Adventures In Audio
These 1957 loudspeakers get closer to the original sound than anything you've ever heard!

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Saturday December 10, 2011
FREE EBOOK DOWNLOAD ►

You might think that the photo shows a pair of electric radiators. But no, they are actually some of the finest loudspeakers ever designed.

And the design dates from 1957!

I have no interest in vintage equipment for its own sake, and I'll use whatever sounds good, whatever its age. I tell you that because I don't want you to think I'm saying these speakers are good because they are old. That would be nonsense. They are good because their design is amazing. And, well-maintained of course, their age is immaterial.

The photo shows examples of the Quad ESL 57 electrostatic loudspeaker. '57' because the design dates, as I said, from 1957. If you want something more up-to-date then there's also the ESL 63 to consider :-)

The photos are from Ebay seller significantsound, which I reproduce with permission. The speakers illustrated are, at the time of writing, available to buy here...

Now, Question Number 1 is why are these speakers so good?

The answer to that comes from another question - why are moving coil loudspeakers so bad? (Almost all loudspeakers are of the moving coil design. You have some right there in your studio, and your living room, and your car, and tiny ones plugged into your iPod.)

The problem with moving coil loudspeakers is mainly to be found in the low-frequency drive unit, or woofer. The diaphragm has to be big to shift a lot of air. It has to be light so it can move easily. It has to be stiff so that it doesn't bend and produce distortion. And it has to satisfy all three of those conflicting requirements, which it can't.

Modern moving coil loudspeakers are amazingly good, but there is always the problem of transmitting the movement of the voice coil in the center of the drive unit, all the way to the edge of the diaphragm, without the diaphragm bending. This problem is inherent to the design.

But the diaphragm of the electrostatic loudspeaker can be driven over its entire surface area. It can be extremely light, yet still not bend. The result is a distortion-free, airy and accurate sound. The motto of Quad, the manufacturer, was and continues to be "The closest approach to the original sound". With just cause.

So now for Question Number 2 - If electrostatic loudspeakers are so good, why do we still use moving coil designs?

One answer to that is that it is cheaper to produce moving coil loudspeakers. Or to put it another way, electrostatic loudspeakers can't be produced cheaply.

Another is that electrostatics don't handle high levels and lots of bass so well as moving coils.

Another is that they are bi-directional, so you have to consider where the sound from the rear goes.

Another is that they need mains power.

Another... Well that's probably enough. They are simply not as practical as the moving coil.

And...

Although not as accurate, many people prefer the 'speakery' sound of the moving coil design.

I am to an extent eulogizing the electrostatic loudspeaker, and it is a fact that I don't have them in my home. But I certainly do recommend you take any opportunity you can to listen to some. You will be amazed how non-speakery loudspeakers can be!

Now for some more of those lovely photos from significantsound...

Like, follow, and comment on this article at Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram or the social network of your choice.

Come on the Audio Masterclass Pro Home Studio MiniCourse - 60 great hints and tips to get your home recording studio MOVING

It's FREE!

Get It Now >>

How to choose the best key for your song

What is comb filtering? What does it sound like?

NEW: Audio crossfades come to Final Cut Pro X 10.4.9!

What is the difference between EQ and filters? *With Audio*

What difference will a preamp make to your recording?

Watch our video on linear phase filters and frequency response with the FabFilter Pro Q 2

Read our post on linear phase filters and frequency response with the Fabfilter Pro Q 2

Harmonic distortion with the Soundtoys Decapitator

What's the best height for studio monitors? Answer - Not too low!

What is the Red Book standard? Do I need to use it? Why?

Will floating point change the way we record?

Mixing: What is the 'Pedalboard Exception'?

The difference between mic level and line level

The problem with parallel compression that you didn't know you had. What it sounds like and how to fix it.

Compressing a snare drum to even out the level

What does parallel compression on vocals sound like?

How to automate tracks that have parallel compression

Why mono is better than stereo for recording vocals and dialogue

Clipping and compressing a drum recording to achieve an exciting sound texture

What can we learn about room acoustics from this image?

Can you hear the subtle effect of the knee control of the compressor? (With audio and video demonstrations)

What is the best studio microphone?

What is the Neve sound? (Using the Slate Digital FG-73)

What is the difference between recording, mixing and mastering?