Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Quad 2805 Review Part 2: The Review

The Journey
We both had things to do in the morning - so we met back at the house and left for Buffalo with our plan:  at most 1 hour at the Speaker demo, and then save 1-2 hours for the art museum and then back home.  It was a perfect plan that would have us back home in time for dinner.

The Quad 2805 speakers at The Speaker Shop in Buffalo, NY
Okay, that paragraph above there was far too much of a setup.  We ended up spending about 2 1/2 hours at the speaker demo, and took a rain check for the museum. We impose a limited curfew for any excursion away from home these days due to an elderly Poodle (see picture of him a few years ago).  The speakers were that surprisingly good.

Our 4 hour leash


This is our first review based upon "initial impressions" -- there is a reason that professional reviewers try to live with components for weeks and sometimes months - all we can give is initial impressions based upon 2 hours with them, and can't tell you what it is like to live with these.  What we can do is figure out if their reputation is hype or well earned.  I am sure even at this point you can guess the answer to that question, but our perspectives are different enough that we're splitting the actual listening impressions into 2 parts:  "He Said" and "She Said" followed by some conclusions.

He Said

When I first heard these speakers with the driving electronics - it was playing an MP3 source.  The voices sounded good, the rest sounded iffy.  I wasn't impressed, and given the reputation, I was starting to feel disappointed.  This feeling is nothing new - a lot of highly rated components are victim of "reviewer hype" ... I suppose in the rush to fill a magazine they try to report on the good things and use a code for the bad ones (such as the famous "this refurbished vintage preamp sounds spectacular ... for the money. " Translation:  You would have to be suffering from Delusional Nostalgia* if you were to pick this baby up.  I really see nothing redeeming about this excepting its great weight might make an excellent door-stop or paperweight.  At least it's cheap.")

*Delusional Nostalgia ... a term coined by my sister here

We tried to get the AIFF and FLAC files I brought to work.  The sales guy, Guy, and I fussed and fiddled with their Mac Mini and preamp with the USB port only to find out that the Preamp wasn't really capable of reading the thumbdrive (The USB was only for plugging in iPods), and the Mac Mini didn't have a working screen to be able to drag and drop - though I didn't get the impression even if somehow it did it would have been a good outcome.  The upshot is that it is a good thing I brought some backup CD's:  Louis and Ella, Up by Peter Gabriel and Eric Clapton's Unplugged.  (Another quick note:  I am convinced that audiophile component makers dealing with the new digital formats are a little like mechanical watch makers trying to figure out how quartz watches fit into their lineup without watering things down.  It's clear they are a decade away from anything resembling flexibility or seamlessness ... )

So we had a pair of Quad 2805's, a Classe Delta CP-800 Preamp and Classe Delta CA2300but no disc player - we were stuck with MP3's at first.

They quickly found and pressed into service a decent but unspectacular-reputation CD/SACD player (Marantz 15s2 for those that are tracking this) so we could spool up the discs we brought, having come up goose-eggs on the files. (I like the SACD player, I auditioned it before picking up the Ayre C-5xeMP I did years ago.  I might even recommend it - but at the time I didn't feel it was as good as what I went with as it tended to soften the high end and round off the bass - the bass is there, but it sounds softer than real life)

So in went the first disc, Ella and Louis ... and my immediate impression? (expletive deleted)(was there a duck involved?)!!

I mean it.

Louis and Ella was presented in an entirely new light.  Their performance, given the small details and incidental sounds that were brought to light, gave a humanity and an intimacy to the performance I have never heard before.  It was as if Louis and Ella were sitting on stools performing for you-as-family.  I lost track of time, didn't check my email on my phone (bad reflexive habit of mine), I was transfixed.

And Eric Clapton Unplugged.  The triangle I always listen for had a decay to it I have never heard before, though it was ever so slightly recessed. I chalked that up potentially to the disc player we were using (but you never know for sure with equipment you are not intimately familiar with!).  And ... when he played "Tears from Heaven," one of his most heartfelt songs - his presence was in the room.  The illusion presented by the speakers was complete, and the sadness of the song felt like it had materialized.  I have found when I hear a realistic illusion of a music performance, the emotional impact of a song is magnified and moves from your head to your heart.  In a lot of ways it is like attending a concert but at a really small venue.  I wondered to myself if this is what it would be like being three seats over from him as he played?  I guessed I knew at least part of the answer at this point.

Peter Gabriel ... Up ... I love the performance, and the sound of this SACD/CD.  The first track opens explosively but not particularly deeply -  I had never heard it so clear and focused.  On the second track, the slight tonal change came through pretty clearly. Usually this is a test of a CD player - but the one they had was one I didn't imagine was capable of that resolution - so perhaps this is also a speaker test?  (Maybe this disc player is better than I thought? Hmmmm....)  What came through loud and clear was during the lyrics his singing takes on a "pout like" sound to it (As if Peter Gabriel is having a pity party ... Woe!) - but what I didn't know was the entire lyrics do this to a greater or lesser degree.  This system brought forth more detail and more connection to the music than I have heard before - including things I hadn't heard in the disc.

We had some further CD's our man Guy played - one with some acoustic double bass on it - the timbre is incredibly hard to get right on conventional speakers - usually there is something that isn't quite right on them.  And the lower notes on a double bass go as low as 37Hz and a speaker with bass trouble makes them sound a bit Cello-like.  Also it usually feels like the speaker is working pretty hard.  The Quads conveyed the acoustic bass like no big deal.  In fact, this was one loudspeaker that really didn't sound like a speaker at all.  It, as the audiophile cliché goes, got out of the way. 

And finally we played some Classic and Prog Rock from the 1970's.  I'll let Kathy comment below on her impressions on it - mine were yup, it does this just fine. I'm glad that Guy had a couple of CD's since our test discs didn't have any type of that music (note to self - update reference CD's to include a couple of Classic Rock tracks) and we needed to hear that to truly understand their versatility.  All of the press always starts back pedalling on this type of material with "this isn't good loud, small chamber music only" kinds of caveats.  We cranked it to our loud volume and hit "play."

Now I have to interject here - a lot of these reviewers probably have a different definition of 'loud' than I do.  But I think that car reviewers have a different definition of 'fast' and 'cornering grip' than I do as well.  If you are concerned that these speakers won't play loud enough - grab a pair of PA speakers and also start putting aside money for and do a few consults for the cochlear implant you will likely need in 6 months.  And I am not sure what the "small scale only" crap comes from in these reviews as well - this speaker did more in keeping its composure with complex passages than anything I have ever heard.  Ever.  And it also sounds the same at low and high volumes - whereas most speakers have a particular volume where they open up and sound their best.  These babies would sound good played quietly as kids are working on their homework, and also would crank up to party levels.

Another quick note:  I have heard some really expensive speakers priced in the mid 5 to low 6 figures that sounded far worse than these.  Most of them sounded hyperreal - the transients seemed
This costs 6-figures and demands your attention!
exaggerated, and the clarity stood out as distortion - but for about 15 minutes they are generally fun.  But at minute 16, it feels like they have grabbed you by the scruff of the neck and lifted you 2 feet off the ground to shake you and say "I am a Speaker!! Listen!!  Music!!  You Like Music, Dontchya?!"

The Thiel CS2.4's
They do, as we've coined the term, Audiophile feats and stunts.  The Quads were not that way at all, and as such they can be disarming.  And in fact initially unimpressive, but over a period of an hour and disc after disc, genre after genre they really let the music shine through, and don't attract a lot of attention to themselves.

I suppose the question hanging out there is how they stacked up to my reference system?  The Thiel CS2.4's didn't embarrass themselves, but they were thoroughly trounced.  And this was a first.  I heard speakers from $3k to $100k that I wouldn't give the time of day with our Thiels.  These Quads were special.

Thumbs Up!
Other details - standing up and moving around didn't give changes in tonality.  There was a spot where the tonal balance was slightly different ... better?  Hard to say, but in my mind it was neither here nor there.

And as far as family friendliness, I give it high marks - you can play it softly and not feel like you are losing any detail (many speakers, Thiels included, have a certain minimum power before they seem to "wake up" and give you what you paid for.  The volumes aren't always compatible with homework, and other activities.) 

So I give this speaker a thumbs up. 

She Said

I really wanted to dislike the Quads. Really. Really really. Brent has been going on and on (and on and on) about Quad this and Quad that, usually when I was in the midst of reading news, or playing my Facebook games. Wish I could tell you right now that I thought that Brent was totally off base. My contrary nature was pushing me to find a bucket-load of faults with the Quads. I like our Thiels. They sound great, and they don't require a single penny of cash outlay. Well, I guess they required 8 cents of pennies. (Remember those ducky pennies?)
Pennies ... an ongoing commentary

When I agreed to go with Brent to hear the Quads, I made him promise that we would be able to go see a Pop Art display at the Albright-Knox gallery afterward. I figured that I would put up with about an hour of speaker demo, and then have a bit of fun in a contemporary art museum. I will say up front that we never made it to the art museum, and it was NOT Brent's fault. If I was willing to lie, I would blame it on him, but I will save that lie for some future date.
I wonder what it's like ...

I cannot say it was love at first sight. The Quad speakers are big. Not as big as the Magnepan 3.7's in the room (man, were they huge!), but their width was 2 to 3 times that of our Thiels, although they were shorter than those Thiels. They are far from sexy. I love the look of wood with nice grain, like birds-eye maple, or more exotic woods, like the cocobolo that we (ok, I) chose for our turntable and record cleaner. These are wide, squat panel speakers. Nothing pretty about them. Oh, yeah, except their pretty sound.

We entered the listening room, and either Simon and Garfunkel or CSN&Y or some such was playing. Nothing impressive. Yawn inducing, in fact. Meh. I chose the Thiels, but tried really, really hard to keep an open mind. Brent and Guy, the Quad guy were busy chatting, and trying to get our reference music to play off of our thumb drive. Yawn. No really, yawn. I was tired.  

Guy handed me an iPad that had access to their Mac Mini and music collection. I entertained myself with Etta James' At Last. Hmmm. It was missing something, but I had never quite heard the vocals in quite that natural way. It was the best I had heard, but was missing something. I moved on to Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Not a good choice, in all, since the bass had receded into the woodwork, but the vocals were top notch. I wasn't sure if I was prepared to trade my bass for the superior vocals, but I *did* have to admit that the overall performance was probably an improvement over what we had at home. I continued to bop around jazz, 70s/80s rock, pop, etc. as the men-folk determined that the thumb drive was a bust. [Note:  I did notice both Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner were in their music server.  As well as Lou Reed.]

Guy, great guy that he was, grabbed a SACD player, and hooked it up. We had brought Ella & Louie, Eric Clapton, and Peter Gabriel on disc. Once our source changed from run of the mill MP3s to SACD and standard CD, the real show began and my preconceived prejudaces blew up.
Music is to MP3s as candles are to this ...

In case you didn't know, MP3 format songs can't hold a candle to SACD, or hi-rez digital, or vinyl. Not even a votive candle. Perhaps not even one of those battery operated fake candles. The Ella and Louis album led off. Louis and Ella, despite being quite dead, were performing in the listening room. Sitting on stools, performing just for Brent and me. We could even hear little details such as small intakes of breath, or that tiny sound you make when you open your mouth to speak or sing, where your tongue hits the roof of your mouth. All tiny details that make the performers sound as if they were in the room with you.

Next up was Eric Clapton. Don't get me started. Wow. Skepticism 0, Quads 2. I have mentioned before that Eric C could sing that annoying ABC song, and I would sit, enraptured. This was a personal performance, and small details, such as triangles, string "squeaks" and such just added to his performance. The only thing missing was that lovely thrumming bass that 70s and 80s classic rock can insert into your collar bone. A bit of it appeared when Brent popped in his Peter Gabriel disc, and I could extrapolate from that what my favorites would sound like. 

Well, sorta. I happened to mention to Guy that my only concern was that on those days when the thrum of a good classic rock bass line were required, you might need a subwoofer. Boy was I wrong. Guy had both Traffic, and older [better!] Genesis on standard CD. Into the player they went. Out of my head went my final roadblocks. Damn. Damnity Damn. I would invoke that duck, but I am trying not to add too many coins into the swearing jar.


Final answer?  I believe that I am the one who blinked first. Sigh. Score one for Brent and his exhaustive research. He found the one speaker that would be a significant upgrade over our trusty Thiels. The next few days/weeks/months may be totally unbearable. [Who, Me?]

Just ducky.
Wrong Ducky?

Final Thoughts

I think it is safe to say that we both were very impressed with the Quad speakers.  It is one of those strange "values" in audiophile electronics that isn't particularly cheap, and since it doesn't have fireworks when music plays through it doesn't grab you by the scruff of the neck and demand you play attention.  Instead it slowly draws you in and seduces you by disappearing and letting the artists shine through.  As you can tell it is very hard to describe - since you are describing an absence rather than a presence.  But it is safe to say, if you were to decide upon a "forever" set of speakers, Quad ought to be on your short-list - it will be on our for if we win the lottery!



And special thanks to the guys at The Speaker Shop in Buffalo, NY.  They are listed as a "Friend of the Blog" for their patience with the length of time we'd have to wait before buying, if this, indeed is the right speaker for us, given the expense.

Oh ... and we rescheduled the trip to the Albright-Knox.  This time with no "1 hour only" side trips.

3 comments:

  1. Nice write-up on the Quads. While I realize you will probably think they are too large and expensive, have you ever listened to Sound Lab ESL panels? If you liked the Quads, I think you will love SL's.

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    1. You are the second person to tell me that - those and "King Sound." I will have to check them out. We were so unexpectedly "bowled over" by the Quads, that it really underlined what's possible for us! What we need is a lottery win! :)

      And if you don't mind me asking, what about the Sound Labs would be preferable to Quad?

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  2. They fill the room (and the adjacent rooms too) with music. Because of the size of the membrane, they excite all the air in the room, just as you experience in the concert hall. Can play deep. You can be left or right, near or far, high or low, the sound doesn't change much. Paired with the right electronics, their ability to deliver detail and nuance is unparalleled. And, if you insist, they can play loud.

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