In praise of the ESL-57

About a week ago, I was doing a Kijiji search for some kind of EL84 amp that would be suitable for a rebuild. Buried in an ad for an amp was pair of ESL-57's also for sale. Based on serial numbers and production dates, they were from the early 70's.

Out of curiosity, I asked if the Quads were still available. They were and he had re-listed them in a separate ad at a reduced price. They were missing legs/feet and according to the seller were great otherwise. Grills looked to be in decent shape and after a bit of back and forth, I decided to get them.

Was pleasantly surprised when we arrived to get them. They looked quite good. No problems that couldn't be addressed without a little TLC and elbow grease.

Took a minute after I brought them home to plug them in, and when I eventually did, one was dead. Bad power cord...

Let them sit and charge for a bit and then started running them. After a little repositioning, they were set up as they should.

All I can say is wow. This was my first experience with these lovely speakers. Because of Covid, couldn't audition them before picking up and I have not had the opportunity to listen to a pair before. 

I now understand why they have the following and reputation that they do.

Everything I have read about these speakers is true. The first track I ran through them when they were set up was Jazz at the Pawn Shop. At some point during the intro, there was someone in the audience that "yelped" something or another. I was startled as I thought there was someone standing behind me. Crazy!

I'm surprised and how good the bass is on these. Based on what I had read, was not expecting them to have the depth that they do. (This is from someone who normally listens to Cornwalls...)

The "head in a vice" thing is very true for full benefit, but as I am currently listening to the radio in the background, they are filling the room well and are not fatiguing in any way, which is odd when you consider how fast/detailed/articulate they are.

So very pleased with them!!! As soon as time allows, some temporary legs will be made so I can both get them off the milk crates as well as figure out a design for what will be the final legs.

Many speaker designers use the 57 as a reference. It is listed as number one of the most significant speakers of all time. Amazing for an over sixty year old speaker!
The old ESL57s were a very good compromise. They play bass better than most people think; its important to get the right kind of amp on them to do that. They have a fairly high impedance in the bass and many amps won't make power into that impedance. But if you have an amplifier that does they can be quite impressive- and of course have the transparency and speed in the mids and highs that really let you know what's going on.
@atmasphere ,

Yes, I was one of those not overly impressed with the results in my setup.

Loudspeaker impedance and amplifier matching seems to be important with the ESL57s.

Apparently the 35wpc Naim 32.5/110 that I was using was not ideal. Far from it.

It's not even strictly a power thing as some tube amps are said to work extremely well with them.

My mistake. 
Thanks for the responses!

I'm using a Marantz 2230 while my EL34 amp is in for service. Not running them anywhere near 90db as I don't want a problem...

 Can not wait to get it back and see how it sounds with my "Ol' Faithful"

(Had a problem that was beyond my pay scale to deal with...)


How do OTL amps fair with the wide impedance curve imposed on the amps by the speakers?

Apparently the 35wpc Naim 32.5/110 that I was using was not ideal.
How do OTL amps fair with the wide impedance curve imposed on the amps by the speakers?
The issue with most ESLs is that they are very unlike box speakers, so the usual 'voltage driven' rules (where an amp is capable of doubling power as the load impedance is halved) don't apply. So most solid state amps simply won't sound right on them.

You need an amp that is more like constant power rather than constant voltage. If this is confusing take a look at this article:
If the amp is a Power Paradigm device then it will be able to play bass on the ESL without sounding too bright. This explains the comment in the first quote, and to answer the question of the second quote, the answer is 'usually pretty well'. Our customers use either our M-60s or S-30 on the ESL57s.

I bought my pair in 1973-4 (the receipt is still around somewhere) and ran them until around 1990 when I switched to the 63, which had been modified by Crosby Audio Works. That speaker played louder, but lacked the coherence of the 57 in my estimation. My 57's were boxed from 1990 until a couple years ago, when I had them refurbished. I own a much bigger, far more costly system, but the Quad based system, using a pair of old Quad II amps that have been sympathetically restored (with good glass) is still a revelation. Lots of good info on the web about the old Quad, along with various modifications, stands, etc. Mine are back on their little factory legs, well out from the back wall, toed in, and are very satisfying in what I'd consider a modest sized room. Despite their significant limitations, they are still a marvel. Enjoy them. 

Well, one day when funds are plentiful, I hope to own one of your amps :)

I like "forever" things. Bought my Cary SLI-50 new back in 96' and its never leaving me. And thanks for the link, I'll be checking it out!


According to my serial numbers, they were made in 73'. They really have a unique and magical quality to them.When I have the courage to dig into them, I'll be looking at the boards/components and see how well they have been treated in their previous life.I got them for what I think was a really good price, but sending them out for a complete rebuild isn't in my immediate future.
Biggest issue as far as I know is arcing- when I had mine refurbished, a protection circuit was installed. There are people who DIY repair these things but that's way beyond my competence. Lot's to read about them if you dig, though. 
Hours of entertainment for sure :)

I feel like, from what I've seen as far as doing up the protection and rebuilding the other boards, they should, repeat, should be within my grasp.

The panels? No way!!! Not going anywhere near those suckers!!!
Perkri, when I owned ’57’s by chance I found the bass to be better WITHOUT the feet, presumably because when sitting on the floor the underneath dipole cancellation path was eliminated. Of course they were then sitting kinda low. So my (untried) suggestion would be, instead of "feet", make stands with an "apron" to block off the underneath dipole cancellation path.

They sounded magnificent with Ralph’s amps. I bought four and was going to do stacked pairs, then came to my senses and realized that my money and limited real estate and time should be devoted to products that I’m a dealer for, so I sold them.


Thanks for that suggestion! There is a stand/frame that is available for the ESL-57's that raises the speaker and blocks the space beneath the speaker. It weighs in excess of 110 lbs and is quite rigid. It is supposed to do all that you describe. But, shipping alone would be an issue, so I have not looked into the cost.

I'm going to make some temporary lets out of ply to figure out some kind of approach that works - and I can certainly attempt a "curtain" underneath.

Love sand filled boxes...
One of the more memorable systems I ever heard was stacked 57's driven by Futterman OTL amps, playing the Roches first album
I had a poor mans HQD w stacked pair, Decca ribbons and a pair of Watkins / infinity 10” in a transmission line, fun :-))) the bass on the panels is decent as others have said. I have a 303 laying around that I can list ...And a pair of 63 parts bin early serial numbers...
I ran mine ( Panels ) w 2x CJ MV45A..... Sweet sounds.... many moons ago
I’ll second the comment about using a Bedini 25/25 with those speakers. I have no idea why they work so well together, but they do. 
My first pair of 57's (1981 - 2000) were used with the Bedini 25/25 and a Futtermsn OTL. Both amps sounded superb with the Quads! 
The Bedini eventually needed repair,  the Quads and Futterman were sold. Now twenty years later I am starting over! Bought two pairs of 57's and a pair of Futterman H3aa's. Plan to stack them! 
I had a pair back in the 80s. Sold them and moved to cones. Never forgot that transparent sound and bought a very clean pair a number of years ago. Love them. I took the grilles off. I'm using a pair of modified EICO HF35s at 16ohms. I have them on 20" stands mounted at 90° upright and toed in. See my Virtual System for pics. 
just an amazing speaker for doing what it does superbly

unfortunately so limited in dynamics, so for me it was ultimately unsatisfying given my desire to feel as well as hear the music at moderate to high levels at times
Thank you all for the info!

Ive been thinking about building a First Watt F6, has anyone had any experience with that amp and the ESLs?

Was not familiar with the Bedini 25/25 and am asking about the F6 because of the 25/25. Wondering how the F6 would hold up with the crazy impedance demands of the ESL 57s.

I don't see my remaining Listening Life without 57's used.
They have been with me Since the Late 90's and are now used as a Stacked Array.

I have other Speakers as well and am also Building OB's.

The 57's are quite special in what they can produce.
As are early serial No 63's, both are available at similar asking prices, but the Early Serial No 63 is a difficult to find speaker.

I have heard 57's with Various Amplifiers in Singles and Stacked.

If EE Work is not a worry to you, I have heard Neurochrome Amp's with a Stacked set up, and they delivered in an extremely impressive way.  
Yup.  I have run electrostatics in my main system for nearly 50 years.
For 10 years Martin Logan CLX Anniversary.
Never used 57s though.
Two biggest pluses: transparent mid no cone can replicate; no crossover unless you listen to grunge or metal and have to have the thumping bass.

Electrostatics are much under-rated, I would guess few who post here use them.
Thank you for the Neurochrome suggestion. 
I came across the site before while doing some research for a friend. Very tidy PC boards! 
A soldering iron doesn’t fill me with fear, though I have had some experiences that would suggest I should perhaps approach them with caution...
I put mine directly (minus the little wooden feet) onto triangular pieces of kitchen worktop in the corners of my garage (spend a lot of time tinkering with push bikes, usually standing) loaded with weights on them and bolted to three metal tubular stands each about 2ft off the floor in with a big old (REL I think) active sub under one running off a Cambridge Audio CXA80- sounds fab- so easy to listen to- mostly radio 4 extra on DAB+ and streamed Jazz FM and CDs from CXC (mostly big band/ saxophone stuff). The really stunning thing are how good the human voices are. The sub just adds that little bit extra especially with thunderstorm/ airplane etc stuff.

Have used Quad 22/ IIs (parent's had them from new) but fed up of the hassle as well as Arcam/ Onyx/ Technics/ Mission.

They were rescued from a fire and the cheeks are charred and the gold panels are smoke blackened but they've been checked and are safe and sound a tiny bit better than another pair of beautiful looking refurbed ones on the three little feet that I was going to stack on top but not quite enough room. I think the feet are too short even for sitting and take some of the bass away
I would not under-estimate how good the Quad II amps are with the 57, though they are very underpowered for most applications, my Quads sing with them. When I originally had the 57s set up in the '70s, I used an ARC Dual 75a (which was new at the time) but I think the panels sound even better with the little Quad amps, which are readily findable and easily repairable. The Bedini 25/25 is supposed to be great, but how easy is it to find/condition/repair? 
I did splurge on the tubes, and found NIB GEC KT 66 matched quad for the amps, use a NOS Mullard rectifier and a GEC (rather than Walker's preferred Mullard) EF 86. (Those were also true NOS, originally designed with bare wires to be soldered into a circuit, Tubemonger converted them to use tube pins and fit into a conventional socket). Keith Snook's page is pretty good on the amp.
The Quad II's are such nice looking units also! I have Quad in my auto search in Audiomart, and see them pop up every now and again.

They look like they would be a cool rebuild project!

And I suspect, they would work nicely with my Cornwalls as well!
I have found similarly. I bought a 1970s pair in good shape three months ago. Not having heard Quad ESL's before, I thought they were very promising and sent them off --the panels and electronics only-- to the US from London for refurbishment. Upon return I was amazed by their speed, rich range of tone, bass impact, soundstage and natural "rightness". In the evening, listening to BBC FM radio, music sounds great at low volume. Voice, jazz and chamber music on LP or radio sounds fab. I have used single driver full range folded horn loudspeakers for ten years and enjoy them, of course, for their speed and dynamic force, sound staging, live and open quality. Curious to see if I could lift 57's in that direction, I added Townshend super tweeters --initially developed for use with 57's-- which was instructive, changing presentation subtly but crucially, adding useful treble to mid to bass definition and gave front to back spatial depth not there before. The horns are very different, with their own magic, and the 57's offer magic of a different nature; P. Walker was a gifted designer. Btw, the 57's came back with better sensitivity, around 88db. I was amazed to find my 4w + 4w SET (Yamamoto A -06-3) drives them beautifully, giving quite loud music in a room 5.5 x 4.5 x 3 tall with the volume pot up halfway. The respected rebuilt Quad 303 sounds dull as ditchwater by comparison with the SET.  Stable power delivery from heavy duty hand wound transformers helps. Enjoy
I lived happily with 57s for ten years.
One day I decided to go for more bass and treble and more impact and sold them. I always used them without the screens and they were also quite ugly. I did blow up several amps and arced them but had them rebuilt by QS & D. I still miss them but double my system for home theater and really need the impact of cones.
But I still miss them!
If I'm not mistaken the Music Reference RM-10 is a good combo that won't harm them
The RM-10, opens up another door as far as amplification goes.

(There are an endless number of doors in the house of Audio...)

The person I bought them from was running them off a rebuilt vintage Electrohome EL-84 based amp. He felt they worked well with that amp.

Along with other amps I have been wanting to build is the Audio Note Kits EL-84 Integrated

Of those who have owned/listened to the ESL-57s, has anyone had any direct experience with EL-84 based amps?

I rebuilt a Leak Stereo 20 years ago. My dealer at the time said it was not recommended to use it to run Qaud ESLs. Obviously, this doesn't speak to all 84s but you might look it up.
For sure some research is required re: EL-84's

I wonder how much of a difference the transformers make with the tubes compatibility?

I started off with the ESL 63s for several years (and Gradient subs).But even then, once I heard the 57s I preferred the tone of the 57s and still do.
I'm a speaker whore and love to keep around several different speakers.It kills me that the 57s just won't work for me as an alternative speaker to have on hand - their design won't work in my home theater room (which does double duty for 2 channel music listening), and I don't have a place to store them either.   Still bums me out.
        I am very familiar with Quads ESL Speaker System.
My First Ever Encounter was at a HiFi Event in the EAR Room.
T D Paravicini had them directly coupled to Valve Power Amp's.
That's where it Started and I have a been loyal to the 57 since.

I have heard many 63's in various conditions and also in rebuilt guises,  more recently I have become very accustomed with the 2812 Model.

The 57's and 2812 have got something going on that is a attractor to myself, and I would also say that when the 57 has become a Model that is no longer viable to a standard type of owner,
one who is  'not able to carry out a repair' than I think a used 2812 would be a good alternative option, if the Quad Brand is off importance.

Not Too Long Ago, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to audition
Two Pairs of 67's, either produced from a different production Period.
Before the session the Two Speakers were in use for a few hours,
to keep them in a close condition of warm up. 

The Early Production Model was found at a a price that was a steal,
and these were put to the test first,
It was very impressive and noticeably in a close relation to the SQ of the 57.
The Later Production Model had a Service History Paperwork and was looking pristine, there purchase cost the going commonly seen asking price.
They were rejected almost immediately, and the early production models were put back in.

If a Quad ESL 63 would suit your needs as a Alternative Speaker, I would strongly recommend searching out a 63 with a early production model serial number, and having a listen, even better if it is for sale,
 it might end up in your possession.