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Last minute sanity check before I sell my Quad ESL 63s

Discussion in 'classic' started by ToTo Man, Nov 8, 2019.

  1. ToTo Man

    ToTo Man the band not the dog

    Many of you will have probably seen my ESL 63s in the Classifieds in recent months. I have just received an offer for them (thank you malcesine!) and the reality is setting in that in just a few days time I may no longer be the owner of these legendary speakers. Once they’re gone, they’re really gone.

    Why am I selling? Partly due to the layout/size of my 4.1m x 3.8m room, and partly because I hoard far too many speakers and just don't have the floor space to store and rotate them. Oh, and also the fact that my dad getting fed up moving stuff around for me!

    The general consensus seems to be that ESL63s perform best with a minimum of 1 metre clearance behind them, but I've also read of folk using them in very large rooms and having them positioned quite far down the length of the room with loads of space behind them. Due to the layout/size of my room, any time I use the Quads they are always fairly close to a surface behind, whether it be a wall or my other speakers. Thus, if the former is true, then I suspect I've never heard them at their best.

    Even with compromised positioning they still sound amazing; so smooth, effortless and uncoloured especially in the midrange. However, I've never been able to recreate the bass response that my conventional box speakers produce (I experience cancellations with the Quads between 50Hz-80Hz). I’ve always just put this down to the 63's design and considered it a small compromise that had to be made for all of the many other wonderful attributes of this speaker.

    However, having hooked the 63s back up to my system today to test and confirm their operational condition, for the first time I measured the speakers in what I'd call an "ultra-nearfield" position with the mic just a few cm's away from the centre of the panel, and this is what I got:





    As well as the super-low distortion that’s considerably lower than any other speaker I’ve measured, I’m quite staggered by how smooth the response is. This is the first and probably only time I’ll be able to post a frequency response graph with zero smoothing applied! I’m also shocked to see that the speakers are flat all the way to 40Hz. If only I could get this “ultra-nearfield" response at my listening seat.


    So, before I make the decision to sell that I may regret for years to come, I want to ask if it is possible to obtain a bass response from the ESL63 that’s closer to its anechoic response by using it in a larger room and/or pulling it further away from the rear wall? Would other ESL63 owners please share their secrets?
    malcesine likes this.
  2. mandryka

    mandryka pfm Member

    What is on the wall behind the speakers? I think that subjectively the bass on mine was improved by traps behind. What power amp are you using? Some amps seem to have a darker sound than others. Have you tried using the bass tilt function on the Quad 34? That should help, and it has the merit of being Peter Walker’s solution. Are they on stands? I was amazed by how much this improved the image firmness and the impact of the sound - though I’m not sure about its effect on the bass. Easy to test.

    I know that people have reported a treble boost through super-tweeters makes the bass sound firmer, paradoxically - I suppose it’s a consequence of the greater perceived detail.

    It may be worth ringing Quad and seeing what ideas they have.

    I have subwoofers now, and the result is seamless. The bass is very good indeed. I was lucky enough to find an excellent crossover unit, and it may be very hard to get such a thing now without programming it yourself. Without a delay feature on the crossover I wouldn’t think it would work well. Having said that, the guy at One Thing (I forget his name) once said to me that he’d heard good results from a pair of small sealed subs - it may be worth exploring, it may not.)

    Gradient make a bass system for ESL 63s, and maybe you could try this in the UK - it consists of subs, crossover and amps. I believe that the crossover is better than on their old system. I would like to hear it, but the expense is considerable, and for me it was too much of an investment in the speakers - the amp is really designed for the ESL system.

    I have to say, the sub route makes the whole proposition enormous and expensive and a challenge to implement - I was very fortunate to get mine cheaply but that was just a stroke of luck. And I have a room which can cope with the physical dimensions of the speakers.
  3. jimpey

    jimpey pfm Member

    Time to let them go Richard, nothing insane about it.

    I can't offer any experience with 63s but run my 57s with a Quad L sub and bass to the esls cut off at 100hz to avoid poor reflections from the wall behind.

    I reckon that with your speaker history you will surely find something else to experiment with and enjoy once the space and cash have been freed up by the sale:)

    Good luck, hopefully you will get more feedback over the weekend.

    ToTo Man likes this.
  4. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Truly fabulous speakers. Any lack of bass is unquestionably reflection/cancellation rather than the ESLs themselves, so really it boils down to location and room treatment. @Robert would be worth listening to as he manages to get his pair to sound excellent in a typically very small London room and achieves it with some treatment to the wall behind. I certainly never felt bass was missing there at all.

    PS To be honest my only issue with Quads is dynamics, they never sound as ‘free’ as the high-efficiency stuff I use, but in every other aspect they are about the best I have heard. By saying that I’ve never heard them on the end of a real US muscle amp (vintage Krell, Conrad Johnson, Levinson etc) and I have a feeling that might wake them up. Quads are still on my bucket list somewhere, but likely 57s as they are more compatible with my amps.
    ToTo Man likes this.
  5. Marchbanks

    Marchbanks Golly, do I ever have a lot of soul!

    I have a squarish room too. It isn’t the optimum shape for any system, but with ESLs the problem became chronic. Positioning them away from walls meant they inevitably seemed to be marooned in the centre like a pair of sculptures. It wasn’t until I heard a pair in another house that were a third of the way up a long, thin room that the image fell into place the way it can and should. After that, in order to demo them for sale I moved mine right out into the room where they most definitely could not live on a permanent basis. Of course, they sounded just wonderful in that position. So my advice is to let them go - there are other speakers that are great too, but different. I now have big, efficient boxes with a low power amp. Bigger than the Quads, but way more discreet against the wall where you don’t always seem to be walking round them! And I’m enjoying music more than ever.
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2019
    ToTo Man likes this.
  6. Jim Audiomisc

    Jim Audiomisc pfm Member

    I can't comment in detail because it is so room specific. But, yes, I certainly used my ESL63s - and the later 'child' versions of them rather more than just 1 metre from the wall behind them. And FWIW I also modded the 'bass lift' circuits in a Quad 34 to extend the response at LF a bit more. (The main sacrifice, of course, being careful about sound levels. But I had to do that anyway given the amps I use. :) ) I also hung a rug on the wall behind them, from a curtain rail holding the rug away from the wall. And had draped curtains behind the listening seat. The result was low bass that you could feel at times, but in the context of modest overall levels.

    The amps were/are of course the Armstrong 700's which can deliver risky levels. But I never had a problem, and still haven't. Still using the later versions of the ESL63s quite happily.
    ToTo Man likes this.
  7. ToTo Man

    ToTo Man the band not the dog

    I appreciate the replies, folks!

    In their usual position, the Quads are 1m out from the front wall firing down the short (3.8m) dimension of the room. If you ignore the big Tannoy cabinets, the area of wall behind the speakers is bare, but the corners of the wall are stacked top-to-bottom with GIK corner bass traps.

    Currently for testing purposes I have the Quads against the side wall, and directly behind them is a pair of wall-mounted GIK 244 absorbers, but they are mounted higher than the speakers so only 50% of the absorbers area is in the 'firing line' of the ESL's back wave so to speak. Regarding amplification, I don't think this is the issue, the tonal balance of the speakers is spot-on with whichever amp I've tried (I've mainly used a 909 with them).

    I suspect the 50Hz-80Hz dip is entirely room related but am not 100% certain if it's caused by the distance to the wall behind, or the height of the speakers in the vertical axis. My room is 3.25m high and I have the Quads on the Stand & Deliver open-frame stands.

    I happily use subs with my Celestions and Tannoys to fill in their roll-off below 40Hz, but have never tried them with the 63s. A big part of the ESL appeal for me is the purity of the design so I don't think I want to go down that rabbit hole with them. When I first got the Quads I was tempted to explore the Gradient subs but the physical size of that stack would have looked ridiculous in my room!

    My parents' living room room is much larger than mine (probably around 8m x 5m) and is crying out for a pair of speakers like these, but the reality is that despite good intentions they would get used very little as they rarely have time to sit down and listen to music.

    I therefore think I'm moving closer toward the decision to sell. If my circumstances change in the future and I find myself with a longer room at my disposal then I suppose there's nothing to stop me from scratching the ESL itch again??!!...
  8. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    As an experiment try setting the listening triangle at a really odd/ugly oblique position in the room so you are sitting at a mathematically wonky diagonal and almost, but not quite facing a corner. That should stop the backwave bouncing straight back and cancelling out to anything like the same degree. It would likely result in a room layout too odd to live in, but you’d likely get to hear them with far better upper bass.
    ToTo Man likes this.
  9. misterdog

    misterdog Not the canine kind

    I've just fitted my 989's into steel frames and the the results are shockingly good. I always thought the flimsy nature of the frames was holding them back, but someone on here said " Peter Walker knew what he was doing, the frames were designed to be lossy".
    Though he also said they sound at their best raised up on a chair.

    The inner detail which used to sound as though it were coming from the centre delay ring is now the size of the speaker, with a sound stage the size of the room.

    More detail, greater soundstage, more output, more bass. :)

    No less ugly unfortunately.


    As one of the lowest distortion speakers they appreciate the lowest distortion amps and source you can get.
    I use similar to this but bridged giving C.100W

    THD+N -109 dB (0.00034 %) 40 W, 8 Ω, 1 kHz https://neurochrome.com/

    Peter Walker would have been all over Chip Amps.
    ToTo Man and foxwelljsly like this.
  10. mandryka

    mandryka pfm Member

    it’s interesting to read this because from my point of view the best thing about them is the bass - I mean the combination of Gradient and ESL 63 is very impressive in filling the room with the sound of a cathedral organ. In treble and midrange is the ESL 63 better than my JR 149 or SP1? Probably but possibly not enough to justify all the trouble and expense.

    But I need all 4 15 inch drivers of the subs in my life . . .
  11. misterdog

    misterdog Not the canine kind

    Were impressive using a £20 CD player.

  12. mandryka

    mandryka pfm Member

    Fabulous picture, that’s what I want!
  13. Zombie

    Zombie pfm Member

    Are you sure you would get a better response from dynamic speakers?
  14. Darren

    Darren All Business

  15. ToTo Man

    ToTo Man the band not the dog

    Sadly I've yet to be enlightened into the world of organ music, and as such I have no genuine requirement for LF extension beyond 40Hz. I do use subs with my other speakers to obtain a flat response to 20Hz simply because I can, but I would swap this in a heartbeat for a genuinely flat in-room bass response above 40Hz from any loudspeaker!

    I spent this morning listening to my 63s like a giant set of headphones with my face almost touching them. It was very surreal, with all of the sound seeming to emanate from a tiny point source in the middle of the panel. It sounded superb and utterly satisfying from a tonal perspective, genuinely seamless from top-to-bottom that not even a JR149-style mini monitor can offer at such close proximity. Sitting so close and eliminating so much of the room did however make for a slightly claustrophobic and impractical listening experience! It has however risen the possibility that electrostatic headphones are a viable alternative...
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2019
  16. Zombie

    Zombie pfm Member

    Try with 50-60 cm from the wall. You will regret selling them...
  17. brecklandboy

    brecklandboy pfm Member

    Those industrial design 'stats look rather appealing Mr, Dog, although the HSE may not approve of running them in their current guise. Hope that it's only disorientated insects that get barbecued on those !
  18. ToTo Man

    ToTo Man the band not the dog

    Already tried with same result in the bass. If I listen to them really close up, the bass is linear down to 40Hz, but then as I move back from them, a dip between 50Hz-80Hz emerges. It has to be a room geometry issue.

    I likely will regret selling them, but malcesine effectively made the decision for me by offering to collect them this evening and stop me from agonising any more over it. So, as of now, the 63s have a new owner.

    I have mixed feelings, but seeing a pair of large speakers leave the house has reduced my parents' stress levels a little so I guess it's not all bad...

    Thanks again to everyone who responded to my cry for help! :)
    Zombie and eastone like this.
  19. misterdog

    misterdog Not the canine kind

    Some do, but some fly free like the music. :rolleyes:
  20. Zombie

    Zombie pfm Member

    Get a pair of Z4 or NS-1000M
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2019

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