Quad has been in the high-end hi-fi business for more than half a century.
And it is probably best known for quality floorstanders. However, the company realised a couple of years ago that, with the proliferation of sleek, flatscreen TVs, there's a need for a matching, low-cost speaker set.
Hence, the L-ite system was born. But, while it's been well-received ever since, it's time for an upgrade. Please give a warm and hearty welcome to... Dum dum dum... the new, improved Quad L-ite2.
Build it your way
To be fair, Quad has been making reasonably compact bookshelf speakers since the 10Ls launched with its cutting-edge 77 integrated amplifier. Three well-received generations of moving-coil compact speakers since later, and Quad's smallest speakers hit production.
The L-ite2 system, featuring smaller 10cm versions of the L-Series drive units, was always conceived as a 5.1 package for home cinema use, although you can buy pairs of L-ite2 speakers for £150 and use them either as surround back channels for a 7.1 cinema, or a stereo pair for a hi-fi. Quad always recommends using them with a subwoofer, though.
Our 5.1 package arrived in a lustrous real piano black finish; that's seven coats of lacquer each dried for 24 hours, then hand-cut and polished before the next coat is added. Each speaker comes in a cloth bag with a pair of dainty white gloves to avoid greasy fingerprints. It's a fabulous finish, but you can also choose from silver, rosewood or cherry.
Each satellite speaker is barely a hand's span wide, but the cabinets are deep and heavy. There's no break in the lacquer coating, and the construction from Starwood MDF, a high-grade material prized for its woodworking qualities, seems flawless.
They are rear-ported, which means the distance they are placed away from the wall will have an impact on bass levels. Two sets of binding posts mean that you can bi-wire or even bi-amp them to further improve their performance. They don't come with any feet or spikes, though, so I placed mine on rubber-pointed speaker platforms.
The satellite speakers fit in one cardboard box, but the larger carton contains the subwoofer alone, which gives an idea of the importance that the sub has in this relationship.
The sealed cabinet stands over knee-high and weighs a backbreaking 26kg. This anchors it to the floor nicely, especially if you first screw in the four spiked feet (flat feet are also provided), which gives a little more clearance for the downward firing 10in woofer.
Apart from cooling vents and inputs at the rear of the L-ite2 sub, the other four faces are completely smooth.
That's because all of the controls are on an infrared remote, which you clearly won't want to misplace. Activate the sub with this and a large LED display lights up to show the volume level.
It's unusual not to see any of the controls repeated on the sub itself, but the remote, with its volume, phase and filter controls, certainly makes tuning the system a lot easier from the comfort of your listening position.
It's worth spending some time arranging the front three speakers. The centre is an elongated three-way unit that should be as close to the screen as possible and ideally just in front to avoid reflections of the soundwaves. The front pair focus beautifully if you get the position right, with a little room behind them and slightly toed-in toward the centre.
Unsurprisingly, you need to set your receiver's speaker options menu to 'small' for each of the five channels to make sure that the lower frequencies are sent to the sub, leaving the satellites to concentrate on the mid and upper frequencies.
The big woofer is perfectly capable of handling the bass from the speakers as well as the dedicated LFE channel encoded in 5.1 soundtracks. Placement is less critical, but don't put it to close to a wall unless you want to increase the bass reinforcement at the expense of some clarity.
When fed with a good high-definition surround track, like the Dolby True HD 5.1 mix on Vantage Point, clarity doesn't seem to be a problem.
The centre channel in particular has a very precise interpretation of speech and treble detail. Dialogue is projected well into the room and clearly enunciated without any sibilance. The terrorist bomb attack that replays throughout the film is brought to life in an exhilarating fashion. The balance errs toward the bright side of neutral, which means lots of great crunching effects, but doesn't go so far as to sound harsh at all, even with the volume up high.
Get the placement right and the front three speakers will gel perfectly to form a convincing front soundstage with all fine detail neatly picked out. If you forget to turn the subwoofer on this Quad system obviously sounds worryingly thin.
The little L-ite2 speakers aren't intended for full-range use – even though the 4in drivers manage a well-defined lower mid-band. But it's all part of the plan.
The sub is an extremely capable beast in it's own right – it's essentially a scaled down version of Quad's award-winning L-sub. It uses the same 300W amp in fact, and has no problem driving the sophisticated carbon weave woofer. It sounds tight and punchy and in keeping with the L-ite2 speakers.
I find it always takes a while to get a 5.1 sub/sat system completely in sync, but once you've got it, the L-ite2 package delivers a remarkably cohesive sound despite the mismatch in size between the cabinets. And, while movies are handled with a real precision and clarity that's important for hearing dialogue and surround effects, it can carry a tune as well.
This system relishes the detail and dynamic range of a decent Super Audio CD multichannel mix, like that on Beck's Sea Change album. The acoustic numbers come to life with the sound of fingers sliding along guitar strings and Beck's voice projected into the middle of the room.
Both bi-wiring and bi-amping these speakers will bring noticeable improvements, but they're not too hard to drive either and most modern receivers will have enough power to make them sing.
For really large home cinema rooms, a bigger, more bass-heavy system would be called for, but the Quad L-ite2 5.1 System will suit those with less grandiose plans. There's also the option of adding a pair of centre rear speakers to make it a 7.1 setup, of course.
For style, practicality and sound quality, these affordable speakers make a winning team.