My first electrostat

March 4, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

Until 1976 the only speakers I had ever spent any time with were either dynamic or planar, and 90% of that listening was through dynamic speakers.

The sound of dynamic speakers set the standard for reproduced music. The only hint I had of something different came in the form of a Heil Air Motion Transformer. This black box tweeter replaced a 1″ silk dome tweeter Stan and I were very much used to hearing. Here’s a picture of one.

So efficient was this tweeter that we had to slap a 1kΩ resistor in series with it just to bring it into line. The speed and openness of this folded ribbon was a revelation.

But then we received on loan a pair of Quad electrostatic loudspeakers.

Compared to our tall boxes of dynamic drivers, these quaint little panels looked anemic. They had no woofers nor tweeter. They plugged into the 120 wall sockets and they came with a warning from their owner: “don’t play them too loudly or they will catch fire”.

Stan plunked these odd-looking panels in front of our reference speaker enclosures and hooked them up. Careful not to turn the preamp up too loudly, I dropped the needle on track 2 of Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark. Help Me began to play and Stan and I looked at each other with mouths agape.

This often played track sounded like Joni and the band was in the room. It was as if all along we had been listening through a window which now was opened for the first time. Never had I heard such clarity and transparency in the music.

This electrostatic marvel hadn’t any bass nor dynamics and we had to fight each other for a chance at the sweet spot, but man oh man it was unlike anything we had ever heard.

Louder and louder we played it until 30 minutes into the session there was a sick crackling sound, a flash of blue, and the acrid smell of something burning.

This was the first time I understood that our standards for accuracy were entirely based on subjective evaluation through a grossly imperfect means of reproduction.

My worldview had been forever changed.

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