Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Though Q Acoustics has long been on the fringes of my consciousness, their products had never found their way into my listening room. My introduction to this British manufacturer was in 2013, when I visited electronics manufacturer Arcam in Cambridge, England, and found that they were using Q’s Concept 20 bookshelf speakers in their listening room. I was taken with the little speakers’ dynamics and overall clarity, and said as much to some of my SoundStage! Network colleagues.

Fast forward to the 2017 High End show, in Munich. SoundStage! publisher Doug Schneider, editor-in-chief Jeff Fritz, and I were talking about identifying “the next big thing,” and the danger of overlooking brands that might be making great stuff. I dragged Doug and Jeff into the Q Acoustics room, where we eyed their Concept 500 floorstanding speakers ($5999.99 USD/pair). Doug and I marveled at their cabinets -- they felt incredibly inert -- and motioned for Jeff to take a look at this unusual two-way design. We lingered a few minutes before moving on to the next room, and as we left, Jeff murmured sarcastically, “Yeah, that’s definitely the next big thing, man.”

The Concept 500 went on to be recognized by the Expert Imaging and Sound Association (EISA), of which SoundStage! Hi-Fi is a member, as the Best Floorstanding Speaker of 2017-2018. To be fair to Jeff, the Concept 500 may not have been the “next big thing,” and I’ve certainly written and uttered many regrettable things over the years. I once wrote an editorial about Kanye West in which I noted that, as a human being, West “has about as much appeal as a fatal stabbing,” but also expressed some admiration for the man. We all deserve a mulligan or two.

Q Acoustics

The launch of Q Acoustics’ new, very affordable 3000i line of speaker models has given me the opportunity to finally experience the brand up close, and it definitely looks the business. The five new speakers are the 3010i ($249.99/pair) and 3020i ($299.99/pair) bookshelf models, the 3050i floorstander ($799.99/pair), the 3090Ci center-channel ($189.99), and the 3060s active subwoofer ($399.99). Those prices are seriously aggressive, as is the 30-day free trial in Canada and the US. Each model is available in four finishes: Graphite Grey, English Walnut, Carbon Black, and Arctic White. I asked Q’s North American rep about review samples, and soon after, a pair of 3050i floorstanders in English Walnut arrived on my doorstep.

Q Acoustics

Q Acoustics was born in 2006, founded by a consortium of “professional businessmen” and “experts in the audio industry,” per the company’s website. Except for their flagship model, the aforementioned Concept 500, Q’s speakers over the years have been sensibly priced, with squarely mid-fi looks. The 3000i series -- the second generation of the original 3000 series, launched in 2015 -- looks more upscale. All 3000i models feature rounded cabinet edges and polished driver surrounds that hide the driver-mounting hardware, and are made in China. Q Acoustics tells me that their quality-assurance team in Hong Kong ensures that every QA product is thoroughly inspected before being boxed and shipped.

The 3050i measures 40.2”H x 12.2”W x 12.2”D and weighs 39.2 pounds. Its rounded edges make the speaker stand out from much of the competition and, combined with the handsome English Walnut finish of my review samples, made them look as if they should cost closer to $2000/pair. The faux-wood vinyl finish is textured, and looks flawless from anything more than a few feet away. Closer inspection reveals ever-so-slight gaps at the 90° edges where the textured wrap of adjoining panels meet. It’s a subtle issue for a brand-new speaker, and maybe a nonissue for the other three available finishes, but I might have a concern over the long run. But looking at the Qs from across the room or from my couch, it was hard not to appreciate just how good they look for $800/pair.

Q Acoustics

The knuckle-rap test revealed a fairly hollow-sounding cabinet, but Q notes that every 3000i-series cabinet is reinforced at key spots using its Point to Point (P2P) bracing system to maximize rigidity. Moreover, Helmholtz Pressure Equalizer (HPE) technology is used in the 3050i to further reduce cabinet resonances. Effectively, Q uses a vertical tube placed within the cabinet to help reduce the average air-pressure gradient within the enclosure. They argue that ameliorating the “organ-pipe resonances” commonly produced by taller speakers due to differences in air pressure in various parts of the cabinet increases low-frequency linearity. Q used finite-element analysis and laser interferometry in the development of the 3000i series, as well as an anechoic chamber -- these are not off-the-shelf drivers tossed into a generic folded-box cabinet. There’s real engineering here.

Q Acoustics designs their own drivers. Above and below the 3050i’s 0.9” soft-dome tweeter are two 6.5” midrange-woofers with coated-paper cones, crossed over to the tweeter at 2.5kHz using a fourth-order (24dB/octave) Linkwitz-Riley slope. The tweeter is decoupled from the cabinet with a silicone suspension system, while the midrange-woofer looks to be pretty standard fare, with a chunky rubber surround and a basket of pressed steel. The bass-reflex cabinet is ported to the rear, just above a single pair of five-way binding posts. The 3050i’s frequency response is specified as 44Hz-30kHz, -6/+3dB, its nominal impedance as 6 ohms, and its sensitivity as 91dB/2.83V/m, suggesting that this speaker should be an easy and efficient load for just about any amplifier or receiver (Q suggests minimum amplification of 50Wpc).

Q Acoustics

One huge positive for me is Q Acoustics’ five-year warranty. Usually, that long a warranty is seen only from manufacturers who’ve been around for decades. Nice.

Setup

The Q Acoustics 3050i’s were easy to unbox and set up. I ditched the included, magnetically attached grilles, as I usually do, and screwed in the speakers’ feet: the front feet bolt right into the cabinet bottom, while the rear feet screw into a flared bracket, to provide greater lateral support. I placed them roughly 8’ apart, 8.5’ from my listening position, and 1’ from the front wall, toed in until I could just barely see their inner side panels from my listening seat. I was happy with the resulting sound.

I ran my DH Labs Q-10 Signature speaker cables from the 3050i’s to my reference integrated amplifier-DAC, Hegel Music Systems’ H360. With a DH Labs Silversonic USB link I attached to the Hegel my Roon music server, housed in a tiny Intel NUC desktop computer. The Hegel was plugged into an Emotiva CMX-2 power conditioner, which helps eliminate the DC hum of my century-old home. With everything thus interconnected, I cued up Roon to stream music via Tidal HiFi and my own music collection. I also dabbled with Qobuz’s Studio high-resolution streaming service, recently launched in the US.

Sound

What most impressed me about the Q Acoustics 3050i was how well balanced it was in all ways. It certainly looks the part, and, as it turned out, it sounded very good to boot. From top to bottom the 3050i sounded coherent, with a consistent tonal balance and a pleasing overall sound. It wasn’t a dead-neutral transducer, but I found that its subtle voicing was eminently satisfying throughout its two months in my system. The 3050i’s defining characteristic was its midrange presence, which married a touch of warmth to a light helping of upper-midrange sparkle that allowed voices and instruments to pop from the soundstage -- yet neither characteristic was heavy-handed. The 3050i was the loudspeaker equivalent of a golden retriever: most people will like it, and its friendly, low-maintenance demeanor makes it impossible to hate.

Q Acoustics

Take Ronan Harris’s introductory lead vocal in “A Million,” from VNV Nation’s Noire (16-bit/44.1 FLAC, Metropolis/Tidal). I’ve seen VNV in concert a couple of times, and I couldn’t help but appreciate how faithfully the 3050i captured Harris’s voice. From the occasional slight falsetto to his signature gravelly edge, and his immense power and drive as this electronic track picks up momentum, these pretty floorstanders got the important things just right. There was plenty of air and space around Harris, the 3050i’s casting a solid but not cavernous soundstage; the tweeter sounded a little polite at the very upper limit of its extension. The same went for the 3050i’s resolution of fine detail. It was no surprise that I could hear deeper into recordings with the other, far more expensive speakers I had on hand, which ranged in price from $1500 to $5000/pair. Neither was the fact that the stereo image of Harris was more diffuse than I’ve heard it through some other affordable tower speakers I’ve reviewed in the last few years. What did surprise me was that knowing this never lessened my enjoyment of the 3050i’s while they were in my system. These speakers were thoroughly engaging, and genuinely fun to listen to.

Another hallmark of the Q 3050i was its reproduction of the bass. I’m a sucker for punchy bass, and the 3050i delivered just that. Using its tandem 6.5” midrange-woofers and big ol’ cabinet to maximum effect, it handled with aplomb the throbbing electronic synth of “Pelican [Edit],” from David Guetta’s Listen Again (16/44.1 FLAC, Parlophone/Tidal). That bass line isn’t particularly deep -- maybe somewhere in the 60-80Hz range -- but its weight and impact were seriously impressive. It was also well integrated. I’ve reviewed a couple of speakers in the last year or two whose bass sounded a bit loose and disconnected from the rest of the audioband, so it was nice to hear the 3050i remaining so taut and composed from 100Hz down. The Qs rolled off pretty hard below 50Hz or so, but were remarkably linear down to that frequency. Barring home-theater use or a constant stream of pipe-organ music, I see no need to pair these with a subwoofer.

Q Acoustics

More sweeping arrangements -- such as “Roll Tide/Hymn,” from Hans Zimmer’s score for the film Crimson Tide (16/44.1 FLAC, Hollywood/Tidal) -- highlighted some of the 3050i’s many strengths as well as its limitations. This two-part track pivots from the action flick’s high-octane orchestral theme to a male chorus’s soulful rendition of William Whiting’s maritime hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” The theme features plenty of horns and brass, and the 3050i seemed to emphasize these sections of the orchestra. While they were certainly prominent in the mix, I found the sound a bit forward, and this forwardness was accentuated when I cranked up the volume on the Hegel. The 3050i didn’t compress, but neither did it sound effortless at super-high volume. As you’d expect, there are limits to what an $800/pair of speakers can do. Still, I liked how dynamic the Qs were, and the sound of the male choral voices was rich yet detailed, exciting but not fatiguing.

Comparisons

Earlier this year I reviewed Definitive Technology’s Demand D9 bookshelf speaker ($749/pair) and was deeply impressed. Between its build quality, resolving ability, and searing pace, I thought it something of a bargain. But the Demand D9 wasn’t perfect -- its prominent treble extension, combined with some upper-midrange emphasis, made it sound supervibrant and crystalline. Laid-back and warm it was not. Still, from 100Hz up, it was sensational for the money. Below that, its 5.25” midrange-woofer and 5” x 9” passive radiator offered surprising bass reach, if at the expense of bass control. Bass-heavy material sounded loose and lazy, resulting in a bottom end disconnected from the rest of the music.

For about the same money, Q Acoustics’ 3050i struck a different balance of compromises. As a floorstander, the 3050i needs no stand, and goes lower in the bass than the D9 -- no surprises there. But its 6.5” midrange-woofers also offered rock-solid control. Beyond that, the 3050i had a more forgiving overall sound, with gentler-sloping treble extension and less-pronounced upper-midrange exuberance. Make no mistake -- I heard greater low-level detail, better imaging, and deeper soundstages with the Definitives, but as someone who listens to music with a lot of bass, I’d be happy to sacrifice those few ounces of resolution for the 3050i’s consistency throughout the audioband. If my primary musical food groups were singer-songwriters and chamber music, I’d probably go with the Definitives.

Q Acoustics

Elac’s Uni-Fi Slim FS U5 ($1499.96/pair) is a different animal. This slender tower costs almost twice as much as the Q 3050i, but for that premium you get an Andrew Jones-designed speaker that’s a true three-way design, with a coaxial tweeter-midrange and three 5.25” woofers. The FS U5 weighs about the same as the 3050i, but I far prefer the look of the Q’s curved cabinet and faux-wood finish. The Elac provides a smoother overall sound than the Q, and voices were better defined in space, while also sounding warmer, fuller, more relaxed. Like the 3050i’s, the Elac’s soft-dome tweeter leaned to the polite side of neutral, but more noticeably, due to a suckout in the lower treble. As a result, the FS U5 sounded almost dark -- something the 3050i never did. Finally, the Elac’s bass extension was similar to the Q’s, and marked by plenty of control, but it sounded flatter, and lower in level. I preferred the punchier sound of the 3050i’s. They may not measure better than the Elacs, but I found the Q towers more fun to listen to.

Conclusion

Q Acoustics’ 3050i is a perfect example of why my affection for affordable hi-fi continues to grow. The British company’s budget floorstander looks far more expensive than its price suggests, and offers a top-to-bottom coherence of sound that’s unusual at that price. I enjoyed its spirited midrange -- Q has balanced detail and body with the poise of a veteran speaker maker. Then there was the 3050i’s impressive bass performance, which this electronica junkie greatly appreciated. Combine all of this with a five-year warranty, and a 30-day money-back guarantee in the US and Canada, and you have an overall package that’s hard to top. I can’t wait to see -- and hear -- what Q Acoustics comes up with next.

. . . Hans Wetzel
hansw@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- KEF LS50, Scansonic M-40, Technics SB-G90
  • Earphones and headphones -- NAD Viso HP50, PSB M4U 4
  • Integrated amplifier -- Hegel Music Systems H360
  • Digital-to-analog converter -- Benchmark Media Systems DAC3 HGC
  • DAC-headphone amplifier -- Oppo Digital HA-2SE
  • Sources -- Intel NUC running Roon with Qobuz Studio, Tidal HiFi
  • Speaker cables -- DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
  • Analog interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow (RCA), Nordost Blue Heaven LS (XLR)
  • Digital links -- DH Labs Silversonic USB
  • Power conditioner -- Emotiva CMX-2

Q Acoustics 3050i Loudspeakers
Price: $799.99 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Q Acoustics
Armour Home Electronics
Stortford Hall Industrial Park, Units 7 & 8
Dunmow Road, Bishops Stortford
Hertfordshire, England
UK
Phone: (855) 279-5070

Website: www.qacoustics.com