What Hi Fi Sound and Vision Mon, 4 Aug 2008, 4:00pm

Quad ESL 2805

Tested at £5000
80100
4

In many ways these Quads are exceptional, but they’re not all-round talents

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For

  • Astonishing cohesion
  • midrange naturalness
  • detail resolution

Against

  • Fussy about positioning
  • lack the dynamic punch of some rivals
  • slightly lumpy bass

There are few hi-fi products that justify the use of the word ‘legendary'; the Quad electrostatic is one that does.

It's been five decades since the company's first generation of electrostatics set sky-high standards for detail and naturalness, and many believe that, even now, the originals still haven't been surpassed in these respects.

On test are the ESL 2805s, the fourth generation of Quad's electrostatics. In many ways these speakers stand out from the competition as much as their ancestors did all those years ago. Midrange: that's what these electrostatics are about.

Properly set up (more on that later) the ESL 2805s are absolutely glorious in the middle region, making all but the very best conventional box speakers sound broken in comparison.

The magic and passion of great vocalists such as Nina Simone or Jill Scott shines through. Every word and vocal inflection is delivered with utmost clarity and convincing naturalness.

Despite the multiple electrostatic panels, these are one-way speakers. That means no crossover in the signal paths, so none of the sonic degradation such a circuit invariably imparts.

There's no enclosure, either: the ESLs fire as much sound backwards as they do forwards. This gets rid of all the colourations and distortions such boxes normally add.

A very particular pairing
So far, so good, but the unusual design of the Quads means you'll need to take special care in getting the positioning spot on. These are the fussiest speakers we've had in our listening room for years.

With sound firing backwards and forwards, the distance from the back wall becomes vital. Consider 1.5m a bare minimum, and you may well have to put damping material such as curtains or bookshelves (filled with books, of course) behind to absorb as much as possible.

If you don't get this right you'll lose some of the focus and transparency that makes these speakers so special.

The position of the sidewall isn't so critical, and you can get quite close because the speakers fire little sound in that direction. However, toe-in angle is important to ensure stereo imaging is as precise as possible.

Get it right and you'll have a sound stage that is as layered, well-focused and precise as the best money can buy. You can add decent timing and exceptional low-level dynamics to the list of plus points, too.

Perhaps too analytical?

Provided you can get the positioning right and match it with a system that shares the strengths of the ESL 2805s, you won't be disappointed. However, these speakers aren't perfect.

Similar money buys conventional box speakers that deliver greater dynamic punch and considerably deeper, more powerful bass. The Quads' analytical approach to music making won't appeal to all, either.

Finally, the bass performance may be integrated beautifully, but it's a shade heavy-handed and lumpy: this is not a trait shared with these electrostatics' big brother, the ESL 2905s.

Nevertheless, the ESL 2805s are brilliant in parts, and for the right kind of person may well be the best speaker they could ever buy. If you're in the market at this price, give them a listen.
 

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