$899/$1495 with matching stands
Our Andy fell hard for these attractive speakers, which sounded at least as good as they looked, with great resolve across the frequencies and a firm grip on the bass.
A RELATIVE NEWCOMER to the hi-fi community, “independent” manufacturer Q Acoustics was created in 2006 exclusively as a brand for Armor Home, a British design and distribution company and a division of Armor Group (not to be confused with ArmorGroup International, the British private security firm) and who also distribute QED, Goldring, Grado and Myryad, amongst others, within the UK. Still with me?
Anyway, with a team assembled from senior members of other leading hi-fi manufacturers, the purpose of Q Acoustics was to create very high performing speakers at prices most of us can actually afford. With stereo speakers and home cinema speaker packages, Q Acoustics have certainly racked up a few awards to display on the old mantel piece, and it seems the new Concept 20s are no exception.
These beautifully stylish speakers proved to be something of a talking point amongst visitors while they were in my home, especially when partnered with the matching stands. In lacquered gloss white (black is also available), the speakers sparkle with quality. Supplied with removable (and I recommend you do remove them) plastic cover grills, the compact Concept 20s are superbly built and finished, as are the robust speaker stands.
Specs & Features
With their rounded corners and shiny finish, the Concept 20 2-way reflex cabinets are a little bit special in their construction, as well as their looks. There are actually two cabinets per speaker – an inner and an outer shell, built from MDF – which are “glued” together, in a method known as Gelcore construction, with a custom-made adhesive that doesn’t ever properly set. This is Q Acoustics’ answer to cabinet resonance problems: the Gelcore causes the energy waves created by the speaker drivers to be turned into heat to prevent them colouring and degrading the sound, thus potentially creating a completely quiet – or dead – cabinet. The matching spiked stands also use this Gelcore technique and no, you are not likely to notice any heat emission. The solid-feeling rear-ported speaker enclosures measure 260 x 280 x 170mm (H x D x W) and weigh just over 5kg while the stands, at 655 x 386 x 240mm (H x D x W), weigh 12kg.
The drive units, described by the company as being “advanced, high dynamic, low distortion”, consist of 125mm bass drivers and 25mm soft dome tweeters and provide, within the confines of the enclosures, a frequency response of 64Hz – 22kHz (crossed over at 2.9kHz) with a suggested power handling of 25 – 75 watts. At 88dB into 6 ohms, they’re not too difficult to drive and two pairs of very nice binding posts can be found at the rear to accommodate both single and bi-wire speaker cables. As mentioned the covers are plastic, and while I’m sure they serve a purpose, I kept them off for the duration – for appearances and for the likelihood that the sound quality is better without them.
Upon setting up the gloss white review pair in my living room, I was informed – and periodically reminded henceforth – by my better half that the Concept 20s are a very cool and lovely looking speaker, and I’m the first to admit that they do make my current floorstanders look a little whacky in comparison. Looks and compliments aside, I gave them a little bit of a run in – initially with the excellent little NuForce DDA-100 digital integrated, then followed with my 140wpc valve-hybrid integrated – before sitting down and taking notes.
Given their shiny, svelte, new and modern appearance it seemed only fitting that I should start by playing some modern slinky pop hit and thus, with that in mind, I naturally went straight for the Grateful Dead’s Working Man’s Dead, a country rock classic from before I was even born. The track I used was ‘Easy Wind’, sung by the mighty Pigpen (Ron McKernan to his mother and sadly another member of the infamous “27 Club”) whom I consider to be the better of all the Dead singers with his gritty blues swagger – a good contrast to the band’s more usual psychedelic/country jams.
The sound from the little speakers was fast and open with a crystal clear treble and exceptional bass rendition. The twin drummers busily belted out the rhythm, and Phil Lesh applied the meat with his skilful bass playing. I could hear the working-man, heavy drinking grit in Pigpen’s nicely revealed voice, and he was given the centre of attention even despite the frantic fretwork of the duelling lead and rhythm guitars, not to say that you couldn’t let your mind wander off to focus on another performer. I’m not often a fan of the harmonica, but Pigpen’s bluesy bursts on his beloved instrument didn’t offend my senses one bit; those soft dome tweeters sounded nice and naturally clear and they didn’t let any high notes resort to harshness.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ ‘Red Right Hand’ sprang to life with instant urgency: bass was outstanding and well controlled, and while the timpani didn’t have particular impact it still sounded real and managed to give the usual impression of distant peels of thunder. The song didn’t become congested as it can do, and was brilliantly clear and airy with every instrument easily distinguishable. Even the bells were allowed to ring off into the horizon, despite the thunderous bass line and swirling organ. As with the Dead track, Cave’s vocal was well illuminated, revealing a certain smoky grit to the lower registers of his voice. I detected no cabinet colouration, even at higher volumes, and no boxy sound or the sense that the cabinets were straining from the pressure of the sound waves.
I’ve been listening to a bit of country music lately and I must thank my mate Craig for introducing me to the Sweetback Sisters. He may be a Westie with questionable taste in motor vehicles, but he does own some good music. With hillbilly vocal harmonising and retro honky tonk rhythms, the Sweetback Sisters sound almost like a 1950s country version of the B52s, and it’s the sort of music that’s extremely fun but you may not want to get caught listening to. With their track ‘My Uncle Used to Love Me but She Died’ (from the album Chicken Ain’t Chicken) the stonking bass line was outstanding and the drums displayed great resonance. Everything was so crystal clear, crisp and open sounding that I could hear individual bass notes being plucked. There was good separation of their amazing vocals, both male and female, even when harmosing. The result was a fast and funky sound and I could perceive a real depth in the soundstage, giving the listener a great feeling of thigh-slappin’, chicken chasin’ pace and rhythm, making the album extremely easy to listen to over and again.
Unlike their previous lo-fi recordings, Pavement’s final album, 1999’s Terror Twilight, is a relatively well produced record and if not my favourite, it does have some great tracks, one of which is ‘Speak, See, Remember’. I again noted good resonance within the drum kit while cymbals and strummed acoustic guitar strings sounded super crisp. As usual, bass was clear and well defined – not causing the floors to rumble but still managing to give the air a good thunk, leaving you in absolutely no doubt as to the presence of a bass player. The heavy riffing climax to the song wasn’t as exhilarating (or ear-bleeding) as it can be but, it still had a good sting to it. Their fine delivery of Stephen Malkmus’ languid vocals put in my head a good image of the singer’s head slumped forward while lazily making playing guitar like a genius look incredibly (and enviably) easy – and yes, I’ve seen him play several times. In other words: spot on.
I was in for quite a treat when I hooked the Concept 20s up to the NuForce DDA-100 amplifier, using a lovely old Marantz CD4000 CD player as a transport. My word, it sounded good! Playing the Oscar Peterson Trio’s We Get Requests through the little system revealed snappy, richly toned and textured piano, and the accompanying bass-and-drums rhythm section was quick and bouncy, with equally convincing timbral qualities. Drum strikes for instance, had particularly good crack. The speakers displayed both the intimate delicacy and the percussive jounce of the piano keys. Often with piano-based music, I listen to hear both hands playing as sometimes the left hand – playing the lower notes – can be drowned out by the bassist, giving the impression that the pianist is one-handed and playing only the high notes. This was not the case with the Concepts, where everything was easily distinguishable, even with more complicated or bass-heavy music.
In truth, driven by the 50wpc NuForce, the Concept 20s couldn’t produce music on quite the life-like scale that perhaps more efficient speakers could manage, or even give quite the same level of “feeling like you’re there” transparency – although I still achieved a high level of spatial awareness, and they are transparent enough that they appeared rather lovingly and richly detailed. Certainly, for their size, scale was impressive: they sound much bigger than they look, and they don’t mind playing loud one bit. Putting them back in with my bold-sounding 140wpc integrated and staying with We Get Requests raised the scale and detail levels somewhat, and had them sounding more at ease. This surprised me a little, but really, the NuForce/Q Acoustics combo was lovely, and I only really noticed any shortcomings (or perhaps differences would be more appropriate) when swapping between amplifiers.
I must say, they are such a lovely, natural and musical sounding speaker that it’s just too hard not to love them. I found them to be fairly unfussy about placement – though of course careful positioning will allow you to get the very best out of them – and they look so good one almost wants to fawn and fuss over them like a new puppy.
With incredible looks and incredible sound, the Q Acoustic Concept 20s are a very easy speaker to love. Offering excellent bass performance from such a small cabinet, along with some pretty stunning vocal portrayal and remarkably clean and clear sound, they aren’t difficult to drive and will give even a medium sized room a run for its money. The Concept 20s are fun and engaging and likely to have you rediscovering those buried gems from within your music collection as well as giving those tired old classics a fresh work out. Feed them a good quality signal with equally good quality amplification, and you’ll be justly rewarded.
The price of the Concepts is tremendously outweighed by value for money; paying just 900 bucks for a pair of speakers (or 1500 with stands, which I highly recommend) that sound this good will leave you with nothing to grumble about, so yes: it’s another 5 Star review from this reviewer. ANDREW BAKER