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Vintage Glory: Quad ESL-63 and Electrostatic Solutions

Quad-3551

I am the first to admit that I have not been steadfast and unwavering in my love. No. Instead, I have been anything but. I am unfaithful.

In fact, it’s probably fair to level this critique in rather stronger language: I am downright promiscuous.

I confess! I confess!

Admitting in public that I, a fan of horn-based loudspeakers, am also a fan of vintage electrostatic panel speakers, will no doubt be taken as something of a sacrilege. The fact that I also have a long list of dynamic loudspeakers in my “most wanted” list can only be seen as an unmistakable sign of my wanton ways, if not evidence of outright mental instability.

But it’s true. I love me some panels.

I don’t really have an excuse, or even much of an explanation, other than I really enjoy experience more than theory — at least when it comes to “art appreciation”. The fact that there seems to me to be “many paths” that end in audio satisfaction is actually directly reflective of a theology of “wild abundance”, but that’s another sermon entirely.

My emotional delight today is entirely consumed by newest toy, a pair of vintage Quad ESL-63, by way of Robin Wyatt of Robyatt Audio and Kent McCollum of Electrostat Solutions.

If you’re a devotee of the audio show circuit, Robin is a guy you must seek out. Now that I say it, it’s not like he’s Waldo. Quite the opposite. Robin is almost impossible to miss — just look for the robust, close-cropped British man sporting large glasses and a kaleidoscope shirt. He’s rarely alone, so expect to see him in a knot of people, all of which are either staring open-mouthed and aghast, or purple-faced, struggling for breath with at least one laughing right out loud — and there Robin will be. Just fix on the one looking angelic and completely innocent. Uh huh. Somewhere nearby, there will be music, spilling forth from some esoteric analog contraption, courtesy of a pair of Quads.

Robin’s personal favorites seem to be the old 57’s. Those speakers are renowned — and for damn good reason — as marking a high water mark in audio’s high-end, and not just for the 1950’s (when the first versions appeared). The speed, delicacy, insight and warmth of these vintage babies is unrivaled, many say. I’ll punt on that, but I will offer that spending any time in a demo room that Robin set up, may well have you mentally thumbing through your virtual wallet, so have a care.

The last several times I’ve found Robin, I’ve also found Kent. Kent is the guy responsible for the restoration and rebuild of those magically speakers that Robin is so very attached to. Remember, these suckers are over 50 years old! Anyway, Kent brings them in, disassembles them, reconditions them, and in the process, he then tweaks the living snot out of them, bringing them up to standards that would send your father’s eyebrows up over his forehead, across his bald pate, and down the back of his shirt. New power supplies? That’s just the start, baby. New and upgraded components, a better circuit, a new cloth, a protective screen, new binding posts … all during a complete rebuild. Steve Austin goes in, Six Million Dollar Man comes out. More details are available online, or better still, via a phone call into Kent.

Generally, I don’t review vintage stuff here on Part-Time Audiophile. Too much variation! I worry that anything I say about any given experience with a particular component can — and probably will — vary wildly, piece by piece. History is not evenly kind. Which is why Electrostat Solutions is so interesting — Kent’s entire business model is based on the fact that he can and does work miracles, consistently.

Editor's Choice: BMC UltraDAC

I took delivery of a pair of 63’s. Why 63’s? Because bass, mainly. I like it. I think music sounds better with it, and I think the 63’s have it all over the 57’s when it comes to bass.

That said, the 57’s have a mid-range immediacy that is not only alluring, it’s stunning. Some of the best sound I have ever heard has been courtesy of Kent’s rebuilt Quad ESL-57s.

Which you prefer is — as always — a matter of taste. Me? I’m promiscuous, remember — I kinda love ’em both. That’s me. A lover.

Anyway, I have a pair here now and I love ’em. I’m currently juicing them with a Pass Laboratories‘ INT-60 integrated amplifier, and yes, it’s solid-state, but it was my favorite of the bunch; the immediacy is thrilling, and the overall tone is goose-bump inducing. The ESL-63 rebuilds from Electrostatic Solutions will probably set you back $5k or more, so I’m not sure a $9,000 is really the first amplifier I’d reach for to drive them to dizzying levels of awesomeness, but the match is most definitely amazeballs.

I’ve also run them with a Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum integrated, with those massive KT-120 tubes, and have been very impressed with the “tube sound”. Just for giggles, I also tried out my reference-quality BorderPatrol P20, a 300b-based push-pull amplifier — and contrary to what Facebookers suggested, it was fantastic.

The speakers, like all ESL designs, are not necessarily an “easy load”, so take that for whatever it’s worth. Speaking of which, you can check Stereophile’s measurements, here. Oh, and while you’re at it, check out the rest of the Stereophile coverage, starting with J. Gordon Holt’s assessment from 1983 — and then note all the follow-ups: starting with Holt himself, and then adding additional thoughts from Tellig (x2), Collums, and Greenhill (x2)! Hmmm … popular, much?

Things to note!

  1. These rebuilds are electrostats. Yes, that means they’re powered and yes that means another pair of power cords. Unfortunately, yes, it matters. I tried the “stock” power cords (they’re vintage, too!), and my HC power cords from TelWire annihilated them.
  2. They’re panels, so as long as they have about 3′ behind them, feel free to take ’em as far apart as you like — your center image fill will thank you — and sidewalls be damned.
  3. On a related note, feel free to sit up close and personal-like. The panel structure (at least in the 63) is such that these are essentially like giant headphones — crazy-coherent at just about any distance. You have a small space? My seat is 6′ back and it’s heaven.
  4. You don’t have to play them quietly. At least not with the 63. I’m not the kind of guy to crank my speakers over to 11 (at least, not often), but I’m not having any issues with dynamics, or “air-moving” or what have you. Think of them as Stereophile has, as “restricted low-frequency” loudspeakers and akin to the very best stand-mount loudspeakers you can find, and you’re in the right ball park.
  5. I have not had the opportunity to compare “restored vintage” with the brand new versions that Quad is rolling off the production line these days, so I cannot comment. Well, other than to say “I’d love to do that at some point.”

For those looking to get your ears-on, I suggest catching the next East Coast audio show, like the Capital Audiofest or maybe the New York Audio Show. I humbly submit that it will be worth your time, regardless of your current loyalties, admirations, commitments or attachments.

Most highly recommended.

About Scot Hull (976 Articles)
Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and "The Occasional Magazine"