Quad Elite System - PS Audio Scandinavia

Quad Elrte system (fsssototaD
After a decade, Quad's amazingly successful 99 series is to be replaced by a new
range. Can the Elite components improve on their illustrious predecessors?
Review: Ken Kessler Lab: Paul Miller
ild confession: for a decade,
the bulk of my listening has
been through a Quad 99
system. lt consists of a CD
player, preamp and 909 power amp. They
have been working for roughly ten hours
a dayfive days a week, as my desk system,
playing through Spendor 153/5As and also
accepting signals from my computer and
an iPod dock. I cannot even think of a
of that in my car
which lshare as many hours.
- outside
- with
You might imagine, then, that the
news of a replacement system for a
ranqe launched in 1999, and with which
lam on such intimate terms, would lire
my curiosity. After all, aside from the
occasional hlccup from the CD player,
the 99s have been as reliable, robust and
musical as their great-grandparents, the
much-loved 33/303 system. Which, I might
add, was my desktop system for six or
seven years prior to the arrival of the 99s.
Thus, the new Elite system certainly had its
work cut out to impress me.
With two more units to be released,
including a model to replace the CDP
CD player with its on-board digital preamp,
and a direct replacement for the 909
power amp, the initial Elite selection
consists of the 'Elite CDs' cD player (t800),
'Elite FM'tuner (E600), 'Elite Pre' preamp
(8850) and two power amps - the 'Elite
Stereo'and the'Elite Mono'. We reviewed
the system with the latter (8650 each).
Like the 99s, each Elite unit is a compact
32 1 x70x3 1 0mm. They stack perfectly,
thanks to cleverly-shaped aluminium
cases which accept the feet of the model
above in a gentle recess. Best of all, if one
purchases the whole system, the units can
be connected by the Quad Link system
which daisy-chains the lot using supplied
ribbon cables. The only sales that wire
CDS innards r€veal a single
motherboard and morsthan-ample power
supply. Tho6e who misr the cDP with tull digital
preamp will w€lcome the Elite version, to follow
48 | www.hif inews.co.uk I JANUARY 2011
vendors will get out of an Elite system
owner are speaker cables and upgrades for
the Ac cables for those so inclined.
True, there will be purists and cable
addicts who will want to connect these
conventionally, but to do so would be to
give up secure communications that ensure
the stability of all functions and the remote
control operation, to say nothing of singlebutton power on/off for the entire stack.
(You will notice an anomaly here: while
the CD player, amps and preamp can be
purchased separately for conventionally'
via the remote - that you must read the
owner's manual. otherwise, how would
you know the means of accessing the l\4M
or lVlC settings for the rather fine phono
stage? Or how to set the comprehensive
tone controls, with their spiritual roots in
Quad's tilt controls of yore?
outputs to feed into a recorder, etc.)
While the models seem minimalist, they
lnside, the Elite CDS CD Player boasts
a new transport mechanism and servo
system to differentiate it from its
predecessor. A Crystal 24-bitl1 92kqz DAC
replaces the older 24'bitig6kHz chip used
in the 99. The Elite FM Tuner is a 'cleansheet design' built around a high grade
FM stereo decoder with discrete Class A
stages, coupled to Class A output stages
with high quality polypropylene capacitors
in the signal path. It offers 20 presets.
Both feed off the Elite Pre via Quad Link
for total connectivity to these sources,
abound with so many features
while Amp Bus connectivity controls
wired use with other makes or equipment,
the Elite FN,4 tuner does not have its own
power supply nor Ac cable ingress, so it
can only work in an Elite system, via Quad
Link for its power. oddly, as the music
signals travelthrough the Quad Link ribbon
cable, the Elite
does have RcA line level
Design team head lason Creenslade
and Peter Comeau, Dire€tor of
Acoustic Design, were given
et to'ensure that every
Elite component surpasses the
perlormance ol its predecessor.'
Three years were spent sctutinising
every component, 'through an
exhaustive process ot modifying,
measuring, listening then modifying
again,' to morph the 99 models
into Elite components- The 99/
Elite relationship is close, with all
critical changes being internal;
those moving lrom the older series
to th€ new willlind the Elite models
immediately familiar, right down
to identical dimensions and nearly'
identical control panels. Aside from
a change to an almost-black charcoal
tinish lrom the silver/champagne
of the 99 range, and a slimmer-
look lascia without the drop-down
nameplate, the physical resemblance
ensures continuity.
the power amplifiers. Features include
bypass-switchable f ilter adjustment for
bass and treble, and the aforementioned
'tilt'control to tailor the entire frequency
At 150W the Elite Mono had no trouble
driving Wilson Sophia 2s via YTER cables,
as well as Tannoy MiniAutographs, L53i5As
and a pair of Sonus faber Auditor Elipsas.
ABOVE: Central, lozengeshaped buttons allow
all actions to be accessed, but moSt users will
use the comprehensive rcmote control
response to the user's preference. The
I also used
the Linn LPl2iEkos/Arkiv front
end, and played the Elites alongside 99
Lauper can indeed sing the blues. The
FM tuner captured all of the delicious
juxtaposition of punch and silkiness on the
well recorded CD, which I had to hand for
a swift AiB. spoken word broadcasts were
sibilance-f ree and intimate.
clearly, the cD player will be the
prelerred choice, even without knowing
circuitry boasts noiseless solid-state
signal switching and'digitally addressed'
analogue volume and balance controls,
said to track both left and riqht channels
with better-than-0.1 dB accuracy.
The specified phono stage offers both
N,4C settings, and the unit accepts
four line sources plus a tape in/out, as
Mlvl and
well as RCA phono main output for driving
amps without AmP Bus.
While nothing I can say will deter
cable addicts from using the Elites in a
conventional manner, f urther examination
of the Amp Bus and Quad Link shows that
the systems address more than remote
control convenience and easy wiring.
Quad Link carries the audio signal in fully
balanced form, while Amp Bus delivers
balanced audio and control signals
between the Elite Pre preamp and Stereo
or Mono power amps. For complex speaker
systems, the Amp Bus allows users to
employ several power amps, daisy-chained
for bi-amp or even tri-amp usage. A rotary
control at the back of each amp acts as
a channel selector to direct the signals
accordingly, including a setting for use
with other preamps which Iack Amp Bus.
Series components.
While I wanted to spend more time with a
recent batch of LPs - I couldn't resist three
new Nick Lowe LPs from Yep Roc - I knew
that I had to focus on the sources. suffice
it to say, the phono stage
was very good, certainly a
match for outboard stages
of €50-€100 but lacking
the dynamics of an Audio
Research PH5 or Quad's
own valve phono stage.
But that would be to
forego convenience lor an
increase in detail. lt is not an afterthouqht.
As for the tuner, that was dispatched
quickly. Fed via my roof aerial and set to
the few stations that come through with
anyvigour in East Kent, the sound was rich
and warm and a complete repudiation of
DAB, which I continue to despise on an
increasinq basis. cod forbid they should
switch off FM. Radios 2.3 and 4 sounded
blissfully realthrough 153i5tu, and lthank
Paul Jones for reminding me that cyndi
how the forthcominq CDP replacement
(with onboard digital
preamp) might differ
lrom the CD5. Those
wedded to FlVl will
'The Quads
nuance, sailed to
the vocal heiglhts'
disagree, but I must
have freedom of choice,
and the cDS forced me
to play CD after cD. lt's
been a good yearlor my
tastes, and I had to hand 17 or so discs that
kept me glued to the Quad stack.
They arrived in the lorm of a box: the
magnificent Apple box set, with fresh
remasters of albums by artists such as
Jackie Lomax, Billy Preston, James Taylor,
Mary Hopkin and the magnificent-yet'tragic
Badfinger. lhad forgotten how sublime
were these recordjngs, as did most who
bought them at the time. Why? Because
Apple was The Beatles' label, and Eeatle G,
2011 I www.hifinews.co.uk 149
QUAD ELITE CDSftVNER (r I o o/ 160 o)
Quad's Elite CDS is thevery modelofa modern CD player
offering consistently low levels of distodion across the audio
range 0ust 0.O006-0.0007% from 20Hz-20kHz at 0dBfs)from
a modest I l5ohm output impedance source.The maximum
output i5 2.36V and the fullA-wtd S/N ratio amounts to I 10dB
- very much more than's nequired for a I 6-bit source like CD.
litter is as low as can be measured with a 16'bit data pattem at
1zopsec. So how doe5 the Elite CDS comparc with its gg-seri€s
forebear? lnterestingly. the two players are very similar even
thouqh the older unit offered a spectacularly low 0.00020.0003% distortion, 109dBA-wtd S/N ratio and 1zopsec iitter
htemodulation distortion was <0.00005% (0.00015% in
the new model). ofgreater import is the smoothertrend of
distortion overthe top 2odB of the Elite CDS'S dynamic range,
avoiding the smallrisethat occured at-5dBFs in the'99.
The Elite FlVl tuner is very sensitive indeed, delve ng
a useable S/N ratio and low 1%THD atjust 20dBUV {10!V
RFlwhile achieving its maximum 66.0d8 A-wtd S/N ratio at
just 60dBpV{lmV RF). The spedralanalysis has a distindly
'analogue appearance and the stereo fM rcsponse is
powerfully extended to -3dB/l8kHz,just priorto a +4.5d8
peak at 1gkHz which reflects its meagre pilot supprcssion. still,
unless you are recording the tune.'s output on leqacy analogue
carsette tape or own speak€rswith an unfortunate metaldome
resonance around lgkHz,this willnot be a problem. ReadeE
mayview comprehensive QC Suite test reports forthe Quad
Elite CDS playerandTuner by navigating to ur,lrry.hifinews.co.uk
and clicking on the red 'download' buttoo. PM
ABovE: Mono po/ver amp houses large toroidaltranstormertor pows supply, and
large mother board; binding posts (lolver I /h corner) accept bare wire or bananas
1970 were nothing like the jaded,
pickled, urban slatterns that people
our streets today. To hear such an
angelic voice dealing with the song
'Someone To Watch Over lvle' is
to experience a romance that has
dynamic range at l kHz (black) and 20kHz (blue)
connections oveashadowed the
actual LPs, most of which had one or
more of the Fab Four contributing,
e9 Paul with Badfinger and Ceorge
with lackie Lomax. Sound quality?
Who knew?
My own Beatlelust is not speaking
here: these CDs sound truly amazing.
Silky-smooth, wide-as-a-David-Leanshot stereo, sibilance-free treble,
liquid bass. oK, so l'm partial to the
material, having all-but-forgotten
that Hopkin was a subtle interpreter
of standards, while her own 'Those
Were The Days' is a sonic feast.
And my worship of Badfinger?
With three of the definitive line-up
now dead-and"buried, we have just
their musical legacy to remind us of
the poor treatment these geniuses
received. Their music is nothing less
than transcendent. And you will be
embarrassed by the familiarity.
That said, the Quad Elite system
honoured these glorious reissues,
mastered with as much love as The
Beatles boxes before them. Even
over a car radio, Hopkin's voice
has a crystalline quality to rival any
current C&W warbler, let alone the
legend that is Ronstadt. lt possessed
an innocence that often conflicted
with the lyrics. She was around 20,
and most 2o-year-old females in
50 | wlvw.hifinews.co.uk I
no place in a world of muffin-tops,
Botox and WACS.
lDc r.asins ) Disit lsisnar lcver
distortion vs. digital level over a 120d8
Such delicate signals deserve,
rather than demand, subtlety
and grace. The Quads, especially
through the Sonus fabers, preserved
nuance, sailed to the vocal heights,
shimmered with the often-baroque
instrumentation. One CD later, it
was lackie Lomax, the astonishing
acidic heaviness of'The Eagle Laughs
AtYou' and'Sour MilkSea' 180
degrees removed from Hopkin. From
folk-based balladry to balls-out hard
rock with but one opening ofthe
tray. The Quads paid no mind to any
changes. The Elite system merely
shifted gears.
Bass dropped an octave. Treble
soared, fuelled by Claptonian
guitarwork with edge and bite.
Above the instruments hovered
Lomax's distinctive, almost nasal
vocals. Everything about the
album contrasted with Hopkin's
CDs, bar the glorious dimensions, e'
tuner response (black trace) & distortion
versus frequency (blue) at 60dBFV (1mV RF at 75%
modulaUon). Note lgkHz pilot peak in response
Like the partne ng source components, these amplifiers are
very modern, capable designs. The l\rono version ofthe Elite
power amp exceeds its l5OW mting bydelivering 170w8ohm
and 207W8ohm underdynamic conditions. The power
supplyand output protection is optimised forspeaker loads
no lowerthan 3-4ohm as the dynamic output begins to sag at
31sql65W into 2/l ohm respectjvely lsee Craph l. below].
butthe l\rooo willstilldrive the vast majority ofspeakers with
aplomb. Distortion k im pressively constant regardless of power
output (-0.002% from 1W-'l50w8ohm through the midlanqe)
but increases th rough upper mid and treble (0.002-0.088%
from l kHz 4okHz).
The Mono's -3.7d8/100kHz bandwidth is actually more
extended than the -lo.4dB/l ookHz available to the Preamp
but both are flat to within -0.4dg/20kHz and both offer
verywide S/N ratios (95d8 re.odBV and 86dB rc.0dBW
respectively). As expected, the Preamp has the edge in ultralow dktortion, adding a mere 0.0002%through the midrange
and just 0.004% allthe way up at 40kHz. And this miniscule
level is almost entirely 2nd harmonic in nature so is as benign
as possible. The 97ohm output imp€dance is low enough for
standard interconnect runs into the Mono butthe relatively low
maxjmum output of 2.7V may rest ct its headroom with other,
less sensitive power amplifiers.
Readers are invited toview a comprehensive QC Suitetest
report for Quad's Elite prcamp and monoblock power amplifier
by navigating to wulw.h,ftnemco.uk and clicking on the red
'download' button- PM
ABOVE: The use ot the Quad l-ink ribbon<able connections eliminates the need to
employ conventional interconnects and improves operational cortrol ofthe system
equally wide and deep. But utterly
changed were the textures, the
balance, the attack. Regardless of
loudspeaker, the qualities were kept
in proportion, the rasp of Lomax or
the trill of Hopkin maintaining their
qualities throuqh two-way bookshell
models, massive f loorstanders, small
dual-concentrics. The power amps
never wavered.
52 I www.hifinews.co.uk
package costs less than a third of
the price of an Audio Research Rel5
preamp. Neither will I say'trash your
99 components,'lor they remain
superb. Rather, lwill posit one
remark: consider the Elite system
with utmost seriousness if you want
terrific sound without having to
sutfer any inconvenience,.. and with
the option to use your legacy gear.
As for my Apple obsession, don't
take my word for it, but don't fork
By the time I reached lames Taylor's
lone Apple release, I was convinced
of two things: the first is that the
Apple catalogue needs reassessment
on its own terms. Badfinger's'No
Matter What', 'Day After Day' and
'Come And Get lt'rank with the
finest power-pop ever released,
above the Raspberries, Ivlerry-CoRound and even Crabbv Appleton.
The second is that the Elite system
is so blindingly satisfying that it's
almost churlish to concern one's
self with the loss of its predecessor's
more valvelike demeanour.
There, I've done it, I've placed
a fly in the soup, a stone in the
shoe, a hair in the bath: reviewers
are like that. No way am I going to
say that thjs system obviates the
need for Ayre/Krell/daRTzeellevel
electronics, let alone valves, nor
wjll I say that the Wilsons were
fully exploited. But that is to take
the Elite out of context. The whole
Po&r odDlr
output versus distortion into
8ohm (black trace),40hm (red), 20hm (blue) and
ABOVE: Dynamic power
lohm (green) speaker loads
out 8150 to lind out: for under 810,
you can buy Come and Get lt: The
Best of Apple Records [Apple-EMl
50999646397271- I'll be surprised if
it doesn't lead you to buying at least
a couple of the whole albums. O
As my old 99 system features the
2xl00W 909 stereo power amp
and these review Elites included
150W monoblocks, the newer
system olfered more grunt. A 909
replacement, though, is in the
offing, That aside, the Elites are
more refined and quieter than,
if not quite as warm as, the 99s
they replace. When it comes to
balancing audiophile needs with
elegance and convenience, Quad
has done it again.
ouality: 77%
".- -
ABoVE: Distortion versus lrequencyfrom 5Hz to
4okHz, comparing preamp (black - 1V/47kohm) and
mono power amp (blue
Pow€r output (<l% THD, 8/4ohm)
0.042-0.lrohm (970hm, pre)
Freq, resp. (20H2-r00kHz, pre/powed
+0.0to l0.4dBj+0.0to
94.7d8 (odBV) / 85.sdB (0dBW)