There are speakers, there are electrostatic speakers, and then there are Quad electrostatic speakers. Few audio designs attract such fanatical loyalty from their owners or such fascination from those who covet them. Secondhand examples, be they the original 1957 ESLs or the later ESL63s, still command serious money.
It's a brave company, therefore, that messes with the winning formula, but here we have an all-new design, retaining little beyond the basic electrostatic principle of highly charged ultra-thin panels moving in response to the music signal.
Now with added bass
The biggest revelation is that the new 2905s do bass. Speakers of this type usually rely on a conventional woofer or subwoofer to do the low stuff, but using six separate panels within the 1.4m-tall frame of the speakers, the 2905s are good down to a usable 28Hz – pretty impressive for any speaker.
They're imposing – anything that tall and almost 70cm wide can't help but be so – but they're surprisingly easy to use. They need to be at least 1m from the rear wall of your room, and a minimum of 5cm from the sides, but that – and a bit of toe-in – is it.
Connections are conventional, plus there's a mains supply for each speaker. The only adjustments are to tension the aerofoil-shaped rear brace, and a choice as to how brightly you want the Quad logo on each speaker lit, if at all.
It's the sound that sets the 2905s apart: once you get used them, they're capable of quite amazing stereo-imaging and power. Instruments and voices have a natural ease you just don't hear from ‘box' speakers. This fluid clarity extends to the handling of rhythms, and even the most intricate of detail.
The Quads can rock, too – these are far from being speakers only suited to classical and breathy jazz. Their power requirements are modest, 40-100w, and Quad says there's nothing to be gained from using monster amps. We used Quad's 99CDP2 CD player/preamp and 909 stereo power amp (£1000 and £900 respectively) to great effect, though we hear whispers there might be even better Quad electronics ‘coming soon' to make a better match with the 2905s and their smaller bro's, the 2805s.
The baby ESLs, still over a metre tall, run out of puff at 33Hz – still impressive for an electrostatic design – but do save you £1500. We'd stick with the big boys, however: they're massive and magnificent, with a sound that attracted praise from everyone, especially our colleagues from Gramophone magazine.
One of them, the owner of a 40-year-old pair of Quad electrostatics, is now trying to work out how he'll rearrange his house to accommodate the new models. If that isn't temptation…