From Quad ESL-63 to Martin Logan Ethos / Spire

Mark.Yudkin

Distinguished Member
Introduction
Well, one of my Quad ESL-63's decided to go wrong again - popping noises - signalling yet another repair involving shipping the speaker with a courier or transporter to Huntingdon in UK. The postal service won't transport such a large or heavy package and the new Quad importer has continued the policy of using Quad Musikwiedergabe, although they are not part of IAG. So with another expensive bill for a 20 year old speaker that had had all of its panels replaced only 6 years ago in Huntingdon, it seemed that it may be time to get new speakers. Budget was up to ca CHF 10,000 (ca GBP 7,000), for a speaker that has to last ca 20 years. This was Wednesday evening before Easter, and with only my 31-year old Kef 104aB's as a stop-gap, a repair or replace decision was targetted for the week after Easter.

With Quad being out for reasons of inadequate local support, the obvious replacement - the ESL-2805 - could be excluded with a tear in the eye. Its taller brother, the ESL-2905 was anyway out of the question due to placement before of a window.

Magnepan's Quasi-ribbon Planars
Another exclusion for the same reason was the amazingly ugly and huge Magnepan MG 20.1. An earlier Magnepan audition had revealed a very nice sounding speaker with a wonderful reproduction of a solo violin coupled with poor bass response for the reproduction of the orchestra. I had insistend on testing without a separte subwoofer, and indeed the bass weakness was remedied by running the Velodyne DD12 - at a 120Hz crossover. I have no idea where Magnepan gets the 25Hz quoted on the web site. The price was also significantly over budget, and since models short enough to place in front of a window were presumably even more bass-shy, and with an appearance that makes the monolith from 2001 look attractive, Magnepan was out.

Other Planars
There are some ESL manufacturers other than Martin Logan - perhaps the best known being Soundlabs and King's Audio, but with no local distribution, purchasing one of their models meant having the same quandary as the Quads - and if I was going to buy something without quality local support, then new Quad ESL-2805's were anyway the obvious route to audio nirvana.

The other interesting planar membrane speaker option is radia planar - used for a while by Martin Logan, for example in the Fresco i's I have. The technology is described on http://www.bgcorp.com/. As with Soundlabs and King's Audio, lack of local distribution precluded serious consideration.

Martin Logan Reserve Series
Martin Logan's Reserve Series contains 4 models.

The CLX ART - a pure ESL with comparable, although not indentical, in-room response to the ESL-63's was the obvious first choice, and at a list price of CHF 32,500 just as obviously out of consideration.

The Summit X has a ca 112cm × 28.5cm passive electrostatic panel and pair of active 10" woofers, one firing forwards, the other backwards, in a sealed box. The bottom-firing woofer is out of phase above 100Hz and in-phase below 100Hz - a technique that attempts to emulates the panel's behaviour at higher frequencies, whilst avoiding the bass cancellation that would occur at lower frequencies. The panel - woofer crossover is at 270Hz. At CHF 19,800 it was also out of consideration.

The Spire has the same size panel, but only a single active 10" forward-firing woofer in a sealed box. The crossover is at 320Hz. At CHF 12,600 the Spire was the first viable option, and indeed it's what we finally ordered.

The baby of the line, the CHF 9,800 Ethos has a 5cm narrower panel and an active 8" forward-firing woofer coupled to a downwards firing passive bass radiator. The crossover is at 375Hz. This post is about the Ethos.

The Home Trial
Armed with the basic facts but only rough pricing, I contacted the dealer from whom I'd bought the Depth i and Fresco i's. The response: we no longer sell Martin Logan. Googling uncovered the official local dealer, later confirmed by the importer's response to my web site inquiry. I send an email, get a response, actual pricing, and an indication that he's going to be closed for two weeks starting Easter (i.e. the next day). This is looking bad - I need to decide repair or replace, not wait, but the dealer has indicated that he's reachable by e-mail. I go home, a little frustrated, but ready to face the next challenge: asking the CHF 10,000 question "may I have money we don't have for new speakers we can't afford?"

Before I can even report the details to my wife over dinner and face the music, the phone rings and my wife picks it. Surprise! It's the dealer telling her half the story, including that he's seen my comment that I need to decide quickly. He's phoning to offer a two week loan of his demonstration Ethos. It makes no difference to him whether they're standing around in his closed shop, or are with me. We can decide if we want to try them out, phone him at home in the morning (Easter Friday) and collect them (fortunately we have a station-wagon).

So my wife and I discuss the question mentioned above, and decide to go ahead and borrow the Ethos. Connect them up, plug them in, and recalibrate the AV9's speaker trims. The ESL-63's have a sensitivity of 86dB, the Ethos 92dB. The calibration difference is 3.5dB - something doesn't add up. Googling reviews yields comment that the Ethos measure 90dB sensitivity.

Positioning is easy, 18 years with ESL-63's means I already know how to deal with ESL's and the more limited rear sound radiation actually makes them less fussy. However we decided not to mount the spikes, since we didn't want to pierce the carpet and risk making holes in the parquet for a trial.

Experience
As always when you get a new toy to play with, you try out specific sources, only later do you quit fiddling around and just use the kit as it was meant to be used. We were no different. On went the award-winning multichannel SACD of Vivaldi's La Stravaganza with Rachel Podger and Arte Dei Suonatori on Collins Classics - a source we had used extensively when we bought the Fresco i's, but also some of the most stylish Vivaldi playing on record. First reactions: more clinical, more air around the instruments, but less full and not that "wall of sound" the Quads gave. As with the Quads, we had no physical centre.

We would subsequently discover that this effect was less pronounced if we increased the volume. I put it down to the limited rear sound radiation. The woofer section primarily fires forwards, but even the curved panel spreads the sound at the front whilst focussing it at the rear. The Quads with their delay rings have absolute dipolar symmetry.

Anyway, we switch from the surround sound SACD to Leifs' Baldr on a BIS CD. It's hard to know how to set the level on this CD, as it starts very quietly and slowly builds up. Reaction after the first scene (Dance of the Creatures of the Earth): clear, clinical, but too restrained. My wife has a preference for the clinicality of the new speakers - and she prefers the looks. I'm still not convinced, but do appreciate the more clinical sound. We agree that imaging is good. I figure I need to try increasing the volume.

When one's being listening to Leifs' Baldr, it's sort of obvious that one puts on Tveitt's Baldur's Dream, also on BIS. Each of us hears his opinion reconfirmed. So we stop fiddling around and watch the first DVD with three episodes of Lark Rise to Candleford Series 4 on DVD. We now know the speakers are not in any way fatiguing - we just enjoyed Lark Rise to Candleford and only stopped as we had other activities planned for the evening.

On Sunday I try something I don't know - a CD of orchestral works by Matthew Curtis (Vol 1) with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Gavin Sutherland on Campion that I'd just bought and not yet heard. This time we hear the CD through and I again have a problem that the sound is not full - a weakness around the cello / viola. As an experiment I replay the final piece "Outward Bound", but switching the AV9's "direct" on and off (all sound through the Ethos vs 80Hz crossover between the Ethos and Depth i). My wife says she can't hear any difference, and I agree.

I then decide to test something a little less "typical" - Tiensuu's nemo on a mulitchannel Alba SACD - a work for ensemble, sampler and live-electronics, where the electronics are even bounced around the room, swirling around you. At this stage I figure I'm being silly with al these attempt to catch the speakers out - they're obviously worth their price.

Otherwise we're using the speakers as we would normally - TV (romances, James Bond film), CDs, DVDs (even Akutosh Gowariker's 3.5 hour What's Your Raashee? (13 songs - a record?) while the wife is out and I can watch at my volumes). We decide to buy, but I prefer the Spires, hoping that the larger panel and lower crossover will address the little niggles.

Of course the real test would have been with ESL-2805's in the same room. Unfortunately, this was not possible as no dealer here has both Quad and Martin Logan.

The Volume
Having calibrated the system, the AV9's THX volume level indication is supposedly an accurate reflection of the in-room SPL. Hence using the same displayed value as with the ESL-63s ought to accurately reflect the same actual volume. With the ESLs broken though, I can't go back and measure the specific levels for specific passages using an SPL meter. But at least I can measure the consequences of volume and fullness of sound. The result: At an extra level of ca 3dB for an ff passage, things sound right.

The Suprise
I had very much expected the nominally 4 Ohm Ethos, with their 0.8 Ohm impedance at 20kHz, to cause the Arcam P1000 to protest, overheat or even shut down. To my surprise the P1000 seemed quite content, remaining at the same warm temperature they had had with the Quads - cooler than the DV137 after a film. I'll probably need to consider a stereo power amp some time down the road, but at the moment, it's fine. Of course, the active woofer section does mean the P1000 is not responsible for bass.
 
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Alan Mac

Well-known Member
Introduction
Well, one of my Quad ESL-63's decided to go wrong again - popping noises - signalling yet another repair involving shipping the speaker with a courier or transporter to Huntingdon in UK.

Mark,

Very interesting to read your post.
Sorry to hear that one of your your ESL-63’s has failed again.

I am still trying to find a fault with mine, which would at least give me a plausible excuse for the purchase of a pair of new ESL-2905’s !!

After nearly 28 years of daily use it seems unlikely that my ESL-63’s can continue to work for much longer. Indeed I am very surprised that they have lasted this long without any failure.

One possibility would be to “relegate” my ESL-63’s to the role of “surround” speakers and use a new pair of ESL-2905’s for the main front speakers.


It is unfortunate that it is difficult for you to continue to use Quad ESL’s but at least you have not had to abandon Electrostatics altogether!

May I wish you and your wife many hours of good listening with the new Martin Logan Spires when they arrive.


Alan
 

Mark.Yudkin

Distinguished Member
After nearly 28 years of daily use it seems unlikely that my ESL-63’s can continue to work for much longer. Indeed I am very surprised that they have lasted this long without any failure.
Our experiences are rather different. Purchased in 1993, one of the speakers needed servicing three times, including complete panel replacements in 2001 and 2007. The other speaker had a complete panel replacement in 2004, one of which needed replacing a couple of months later. It is that speaker that is now in need of a repair. I've been told that the average life of a set of panels is 20 years.

A surround set consisting of ESL-2905's + ESL-63's; oh to have such a large room. At least I managed hybrid planars all round. And the Ethos did a nice job with today's Gregson concertos, Castillo orchestral works and collection of Neapolitan flute concertos.
 

a8ch

Active Member
Like AlanMac I wish you all the best with your hybrids. I get a helluva lot of enjoyment with my Kings Audio Queen models. I love the way when hooking different kit on the end of them the differences good or bad, are readily apparent without having strain to hear them, make it so much easier to match for taste compared with moving coil speakers ime.
 

Alan Mac

Well-known Member
Mark,

Just in case you haven’t seen this:

—QUAD ESL63 Great speakers but bad after sales service—

It might just possibly be relevant to your problems with the ESL-63s.

If I understand correctly, the problem turned out to be capacitor C14 breaking down.

It may be significant that C14 is not fitted on earlier ESL-63s such as mine.


Alan
 

MI55ION

Distinguished Member
Nice easygoing read, thanks for sharing Mark. :)

Wish you guys all the best and many years of faithful service.

Now that you have sorted out the speakers, have you given any consideration to amplification. No I'm not talking about whether it is just capable of driving your speakers. How about some monoblocks on home demo and see what, if anything, they do for you? ;)
 

Mark.Yudkin

Distinguished Member
Now that you have sorted out the speakers, have you given any consideration to amplification. No I'm not talking about whether it is just capable of driving your speakers. How about some monoblocks on home demo and see what, if anything, they do for you? ;)
I mentioned needing "to consider a stereo power amp some time down the road". Monoblocs are of course also an option, but I rather suspect that cost and space considerations are going to lead to a stereo power amp rather than monoblocs.

In any case, at the moment there's no money left, so that the upgrade items at the top of the list (new larger TV, universal BD / SACD player, HD processor) now have to be delayed further :(. And I'm still buying CDs / SACDs - my real passion - and those will stay at the top of the audio list.

I was impressed by the Rowen PA1 monobloc at an affordable CHF 1,990 each, which was what was driving the the Magnepan 20.1's, and which is stable down to 0.5 Ohms. Options like Accuphase, Burmester or Pass Labs are unlikely to be affordable, just like the ML CLX's were out for financial reasons. Other amplification candidates include the Rowen ONE (CHF 6,490 each), or Anthem, Bryston, Classe or Elektrokompaniet.

A popular choice with ML is Krell, but a listening experience using Krell and ML Vantages has put me off Krell amplification for life. Listening to the worst distortion we have ever had the misfortune to suffer from "hi fi", my wife and I were convinced the amp was in need of repair - the dealer's reassurance that everything was OK left us wondering.
 
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Nuri58

Active Member
Purchased in 1993, one of the speakers needed servicing three times, including complete panel replacements in 2001 and 2007. The other speaker had a complete panel replacement in 2004, one of which needed replacing a couple of months later. It is that speaker that is now in need of a repair. I've been told that the average life of a set of panels is 20 years.
I thought you'd need to replace both panels to keep a balanced sound. I had a problem with my one speaker and both panels were changed after 2 years (under waranty) no discussion. As you can see in my signature I run a 5.1 system all ESLs but the sub. and run by an Arcam AVR 600.
 

Mark.Yudkin

Distinguished Member
I thought you'd need to replace both panels to keep a balanced sound. I had a problem with my one speaker and both panels were changed after 2 years (under waranty) no discussion.
I've heard the remark before, but don't know what's true.

Quad Huntingdon made no comment to that effect, and all of the panel replacements were limited to the broken speaker, and in two (actually 3) cases, only a single broken panel. Perhaps Quad don't believe in audio deterioration over time?

A Martin Logan has just the one panel, whereas a Quad ESL-63 has 2 pairs of panels. Replacing all 8 panels for the two speakers, whenever one panel went would increase the repair cost quite substantially. So perhaps that's the reason?

Nice setup.
 

Nuri58

Active Member
I've heard the remark before, but don't know what's true.

Quad Huntingdon made no comment to that effect, and all of the panel replacements were limited to the broken speaker, and in two (actually 3) cases, only a single broken panel. Perhaps Quad don't believe in audio deterioration over time?

A Martin Logan has just the one panel, whereas a Quad ESL-63 has 2 pairs of panels. Replacing all 8 panels for the two speakers, whenever one panel went would increase the repair cost quite substantially. So perhaps that's the reason?

Nice setup.
Since they suggested it no discussion I think it's true (another thing is if one can hear it or only the very golden ears). But shows good after sale service despite the extra cost contrary to your experience with QUAD.

Slowly I am understanding the way QUAD works since it has two pair of panels.

Thanks - your setup looks good too though.
 

Mark.Yudkin

Distinguished Member
Both Quad and Martin Logan need to deal with the problem that a large flat surface will tend to beam at higher frequencies. ML make the panel tall making vertical dispersion irrelevant, and curve the panel to achieve a horizontal dispersion. Since we both have ML's, there's no need for an illustration.

The only problem is in the ML centre (Stage) / smaller FX (Motif), where the horizontal layout and need for both horizontal and vertical dispersion cannot be achieved by single dimension curvature. Here ML resort to using a conventional tweeter. The new EFX (or older Script i) is an alternative FX speaker, an option if you have the side / rear wall space. I didn't, so I went for the Fresco i's (now discontinued).

Quad by contrast uses concentric annular electrodes and mechanical delay lines (20km of wire) to emulate a point source 30 cm behind the speaker. This achieves both horizontal and vertical dispersion.
esl3.jpg
esl63-stripped.jpg
 
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Nuri58

Active Member
Thanks for the explanation - I realised the way the QUAD point source was achieved.

Regarding the centre I angle it towards the sweet spot and it works really good and maintains the general sound picture.

My rears are wall mounted just 20 cm behind my listening position and of course angled vs. the wall. This I find works exellent. I only have 2ch stereo, and a few dolby 5.1 soundtracks so that makes a difference. I have put some pictures here;

http://www.avforums.com/forums/members-home-cinema-gallery/1430195-nuri-58-set-up.html

BTW the Aeon i also features acoustic compensators (i.e. conventional tweeters), which I normally disable, but comes in handy at parties.

What do you find the nicer now QUAD or ML should you be able to choose?
 

Mark.Yudkin

Distinguished Member
What do you find the nicer now QUAD or ML should you be able to choose?
From the viewpoint of servicability, I must unfortunately exclude Quad, as my initial post explained. The ML's also look better. The ML's give a definite impression of a more robust construction, but this is also something that the ESL-2805/2905 significantly improved, so it's an unfair comparison. ML's panel reliability is an unknown.

But if I may exclude these real-world issue and concentrate solely on audio aspects, your question remains a difficult one. Presumably you're soliciting a comment on the sound.

My aim wasn't to improve on the Quad ESL's sound, but to replace them at the same rough budget, without "losing too much". With ESL's this meant Spire or Ethos, and the need for an immediate solution precluded waiting for the Spire's imminent replacement (code-named "Summit X Jr"). Of course the real test would have been with ESL-2805's in the same room, but this was neither possible nor logical.

Over on the ML Owners forum, I gave the following summary (lightly edited).

The Spires
My hope was that the Spires would address the niggles [-> initial post], but I rather suspected that the specific issues would not really be resolved. The absence of a downwards facing passive radiator had me concerned that in some ways, I'd have even less of that soundstage the Quads so wonderfully create.

As it turned out, the Spires address all the fears. The 28% price difference over the Ethos is more than justified. Imaging is better and the space between the speakers no longer sounds "empty".

I have found a speaker that can successfully replace the Quad ESLs - doing some things better (greater detail and clinicality), even if coming short in others. I'll miss not having Quads, but a lot less than I'd feared, and I even get some improvements as compensation for my loss. If only the CLX wasn't so ludicrously expensive!
 

Nuri58

Active Member
But if I may exclude these real-world issue and concentrate solely on audio aspects, your question remains a difficult one. Presumably you're soliciting a comment on the sound.
That was what I was after, and yes difficult (I just audited both yesterday as my dealer had nothing better to do anyway). My preference is ML I think.
If only the CLX wasn't so ludicrously expensive!
I read your post and yes the CLX are expensive but beyond most I have heard (with the help of a sub at least for films). However, the WAF is not that high and far below the old ML series of which Aeon is one (my wife actually sees it as a sculpture that she likes).

FYI a link that you might find interesting if you're not aware:

Lifetime Service for MartinLogan Products
 

Mark.Yudkin

Distinguished Member
To be fair, the Quad Service Centre in Huntingdon will happily service ESL-63's. The problem is that I have to ship the speaker to them (they're too large for the postal service to carry) and get them shipped back, and sort out customs so that they don't charge on the way to Quad or for the whole speaker on return. The problem is local support.

Your Aeons are hybrids, like my Spires. The Quad ESLs are pure electrostats, like the CLX's. My comment indicates a suspicion that only the CLX could provide a replacement where I didn't feel disappointed in some areas of performance. That said, I have my suspicions that my wife would not have countenanced them in the room. They are ugly: CLX ART is a misnomer.
 

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