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 LITE 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 LITE system consists of four small two-way satellite speakers, a slightly larger two-way/three-driver center channel speaker, and a stout, substantial subwoofer. The satellites and center speaker are voice-matched, bass-reflex (i.e., ported-cabinet) designs that use the same high-quality 1-inch fabric dome tweeters and 4-inch carbon fiber 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 frequency (adjustable in 10 Hz increments), you can create up to four presets—one for music, one for movies, and so on.
LITE speaker and subwoofer cabinets are offered in four piano lacquer finishes: rosewood, cherry, black, and silver. Build quality is exceptional.
Speaking with Authority
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 LITE system belongs in the exceptional group—possibly up near the top. Despite the diminutive size of its speakers, the LITE ensemble sounded remarkably clear, energetic, sure-footed, and downright authoritative.
Dramatic Impact for Movies
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, very 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. Part of the credit goes to the LITE satellites and center channel speakers, which are surprisingly smooth and detailed, and offer greater bass reach than they have any right to given their compact dimensions. But much of the credit also goes to the system’s subwoofer, which offers a compelling combination of power, clarity, bass pitch definition, and extension. The LITE sub is one of the best I’ve heard in any $2k round-sound system.