Raise the Bar – High hopes for the compact and curvy Z-1

By Hi-Fi Choice | May 2017

It isn’t often we see a tweeter take up more space on a speaker’s baffle than its mid/bass driver. In fact, I can’t think of another example. So let’s get this out of the way: grilles off, the Quad Z-1 does look oddly top heavy until you get used to it, that XXL ribbon unit and bijou Kevlar-coned woofer giving the impression that this curvy standmount’s sonic firepower might have a distinct upward tilt.

 

Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean brighter, of course, and to set your mind at rest before we go any further you’d actually be hard pressed to find a standmount with a more natural tonal balance than the Z-1.

 

Design supremo Peter Comeau hints at something more special still for the Z Series, something closer to the brand’s own electrostatically delivered gold standard, the iconic ELS. And with the two-way Z-1 – the smaller of the two standmounts in the four-strong range – the outsized prominence of the ribbon lends a certain weight to the claim. While sharing the same composite sandwich construction as the robust yet gloriously fast and transparent ribbon unit found in 2015’s S models, the 90 x 12mm ribbon developed for the Z series is twice as tall, granting it even greater power handling, bandwidth and sensitivity.

THE Z-1 DISPLAYS IMPRESSIVE ABILITY TO SOUND AIRY, ORGANIC AND UNPROCESSED

The increased bandwidth is especially useful in a two-way design, taking some of the workload away from the 150mm Kevlar-weave mid/bass driver and permitting smoother integration between the two units, a task marshalled by the re-engineered crossover network. The S series models use similar Kevlar-coned bass and mid/bass drivers, but they don’t have the Z’s double-rill cone surrounds which have been designed to control breakup modes with claimed benefits in accuracy and transparency.

Quad’s acoustic filter bass reflex loading’ incorporates a dual-chamber filter system inside the enclosure, with the reflex port (actually, a slot) exiting via a specially shaped expansion chamber in the plinth which, in turn, is filled with resistive foam. The idea is to marry the sensitivity and extension expected from a bass transient attack of a closed box (infinite baffle) design, avoiding the turbulence and “chuffing” often associated with conventionally ported loudspeakers such as this.

The Z-1 is the least costly way into Quad’s flagship dynamic speaker range. There’s a larger standmount, the £1,500 Z-2, and two floorstanders – the £3,200 Z-4 tower and the slightly smaller £2,500 Z-3. These speakers are luxuriously built with rather lovely new boat-backed enclosures further distinguished by their curved, sloping tops and a choice of high-gloss finishes.

 

ITS SONIC TALENT EXCEEDS ITS PRICE BY THE SAME WIDE MARGIN AS ITS BUILD

Constructed from layers of wood fiber composites with varying densities and strengthened with multiple circumferential braces, the enclosure seek to reduce panel resonance to below audibility. Internal long hair fiber damping helps absorb unwanted reflections and this, in conjunction with the scattering effect of the curved cabinet sides, is claimed to minimize coloration. On the exterior, multiple layers of piano lacquer are applied over black, white or rosewood veneers, each layer being hand polished to a face-reflecting gloss before the next is applied. The depth and intensity of color is simply superb. You really will want to wear the supplied handling gloves to avoid greasy fingerprints.

Sound Quality

Standing in for my usual ATC pre-power amplification and Chord Hugo DAC is another Chord Hugo – the larger and more expensive, mains-powered Hugo TT and its matching TToby power amp. It’s a potent, hugely synergistic, dynamic duo that lovers of rosy and romantic amplification will hate. But I have a hunch the Z-1 will make the most of the resolution and grip team Chord, fed by a Cyrus CD Xt Signature CD transport (HFC 386), serves up.

Much like the floostanding Z-3, the Z-1 swiftly displays a lovely ability to sound airy organic and unprocessed so that your focus is immediately drawn to the music rather than what the speaker makes of it. If the Quad is guilty of anything, it’s of adding a gossamer layer of warmth through the midband so the presentation is even more approachable, rendering aggressive or harsh recordings more listenable. But it does nothing to diminish the honest efforts of the Cyrus and Chord to keep things clear, clean, resolute and on time.

I’d be wary of driving the Z-1 with an amp and source inclined towards the soft glow side of the spectrum – the result might just sound a tad too cosy and comfortable. Anything with a fair dose of the clarity, drive rhythmic integrity, textural color and sheer musical verve generatedby the front end I’m using here should allow the Z-1 to show what it’s really capable of.

Confounding expectations raised by the’polite’ personality previously associated with Quad’s non-ESL offerings, it doesn’t hold back. Steely Dan’s Aja sounds effortlessly dynamic and tactile, Fagan and Becker’s fanatically polished and honed production licks being as faithfully rendered as the meticulously lop-sided pacing. Bass is both fulsome and agile, which helps to make proceedings feel fleshed out with plenty of drive and truly locked down tempo during the drum solo sections. This track can sound a little relentless and up tight on some systems. What’s needed is
a strong but less tightly coiled spring and that easing of tension is what the Z-1 provides, letting the music breathe and flow in a rhythmically lucid and surefooted fashion.

The Z-1’s lovely open, fluid midband and treble provides huge insight, but doesn’t punish less than perfect recordings. So when Anita Baker sings Sometimes I Wonder Why, it’s the soul that powers through and although it’s impossible not to notice, you don’t get too hung up about the seldom less than astringent edge to the vocal.

Once more there’s the foundational reassurance of that smooth, deep and nicely tuneful bass underpinning the intensity and emotional expressiveness of the performance with no hint of boominess or flab, but a great deal of grip and control. Special, too, is the ability to vanish within the bounds of an expansive soundstage and, with a suitable ‘live’ recording, easily convey the acoustic character and scale of a venue and locate the performers and audience inside with an uncanny sense of place and solidity. Nor do you have to sit bang in the middle of the speakers to get good stereo. In fact you quickly forget about them when the music starts, which has to be a good sign.

As mentioned earlier, tonal balance is nudged delicately onto the warm side of the neutral median but top-to-bottom integration is flawless, and both tonality and structure keep it together heroically if you lean even quite heavily on the Chord TToby’s penchant for playing loud, accurately conveying the little power amp’s outrageous confidence and composure for a 50 watter. As it was at the beginning of the listening session, natural and unforced is the order of the day for the Quad Z-1 – the decibel fix is up to you.

Conclusion

Most standmount speakers in the Quad Z-1’s price range have an agenda that seek to capitalize on the inherent strengths conferred by a compact, rigid enclosure and simple two-way driver configuration. This usually manifests as fine midband clarity and imaging rhythmic surety, crisp timing and fast, tuneful bass that lacks weight and extension. The Z-1 ticks all the basics in some style but, crucially goes further by adding true high-end midband and treble quality to the mix allied to a sumptuously deep bass performance guaranteed to quash floorstander envy. As such, its sonic talent exceeds its price point by the same wide margin as its build and finish.

Hotly recommended.

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