Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Thin Music: Part I: High Fidelity

Infinity's Legendary Quantum-3 Loudspeakers
Written 23 May, 2011

Thin Music

Part I

High Fidelity

I remember the first time I heard high fidelity music.

I was at 100 Oaks Mall in Nashville, Tennessee. I and my friends Clyde and John were hanging out, which for us meant having a Whopper at Burger King and going to a mall and walking around and perhaps seeing a movie.

Clyde had a newfound interest in recorded sound, and he steered us into a stereo store. Just at the door there were a pair of small Bose 301 bookshelf loudspeakers. From them was pouring the overture from the Who's rock opera Tommy, and the sound was textured and rich with a wide soundstage. Instruments were coming from my left and from my right and from in front of me, each from its own point in space and with each instrument sounding as if it were being played life right in front of me. It was mesmerizing; I was transfixed.

Before that my experience with recorded music had consisted of top 40 tunes played on AM stations through the small transistor radio radio my parents had given me at Christmas, and 45s and LPs spun on my mother's stereo, which was a wooden console with the cheapest and tinniest possible mechanism-- not that she cared. For my mother having a stereo was about having a stereo and not about the music at all. When her console broke it sat there for ten or more years, mute, and she was happy with it.

So hearing Tommy in all its richness immobilized me. John and Clyde almost literally had to drag me away.

I was a poor graduate student, but soon I had a turntable, and eventually a receiver, a cassette deck, and a parade of speakers. I had some income by then, and the receivers grew ever more powerful and the speakers ever bigger. Every time I was content, Clyde would upgrade his system and I would grow discontented and upgrade my own.

Eventually I wound up with perhaps the best-engineered electronic products I have ever owned-- a pair of Infinity Quantum 3 loudspeakers, bought as seconds for $730, a fortune for me even at $300 below the normal price.

The Q-3s were large speakers, about three feet high, with a Watkins-Infinity dual-voice-core bass driver, a mid-bass, a 5" midrange, and two electrostatic tweeters. My Q-3s, although some others apparently didn't, had additional tweeters in the back, facing the wall. They were the antithesis of the big and worthless Definator X-1 speakers in the 1986 film Ruthless People: they accurately reproduced sound. They were wonderful.

Before I shelled out the money I looked at and listened intently to just about every speakers on the market, from the small Bose 901s to huge Klipschhorns: Advents, ARs, JBL-L100s, Japanese Pioneers and Marantz' and Yamahas, and some over-the-top expensive systems like Dahlquists and Altec-Lansing's preposterous Voice of the Theaters, and, of course, every speaker in the Infinity lineup.

The speakers I liked best were the Dahlquist DQ-10 (which sounded a bit better than anything else, IMO, but was way out of my price range) and ADS L810s. I actually owned a pair of 810s for a time, and loved them, but sold them to help finance the purchase of the Q-3s. A few years ago I picked up a pair for a few hundred dollars on eBay, and they now sit in my living room, powered by a big Onkyo A/V receiver.

The Q-3s didn't have (to my mind, at least) imaging as the 810s, but they just sounded so GOOD! The electrostatic tweeters made for clear highs and the big Watkins-Infinity woofers made the floor shake.

But what I liked about the Q-3s the most was their accuracy. While John and Clyde preferred the boomy (to my ears) West Coast sound and purchased JBLs, I wanted to hear bass drums sounding like bass drums and cymbals sounding like cymbals. The Infinities did that.

I still own those Q-3s. They're in my bedroom, hooked up to a NAD pre-amp and a BK power amp, and I listen to them sometimes, and even with CDs, they sound marvelous. I heard nuance and detail most people never hear because their music systems are incapable of producing them: fingers slipping on fretboards, the inhalations of musicians, the rustle of clothing in the recording booth. They provide a high-quality listening experience I can't get from my downstairs setup, or from the really good sound system in my car, and certainly not from iTunes or my iTouch.



Still Listening After All These Years

About ten years ago my Infinities needed some attention. I bought a kit and refurbished the woofer surrounds, but, courtesy of a friend who cranked my system up to eleven and then went out to eat, I had a blown midrange and there were no replacements to be found.

I found myself speaker shopping again. I started with the highest-end systems-- $10,000 or more. I even listened to my Q-3s (I took them to an audiophile store to get the midrange repaired) side-by-side with speakers costing half my annual salary, and you know what?

None sounded as good to me as my Q-3s.

This is What a $700,00 Pair of Loudspeakers Looks Like!

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