Quad S2 Monitor Loudspeakers
Quad save the queen!
For me, no matter who owns the brand, ‘Quad’ will always be up there with Wimbledon, Churchill, and Hogwarts. Quad is leather brogues in the rain and Burberry and London and Lords; esteemed, refined, well-bred. It’s “call the lads ‘round and let’s ‘ave a pint and watch football played with a soccer ball on the telly” British. It’s ‘let’s stop right smack in the middle of a kind of inscrutable, slower-moving type of baseball for a few hours, have a spot of tea and sammies, and call it a sport anyway!” British. That’s how British ‘Quad’ is. For a bodybuilder, ‘Quad’ is leg day and squats, but for an audiophile, ‘Quad’ means quality and, above all, heritage.
Having owned the legendary ESL-63’s I can confirm the company Peter Walker founded can indeed build a speaker that speaks (a fair portion of) the truth. One of my favorite youtube reviewers, Tharbamar‘s unabashed love for Quad‘s S-2, a relatively new (read: less than forty years old) two-way monitor design, set me to salivating about hearing a pair for myself.
Ah, but pandemic HiFi shortages and rumored distribution/production issues being what they were (are?), it wasn’t possible for what seemed ever to buy a new pair or obtain a review sample. Even Underwood Wally was out of stock! So once again, I took the fall for all us regular blokes that answer to Bezos and bought us a used pair in black on usaudiomart.com. You’re welcome. I’ll send ‘em right over to you after I finish the review…
Now they were already broken in, so I won’t be able to speak to that process, but they arrived in beautiful condition sonically if not entirely aesthetically; a few tiny nicks here and there and a frisson of what seemed black sharpie marker atop of one of them. No matter; probably improves resonance control or something just like that green CD sharpie pen from years back! To his credit, the former owner did warn me of these things in advance.
These right honorable ‘British’ monitors each measure 13” high by 11” deep by 7” wide and are spec’d at 87dB sensitivity and 8 Ohm impedance. They have a small rear port and contain 5” Kevlar mid/bass drivers and true ribbon tweeters. The rounded upper and lower cabinet edges lend a bit more of a regal air to their appearance as better befits refined British boxes. Sadly, though well packed, they did not come with a meerschaum pipe or a Harris Tweed jacket with worn leather elbow patches. Details, people!
I set them atop dabs of blu-tack, which were in turn atop 24” B&W stands filled with ten or more pounds each of official Home Depot play sand.
From there, the setup was a bit counter-intuitive, as one would think the ribbon tweeters the S-2 uses would be quite directional and thus benefit from more extreme toe-in. However, this proved not to be the case here in chez moi, and only minimal toe-in seemed necessary. Their previous owner had warned me about this too, and he was right! Thanks Will.
They are somewhat more ‘directional’ in the vertical plane such that if you plan to do a lot of your listening standing up making brunch, you’ll miss maybe a bit of their top-end, though by no means all of it. Really they weren’t bad in that respect. So after some painstaking set up in which the speakers ended up about 6.5 feet apart (measured from inside cabinet edges), 15 and 1/8th inch from the front wall (measured from the back of the cabinet), and with about 10 degrees of toe-in, I prepared myself for a goodly dose of pipe ‘n slippers, warm by the fire, cheerio-my-good-man cardigan n’ corduroy wearing tonality ala Spendors and Harbeths of old. Ahhh Blimey, Nigel! But I nearly lost me tea and crumpets upon the chesterfield upon first hearing them, as that is when I got a big dose of nigh on the polar opposite of what I expected and a (mostly) right pleasant surprise, ‘twas, ol’ chap!
Ok, now that I’ve gotten (almost but not quite) all of the Britishisms out of my system, let’s ‘ave a listen lads, shall we!?
Never have I ever…
When finally set up optimally in my room, there are a few choice words for the lateral imaging I was able to achieve with the S-2. Stupefying? Dazzling? I thought the speakers were out of phase, but they most certainly weren’t?! Yeah- it’s that impressive.
Via the tres-Bristish Naim XS3 integrated, the string bass to the left on Bill Evans ‘How Deep Is the Ocean’ was no kidding, like five feet to the left of the left speaker! I’ve never heard lateral stage width like that almost in my life with any other speaker in one of my rooms. It was indeed spooky.
In the depth plane, they are no slouch, though I’ve certainly heard more depth from competitors such as the Dali Oberon 5’s and my twice as pricey Xavian Perla Esclusivas as well as by memory, my Proacs, Spendors Magneplanars, Daedaluses (and Quads!) of yore. Via the Dalis for instance, pianist Leon McCawley’s piano on his Samuel Barber album ‘Excursions, Souvenirs, Sonata’ was awash in echoey hall sound and set back what seems feet from the front plane of the speakers. Tonally beautiful yes, but that depth wasn’t quite so pronounced with the S-2.
But the tone, man; the tone! I think it was the late great Tim de Paravicini who said something like he knew all he needed to know about a speaker from a single struck piano key. Does it sound like it would if someone struck a piano key in the same room with you, or is it a weak, thin, or reedy sound with no wood and felt in it; only ping. Lemme tell you, one struck high register piano note on a good recording, and even if you’re not Billy Joel, you KNOW the S2 is dead-on-balls-accurate tonally. Wood, string and felt in one fell swoop. Really, I’ve just about never heard such unabashed tonal accuracy in a speaker. It was really striking (no pun intended). Instruments sound more like you’d expect they should sound, overtones and all, than on literally any other speaker I’ve ever owned at whatever price. This includes the lot of them listed above! For one example, my Xavian Perla Esclusivas has, by most accounts great tone, but it’s all a smidge warmer than it might sound in real life. The Quads turn up the brightness dial a micrometer or two and stop right where you feel it ought to be.
In addition to this relative tonal perfection, pianos, when recorded as such, are decently life-like in scale; if not to the size, they are on something like my Tekton Lore Reference speakers, which do scale magnificently. However, the Tektons are certainly not as true to source tonally and certainly do not reveal the level of detail and instrumental overtones the S-2 drivers lay bare.
Man! The sound I was getting from Gaetane Provost playing Albert Dupuis’ ‘Sonate pour Violon’ via Qobuz was haunting and pristine and caused me to wonder a few times if maybe…just maybe… I should stop here speaker-wise and rest? Enough searching? You don’t feel as if you’re missing anything.
On the opposite side of the spectrum of genre, mid-bass on R and B tracks like Eric Bellinger’s ‘Mean What you Say’ and ‘Sunrise’ from Michelle and Khalid’s OTW (explicit version, naturally) on whatever Tidal playlist my partner was listening to that day was remarkably tight and punchy.
Big Sean had a track on there or two, and wow again! The S2 can punch hard and seems like its five-inch woofer shouldn’t go down as tight and low as it does. Zero overhang. Zero lag. Quick like a bunny. Damn. Is this really a Quad speaker what, cuppa tea and all that?? Coulda fooled me and did. Definitely one of the punchier speakers I’ve heard in house.
Criticisms of the S-2 for me are two-fold. The first is the double-edged sword of really tonally ‘accurate’ and revealing speakers of all ilks: namely, prolonged listening to less than stellar recordings, especially classical strings with original instruments (even if well-recorded) can at times be a bit overmuch. Even toed out, that super revealing and direct-connect tweeter doesn’t lie! So some sugar up the chain may be warranted depending upon your musical tastes. Maybe it’s a tube amp like a Primaluna or an Ayon and Bob’s your uncle? Didn’t have a one around. Pity. Funny, the thing we’re all supposedly seeking, verisimilitude, can become a liability sometimes. Reminds me of relationships and, come to think of it, damn near everything else in life.
In this same vein, though, to its considerable credit, the S-2 made differences in well everything laughably apparent. For example, they immediately showed me the (rather large!) differences between my own long-time fave Linn k20 speaker wire on the Boazu integrated and Fredrik Lejonklou’s preferred k400. The K20 is raucous, brighter, and a bit ‘noisier,’ whereas K400 is denser and weightier with a blacker background and more tonal refinement and deeper bass, though sounds to me somehow more ‘restrained.’ Which wire you’d prefer is likely a matter of which speakers you own. Via the S2, I could appreciate the relative virtues of both but ultimately reverted to my trusty K20.
Additionally, the Quads for my ear with my amps presented a stage that was somewhat upfront and personal, even if perhaps that stage was meant to be a bit stepped back. To this end, the similarly priced floor-standing Dali Oberon 5 (above photo rear), while by no means ‘laid back,’ had for my taste a more inviting, less incisive, less upfront sound signature though it is not necessarily less punchy when called for. It IS less revealing, though, has a narrower stage and is less tonally accurate, having perhaps a slightly lifted treble and slightly warmish midrange. And while I’m at it, it’s also a few inches too short for my taste. But damn, the Oberon 5’s are fun! Both speakers incidentally are rhythmic champions and keep the beat with the best of the beatnik speakers I’ve owned, such as Linn Kans and Neat’s Mystiques and Critiques.
In sum, truly, I was expecting Harbeth. Speaking as a former Compact 7ES owner (beautiful eucalyptus finish), I can confidently tell you these Quads are NOT the Harbeths you’re looking for! With their front-row style presentation, rhythmic drive, pace, and taught low-end punch, we find a Quad here that may even be partial to rock, R and B, and EDM rather than Bach! Sacre bleu! No self-respecting country club Harbeth would be caught dead at high tea with the S-2; that’s for sure.
Blame it on the…
At some point during my time with the S-2, I realized that some responsibility for the more forward, borderline edgy presentation I was experiencing might be lain at the feet of my Naim XS3! This became more apparent after several days of XS3 listening, whereupon I returned to the Lejonklou Boazu 1.3 integrated. Here the S-2’s were revealing again. In this case, they revealed the Boazu 1.3 to be a bit more colorful tonally, less forward, and more micro and macro dynamic with bigger punchier bass, if possibly less adept at lateral staging. Switching to the Lejonklou meant much (though not all) of the ‘forward-ness’ was gone (along with some of the mid-bass punch) replaced by a welcomingly more refined, more relaxed presentation. The S-2 presentation was still up front, though, closer than my Dali’s or Xavians, but more welcoming nonetheless. Now, while the XS3 doesn’t seem intrinsically particularly forward or edgy (I’m listening to it be no such thing as I type this via Oberon 5’s), it’s certainly wonderfully pacey, a bit eager and punchy, and did come across at times on the S-2 as a mite too insistent and edge-of-seat. On great (really great!) orchestral recordings like The Variations with Vadym Kholodenkho at the piano, the XS3 also presented less stage depth and atmosphere than the Lejonklou, whereas the two are more neck and neck in this regard on the Dali Oberon 5.
The less forward Boazu 1.3 made things easier on the ears with original instruments and the like. To boot, though the Naim had the more potent mid-bass punch (sorry; I mean ‘welly’), the bass heft/depth and power brought to bear by the half-the-watts Boazu 1.3 was simply striking via the S-2! Wow.
So I concluded maybe a Naim XS3 isnt the very best dance partner for the S-2 at the ball? Unless that is, you’re playing lots of dance music? in that case, it’ll be brilliant! Really, it’s horses for courses (sorry again!).
A daft and dodgy loss of the plot
So the Quad S-2’s both aren’t and are what you’d expect. With a name like Quad, you expect tonal accuracy and a sensational midrange. Check and check. But you don’t expect what you suppose will be refined and laid back ‘British’ heritage speakers to be so all fire punchy and detailed and even a bit forward/close up in presentation. Most of this is welcome, but I would say an ‘extremely’ revealing solid-state amp like maybe a newer class D amp or a brand known for extreme detail might intuitively not pair well with the S2 unless you like that sort of thing. I could be wrong. Heck, unless you listen to a steady diet of Big Sean, I don’t feel my Naim XS3 was a great match, and I love this amp! (Telling ya, it was really really good with Big Sean though! 🙂
In the end, with both of my amps, the Dali’s proved a more ‘relaxed’ listen with a bit more warmth in the mids and less detail overall but no less rhythm n’ dance. Going back to them periodically throughout the review, I almost felt like I was on vacation in that I could hear a lot of things but not every single friggin’ thing. I could relax more; safe in their warmer, more elastic, and deeper sonic embrace. The Quad S-2 is always on time, keeps its i’s dotted and its T’s crossed, and polishes its shoes often. But it can take off its spectacles and party hard late into the night until it’s trollied (British for drunk). The Dali’s come in late with ripped jeans and go ‘what? we got class now or somethin’?!’
Brits don’t lie (or is that Danes?)
Peter Walker’s ‘Quad’ company slogan was ‘The Closest Approach.’ He ain’t lyin’.
The S-2 is among the closest approaches I’ve heard to the natural and complete tone of live instruments and also to what the recording engineers (probably) wanted you to hear. Whether this approach and the S-2’s overall more ‘forward’ presentation is too close a shave for your own comfort? Well, that’s on you. And your amp and front end. And your little dog, too! Enter at your own risk, for the S-2 shall show you exactly and precisely what your system is doing or not doing. Maybe something like a warning label should included in the box with the speakers. “Warning: Close approach!”
For some, this is the entire reason for the journey, and indeed, unless you have a huge room or a two-watt Decware tube amp, you folks can get off here. That’ll be 1195.00. (Plus, maybe another grand or two for a Rel sub or something if you want the full top to bottom Monty). For the rest of us… well, buy some tube gear (a Croft might work great!) or a bit of a warm amp like a Sugden or a Heed Obelisk Si3, or at least have the S-2’s in rotation with other less ‘precise’ boxes. You can own more than one pair of speakers, you know:) Then, whenever you’re feeling the need for a bracing dose of reality, the S2 will be there to mete it out. Impressive. Cheerio mates!
I bid you peace.
Price: 1195.00 pr
Enclosure type: vented box
Transducer complement: 2-way
Midrange driver: 125mm Woven Kevlar
Treble driver: 45 x 12mm true ribbon
Sensitivity (1W @ 1m): 87dB
Recommended amplifier power: 25-150W
Nominal impedance: 8Ω
Minimum impedance: 4.5Ω
Frequency response (+/-3dB): 48Hz – 22kHz
Bass Extension (-6dB): 37Hz
Crossover frequency: 3kHz
Dimensions (HWD): 13.0″ x 7.1″ x 10.2″
Distributor: MoFi Distribution
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