Ask our editor Neil McCauley: Modern Quad ELS speakers replacing vintage ones

I would like to update my trusty Quad ESL-63s, with which I use the REL Stadium III. Should I go for the replacement with the 2805, or the 2905s?

My room is 4.20 x 6.60 metres, which I would think is just large enough for the 2905s. The back wall is triple glazed glass with blinds and curtains. But the ceiling is only 2.30m high. So I am concerned that the bass of the larger Quads would be overpowering in this room.

My collection is primarily classical and jazz with thousands of LPs which the Brinkmann two arm LaGrange does more than justice.

CD plays a minimal role. Do I go for the 2805 and keep the REL, or will the 2905s work even better? Next … are there any wonderful tweaks to improve even further the Marantz Model 9s that are the second set of amps that I, on late evening jazz sessions, use instead of the Rowland Model 6s.

The Marantzs are the re-edition version along with the Model 7 preamp. I don’t use the preamp much since the Rowland Coherence II is so far superior. But I have tubed the 9s with NOS Mullard EL34s and they sound wonderful. I assumed that they didn’t have to be matched sets of quads since they are individually adjusted for bias. Although the seller assured me that they were two matched sets. On this point it strikes me how frequently they have to be adjusted.

Also, on running them in triode mode the AC balance has to be adjusted quite a bit; I didn’t know that was normal. The cables to the Rowland are Synergistic and to the Marantz Townsend Isoldas. It’s a killer to go from the classic Rowland 6s of the 1990s with their fantastic tube like sound and phenomenal resolution to the aura of the 1960s in the legendary tubed Marantzes.

In my opinion you'll just about get away with 2905s in your room. They're in no way 'overpowering' in the bass department, preferring instead to offer very clean but effortless low frequencies. Most perceived 'bass' is in fact box boom from conventional speakers; the Quads sound altogether very different at low frequencies. They're not boomy in any way, and the 2905s simply add more ease to the 2805 recipe, not more 'boomph'.

You'll find either of the latest Quads a step change over the ESL63s.

I've heard some superb '63s, but these had been heavily tweaked; the stock ones, especially ones that haven't been serviced by now, will sound altogether far more loose and veiled compared to either the 2805 or 2905. Finally, I'd recommend trying a pair of Townshend Audio Supertweeters; these are brilliant partners for the Quads.

In good form, the ESL-63 is superb, if a little laid back in the treble. The 2905 is altogether more impressive in its scale. That said, initially the 2905s may well sound a bit bass-heavy compared to the 63. A home demo is essential. Large settees absorb energy and damp a room well I find, taming such modal effects. I use a large three seater, a two seater and an armchair and they make a huge difference to bass quality, in a room similar to yours.  Alternatively a strategically placed large, friendly dog can be helpful. I have a 40Kg golden retriever on hand for just this purpose. She is, fortunately, content with most types of music at varying SPLs. No, she isn’t deaf.

The advantage of a subwoofer with ESL-63s is that you can adjust bass level to best suit both your room and your taste. An alternative is then to have the ESL-63s refurbished by Quad Musikwiedergabe ( I assume you have the later protection diodes fitted, and not the earlier self powered compressor that muddled the sound. There's much to check with Quads. And of course, if you do trade up to 2905s, be aware that ESL-63s in good condition are sought after and will fetch a good price.

On the amplifier front, do try and audition Quad II-eighties; designed by Tim De Paravicini

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