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QUAD ESL 57 - which builder, which amp?

Discussion in 'classic' started by goodkeys, Jan 22, 2019.

  1. goodkeys

    goodkeys Member

    Hi everyone,

    new to the forum, though I've read a lot. I am looking to buy a pair of Quad ESL 57 speakers, and I hope I can pick your brains about it. Currently there are two local offers I have an eye on. They roughly cost the same. One is a pair completely rebuild by Quad Musikwiedergabe some five years ago (including spider legs and original legs). The other one has been fully serviced by One Thing Audio, including the One Thing Audio stands and the original legs (I will have to ask here when the servicing has been done as it is not specified in the ad).
    Does anybody have experience with both One Thing Audio and Quad Musikwiedergabe? I have heard a pair serviced by Musikwiedergabe and thought they sounded marvellous. I haven't heard One Thing Audio Quads, but I've read that their panels sound slightly different?

    The speakers will pretty much eat up my budget, so there is little left for a suitable amp. I am looking for sub 250$ if at all possible. I've read good things about class t amps in that price category. Especially the Amptastic Mini-1. The predecessor seems to have good measurements:


    Tested with a ESL 63 there though, which is said to be easier to drive for amps. I couldn't find any reports of people driving ESL 57's with the Mini-1.

    Another option would be to buy a Quad 303. Currently a recapped one is on sale locally within my budget. Which one would you choose? Or are there even better options within my budget range?

    Thanks in advance for your help.
  2. Paul R

    Paul R pfm Member

    I would probably go with Quad Musikwiedergabe, but I can't support that sentiment with facts.

    Ideal amp for Quad ELS 57 is solid state 50W/8R, so 303 suits perfectly. If you find 306 or similar probably preferable in terms of gain structure, socketry, perhaps reliability, but the 303 is infinitely rebuildable and tradeable.

    Do you already have an amplifier lying around?
  3. goodkeys

    goodkeys Member

    Thank you Paul. I have a slight preference for the Quad Musikwiedergabe as well, as I have already heard one of their units and liked the sound. But I'll see if I can listen to both offered pairs and see which I like better.

    50 Watt? I have read that 15 Watt are enough for the ESL 57, as they will arc when fed more than 33 Volt. Not that I understood any of that. No ads for a Quad 305 in my region currently, but I'll keep my eyes open.

    The only amp I own is a Denon x4100w AVR. It has 200W, so I guess it would not be safe to use for the ESL 57?
  4. bencat

    bencat pfm Member

    Something you need to check to get a full idea on the speakers is what has been done on the One Thing Audio units. As well as replacement and refurbishment of the panels One thing also upgrade the main input and also have a Widget which is between the amp and the crossover which smooths out the resistive load that any amplifier would see with these speakers .

    If the One Thing units have been fully upgraded and had all of the above fitted by them then they will have sticker on the back with a number and if you can get these you can speake to One Thing directly and they will be able to give you exact details of when the speakers were with them and what work was carried out . They will also advise on when any further work might be required.

    If none of this is available from the seller then I have to say I would advise you to walk away form the speakers. One Thing sell panels , mains input units and widgets to the market and they can and often are installed by the owners themselves or a local technician . The quality of the parts is not in question but the quality of the work would be unknown and without a full strip down of the unit you could never be sure of how good they were.

    Whichever pair you decide to buy ensure you have a really good and extended audition before parting with any cash . Do not let the seller just decode on what musc you play through them take some of your own . have music you really like and are very familiar with and have a couple of recordings that have strong extended bass (even if you are not that keen on this type of music ) The latest Yello album Toy springs to mind . Get this played at a decent volume then listen out for any rattles or sounds of spitting . If you hear any then this will mean a bass panel or more than one will need replacing which is not cheap .

    Quad ESl57 are wonderful speakers my newly refurbished pair are now complete and I will be collecting them on Friday this week . I can not wait but they have cost me a fair bit to get them back to full specification if not better . Good thing is A Quadthing who have done the work tell me they will be good for ten years or more before they will need anything done to them by which time I may not be here so will take my chances.
  5. Paul R

    Paul R pfm Member

    33v peak implies an amplifier that can deliver 66W into 8 Ohms.

    15W will likely be regularly clipping, some people like that in a tube amp, or listen very, very quietly. Both to me defeat the object of the 57. YMMV...

    It may struggle to drive them well, and if you over-drive damage is possible. With sense, no problem.

    A question to ask is whether the speakers you are buying have tweeter protection fitted, it would be standard for either restorer I think. If so then you will really struggle to damage the speakers unless you overdrive them for a long, long time.
  6. goodkeys

    goodkeys Member

    Thank you both, amazing info! I agree that documentation is important. That goes for both offers I mentioned. I have a list of tracks in various genres that I will use for test listening. I know the tracks well, and I know how they sounded on the ESL 57 that I have heard. Good tip about 'Toy'. I used 'Orinoco Flow' as a test for bass. Can't hurt to have a few more tracks for that.

    I'll definitely ask about clamp boards. I don't listen loud, and certainly not for long times. But better to be safe.

    The Amptastic is ruled out if 15 Watt are not enough for normal listening levels without regular clipping. Too bad I can not try it first. Any other good amps within my budget, apart from the Quad 303 or a 306 if I can find one?
  7. brecklandboy

    brecklandboy pfm Member

    Provided that you can verify the provenance of the speakers (ideally with original documentation to support the overhaul work carried out ) I would opt for the German / Quad rebuilt pair. Presumably, these are the ones currently advertised on Hi-Fi Shark.

    As regards amplification, my preference would be for a high-quality, push-pull valve design with top-grade output transformers, featuring the option of 15 ohm taps . Ideally, the transformer will also have an additional cathode winding to allow for better performance at frequency extremes . Anything between 15 and 40 watts per channel should suffice. IMHO it's well worth listening to some vintage valve amplifiers with the 'stats as they may be better 'matched' in some respects than modern examples. Good hunting !
  8. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    I can’t help much with the rebuilding recommendations, but I’d not recommend an Amptastic Mini 1 in this context, great though it is (I have one driving my Klipsch La Scalas). The TA2020 chip on which it is based is really only good for about 6-8 watts and doesn’t favour high impedances.

    If you are unable to dem a selection of amps and pick to taste in your own system my recommendation would unquestionably be for a rebuilt and serviced, but not modded Quad 303. Peter Walker knew more about the ESL than anyone who has seen the internet, and he designed the 303 specifically for the job of driving them. Just make absolutely sure it really is a 303 as many have been altered in obviously unpredictable ways over the years given it is such an old amp.
  9. Arkless Electronics

    Arkless Electronics Trade: Amp design and repairs.

    ... and an opposite opinion of don't buy a 303 as they are nothing special and even an average modern amp will easily beat one. A 306 is MUCH better.
  10. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    As someone who owned perfect condition fully restored examples both for many years I disagree! The 306 is better into inefficient modern speakers, but into high impedance kit like 57s, Tannoys, Klipsch etc the 303 sounds far more right.
  11. George J

    George J Herefordshire member

    Strangely - or not, as it goes - I have never heard an ESL 57 be finer than on suitable valve amp [such as Quad made/make]. Not the only option, but a simple one. Designed for each other, and won't cause any arcing or distorting from either part - the amp or the speaker. Just don't expect it to sound best at PA levels. For that you need a different speaker and also a different amp.

    I have yet to figure why people still want an exotic rebuild when Quad at Huntingdon support and service the ESL 57. Mine is 62 years old [still stock with the original "little feet," serviced at Huntingdon three years ago] and is still finer than any other speaker made since - unless you want PA levels. If so get some more conventional coned speaker that can handle serious transistor power!
  12. PerF

    PerF Member

    Fwiw I've got a Quad (UK) serviced, near mint 303 last year.
    Unfortunately a pair Quad 303 Netaudio modified mono's came up for grabs at the same time, couldn't resist.
    So basically I have 3x303 but No esl57 at the moment.
    I have played on various LS3/5a types and the 303's do a wonderfull job on these.
    I paid what equals around EUR 400 for the single serviced 303, would choose it anyday over costly valveamp for that particular job.
    Its a steal
    Notice special requirements for preamp

    Good luck with the 57, they are amazing
  13. George J

    George J Herefordshire member

    I have the proper pre-amp for a 303. I shall never use it now, and it was serviced by Quad about three years ago. I prefer a direst feed, but that is me! I have an MDAC [and a Leak Trough-line wireless] both of which have robust variable outputs, so a pre-amp is somewhat over the top for me with a competent valve amplifier ...

    Okay that I do have to change interconnects to select source!
  14. PerF

    PerF Member

    Dear George
    I use a passive preamp at the moment enjoying Beethoven String Quartets performed by Quartetto Italiano - stunning !
    Best wishes
  15. goodkeys

    goodkeys Member

    So the Quad 303 is still on the table. I'm sure valve amps would be nice, but the ones I have found are safely out of my budget range. My requirements for the amp are:

    • Can drive ESL 57 to normal listening levels without inflicting damage. Given that clamp boards are fitted that should not be too difficult?
    • Low distortion/not clipping at normal listening levels.
    • Cost less than 250$.
    I would have thought that there should be a bunch of amplifiers fitting these criteria. But without understanding electronics I can never be sure about point 1. The Amptastic measured well, but as Tony wrote the 15 Watt might be slightly low.

    In that case, would any class t amp between 20 and 50 Watt be able to drive these speakers to the same standard as the 303?
  16. PerF

    PerF Member

    Your budget is challenging
  17. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Be *very* skeptical about T-Amp ratings. When you look at spec sheet it tends to be something like ‘20 Watts at 5% THD at 6 Ohms’. I view the Amptastic as something like a 6-8 Watt amp, as that is the level it will likely meet an audiophile acceptable 0.1% figure. I’m certainly very happy with mine driving my 105db TV room La Scalas as I clearly never get even close to the first Watt there, but it really isn’t right for Quads which are both inefficient and 16 Ohms.

    The 303 was designed for exactly this environment and clearly gives its best in this context. I’d really not recommend it to anyone with low impedance speakers (i.e. anything that dips much below 8 Ohms), but into Quad 57s, LS3/5As, 149s, Tannoys, Klipsch and other non-reactive high-impedance speakers it sings.
  18. Arkless Electronics

    Arkless Electronics Trade: Amp design and repairs.

    I guess we'll keep doing this ad nausea but yes I know you like it. I don't. It really doesn't meet minimum modern standards of transparency, slam, dynamics and extension at the frequency extremes. It sounds as old fashioned as it is. And yes I've heard it with ESL57's... and also most of the older Spendor range. It's rather soft and diffuse when compared with better amps.
    I'd take a 306 over a 303 in all circumstances.
  19. Arkless Electronics

    Arkless Electronics Trade: Amp design and repairs.

    I'd avoid "class T" amps as well (a form of class D). A valve amp in the 15-40 W range should do a good job and there are loads available from the likes of Icon Audio etc etc. I'm guessing you're in USA and things like old Hafler, Dynaco etc should be available cheap but could do with a service by now.
  20. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Fine, chances are we listen to very different music and have hugely different systems and priorities. As I state upthread I’d really not recommend the 303 in certain contexts and fully acknowledge it is awful into little modern 4 Ohm squawk-boxes, but I choose to use one as it matches the sort of speakers I like surprisingly well. I get to hear a heck of a lot of amps etc given what I do running this place and I’m lucky enough to be able to afford pretty much anything I may want within reason, yet the humble 303 remains connected to my Tannoys, albeit with a high-end tube preamp upstream. Go figure!

    I’m also not stating that the 303 should be the OPs final port of call with the Quad 57s, but given limited resources and experience I’d certainly pick the amp Peter Walker designed for the things over anything various self-apointed internet experts suggest! It is within budget and will work very, very well, just as it has for generations of music lovers. It is a classic system in every sense of the words.

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