08 September, 2009

Home Visit: Quad ESL63

Home Visit: Quad ESL63 Now we're talking!

A spontaneous gathering took place at the home of dkyyu on Monday. I was the first to arrive, followed by Alan, pcs100, mda, Gingers, relax173, and lastly, feikeung. I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of mda, whom I haven't seen in years!

Thanks Dennis for his generous reception, which included Kobe beefsteaks and smoked salmon! Dennis turns out to be quite proficient in the kitchen, dishing out the delicious steaks (with good sauce) before we could even finish one side! The only thing missing was perhaps pu-er?

pic: What we listened to (click to enlarge)

-Linn LP12/Ekos/Linn cartridge into Linto
-Cyrus CDP as transport into MF X-DAC v8
-Music First TVC passive preamp (capable of 6 db gain) and Nagra PLP (courtesy feikeung)
-Graaf 20 OTL amp
-Original mint pair of Quad ESL63, with only minor repair done by pcs100

Dennis' home has quite a new and softer look since my last visit (ESL 57, and no CDP). Even with the gears just turned on it was clear from the first beat this was the best sound dkyyu has achieved in his place. Compared to the ESL57, the ESL 63 undoubtedly has superior bandwidth and dispersion and can play louder. As importantly, the 63 does not really require you to sit still in the center, and that's much more consistent with my audio preference.

The speakers were likely not quite run-in (allegedly early returns stuffed away in the warehouse), so the treble does not have quite the openess I heard from the restored 63 at pcs100's place (the first time, when they were just fixed; not the second time, when they sounded highly abnormal). But the bass is already something to be proud of, clean and agile midbass - what a delight!

With only 20 OTL watts, the 63 was surprisingly dynamic and played surprisingly loud, even surviving feikeung's acid test, EMI's Falla La Vida Breve, though vocals just clip a bit on fortissimos. Importantly, right to the moment of clipping composure was maintained and separation remained very good.

We also compared the passive TVC with the active Nagra. There is little doubt an active preamp brings about greater control and oomph, necessary for playback of large-scale music. For jazz and smaller combos I can see why some may like the TVC. For myself, an active preamp is a must for playing back symphonic music.

With digital playback especially, the system achieved a very commendable degree of neutrality. In fact on many of the new issues (like 童麗) we preferred the CD to LP. It has been my opinion that most of the new HK LPs based on CD material are inferior to the CD. Save your money!

Congratulations to Dennis!

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