Quad Z-4 Floorstanding Speaker Review
The Quad is big but also rather clever
What is the Quad Z-4?The Quad Z-4 is the largest box speaker in the company’s inventory, although it's important to note that Quad is also the producer of spectacular but rather bulky electrostatic based designs. While Quad is perhaps more famous for their electrostatic designs – they have been making them for over 60 years – the company has also been a surprisingly prolific producer of box speaker designs and really got into its stride with the L series models from the early years of this century.
The use of Z as the Series letter for this range of speakers is pretty telling as it suggests that unless Quad is going to pilfer a different alphabet, this is the last word in their take in box speakers. Given that the Z-4 is a fairly hefty £3,200, this does put us into fairly rarefied territory but as we are slowly assembling a database of models at this price point we now at least have a few points of comparison to it – not least the similarly imposing Sonus faber Venere S.
As such, we need to see if this imposing speaker has the performance to back up its impressive appearance and to see if some of the intriguing design and material choices make for a must-have product. And with that we cue the music.
SpecificationsThe Z-4 is the largest member of the four strong Z Series of speakers that comprises a smaller floorstander and two standmount designs. All models share some common design cues but the Z-4 is different from the others in some interesting regards and in some key areas is different to most rivals at the price point.
Firstly, with five drivers per cabinet, the Z-4 is rather more endowed with radiating area than other floorstanders – even ones that come close to the impressive 1.2 metre total height of the Z-4. The way that these drivers are grouped is also quite unusual. The three bass drivers – each 165mm across and made from woven carbon fibre – are grouped together as a single output from the crossover. This means that the Z-4 is only a three-way design despite the plethora of drivers that it mounts. The Quad does have the benefit of a dedicated midrange driver. This is a 150mm woven unit that handles the vital spread between 300Hz and 3.5kHz. Done right, this is one of the advantages of a larger speaker as these frequencies can struggle on some larger drivers acting in two-way arrangements.
The most radical of the drivers however is the ribbon tweeter that handles the treble frequencies. Quad has been in business a very long time so very little is new to them. In the case of ribbon tweeters, the company released an example of such a driver in 1949. For Quad this was the stepping-stone to their full electrostatic models that would appear a few years later but they have revisited the idea for their latest ranges of box speakers.
Crucially, this tweeter isn’t an off-the-peg unit. Ribbon tweeters offer considerable on-paper advantages but these come at the expense of some serious real world downsides. The principle issue for a ribbon tweeter is the relative fragility they possess when either driven beyond their design limits or when faced with serious distortion. The result of this is that ribbons remain a relatively rare sight in speakers and often when you see something that looks ‘ribbonesque’ such as with the Monitor Audio PL100II, the resulting device has some of the properties of a ribbon but uses different principles.
Quad has taken a different approach with their ribbon. The device is a ‘true’ ribbon tweeter but the means by which it is assembled differ from older models. The Z Series unit integrates the ribbon and drive motor assembly and then mounts the whole thing in a strong magnetic field. The result of this is that the drive unit is more robust than would otherwise be the case. This matters because the version used in the Z series is fairly large, measuring as it does 90mm in length. A traditional ribbon would be rather delicate in these circumstances so Quad’s design work will be beneficial in this instance.
The cabinet of the Z-4 is more conventional than the ribbon but there are some interesting details. As is frequently the case with cabinets at this sort of price point, the sides are curved with a view to improving the aesthetics and breaking up standing waves. The Quad is relatively unusual though in that it also curves the top section of the cabinet – resulting in a complex looking fitting where this meets the other points. There is also no visible bass port. This is because the port is a double chamber system built into the lower section and that vents via an exit in the integrated plinth. This last detail does mean that for a large speaker, the Z-4 is relatively unfazed by proximity to walls.
DesignWhen Quad launched the L Series speakers in the early 2000s, they re-wrote the rulebook on the levels of fit and finish we could expect from a relatively affordable speaker. Fast forward to 2017 and the Z Series still has some of the elements of what made the L Series feel special, while also upping the ante as you might expect at this higher price point.
Firstly, the Z-4 wears its dimensions very well. Standing nearly 1.2 metres tall and being relatively broad at the same time, it could very easily wind up dominating most spaces that you place it in but this is largely avoided. The brightwork around the drivers and the curvature of the cabinet do a fine job of reducing the bulk and the Z-4 has a sense of proportion that helps it look good. It does however lack the golden proportions of the KEF R500 which went though at the same time and it doesn’t have quite the sense of ceremony that the Sonus faber Venere S brings to a room.
Part of this is down to the veneer choice. I can’t fault the application or quality of the work – the Quad, like most things made by the International Audio Group is immaculately built – but if we take the subtle but gorgeous work on the Monitor Audio PL100II and the unlaquered work on the Venere S as points of comparison, it can feel a little synthetic and I’m not wildly keen on the colour. I suspect that in a UK lounge with other woods already in situ, the black piano finish is going to look the best. On a more positive note however, all the detailing – speaker terminals and the like – are exceptionally finished and are more than up to the standard expected at the price.
The Z-4 wears its dimensions very well
How was the Z-4 tested?The Quad turned up as part of a system with the company’s Artera electronics and has been used with those but has also spent some time running with the Leema Quasar and my own Naim Supernait 2 with some running from the Linn Majik LP12 taking place as well. The material used has included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF, DSD, Tidal, Spotify and some vinyl.
Sound QualityThe Quad’s arrived run in as this review pair has been in service for some time. From the outset, you might reasonably assume that a hefty floorstander with six bass drivers across the pair and a reasonable internal volumes is going to be a big and beefy sounding thing. The answer to this is “well, sort of.” The Z-4 has been designed by Peter Comeau– something of an industry stalwart but also someone who hasn’t traditionally gone in for a big, ‘in yer face’ style presentation.
So it is the case here. I won’t insult your intelligence by saying that the Quad sounds small because it doesn’t. It has a width and spaciousness to it that is deeply and immediately impressive. Listening to the 16/44.1kHz rip of Air’s Premieres Symptomes, the Quad is effortlessly spacious and open. It manages to build a convincing sound stage that lays everything out in a logical and rather compelling way. It doesn’t matter whether the recording is an orchestra on the rampage or a single performer, the Quad gives them the right amount of space but above all, the right proportions.
This means that the struck piano notes in Regina Spektor’s Consequence of Sounds has meaningful weight and impact to low notes – a gentle but well-judged reminder that pianos are capable of serious volume and scale when encountered in the wild. The Quad is subtly different to many other speakers we look at because while it has no shortage of outright bass, it has a weight and body to the lower midrange that is subtly and beautifully worked into the performance that you really only miss when it’s gone.
The effect of the ribbon tweeter is no less subtle viewed in isolation. You don’t find yourself going “that’s a ribbon” but instead note that the spread of high frequency energy is impressively even and free from any harshness or aggression. The most important aspects of using such a driver are that is needs to integrate perfectly with the main drivers and avoid sounding over emphasised. The Quad delivers on these requirements perfectly. The fitment of a dedicated midrange driver means that at times, the Quad’s abilities with vocals and instruments is absolutely superb.
If you pick up the pace and ask for something a little faster like Dig your own hole by the Chemical Brothers, the Quad reveals that despite its hefty size, it is an agile and engaging speaker. That unusual bass port arrangement is genuinely inaudible and this ensures that the bass is clean, controlled and relatively deep. I say relatively because it seems fairly clear that the Z-4 has not been set up with a view to producing the sort of low end that vibrates your eyeballs – it doesn’t seem to go as low as the smaller and more affordable KEF R500 but does avoid the slightly overdriven low end that the KEF can suffer from.
You might legitimately argue that the way the Z-4 goes about making music can sometimes lack the ‘grab you by the lapels’ style excitement that some people can crave. The considerably smaller Monitor Audio PL100II can often generate a greater level of drive and excitement than the big Quad but it isn’t a simple matter of accusing the Quad of being dull. It would be fairer and more accurate to say that the Z-4 is most concerned with creating that sense of scale and effect that allows you to appreciate the music on its own merits.
If you need more excitement than is originally on the recording, this probably isn’t for you but if you want to hear what’s there, untrammelled by size restrictions, this is a fantastic option. I revisited UNKLE’s Never, Never Land while finishing up the testing process and what the Quad did was deeply special. There is an effortlessness to the way that the Quad handles this dark and dense soundscape and the result is involving and deeply atmospheric. A final welcome aspect of this is that this involvement is something that the Quad can demonstrate at surprisingly low volume levels which is something a few rivals can struggle with.
The fitment of a dedicated midrange driver means that, at times, the Quad’s abilities with vocals and instruments is absolutely superb
- Supremely refined and spacious sound
- Easy to drive
- Great build
- Not the most ballistic performer
- Rosewood finish a little brash
- Fairly big
Quad Z-4 Floorstanding Speaker ReviewIf you are shopping for a speaker at this fairly lofty price point, Quad might not be the immediate ‘go to’ brand that you had in mind. Having spent some time with the Z-4, in some ways this still isn’t the obvious choice. In some ways, if you sat down for a demo against some key rivals, I can see the Quad not landing a killer blow on a quick listen.
Spend a little time with the Z-4 though and it starts to make more and more sense. Going back to almost any other similarly priced speaker after you’ve spend some time with this one is like losing a room of your house – you’ll manage but you’ll miss the space you had. This is a big, capable and beautifully made loudspeaker that delivers music on a grand scale and for that it certainly warrants recommendation.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £3,200.00
Ease of Use8
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