty. Instruments are organised and metered out with precision, and there’s a crispness that’s exciting without ever sounding forced.

It is true that the ESLs don’t sound wholly neutral — which is a bit of a surprise given Quad’s past exploits — but the touch of extra richness in the bass and rounding-off of the treble makes for a smooth presentation that’s easy to get used to.

Showing up the opposition

When you do get used to them the shortcomings of conventional speakers will become very apparent. Even the very best examples sound a little disjointed and uneven by comparison.

The ESLs are not for everyone — their sheer size and fussiness over placement and partnering equipment see to that — but if you value cohesion, insight and smoothness there is no alternative to do these things better.

Position with care

Even discounting the sheer size here, the Quads are tricky to position. For a start each unit needs power for the stators, and because they throw out as much sound backwards as they do forwards they should be placed away from walls. Thankfully practically no sound emerges from the edges, so you can get them pretty close to a side wall.

TECH SPECS

Type Floorstander • Sensitivity 86dB/W/m • Impedance 8 ohms • Max power 200W • Biwirable No • Finishes 1 • Dimensions (hwd)

107 x 69 x 38cm

Rating ★★★★★

FOR: Exceptional tonal cohesion; unrivalled quality to the midrange; amazing detail; rich, smooth presentation

AGAINST: Care needs to be taken over positioning and partnering kit

VERDICT: Certainly not for everyone, but in their areas of expertise these Quad electrostatics are unbeatable

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