Q Acoustics has been around since 2006, and since the beginning, they have stated that their goal is "making the best affordable loudspeaker in the world". Up until now, those in North America have not been able to purchase Q Acoustics speakers. This will soon change. You are reading a review of two of their best speakers from two of their three lines. One is their floor-standing 3050, the largest model in Q Acoustics "3000 Series", which sells for a very affordable $620, and their Concept 40, their flagship speaker from the top "Concept" line, which sells for $1200. Q Acoustics states that their speakers have been designed by a team that they "assembled from the world's most experienced and successful loudspeaker designers". They go on to say that since their launch about ten years ago, their speakers have received "prestigious awards and universal acclaim from consumers and expert reviewers alike".
Q Acoustics Concept 40
I tried a few different low-ish powered amplifiers to drive the Concept 40. After a while, I settled on what sounded best -- my reference vacuum-tube powered PrimaLuna Dialogue Six monoblock power amplifiers. Although the PrimaLuna amplifiers perform much better than their price would indicate, they are still considered by many audiophiles to be more than a bit beyond the "affordable" category. Most who are shopping for speakers within the Q Acoustics Concept 40's price range probably wouldn't consider them. Although, for a review, these just might be the perfect amp to use in this situation, as one will hear the sonic personality of the speaker rather than the amplifier, as the PrimaLunas are extremely neutral sounding power amps. These babies put out 70 Watts per channel, more than enough to power the Concept 40 speakers. In fact, in the Concept 40's manual states that this speaker has a sensitivity of 90dB/W/m, so I don't think I'd be speaking out of turn if I declared that the Concept 40 could be driven by a power amplifier with much less power than the PrimaLunas.
The sources that I used to feed music to the review system are also quite neutral sounding, as they are all digital. For day-to-day listening I often use a network streamer that reads files through my home network. Regardless of the manufacturers claim that the network streamer is "bit perfect", in reality I doubt that it is. Still, it sounds great, and since I usually listen to it when off-axis, that's all I'm really concerned about. For more serious listening sessions, I spin silver discs on an OPPO BDP-83 Special Edition universal disc player. Although I didn't use all the discs in the universe (pun intended), I did spin quite a few SACDs, along with a good helping of plain vanilla Red Book CDs. When listening to CDs through the BDP-83SE I connect its digital output using MIT cable to either a Benchmark DAC1 USB or AURALiC Vega digital-to-analog converter. Also, since this system is on the first floor of our house, there is music playing through it almost constantly, so I was able to enjoy the speakers while they broke-in. When performing serious listening tests, though, the source was exclusively the OPPO BDP-83SE with or without the external DAC, depending on the format.
I'm guessing that I let the Concept 40 play for more than about 200 hours before I considered it fully broken it. It was only after I was satisfied that the drivers were loosened up enough that I began my evaluation. Initially, there wasn't one sonic characteristic of this speaker that stood out, and I think that speaks well of the Concept 40. Although I did notice that these speakers are able to separate the instruments when playing even the most complex recordings. For a floor-standing speaker that is relatively small, there was very little crowding of instruments or groups of instruments. The speakers that were residing in this system before the Concept 40 were the five times more expensive EgglestonWorks Isabel Signature. I couldn't help noticing that one of the most noticeable differences between these two was that the EgglestonWorks were able to reproduce dynamics in a much more realistic manner.
No, the Concept 40 didn't sound super-compressed, but there was certainly less dynamic distance between groups of instruments. It was nice that with the Concept 40 I could listen at a lower volume and still hear portions of the music that might be too low in volume when listening to the more expensive speakers, but this ended up sounding a bit less realistic. As I continued listening to the Concept 40, I also noticed other traits that would put the speaker into the category of having most of its faults of a subtractive nature. I realize that this is sort of a left-handed compliment, but in reality, when listening to a less expensive speaker subtractive faults are certainly better than those faults that are additive. For instance, the highest treble sounds of the Concept 40 are not as extended as many more expensive speakers. But the tweeter of the Concept 40 is also much more neutral than some comparatively priced speakers I've heard. Its treble is thankfully free of additive sibilance, is never spitty, and the treble is refined enough to aid aids in the separating of instruments and voices from one another.
The Concept 40 might not have a "reach out and touch" sound emanating from its upper registers, but it also doesn't have a sound that I wish would be a bit more recessed – the level of the treble seemed to come very close to represent what was on the recordings I played through the speaker, at least much more so than I would expect from a speaker at this price, that's for sure. The mids of the Concept 40 are also thankfully clear of additive sonic debris. What remains is a midrange that is quite open sounding, smooth, but a bit more relaxed than the absolute. This leads to contributing to a sound that might not have the "jump factor" of other more expensive speakers. Still, what I kept hearing from the Concept 40 reinforced my feeling that I was hearing a speaker that was performing way outside its price class.
As my listening sessions progressed, Q Acoustics claims in their literature were proving themselves to be true. The music that comes forth from the Concept 40 isn't mucked up by cabinet resonance, and the less the signal is adulterated, the more natural it will sound. When I was playing the HDTracks high-res version of Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, it instantly reminded me how great this album is. I know…how could I forget? But its sound quality is pretty darn good, too. Each instrument the band member behind Dylan can be clearly heard, from the casual strumming of guitarist Mike Bloomfield, to the various percussion drummer Bobby Gregg was playing along with his normal kit. The upright piano played by Frank Owens sounded full bodied and clear. Bob Dylan's voice is reproduced as a separate event, filling the room with his relatively gruff (relatively, because he was still a young man, after all) snarling, spoken-singing. The soundstage and imaging of the Concept 40 isn't the type that could distract from the music, as it seems appropriate for the material that it is playing. Again, I kept thinking that the sound of the Concept 40 is relaxed, nonchalant. But that description is not meant as a negative – this speaker plays music that sounds like music thanks to its rather neutral sound, without attempting to extend itself into areas in which it couldn't.
The sound of the Concept 40's bass is surprisingly extended. I realize that it's specs rate it only down to 53Hz, and in my room it doesn't measure much lower than that. But the bass is relatively tight and pitch stable, and the low-end of the speaker fit in with the rest of the speaker, that is, it didn't attempt to reach any lower than that. When one speaks of errors of omission in a speaker, one is often talking about the lowest bass, and it is often not a negative comment, it just is what it is, to coin a phrase. But if a speaker maker intentionally voices the speaker to have a pumped up mid-bass to compensate for a bass that can't reach as low as they want it to, or if a speaker has a cabinet designed to resonate at a low frequency to subjectively raise the level of the bass – these are definitely negative traits. No, the Concept 40's bass is not of the depth charge, gut thumping, shaking the window frames type of bass. So what? If one is using these speakers in a home theatre set-up I assume these speakers will be augmented by a sub-woofer. And even if used in a two-channel system, for lots of listeners the amount of the Concept 40's bass will be more than satisfying. During my listening sessions the lower strings of a bass guitar, the thump of a kick drum, and the lowest notes a piano were still audible, and as long as I didn't crank the volume too high, or listen to material that demands depth charge, gut thumping, shacking the window frames type of bass, the low-end was more than satisfactory.
For $1200, one gets floorstanding speaker with a pair of five inch woofers and a one-inch tweeter, a cabinet that is free of audible resonances, can be driven by a low-powered amplifier, integrated amp, or receiver, is full-range, and performs well-outside its price-class with its rather neutral, musical sound. The Q Acoustics Concept 40 is not only a bargain; it is a darn good speaker.
Q Acoustics 3050
George Dexter, the Managing Director of Armour Home Electronics, which owns Q Acoustics, says that the entire 3000 series "is another immense achievement by the Q Acoustics design team. It has beautiful new styling, perfect finishes and delivers clear sonic advances over Q Acoustics' all conquering, multi-award winning 2000i models". He adds that "in addition to the many technical improvements to its drive units and crossover, the new 3000 Series benefits from numerous advanced cabinet features imported from the award-winning ‘Concept' models. So, like the Concept 40, the 3050 is built with Q Acoustics "ultra-low resonance" cabinet. In Q Acoustics literature, they state that its cabinet uses dual-layer front and top panels, complex internal bracing, and keeps its rear mounting plates as small as possible to minimize its effect on the sound of the cabinet. Enhancing the cabinet's strength and minimizing resonance, says Q Acoustics, reduces distortion and enables the drive units to perform at their best.
The tweeter that is used in the 3050 is Q Acoustics "2 in 1 Concentric Ring Dome design", which they say combines the best characteristics of both the "ring radiator" and "dome" type tweeters. The resulting sound has "extremely low distortion and extra wide dispersion". The tweeter is mounted into a butyl rubber housing, which further reduces resonance. They go on to say that the sound of the two woofers was improved when they recently upgraded the makeup of the cone of the speaker to a mix of paper and aramid fibers. They also improved the crossover, which now contains more "audiophile-grade" components, such as u-core inductors, which reduce crosstalk. The fourth-order Linkwitz/Riley design of the crossover is responsible for minimizing phase problems between the drivers at their chosen crossover frequency, which happens to be at around 2.5kHz. All this is well and good -- but it's the performance of a speaker that is paramount. As I've said before, I realize that design methods and specifications are important, but I wouldn't care if an audio component was made from duct tape and pieces of a ball point pen – if it sounds great and is built to last, I'll consider it for use in my system.
After I installed the 3050 in my system, it didn't take me long to realize that this speaker is a stone cold bargain. In audiophile dollars, $620 is a mere pittance. For a young person sticking a toe into audiophile waters, the Q Acoustics 3050 might just be the perfect speaker to replace, and significantly upgrade, from what they are currently using, which might just be the speaker contained in their laptop, or some crummy speakers on either side of their computer screen. Finally, this young audiophile (although not necessarily young in age) will be able to really hear what is contained on records, CDs, and even streaming services (I had to hold my breath when I typed that last source). And along with hearing what's on the source material, there will be bass. Within the 3050's specification it states that the bass reaches to 44Hz. In my room it seemed to reach even lower. No, it doesn't have the same audiophile approved qualities of my reference speakers that cost almost ten times as much as the 3050. The bass of the 3050 is even slightly outclassed by Q Acoustics own Concept 40. But at $1200 for the Concept 40, one who is scrounging and saving for a pair of $620 Q Acoustics 3050s, that price might as well be a million dollars.
I'm going to change directions from recommending the 3050 to the young audiophile. The sound of the Q Acoustics 3050 should be considered by just about anyone who doesn't want to spend a fortune on a pair of speakers, and wants an upgrade from the mass-market options available at their local big-box store. It's obvious that the folks at Q Acoustics put lots of thought into the design and aesthetics of the 3050. The proof is in the listening. When I spun the SACD of Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony played by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mark Wigglesworth, it was quite an eye-opener. Those familiar with this dark opus know that when the piece begins, the right side of the orchestra lets its presence be known in no uncertain terms. The grind from the lower strings is a great test of the low end of a pair of speakers. When this SACD was playing through the 3050, there was no way I could be fooled into thinking I was listening to two powered 15" woofers coming from each channel. Yet the bass of the 3050 was not only respectable, but much better than I thought it would be, keenly aware that these speakers cost what they do. Not only could I hear the bass that was encoded onto this SACD, but after listening to the symphony from beginning to end, I could understand that Shostakovich was moving forward, leaving his past works behind with this bleak and rather astringent work. The strings too, as well as the rest of the huge orchestra that is employed in this work, were well served by the 3050, as the speakers did a fine job of unraveling the sometimes very complex. knotty masterpiece.
As with the Concept 40, the majority of the sonic flaws of the Q Acoustics 3050 of are a subtractive nature. Thankfully, as with the Concept 40, these subtractive faults do not ruin the sound of the speaker. The sonic differences between the 3050 and the Concept 40 are mostly due to the level of refinement. The Concept 40 renders the music with a more detailed, see-through type of sound than the 3050. But judged on its own, the 3050 is quite a speaker, and for its asking price, an amazing speaker. This holds true despite its subtractive faults. The bass might not be as powerful or go as low as some speakers, but Q Acoustics doesn't attempt to fill in the missing bass with mid-bass frequencies or intentional low-frequency cabinet resonance. It's mids might not have the crystal clear transparency as a pair of $20,000 electrostatic speakers, but neither do they contain any obvious colorations such as a hoot-y sound, or worse, compensate with a recessed midrange. The treble might not sound as subjectively extended as some (much) more expensive speakers, but the 3050 is also free of any blatant sibilance, thinness, or any flagrant spikes and valleys in its frequency response. At least none that I could hear.
For the thrifty audiophiles, or ones that just doesn't have lots of money to spend on audio gear, a pair of 3050s costs only half the price of Q Acoustics' flagship speaker just might be a perfect entry into the high end, without having to settle for small bookshelf speakers. I thought that there must have been a typo that these speakers only cost $620 for the pair. Most impressive, to say the least, and an understatement.
The British speaker manufacture Q Acoustics has just made its debut with its North American website. I predict that they will be very successful. I gather that their policy stating that one can return their speakers to Q Acoustics within 30 days is safe one for this company, since I anticipate that very few, if any, of their speakers will be returned. Nice one, Q Acoustics! Or, should I say, nice two, Q Acoustics!