The original Quad II mono amplifiers must be one of the most popular pieces of vintage audio going, they command high prices when condition is good and they continue to give remarkable service for a product that can be over fifty years old. When Quad was still and independent company it wasn’t interested in reviving the Quad II or making valve amplifiers at all but rather wanted to push the frontiers albeit in a not too pushy way. What’s more it’s service department did a sterling job of keeping original amps and ESL speakers going well past retirement age.
Now that Quad is under auspices of IAG its owners have had the sense to revive the Quad II and have produced more up to date variants upon it such as the II-Eighty power amp. The latest addition to the family is not actually a revival – there never was a Quad II integrated back in the day – but it is built along the same lines as that amplifier. It’s probably no bigger than two Quad IIs placed side by side and has a very similar valve complement with the added bonus of a preamplifier and phono stage onboard.
As per the rest of the Quad valve amp range today design was done not by company founder the late Peter Walker but another company founder, that of EAR-Yoshino, Tim de Paravicini. Tim brought the Quad II monoblock up to date so it made sense for him to conceive the company’s first valve integrated. While it uses the same output valves as the original II the integrated manages to deliver an extra ten watts per channel according to spec and a little more in practice. Tim achieved this by increasing HT while lowering the voltage to screen grid in order to enhance reliability, which is useful because it should mean more hours of listening before a valve change is required. With the exception of the phono stage this is an all valve design with four ECC88s and two ECC83s in its circuit and all of which are protected by a neat cage cover, something that you can remove for maximum visual thrills and possibly a bit more sonic subtlety as well.
It has the same single tap output transformers as a II and these are happiest driving an eight ohm load, power drops off when that impedance halves as it can with many speakers at a certain point in the band. Something that might explain the relatively uneven response I encountered with some material, most of the time this proved to be a remarkable capable amplifier, driving a pair of B&W 802D speakers with apparent ease. But the occasional track did sound a little odd tonally and possibly the speaker’s tricky phase angles had something to do with this. But it was a happy combination nonetheless and one that delivered an awful lot of beguiling music in a fashion that while not unlike other valve amps is clearly in its own class. There is good dose of old skool Quad sound, pipe and slippers as it were but this is combined with Paravicini style muscle to create a strong but smooth result that makes for engrossing music.
The styling is pretty distinctive too, Tim has used the front panel shape of the QC-twentyfour preamplifier but replaced the input buttons with a variation on the balance control from that model, this amp does not offer balance adjustment. The last button is monitor tape, the available selection of three line inputs being augmented by a tape loop and a phono stage for MM and MC cartridges. It would have been nice to have included a preamp out for bi-amping but that’s not something that happens much with glass audio.
Build quality is extremely high and fit and finish likewise, it truly does live up to the standards of the original and in many ways exceeds them. Paint finishes were never this good and gold plated socketry was never on the agenda back in the fifties. You even get a small but long Phillips screwdriver to remove the valve cover with should you feel the urge to see the glassware in all its glowing glory. The only omission of note is that there’s no remote control, something that’s completely authentic but a bit of a shock for those us used to solid state amplifiers which rarely dispense with this luxury.
I had the luxury of using this amp over several months, a period when a number of loudspeakers passed through the listening room so I had the opportunity to put it through its paces with different loads. First up was the Epos Encore 50, the company’s attempt to build a speaker that will go loud enough for the American market, this has good sensitivity but a three ohm impedance dip at 110Hz so is not the perfect speaker for the Quad yet as a pairing I found it rather enjoyable. More so in fact than bigger tranny amps that had a rather better grip on the proceedings. The Quad produces an expansive soundstage with a lot of material and is not entirely even in tonal terms and these qualities offset the Encore 50’s rather grey presentation extremely well. The amp brings out tonal richness in everything you play which makes instruments seem that much more real and vital. It’s a quality that seems like a colouration to a solid state user but it certainly puts back what the recording seems to lose as it goes the process of becoming a finished disc.
There is also a slight midrange emphasis that makes lyrics easier to understand and enhances the communication skills of this slightly restrained speaker. And the bass is lovely and ripe, it really puts the heart back in the music yet manages to extend well without loss of power. Of all the amps I had on hand to test the Encore 50s this was the most successful.
The Quad did remarkably well with the B&W 802D aforementioned comments notwithstanding. Pick a good recording such as Keith Jarrett’s last solo effort London/Paris Testament on ECM and the extra timbral lushness it brings to bear makes the piano sound strong and vibrant and allows the player to produce a groove of insight and fluidity that got me a little carried away. The playing on this album is extremely good no doubt about it but I’ve rarely been inspired to describe it as a pure channelling of a vital musical force that gives you access to a higher plane of consciousness before. Must have been something in the coffee! But there’s something in the combination of this amp’s dynamic character and the intrinsic humanity of its balance that lets you hear through the barrier of time and space that separates the listening from the original performance. The important aspects of that performance are placed in your room to be enjoyed, all you have to do is let it in.
As the Quad accommodates MC cartridges I hooked up the venerable SME 20A with a van den Hul Colibri onboard and gave some vinyl a spin. The combination of this highly refined cartridge, smooth turntable and all that glass produced a lush sound that got positively sensuous when female vocals were in the mix. Both Rickie Lee Jones and Yolanda Quartey (of Phantom Limb) made me weak at the knees. The sound is distinctly relaxed compared even to a Trichord Dino+ through the same amp – which odd because the Quad’s stage is also solid state – but the highs are a lot sweeter and more fluid. One possible reason is gain, it has just about enough for this 0.45mV output MC but the Dino+ has a lot more and provides a stronger image alongside better defined bass. Yet the onboard option is by far the most appealing, there’s less wire in the way for one thing. Back with silver discs and the arrival of a new and extremely capable loudspeaker, namely the Hart Audio EVO-1. I will be telling you all about this unusual new design next month but for now the salient facts are that it has active bass driven via high level signal, ie the Quad’s speaker outputs, and a dual concentric mid treble in the Tannoy style. It’s spec’ed as being 97dB which sounds a little optimistic but you don’t actually drive the eight bass drivers (yes 8) so it shouldn’t be a challenging load. The bass still reflects the slightly soft bass of the amplifier but has more grip than the tubes alone as you’d hope the mid meanwhile is beautifully open and can be played at higher levels thanks to that sensitivity. It made the sort of sound that you can listen to for hours given the opportunity and while I could get greater resolution out of the rather more expensive Digital Do Main B-1a it’s doubtful whether musical gratification could be bettered.
By valve standards the Quad sits in between the delicate fragility of SETs and the powerhouse grunt of the bigger push-pull designs, it’s naturally closer to the latter but is a little more refined and dare I say it romantic. There is a warmth and bodaciousness that while not high fidelity in the true sense does result in highly enchanting results with the right speakers. I only found one speaker that it didn’t seem to suit, that being the PMC GB1i, an unlikely partner it’s true but one that I usually enjoy. Possibly something about its load and admittedly low-ish sensitivity makes it a bad choice.
Overall this is a an extremely engaging and musical amplifier, it’s not the fastest nor the most precise but with a sympathetic speaker it gets under the skin rather well and makes you want to hear more which is clearly a good thing.
SPECS & PRICING
Valves: 4x KT66, 4x ECC88, 2x ECC83
Inputs: 3 line, tape in/out, phono
Phono stage sensitivity: MM – 2mV RMS, MC – 200µV RMS
Output power: 25 watts/8 ohms
Dimensions HxWxD: 20x21x38cm
IAG, Unit 4, St Margaret’s Way, Stukely Meadows Ind. Est., Huntingdon, Cambs PE29 6EB