Quad 22L Tower Dynamic Loudspeaker
Reprinted from the Spring 2006 Audio Ideas Guide
I guess most longtime readers know that I’m not easily impressed by new speakers. But when it’s an old name known for excellence and outright fidelity, I sit up (or is it “shut up”?) and listen. Quad loudspeakers have been the mainstay of numerous high end systems owned by contributing editor and longtime friend, Hy Sarick, and I’ve enjoyed hearing their several generations of electrostatics in his various homes over 30 years.
Both of us were interested in a new line of Quads, the L Series, which are dynamic designs, no less. The 22L is the top of the line, featuring three drivers in a ported compact tower cabinet, a 6 1/2″ bass unit, an identical looking bass/midrange driver, and a 1 1/2″ soft dome tweeter. Crossover points are specified at 150 and 3 kHz. The enclosures are bi-wired, with high quality gold plated binding posts that accept spades or bananas, and come with substantial gold plated rods between them (for those who do not bi-wire), and those pesky little plastic plugs in the banana holes, thanks to IEC paranoia. Power handling is specified at 300 watts max, and nominal impedance 6 ohms, with sensitivity at 89 dB.
The cabinets are beautifully finished, and the Quad web site describes the process: “The lustrous piano finish is applied to each speaker by hand over a period of seven days, each of which involves a coating of lacquer which must then dry at an ambient temperature before being cut and polished. The final coat is polished to a high gloss finish to produce one of the finest finishes seen on any loudspeaker in this class.”
“The 22L is the flagship of the range. This tall, floorstanding model with ultra low distortion twin KEVLAR drivers produces a fast, dynamic bass, extending to around 30 Hz at the lower end for real impact and a compelling sense of scale. Bass detail is excellent, tracking precisely every nuance of the deepest double bass, while maintaining an area of open space around instruments.” The cabinet is rear ported just above the binding posts at bottom.
“The tweeter fascia plate is engineered for a smooth frequency response and excellent dispersion. This is further aided by the flush mountings of this plate and the bass/mid unit into the cabinet front baffle.” “A profiled phase plug provides additional cone axial rigidity and also improves off-axis performance.”
”Phase coherency is particularly important to ensure the bass integrates perfectly with the treble, and, of course, to create a truly holographic stereo image - the hallmark of a classic Quad sound. This tweeter is so controlled; [that] it measures typically less than 1% distortion from 103dB (equivalent to normally loud playback) output at a distance of 1 metre.”
All that revealed (and claimed), it seems a good time get to the measurements, which are, in a word, spectacular. Virtually a straight line from 200 to 10,000 Hz, frequency response rolls off gently above and below after a very mild hump from about 190 down to 70 Hz. From there down, it slopes smoothly, down 2 dB at 50, and 5 dB (relative to 1 kHz) at 30, with appreciable response at 20 Hz. Up top, we see a smooth rolloff above 10 kHz, off 4 dB at 15, and 10 dB at 20 kHz. A little bit of character is offered in a 2 dB treble rise between 5 and 8 kHz on axis, but this smooths at 15 degrees and a controlled rolloff occurs beyond 30 degrees off axis. You might say that this is a very British speaker in its sound, with only that slight hint of upper class assertiveness, and a bit of public school mellowness of voice….rawther like the announcers (or programme presenters) on the Beeb’s Third Program. Ahem.
Impedance varies somewhat more than frequency response, reaching 5 ohms on either side of the single bass peak at about 17 ohms, and jumping to 19 ohms at 1.5 kHz. It dips to 4 1/2 ohms at high frequencies, suggesting a stable amplifier be utilized (”no singleended valves, please, Charles”). The phase angle through crossover, seen below impedance, goes from +20 to about -47 degrees, a little more than one might like in a speaker otherwise this excellent, but let’s move to its effect on imaging, as we turn to the listening tests.
I spent rather a lot more time than usual listening to these speakers, aided by the unfortunate coincidence of blowing my Veritas woofers, which went back to Energy for repair under the eye of the designer, John Tchilinguirian and his technical staff. This gave me a couple of weeks to get to know the Quads quite well after spending a day measuring them.
The first impression was of size: they presented the biggest soundstage I’ve ever heard in such a modestly sized tower, seamless from top to bottom, with very clean, articulate bass almost into the feeling range. I suppose the Totem Mani2 comes to mind mind in a similarly sized, but differently shaped cabinet. Because the deepest bass is down in level, though still there, they can still benefit from a subwoofer, or at the very least, judicious placement for best deep bass reinforcement.
I did find that upper mid edge a little wearing after the smoothness of the 1.8s in this critical region, and I think the Energy metal dome tweeter is faster than the Quads’ silk dome in terms of transients, but these are small quibbles in the presence of a great speaker that definitely belongs in the tradition of the ESLs’ excellence over many decades.
Looking at it from another perspective, there was an immediacy in the 22L sound that is very seductive, and I think many listeners will appreciate this with chamber music and jazz in particular. They image way outside the boxes, and provide a deep, detailed picture of the music.
I could go into the usual rhapsodizing about this CD and that SACD, and I did listen to one of Ray Kimber’s outstanding Isomike discs in the latter format, a pair of striking string quartets by American composers Ned Rorem and Mark Scearce (review forthcoming). I also put on the Sony CD of James Taylor’s Hourglass, with its bottomless Jimmy Johnson bass (whatever happened to Leland Sklar?). Both showed off the signature of the Quad, its great deep bass in the latter,and its tendency to a tiny bit of sharpness in the former.
I could live with both, and am now, as I wait for the Veritas to return my truth, doing so with other sources, including some of the best classical FM anywhere (in both sound and programming) from CBC Radio Two. I must say, I’ve been enjoying my former colleague and friend, Eric Friesen, in the afternoons, as he mellows out on Studio Sparks from Ottawa, and the 22Ls make him both authoritative and articulate, and the music sounds great. I’ve even recorded a couple of his interview features (Andre Previn one of these) on my new Nagra IV-S through the excellent and classic Onkyo T-4 tuner I added to the system this year, along with a big Yagi FM antenna.
These speakers are worth every penny of their price, manufactured and perfectly finished in China as they are, and clearly designed by the experienced and talented engineers at Quad Electroacoustics of Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, England. If you can’t get them in Canada now, don’t despair. I’m sure that situation will change soon.
Related Reviews:AIG Back Issues: Spring 2006
Quad ESL 989 Electrostatic Loudspeaker
AIG Back Issues: Summer 1995
Sinclair Brighton Series SB 3600T Loudspeakers [AIG Archives]
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