Change on the playing field
Quad has managed to bring ribbon cone technology to more affordable territory with its new S series loudspeakers. David Vivian listens
When it comes to legacies, Quad boasts quite a few. The Electrostatic – first produced in 1957 and perhaps the only loudspeaker that deserves iconic status – has been, in some ways, a clear example for the company to follow – the ever-evolving brand can claim to still have substance. real after all the hype that Quad is the closest to the original sound.
Understandably, more complicated has been the effort to build a bomb-proof reputation for its second-row speakers that, due to competitiveness, has to make do with a conventional chassis and dynamic speakers. Well, there has been a technological change and not before time. Ribbon tweeters – by many considered superior to dome designs – have in recent years found their way into much more modestly priced speakers. Quad’s latest range, the S Series, introduces a bespoke ribbon tweeter into a sector of the market where domes have traditionally been the norm. It’s a bold initiative to capture some of the flavor of ethereal, finely textured ESL transparency for those of us with more frugal pockets.
And no one has a better chance of redefining the price versus quality paradigm than the smallest member of a family of five, the S-1 stand-up monitor. Small enough to slip into the “monkey” category, with its 285 mm height; Its specially designed ribbon tweeter is accompanied by a Kevlar mid-bass speaker. The S series is completed with another slightly larger monitor, the S-2, two floor models (S-4 and S-5) and a center channel for home theater called SC.
This isn’t the first time Quad has employed a ribbon tweeter, but we have to look back to its first speaker, a 1949 design called the Corner Ribbon. Although its sonic advantages were already appreciated then, the execution was more precarious since the speakers were delicate elements that tended to burn out at higher volumes (generated by tubes). The S-1 ribbon, developed specifically for the S series, uses a sandwich construction and appears to be robust enough to cope with more powerful modern solid-state amplifiers.
Fully immersed in a powerful magnetic field to perform its dual task of being both “voice coil” and sound radiator, the cone has been designed and manufactured to excel in several aspects: excellent transient response and great musical detail. , apart from maintaining smoothness below and above the normal high frequency listening range. Tapes generally have greater dispersion and make listening for the “sweet spot” less critical. But Quad has sought to limit vertical dispersion to avoid floor and ceiling reflections, with the intention that the treble is pristine at the listening point of a seated listener.
The woven Kevlar mid-bass driver, here in its smaller 100mm size, is a more familiar component and is delivered to the ribbon tweeter via its sophisticated multi-element cut-off filter network. The 10.7-litre rear bass reflex chassis is remarkably inert, thanks to multi-layer MDF panel construction and high-density particleboard – factors that contribute to low chassis colouration. All surfaces are covered with a wood veneer in a black or mahogany sapele finish, but there is also the option of a black or white lacquered finish for an additional cost. The S-1 also avoids being completely rectilinear through rounded corners on the lower and upper parts of the front and rear panels, a design detail that, together with the robust and well-finished connection terminals for bi-wiring, contributes to making these small and elegant boxes have a quality finish. The racks are magnetically attached and the S-1 comes with self-adhesive silicone dots so they sit firmly.
These are small boxes but with serious intentions and I can’t wait to see what they are capable of; The first supporting cast comprises heavy Slate Audio stands and two pairs of Townshend Isolda DCT speaker cables for bi-amping with Roksan’s Caspian M2 integrated amplifier and M2 power amp, with Caspian M2 player and Chord’s Hugo DAC. Later I will replace the Roksan amplification with the Crescendo from Audio Analogue and a Monitor Audio A100, but for now I want something that is close to the small Quad.
It’s a top-notch piece of equipment that has shined several times in recent months moving loudspeakers much more expensive than the S-1, but any doubt that the little Quad couldn’t handle the job of reflecting the flow of talent is quickly dispelled by a presentation which makes the combination of amplification and source sound more seductive and musical than ever. This comes as a surprise and makes me wonder if the designer, Peter Comeau, has pulled off a master trick of smoke and mirrors with the sound system. Getting small speakers to sound convincingly full through windowing and filter customization often has much less pleasant side effects.
But no, the only trick the S-1 seems to be guilty of is drawing the listener in from the start and not letting them go. Perhaps more timely for Quad, the predominant “politeness” that often defines the sonic signature of some previous small monitor designs has given way to a higher order of dynamic expression and immediacy and, better yet, the ability to deliver fast transients like the beam without dulling or exaggerating.
The ribbon tweeter is clearly the key, breathing life, structure and resolution heretofore unseen into recordings that might be considered less brilliant examples of digital art. The album August by Eric Clapton is a typical test. It can often sound muddy, harsh and congested, but the S-1’s spaciousness and ability to convincingly portray a subtle atmosphere allow it to extract subtleties and nuances that make it more enjoyable to listen to. The bass is agile, melodious and articulate, but with extraordinary weight and extension, considering its size and main cone.
With the Audio Analogue amplifier, the overall balance is somewhat more relaxed, but the presentation remains outstandingly transparent, natural and spontaneous, with an immersive but highly focused soundstage, with a real sense of depth that extends comfortably beyond the lateral range of the speakers.
Anyone with preconceptions about the “home sound” of Quad’s more affordable speakers should make an appointment to listen to the S-1 model. Yes, it is refined and smooth and combines it with new levels of transparency, dynamic expression, musical knowledge and maturity. A small and elegant model with a good quality-price ratio.
Question and answer
Acoustic Design Director, IAG
Q: There are several types of ribbon tweeter. How did you develop the S-series design and what advantages does it have over even the best dome designs?
R: The best ribbon tweeters are designs based on a metal sheet suspended in a strong magnetic field. The advantage over the dome is that the diaphragm is excited over its entire surface and the ribbon is its own voice coil. The downside to older style tapes is power management. That’s why they fell out of favor. However, more recent developments in multi-layer substrates have allowed the sheets to handle more power without burning and have returned the true benefits of true tapes.
Q: The S-1 has a full and even balance with great integration of its cones. What are the factors that contribute to this?
R: There is no single factor that is responsible for it. A speaker has to be considered as an integral design. Speaker performance, chassis construction and of course a sensible filter design all have a role to play. I maximize speaker integration through hours of computer simulation and repeated auditions help finalize a filter that is, for all intents and purposes, acoustically perfect.
Q: Aside from the MDF and particle board sandwich construction, does the chassis have any other features that contribute to damping, rigidity and low resonance?
R: To this you can add the internal circumferential reinforcements, which contribute to giving more rigidity to the front baffle and divide the front and rear panels into smaller areas, and also the internal wool fiber absorbent material, which helps prevent sound reflections through through the mid-bass speaker.
Quad is not alone in helping music lovers search for “something more.” Ribbon tweeter stalwart Elac also has its share covered with its BS 142 model and those looking for a more overt presentation than the S-1 should give it a try. He doesn’t enjoy Quad’s fabulous detail treatment, but it sounds fast, fun and light. Dali’s Ikon 1 model is another competitor and a very unusual one, because it features a hybrid tweeter, combining dome and ribbon. It is a particularly clear and detailed design that does not skimp on beauty and has enough intuition to compete with the S-1. Now, it lacks the intimacy that Quad manages to create.