Founded in 1936, Quad is one of British hi-fi's biggest names, though these days it's part of the Chinese IAG group.
It's probably best known for its amplifiers, and for creating the world's first full-range electrostatic loudspeaker, but in recent years it has also achieved great success with more conventional moving-coil loudspeakers, which combine exceptionally attractive piano-lacquered veneers with very competitive prices.
Succeeding the L series, Quad's new L2 series consists of five stereo pairs all told. Here we're looking at the top £900 22L2 floorstander, which replaces the 22L. The two models have much in common, on the surface at least, but the new version includes several engineering changes, providing some justification for the higher price.
A beautifully finished and relatively compact enclosure is a key feature of both this model and its predecessor. You can choose from a wide range of colours and wood veneers - plain black for our samples, with silver, bird's-eye maple, cherry and rosewood the other options.
All are finished in a deep, multi-layer, high-gloss lacquer. Beneath the surface, the wood composite is apparently eucalyptus-based, which is said to confer good self-damping properties.
A criticism of the 22L was that it lacked a decent-sized plinth, but the new model has an attractively shaped plinth that usefully extends the lateral footprint and, in the case of our samples, matches the enclosure. One small niggle remains, however - the way the spikes are mounted.
They're held by thumbwheel nuts above and below, but the threaded insert through the plinth remains free to rotate, so it's impossible to lock the spike firmly in place.
The speaker is a two-and-a-half-way design, with the lower of the two 165mm main drivers only used through the bass region (alongside the port, to reinforce the bottom end) and the upper main driver and tweeter operating as a regular two-way.
Both the main drivers have cast frames, 115mm woven Kevlar matrix cones and quite stiff rubber surrounds, though the lower bass driver has a different dust-cover arrangement and presumably the four-layer voice coil and extra mass loading used in the 22L.
The all-new tweeter has a 25mm fabric dome and powerful neodymium magnets, and its faceplate is partly cut away, enabling it to be positioned closer to the bass/mid unit.
Fed from twin terminal pairs, the crossover unit has a glass-fibre circuit board with large, non-interlacing tracks. Components (mounted to avoid magnetic inter-modulation) include air-cored inductors and metalised polypropylene low-loss capacitors, and the internal wiring uses heavy-gauge oxygen-free copper.
It's interesting to compare the performance of the 22L2 with that of its predecessor, as it's clear that one of our major criticisms with the earlier model has been eliminated. Whereas the 22L showed a quite alarming dip in its frequency response at around 600Hz, reflected in a minor perturbation in its impedance trace, this dip is entirely absent from the 22L2, and the impedance 'wiggle' is greatly reduced.
The frequency response with this speaker (sited well clear of walls) is much flatter and smoother across the broad midband and treble indeed, it holds within tight /-2dB limits all the way from 150Hz up to 16kHz, with the only real perturbation a mild dip at around 1.4kHz, under notoriously difficult far-field in-room averaged conditions.
Whether the in-room balance ought to remain flat right through into the high treble under these conditions is more debatable, however, as it does mean the 22L2 will have a sonic character that's subjectively significantly brighter than average.
Interestingly, no sensitivity rating is given in the specification - maybe because the midband sensitivity is a surprisingly low 86db (2-3dB lower than that of the 22L), which contributes to the relatively bright top end. This should be seen in the context of an impedance that stays above 4.5 ohms throughout, which isn't an unduly difficult load.
Although the bass shows a bit more damping than before, with a rather indeterminate port-tuning frequency of around 35Hz, its output level is barely changed, so another result of the reduced midrange sensitivity is that the average bass level is relatively stronger. The pair match is somewhat disappointing, with a significant discrepancy in the lower treble, 2-5kHz.
The frequency balance has a direct bearing on the 22L2's sound quality. That flat and even midband is an obvious strength, ensuring superior neutrality, fine perspectives and a low level of boxy coloration. Voices sound pleasingly open and clear, even at low volume levels.
At the same time, though, there's no denying this speaker also has a brightness that's rather less welcome. Expensive models with advanced tweeters and costly crossover components often get away with this, but the 22L2 isn't one of these, and while the treble provides plenty of fine detail, it also sounds rather insistent.
The bottom end is also a shade too warm and rich. This may be good for handling film effects, as it ensures a good sense of weight, scale and power, but it also adds a certain chestiness to male speech, and bass instruments tend to sound too heavy and thickened.
Stereo images are well formed, with good lateral and depth perspectives, and respectable focus, though dynamics could be more vigorous and exciting, and micro-dynamic information seems a little weak.
While that beautifully smooth, even midband remains a major strength, the tendency to emphasise both the top and bottom ends of the audio band introduces a touch of 'loudness contour' character. This means the 22L2 is at its best at fairly low listening levels, sounding beautifully open and detailed, but it can become a little wearing when the volume is turned up high.