Quad ESL 988 Floorstanding Speakers

ESL 988

Quad ESL-988 Electrostatic Loudspeaker

  • Sensitivity: 86db/2.83V rms
  • Impedance: 8ohm nominal
  • Dimensions: 2.6w x 3.7h x 1.24d feet
  • Weight: 44 lbs

  • User Reviews (14)

    Showing 1-10 of 14  
    Graham   Audio Enthusiast [Oct 14, 2007]

    I have recently taken delivery of my new QUAD ESL 2905's (June 2007). I have auditioned speakers extensively over the past 3 years in my search for the perfect speaker and tried Watt

    Puppy 7's and 8's, Revel Salons, Dynaudio Evidence Temptations, Magnepan 20.1s etc etc ..... the list goes on.

    When I came across the 2905's back in June 2007 I auditioned in awe. They remain the most coherent and seamless speaker I have heard ...... and they have REAL bass. I have long

    dismissed electrostats because they had no bass ........ but the 2905's have redefined for me what true palpable bass is. It's a truly integrated speaker from top to bottom. It is effortless and

    entirely non-fatiguing.

    To answer an earlier thread about whether vocals sound more forward on the 2905's than others my view is no. The vocals sound right ..... but then so too does every other part of it's

    frequency re-production. There is beautiful separation and 'air' between instruments and vocals which makes them 'right'. They are superb ..... but there is a catch that will not please many.

    I am now on my 2nd pair of 2905s after the first pair (then only 3 months old) had a panel failure of some sort. I began noticing huge differences between speaker sensitivities that made

    correct imaging and soundstaging impossible. And then, to make things worse, I lost most of the bass response from both speakers.

    To Quads credit they did provide a brand new replacement pair which I received 3 weeks ago (September 2007) and which are now burning in nicely.

    Recent experiences on the web suggest this is not an isolated case and panel failures in the 2905s and 2805's have been recorded elsewhere. So reliability is clearly an issue with this

    speaker and I remain nervous that the same type of failure will happen again and I'll need to spend another 12 weeks waiting for a new pair.

    So ........... yes, they are a stunning speaker (regardless of price) and compete with units 5x their price. But the "Made in China" thing has clearly affected reliability.

    Ken Kessler of "HiFi News" in the UK gave these speakers a "20/20, Best Speaker on the Planet" review back in 2006. My listening experiences are almost consisitent with those in his

    review, including his lab report findings that suggest he also experienced sensitivity differences with his audition pair. What I wasn't expecting was the 5-7 dB of sensitivity differences that I

    experienced which is, well, kind of important.

    But I also note that Ken Kessler wrote the glossy "History of QUAD" book that accompanied my 2905s when they came delivered in their "bigger then mankind" cardboard boxes ........ so I

    therefore remain sceptical about Kens impartiaility and objectivity in his scoring of these speakers. If Ken knew how unreliable they are now proving to be, he wouldn't be giving them 20/20 !

    It's food for thought and I'm happy to answer questions on my ongoing impressions of my (now 2nd) pair of 2905s.

    OVERALL
    RATING
    3
    VALUE
    RATING
    5
    michael klementovich   AudioPhile [Jun 24, 2005]
    Strength:

    Chamber Music

    Weakness:

    All other music

    I purchased these Speakers because they intrigue me more than they impress me. I had heard them at 2 different audio stores on the east coast and were not impressed at either establishment...They both demo'd these with the Quad Tubed equipment which is not very good. I was bound and determined to make them sound better than I had heard them in the stores. They were immediately wired with silver speaker wire and silver IC's and then powered with the amazing Quicksilver TRIODE 6C33C Push Pull Monoblocks. These are quite possibly the best amps ever made at any price and true to my previous experiences these amps just made the QUAD 988's sing and dance...as best they could. These speakers are so unbelievably GOOD (with some types of music) and so unbelievably BAD with other types of music, that either way they leave me speechless. If one wants to designate a room just for chamber music that these are the speakers for you. That is my reason for keeping them in addition to showing others how good my Klipsch LaScala's and K-Horns really are. What can I say...great and terrible!!! No middle of the road with these puppies...They are however the best of the three, the other two being the Maggies and the Martin Logans

    Similar Products Used: Vandersteen 2 and 3 Aliante Pininfarina One's Klipsch LaScala Klipsch Cornwall Klipsch Klipschorn Radii 211 Radii SET 6C33C Quicksilver 6C33C TRIODE Wright 1.75 SET Wright 3.5 SET Wright 300B SET Quicksilver Mono100 Quicksilver 8417 Quicksilver Full Function PRE Pure SILVER EVERYTHING PS Audio P-600 ETC ETC ETC Wright Quicksilver Multiple Products
    OVERALL
    RATING
    2
    VALUE
    RATING
    3
    Nicolas B   Audio Enthusiast [Nov 22, 2004]
    Strength:

    Homogenous, clear, open, natural sound from the bass right through to the treble. Fantastically low acoustic distortion or colouration from soft volume levels right up to the point where the protection circuit shuts them down. Good microdynamics and splendid low-level detail reproduction. Blackness. Coherence. Lots of acoustic information. Realism. Pleasant even in the longest listening sessions.

    Weakness:

    Not suitable for extreme loudness if there are heavy bass notes or bass thuds. But that is a restriction rather than a weakness. A bit too revealing with many a sub-standard recording. Their built-in protection circuit in fact short circuits the loudspeaker cable inputs, so make sure you have an amplifier which will not be damaged by this habit. The ESL988s, especially the black ones, are ugly, they look weird and cheap, they're bulky, and they demand space behind them and care with placement. And... after a few days of listening, you might be spoiled for using other loudspeakers.

    I had been dreaming of loudspeakers with the qualities of Stax electrostatic headphones. With Quad's ESL 988, I have found something that comes close to it. Music played through the Quad ESL 988 just flows out of them in a relaxed, effortless manner without any trade-offs in sonic precision. That is their special treat. And they always sound extremely uncoloured and clear. And the ESL's sound is as homogenous as that of a good small two-way monitor loudspeaker. You will never hear the slightest "woof woof here -tweet tweet there"! These loudspeakers teach every other speaker I've ever heard an embarrassing lesson about coherence. At the same time, the resolution of details is astonishing, even with sensibly priced, modest little amplifiers like Quad's 99 stereo. It is true that the 988s have less shine in the upper treble than other good loudspeakers, but only very slightly so. Their treble is good, it just doesn't stick out like with most loudspeakers in the market. And their bass will indeed play loud and/ or low, but neither extremely low nor very very loud. But for many types of music, and for a still considerable range of loudness, these restrictions simply don't exist. The realism of timbre stuns me time after time. With voices, it sometimes definitely sounds as if a person were crouching behind the loudspeaker panel and talking through it. Distant church bells in the background of a recording actually fooled me - I thought I was hearing the bells of my town church. No kidding. I also enjoy the 'blackness' of these speakers. With no input signal present, they are dead silent, and their low efficiency turns into an advantage when they play: No hum or hiss or buzz from the rest of the system comes through. Pleasant. The 988s disperse their sound narrower than many conventional box loudspeakers, but not so narrow as to make it unpractical. Their ability to disappear as a sound source depends largely on placement. So do the stereo localization and partly the depth of the sound image. All three can be achieved to a considerable degree, though with sometimes a bit, sometimes a lot more work involved than with mini-monitors. So many contradictory opinions exist about the best ways of using the Quad ESL63 and ESL988 that I'll resort to just trying what works best for ME in MY room with MY music. Apart from the choice of amplifiers, there are the socks question (remove the cover cloth, making the ESLs even much uglier, or leave it on), the subwoofer question, the placement question, the issue of putting them onto stands or leaving them on the floor, and others. Hopefully my experiment with an active crossover to relieve the ESLs from those nasty notes below 80 Hertz will work. Above the mid- to low bass, the 988s can go really loud. So, together with the ADAM Audio SubP subwoofer's adjustable high-pass output, the system is ready for colossal organ pieces. The rear wall of my room is going to be padded with some acoustic foam and covered by a folded cotton curtain from Gerriets. It is astonishing how such an electro-mechanically complex piece of gear produces such a very clear, precise, and utterly effortless sound. Mr Peter Walker's way of converting the music signal into mechanical movements and coupling the movements to the air is as clever as it is unique. There is no such thing as the one ultimate loudspeaker for all purposes. But the Quad ESL988 deserve to be called a classic. I agree with almost everything Paul Seydor wrote in his review in "The Absolute Sound". In quite a few years of muddling around with HiFi gear, the ESL988 has been the first device I decided to keep forever. I can live with its limitations, enjoy its strengths and stay happy as long as my ears keep working. My search for a very good loudspeaker has come to a happy end. I finally concentrate more on music and less on the gear. After all, it's the music that counts.

    Similar Products Used: In a way similar: Stax Lambda Nova Basic electrostatic headphones Not at all similar: Audio Physic Virgo II, ADAM Audio P11A and SubP, Harbeth's and Rogers' LS3/5A, Dynaudio Contour 1.1, Spendor S3/5, Musikelectronic Geithain RL 903
    OVERALL
    RATING
    5
    VALUE
    RATING
    4
    twodolphins   AudioPhile [Nov 10, 2004]
    Strength:

    Clarity of the sound, better than anything else (incl. Martin Logan). Very nice design.

    Weakness:

    Impossible to listen german techno music.

    Ok, I am one of those guys who like Quad Sound. That's not unusal for an european guy. However, it's unusal for someone who comes from Croatia and do not have aristocrats in his familiy or father who owns a multinational company and therefore buy himself an expensive audio toy. I was infected with audiophile desease when I was younger, while I was working on the local Radio Station in Zagreb and get in contact with sophisticated audio equipment of professional quality. Then I moved in Paris and get in contact with all expensive gadgets in local hifi stores, including Stax headphones and french (locally) highly appreciated speakers. I owned also Jadis Orchestra tube amplifier, and Rega Mira3 integrated amplifier, as well as ESL 57, minipods, Atlas speakers and Baby speakers. Let's make it clear. There's nothing like british old school sound. It's not only a matter of technical skills to produce a highly sophisticated technical device (almost anyone on this planet can make that incl. China or Croatia). There's a matter of the "perception of the sound". Different cultures have different sound perception, and therefore soud engeneers and technicians from different parts of this globe are producing devices which will reproduce a vision of the sound which is locally colored. You will agree with me that Japanese amplifier has totally different sound color comparing to the Graaf or Jadis. Why is that possible ? Why we do not have a common sens of musical beauty and audiophile qualities ? May be because we have some differences in the perception of esthetics (as well in the visual art, as in the music). So, QUAD ESL 988 is the fruit of the long tradition of british (audio) culture and manufacturing ability (even if QUAD is today a Chinese owned company). I beleive that this speaker is among 10 best speakers availables on this planet. And therefore one of 3 best loudspeakers of european production. So, probably the best you will ever hear if you are located somewhere in Europe. I will not praise here it's qualities in term of clarity of the sound, dinamics, frequency reponse etc. as everything in that sens was allready stated before. I just want to state: so if this is one of 10 best speakers available for a reasonable sum of money, the one who wants to buy an ultimate sound should just stop his eternal search for the holy graal and admit that any other of those 10 will demonstrate the same or similar problems as well as qualities. Nothing is perfect. Quad ESL 988 is not perfect either. However, this is what every single audiophile wants the best speaker. Once you admit it's existence, you can discuss about room (for the larger room you should take the big brother ESL 989), esthetics (blue or black ?) and of cours about other few concurent speakers (Hyperion, Merlin, Marin Logan etc.) which may be a valuable alternative. Before you decide what to buy, take in consideration the fact that this "eastern guy", which has no money for extravagant toys, has decided however to use all his money, to ask a mortage on his bank and to ask some money from his friends to buy ESL 988 and QUAD II 40. Well, I don't regret. And will never change my speakers, unless QUAD will make a new pair of ESL. One of QUAD french distributors recently have told me that a new range of QUAD ESL will be available in january 2005. The new range of ESL should be even bigger than 989 and "better" loudspeaker housed in wooden boxes and, of course, more expensive.

    Similar Products Used: Magnepan, Minipods, Baby, Aerius, Aeon, Atlas
    OVERALL
    RATING
    5
    VALUE
    RATING
    5
    Sinbad   Audio Enthusiast [Feb 26, 2004]
    Strength:

    Detailed, uniform, dynamic, transparent and super natural.

    Weakness:

    Nothing

    Bigger is not better. I have compared 988 against 989 side by side. In my room (about 46 sq.m) 988 was far superior. The bass was more tight and with more detail on 988. 988 is the best loudspeaker I have heard.

    Similar Products Used: Martin Logan Prodigy, B&W N801, N802, N803, Merlin VSM-M, Vienna Mahler, Sonus Fabers etc.
    OVERALL
    RATING
    5
    VALUE
    RATING
    5
    Roopz   AudioPhile [Jan 27, 2004]
    Strength:

    Superb quality of rendition No other speaker can reproduce a piano like this! Legendary midrange performance Bass is beautiful, punchy but not over done

    Weakness:

    Build quality could be better for the price Not appropriate for small rooms, needs space to breath

    I first fell in love with the "electrostatic sound" when I was 16. I am a training sound engineer and at that time I was on work experience with the Recording Guru - Tony Faulkner. Having been on a variety of sessions with him, I got to hear his Quad ESL63Pro s in different genres and they just sounded like nothing else I had ever heard. I knew from that moment I just had to have a pair! There ability to reconstruct the atmosphere of a performance is better than any other speaker I have heard, and in my this line of business I listen to a lot of different monitors. I run my pair of ESL-988's the Quad way with a 99 preamp and 909 poweramp. They sound glorious, a real modern classic. The most wonderful thing about them is that you know in 10 or 20 years you'll still want to hang on to them; its not just the speaker that is great but its fabulous heritage too. My advice is to shell out for this, I know people who have spent £20K+ on speakers and not achieved the kind of resolution that the ESls acheive.

    Similar Products Used: Quad ESL63PRO
    OVERALL
    RATING
    5
    VALUE
    RATING
    5
    John Robert   AudioPhile [Nov 24, 2003]
    Strength:

    Works with wide range of ancillary gear, bringing the absolute best from it...gives you a window on the other designers (of CD, amplification, etc.) efforts towards 'perfection.' Quads go to the soul of the music without straining. 5 of 5 doesn't seem fair...these are at least a 6!

    Weakness:

    Not as easy to place as some think. Granted, they sound great just plopping them in a room without regard to placement; but careful adjustment makes them transcendant...spectacular! Also, wish they supplied pucks with the sharp footers...surprisingly, however, they sound pretty fine without feet. Also, recieved different length power cords (!) Replacing the PCs with after-market cords had no apparent effect...perhaps someone can comment? Is it because it has a stepdown transformer inside following the PC?

    Like having your first romantic relationship play over and over again. First fell in love with the 57's but they were too expensive at the time--a quarter century ago. And that was dumb since I bought and sold dozens of speaker, in the interim...from Acoustats to Martin Logans, Spendors, Merlins, Meridians, Aerials, Totems, Genesis etc--always trying to rediscover that original and elusive Quad magic. I can even remember the first record I ever heard on the 57s...I was completely flabbergasted. Shocked. Looking back, I realize I could have afforded those Quads many times over. I only ever heard one speaker in all that time that could touch the original Quads...big Apogees with $40K of electronics...but even then, not quite as good, though louder, than the Quads. And they needed a huge room to bloom. The output of the Agogees--the SPL and transparency-- was spectacular...though at the cost of a slight glare. (That I could easily live with...but for the cost!) So with the release of the new Quads I went right to the factory and auditioned both the 989s. Very impressive, but not quite as good as I remember. Great bass, excellent output...but not as good as remembered. They told me to come back when they had the 988s set up...that those were what I really wanted. They weren't kidding...no comparison. The 988s are the real deal...far superior to my ears than the bigger Quads. I finally decided to chuck all my gear, start all over again and build a system around the Quad 988 Vintage. Now I'm back to that original love affair...25 years late, but worth it. These are magical speakers, fabulously transparent, so musical you'll have to rethink your entire preconceptions of reproduction. I've moved away from the excellent Joule to BAT on these speakers...the 300SE BAT integrated is a perfect sonic match--it's seems that they were designed for each other. Tube preamp stage with SS amp...prodigious power supply. Pretty much ideal...far superior than the current Quad electronics (which aren't at all bad and highly recommended for those on a budget...spend the money first on the speakers!) CJ sounded great too, but not quite as transparent as BAT; though to be fair, I've not yet auditioned the new CJ 140...but the 60 watters and my CJ 12s were easily bettered by BAT. I've heard the buzz that BAT was supposed to be 'dark' but am now convinced that this must be due to poor speaker matching. It's just not true; it's quite the opposite. BAT and Quad makes CD sound analog. Beware of low powered amps, even tube amps. The 150 watts of the BAT is just about right...anything less wouldn't work, trust me. I've tried CJ, Joule, ARC, Quicksilver and others. The Quads are extremely inefficient...far more than advertised; I just don't know how 50 watts can do them real justice without significant clipping, distortion and frequency response problems. (Perhaps some funky impedance thing?) Anyway, once you sort out the amplification, the 988s lack of crossover and typical speaker distortions seems to make CD amazingly better than anything else I've owned. (And I've dropped another small fortune...enough to buy a small vacation home in Ireland...on digital in my lifetime!) I'm now wondering whether I've been erroneously blaming my digital front ends for what were in fact speaker (or amplification?) anamolies all these years. Now many CD and SACD players sound fine..excellent...even the cheap Phillips SACD 1000 sounds great. Who'd a thunk it? I tried an old $6K Meridian, a rather bright Wadia and even an older professional Studer...bingo! Different flavor, but none of them have what I'd call digititis...yet on other speakers I've owned, these same players had definite negative digital signatures. That's why I continually swapped equipment, especially for new(er) tube gear to soften the residual glare. Only records--and some of those had their own problems--could solve the problem of enjoying music. Maybe digital wasn't so bad after all? The Quads are that good. Beyond good...these are classic speakers...as good as the original 57s in the mids with far better protection and frames, plus a little more extension on top and bottom. Not the deepest plumbing of subterranean bass, but what is there is tuneful and extremely natural. You won't feel the need for a sub unless you are a HT bass freak. I'm still getting used to what these speakers can do and wondering what tweaks will be forthcoming from other users.

    OVERALL
    RATING
    5
    VALUE
    RATING
    5
    Sinbad   Audio Enthusiast [Nov 03, 2003]
    Strength:

    Most musical speaker I have heard in my life.

    Weakness:

    Well, none really, but give them quality amplification and source.

    I have been buying and selling speakers for the past 20 years and have had a chance to compare, side by side many models. The sound from Quad 988 is simply the most musical I have ever heard. 988 may not have super low deep thumping bass, but they sound totally natural, and they do have bass good enough for me to feel it while on my couch. It is just not boomy, it is just right. Midrange and tweeter sounds super open and transparent, the best I have heard.

    Similar Products Used: Martin Logan Prodigy, Quad 989, B&W N 801, 802, 803, Sonus Faber Guarneri and Amati, Vienna Mahler, Merlin VSM etc.
    OVERALL
    RATING
    5
    VALUE
    RATING
    5
    tc4all   Audio Enthusiast [Sep 24, 2003]
    Strength:

    Sound stage, openness, realism

    Weakness:

    The better the placement the better the sound, but you do need about 2 feet behind them. Of course they are wider then most speakers.

    Description: Quad 988 ESL speakers are about 36” tall, 26” wide, and about a foot deep at the base, but the panel is really less then 5” deep. I bought them in the “vintage” finish. This is an old fashion brown crisscross material for the covering, with wood at the top, and bottom of the panels and light gold / bronze colored base. I highly recommend paying extra for this finish if they are going into a living room. They are really very beautiful and reasonably unobtrusive, unlike the all black. The new units, as mine, have replaced the plastic speaker wire binding posts with standard gold plated ones. Sound: There are a few ways to make a system sound spacious. Some systems add a touch of echo, some play with the phase of speakers, some bump up the highs to add to the detail associated with “air and space”, and then there are Quads. All the other means sound synthetic or forced to me, as they are, the Quads give the most amazingly natural, un-veiled, un-colored, spacious, real sound I have ever heard. They hands down beat Magies for sounding natural, real and extensively listenable. The clarity and ease with which the sound comes to you gives a true feeling of being in front of the musicians, be it jazz, classical, or yes, even rock. (The Wall sounds great on these.) The sound that I find closely resembles my system and a red book cd player with the Quads is that of any system I have heard with an SACD player and a 2 channel SACD. They say QUADS don’t play “crazy loud,” but I have them in a living room that is 15’ X 25’ and they play plenty loud, even when I am listening from another room. Remember, QUAD does say they will intentionally cut out at 94 db to protect the speakers. Since listening for more then an hour or two at 90 db will do permanent damage to your hearing, this should be pretty easy to live with. I have never had them cut out, even on 1812 canon fire. The other thing you hear is that they don’t go down very low. They play 90% of the bass you want or more. They go as low as my JM Lab Mini Utopias did, and maybe lower. If you want, the Vandersteen sub with the way it is hooked up and the adjustments it has seems to add to the bass, tighten it up, and overall be a very good match. It isn’t necessary at all, but a nice enhancement if you want. The last thing I heard what how hard they are to place. Not true! Two feet from the wall and, per QUAD, no restrictions on side walls. Oh, yes, spread out, tilted a dro pmore then they say, open area or an open type of rack between them only will improve the sound, but I have not found the positioning to be hard to get very good sound. One nice thing is that they are not vertically restricted. If you stand up you get the same sound as sitting. Related Equipment: One thing is true, associated equipment will greatly affect the sound of the system. That doesn’t necessarily mean expensive, or high powered. I use 50 wpc tube amps, but I have heard them with solid state equipment from Bryston and McCormick, as well as Balanced Audio Technology tube equipment and find all work well for different tastes. My combination is: CD: BAT VK-D5se Pre: BAT VK-31se Amp: Cary 805c Anniversary TT: VPI 19jr w/ Grado Statement Sonata Tuner: Rotel RT-1080 To put is mildly, I am extremely happy with this purchase and tell anyone spending close to this amount, to give them a listen. I took almost 1 ½ months to decide because I just wasn’t sure if I liked the sound. It is unique and takes some getting use to and realizing how much better it is then the conventional speakers you have been listening to. Give yourself some time with them, in the right environment, with the proper electronics and music and you will probably agree with me. I am like a kid of the 60’s spending beautiful days indoors re-listening to my music collection with total glee.

    Similar Products Used: JMLab Mini Utopias, JMLab Mezzo Utopias, older Mirage, Audio Physic, Maggies, and more
    OVERALL
    RATING
    5
    VALUE
    RATING
    5
    kjl1065   AudioPhile [Jul 20, 2003]
    Strength:

    Detailing, inmaging, clearness and crispness of the human voice and' instruments of the orchestra.

    Weakness:

    No bass, needs a subwoofer. Does not create the illsuion of 100 instruments on the stage when a full orchestra is up there. It sounds like 10-20 people and that is it.

    My quad 988's are currently driven be a pair of Thor TPA 60 monlblocks,Thor TPA 2000 preamp, and I use a Cary 306/200 CD player. The Quad can't be beat in the following areas: 1.Accurately reproducing the human voice, 2.The piano 3. small groups of instruments(chamber music). The sound is detailed, clean and free of distortion. As a quad owner the only thing that is missing from these speakers are the bass. Where are the low notes? The quad does not reproduce the low end. Also, when I am listneing to a full orchestra, there is no way that these speakers can recreate that ilusion. Some words of caution if deciding to purchase these: 1. They sound better with tubed equipment. 2.Look for sub woofers to mate with these speakers. After 6 months of ownership I am still unable to find another owner who has the Quad 988's and mates them seamlessly with a subwoofer.

    OVERALL
    RATING
    4
    VALUE
    RATING
    3
    Showing 1-10 of 14  

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