The British firm Quad has been revered among speaker aficionados ever since the legendary ELS 57 electrostatic loudspeaker came out in 1957. That groundbreaking design offered levels of clarity and sonic purity that were, and still are, mind-boggling. Because Quad has long been associated with exotic electrostats, it came as a surprise when the firm introduced its affordable and relatively conventional-looking L-series speakers. Nowadays you can buy a complete Quad L-ite surround-sound speaker system for $1999— far less than even one modern-day Quad electrostat would cost. Can such an affordable system possibly deliver sound quality worthy of the Quad name? It can, and does.
Quad’s 5.1-channel system consists of four small satellite speakers, a slightly larger center speaker, and a stout, beefy subwoofer. The satellites and center speaker are voice-matched, bass-reflex designs that use the same high-quality 1-inch dome tweeters and 4-inch woofers. Voice matching ensures tonal consistency throughout the system so sounds panning from speaker to speaker don’t abruptly change character.
Weighing in at more than 60 pounds, the sub features a built-in 300-watt amp to drive its 10-inch woofer and a handy remote control that lets you fine-tune the bass without leaving the couch. Besides controls for volume, phase, and crossover (adjustable in 10Hz increments), you can create up to four presets—one for music, one for movies, and so on.
L-ite speaker and subwoofer cabinets are offered in four piano lacquer finishes: rosewood (shown), cherry, black, and silver. Build quality is exceptional.
I’ve reviewed many $2000 surround systems over the past year, a handful of which were exceptional, and let me tell you straight up that the Quad L-ite system belongs in the exceptional group—possibly up near the top. Despite the diminutive size of its speakers, the L-ite ensemble sounded remarkably clear, energetic, sure-footed, and downright authoritative.
There’s a scene in The Prestige where the magician Robert Angier visits Nikola Tesla’s lab to see a supposed teleportation machine in action. When Tesla fired up his contraption, gleaming bolts of static electricity appeared onscreen, at which point the Quad system filled my room with swirling, sizzling, three-dimensional electrical noises that crackled with energy and intensity. At the same time, the biggest surges of energy were punctuated by deep, clear, low-pitched sound effects that shook the room, making Tesla’s machine seem even more ominous and frightening. Few small surround systems can handle such densely layered effects well but the Quads delivered them with clarity and gusto. Much of the credit goes to the system’s excellent subwoofer, which offers a great combination of power, clarity, and bass that goes very deep. It’s one of the best subs I’ve ever heard in a $2k speaker system.
Turning to music, the L-ite system reproduced instruments and voices with natural clarity and vibrant, lifelike textures. And like great Quad speakers from the past, the speakers had an uncanny ability to reveal subtle details—vocal inflections and delicate fingering noises on stringed instruments—without overemphasizing them.
Dynamics is the only area where the L-ite system was not quite the equal of the best $2k systems we have tested. When inherently loud passages, such as the gunfight in Open Range, are turned way up, the system can reach the point where it sounds slightly compressed and—if pushed further—even a bit rough and ragged. But since those problems occur only at crazy-loud volumes, I could live with them, given the system’s otherwise clear and highly expressive sound.