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Huntingdon-based Quad have been making the award-winning "current-dumping" amplifier for many decades now. You'd be lucky to find their 99 or 909 power amplifiers for under £750 these days, but for about a quarter of that you can get a 405-2 - their original current-dumping amplifier, with current overload protection added.
The 405-2 is a power amplifier only, which means that it has no controls on it - not even a power button. You'll need a preamplifier (occasionally known as a control unit) to allow you to alter the volume and choose your source. I'd advise choosing the Quad 34 - I'll be writing a review on that shortly.
Being an eighties design, the 405-2 isn't exactly stylish, though the designers of the PlayStation 2 may have taken a design tip from it - the front of the unit consists mainly of a black heatsink grille, which gives you an idea of the power this beast has hidden away. The amplifier is deceptively heavy - it's smaller than most hi-fi at about twelve inches wide, yet many people would struggle to pick it up. The sides of the unit are a strange powder-metallic brown, another reminder of the era of this unit. Build quality is certainly something you can't fault the Quad on - I had a heart-stopping moment when, while installing a new computer, the shelf with my hi-fi on fell down. It's testimony to the Quad that it suffered no internal or external damage after falling 5ft on to my floor.
Round the back, you get the standard connectors for a power amplifier - mains input, a pair of speaker outputs which take banana plugs, and an input. The input, bizarrely, is 4-pin DIN - not what people will be used to, but that's what Quad's preamps output, so that's what the 405-2 takes. You can, of course, buy an adaptor if you're using a different brand of preamp. Of course, there's nothing you need to do to the Quad other than turn it on. The 405-2 is a 100W per channel amplifier at eight ohms. This is more than many speakers can handle, so you should be wary with your preamp's volume control or get speakers with a high power rating.
Now, about this "current-dumping amplifier" concept. Essentially, the current-dumping amplifier uses a high-power amplifier to amplify the input signal, and then uses a low-power, high-quality amplifier to provide minor corrections to the output signal, ensuring it is identical to the input signal (but louder). This is a concept that won a Design Council award, the Queen's Award for Technological Achievement, and the recognition of journalists and audiophiles everywhere. You've heard the jargon - now let me put it in terms that make sense to your average human.
This amplifier is an absolute revelation to any ears, no matter what kind of music you like listening to. No matter what hi-fi you've come from, plug the Quad in and you'll suddenly find your CD collection rejuvenated. Quad promise "the closest approach to the original sound", and the 405-2 fulfils that in every sense. I've tried to make it falter, but you simply can't. Throw on Rob Dougan's "Furious Angels" album - a combination of classical strings with strong, melodic bass and Chris Rea-esque vocals, and the 405-2 conveys every minute detail - every harmony on the strings rings out; Rob Dougan's voice is reproduced in such a way that you can hear every slight crack, every little hoarseness in his voice on "Left Me For Dead"; every note of the bass pounds perfectly from your speakers.
Bass reproduction is something I'm very picky about, and the Quad picks up full marks here. Many amplifiers have weak bass; on some, the bass is too strong. The 405-2 gets it just right - it's not overstated, but turn your preamp up loud and it moves you. Played at normal listening volumes, this amplifier is faultless. Turn it up a few notches and suddenly you've changed up a gear. The bass feels a little more urgent, but the midrange and treble are once again pressed out without the slightest loss of detail.
Change the music to a heavier track like Static-X's "The Only", and somehow the story is no different. Many amplifiers turn to mush when faced with the combination of bass, distortion guitar and heavy percussion, not to mention Wayne Static's vocals. The 405-2 simply laps it up. Every cymbal clash is emitted without a hint of sibilance; every drumbeat and every note of the bass guitar makes it through the lead guitar, which seems to know no setting other than "full distortion", in such a way that it brings new-found melody to Static-X's best-played-loud-by-an-angry-teenager metal sound. Even a distortion guitar will be heard in a new light - I've been told off before for singing the praises of hi-fi by saying it can reproduce distortion accurately, but this is something that simply needs to be heard to understand what I mean.
The Quad doesn't produce a sound that's overly warm. It's not astringent either. It'd sound negative to call an amplifier of such quality "neutral". Put it this way - any CD you play through the 405-2 will sound how it was meant to sound. You just won't be able to put your finger on a single imperfection. Some people don't like this completely transparent reproduction - but your preamp has tone controls for a reason, right? Don't try to put this amp with a set of Mission speakers to get more bass out of it. Don't even think of trying to match it with a CD player that's a little on the warm side. Get a Quad 34 preamplifier to go with it, and you'll be able to adjust the sound to your heart's content. Make sure the speakers you get have a similar neutral quality - and your CD player too. I've got a pair of Eltax Monitor III speakers and a Marantz CD6000OSE LE plugged into my Quad 34 and 405-2. The speakers are admittedly the weak point of this system, but you'll be surprised what an improvement the Quad makes to any pair of speakers.
Quad's service department is possibly one of the clinchers to anyone wondering whether to buy one of these superb amplifiers. Not only are you buying into a piece of hi-fi history, but you're buying a piece of equipment made by a company who still believes in providing service for even its oldest equipment. Quad will happily service your amplifier for you, or even give you the parts to do so yourself. It's common in older 405-2s that the large capacitors inside will dry up, which degrades performance at the bottom end. It's a simple job to replace them - imagine trying to do that on modern kit! Quad not only make service manuals available, but are also very helpful by phone. I've never had service like that for a 15-year-old piece of kit before, and I doubt I'll find another company that can do the same.
OK, so the 405-2 doesn't look perfect. But, let's face it, once you've heard this amplifier, you'll forget how it looks. The Quad doesn't draw attention to itself on the soundstage, and I've got mine tucked away where it can't be seen. But there's just something, a sense of total sonic perfection, that reaches inside and touches you. It doesn't make you scream "Wow!" - it lets you listen to the music as it was intended, and, when the CD's finished playing, you'll have a smile left on your face that goes a long way past merely "wow".
An exceptional and very informative review of the superb sounding and exceptionally well-built and supported QUAD 405-2. The reviewer is young and apparently does not think fondly of the designs of the eighties:) And while he greatly praises the sound quality and superb construction of the QUAD 405-2, I will have to take exception to his comments that the QUAD 405-2: "isn't exactly stylish"; "isn't much to look at"; and fortunately "can be tucked away out of view" - ouch!!! (Is it really that ugly?) I would say that the QUAD 405-2 is a superb example of a clean, sleek, functional and straight-forward amplifier design of the "less is more" and "simpler is better" minimalist school of industrial design. The design of the QUAD 405-2 has gracefully endured over the years and still easily holds it own (and perhaps even surpasses) against any of the best current "modern" amplifier designs. And while we may share a difference of opinion about the QUAD design (although that is one of the main reasons why I purchased and still retain my QUAD kit), the outstanding sound quality, "tank-like" construction and legendary factory support is something we can all agree upon and be thankful for. [BTW the "QUAD" acronym stands for "Quality Unit Amplifier Domestic!] QUAD kit has won many design awards over the years and for other great examples of their stylish and timeless designs (including the exceptionally beautiful combination of the 34 Control Unit and FM3 Tuner enclosed in a QUAD-built walnut enclosure(wow!) with power by the 303 Amplifier) visit their Web site. Many thanks to the designers of QUAD. fobunn
smcccc 04.09.2005 23:35
Very well written review..................................Sharon.
aamgra 23.11.2004 20:16
A very detailed and interesting review. I am glad someone has taken the time to explain the unique nature of this amplifier to help me in my potential purchase.