$1499 – $1799 (depending on finish)
ANDREW BAKER is so taken by Q Acoustics’ incredibly nicely priced entry level speakers that he nearly starts dancing around his living room like a maniac, forgoing all trace of modesty. Nearly.
NOT EVEN 10 years old, English loudspeaker company Q Acoustics have racked up a rather impressive list of awards from all over the often fickle world of hi-fi. Formed in 2006 by a bunch of professional enthusiasts with the singular objective of making high performing speakers that any Tom, Dick or Harriet can afford, Q Acoustics have, under the Armour Home Electronics umbrella, certainly achieved that goal. When they tell us they only wanted to make the best speakers within their particular price bracket, I can’t help but imagine the design team beaming with pride under that charming wee cloak of modesty, for this can be no easy feat in a market irrefutably swamped with speaker brands and manufacturers.
For those of you with aesthetics-conscious partners, Q Acoustics speakers, with a range of finishes, look spectacular – everyone who visits while I have them in the house comments on their attractiveness, particularly the gloss white finish. And those who care to take the time to sit and listen comment emphatically on their stunning sound quality.
The 3000 series is set to be the new entry level from Q Acoustics, taking over from the well regarded 2000s with a design revamp and more features. The twin speaker binding posts have been repositioned from underneath the cabinet to the more traditional rear spot and the twin 165mm main drivers are now made with a stiffer paper/aramid material which I believe is basically Kevlar. The 25mm tweeters, which sit between the two mid/bass drivers, are a new design which incorporate the ring type and dome tweeter in one in order to give lower distortion and wider sound dispersion. They are isolated from the cabinets in a butyl rubber housing to avoid resonances and other junk from causing interference. The crossover is much improved with better quality components and the cabinet, constructed from MDF, has been designed for extra low resonance with better internal bracing as well as double layered front and top panels. This is perhaps somewhat more conventional when compared to the higher-end (though still remarkably affordable) Q Acoustics ‘Concept’ range, which sport a double shell cabinet sandwiching a special Gelcore adhesive substance which turns energy waves into heat. Wow.
The rear-ported two-way reflex 3050s have a rather appealing 92dB sensitivity, meaning they’re quite easy to drive and make them ideal for some of your lower powered amplifiers. The nominal impedance is 6 ohms with frequency response measured as 44 Hz to 22 KHz, and Q Acoustics recommend the amplification power range to be 25 – 100 watts per channel. The 3050s are quite substantial in stature, measuring 1 meter tall and 298 deep x 200 wide (mm) and stand on spikes with neat little outrigger feet at the rears for stability. The cabinets, I have to say, don’t feel as solid or ‘dead’ as the more expensive Concept speakers I reviewed last year, and weighing only 17.8 kg they’re not too difficult to manoeuvre around the living room. But while they may not be quite as elegant in appearance as the aforementioned Concepts, the 3050s do indeed convey a certain business-like charm and grace, with glossy finish and appealingly rounded corners and edges. Several finishes are available, from the standard matt-graphite or American walnut to the more expensive gloss white or black, and there’s even a black leather finish.
Setup And Listening
Setting up the 3050s was pretty easy. In fact, it was simply a matter of taking out my Reference 3As and plonking the Q Acoustics down in their place. A little bit of tweaking and I was ready to go. The user manual recommends a distance of 20cm from the rear wall, which was about right. I needed to toe them in only very slightly to sharpen up the stereo image – always be careful when toeing in that you don’t go too far and create a very narrow soundstage. If you need to place your speakers closer to the rear wall, you might try putting in place the supplied foam bungs to keep that bass tamed.
With speaker cables plugged in, amps on and valves warmed up, I settled in with a hot and dangerously strong coffee for some good old listening. [Living dangerously, Andy! – Special Mocking Editor]. I did give them around 20 – 50 hours to run in first, just to loosen everything up, but you don’t want to hear about that. I listened to a huge range of music but for the purposes of this article I settled on a classic rock album, a contemporary rock album, a female vocalist and last but not least, a good old jazz record. But no matter what I played, the individual attributes of each recording were neatly conveyed by the big 3050s.
Right from the off these speakers were confident and involving, spreading music wide into the room with a free-flowing ease and excellent dynamics and tonal balance. Images were sharply focused, making individual musicians easy to pick out and follow but importantly a recording itself came together as one focused and immediate performance. Bass response was tight and well controlled with a smooth clarity that allowed distinct notes to be heard instead of the heavy mush some speakers produce. The new tweeters lived up to expectations by really radiating out the high frequencies in a transparent and airy fashion. Overall, the 3050s are engaging and musical with an ever-so-slight hint of warmth, and those who enjoy picking out subtle details and sounds won’t be disappointed as these speakers surely get involved in the music.
Anyone who knows of Talking Heads’ music only from hearing the same handful of hits played on horribly compressed, horribly mainstream FM radio stations is totally missing out. Grab yourself some of their recently reissued albums on vinyl and prepare to be blown away. Their second album More Songs About Buildings And Food, produced by Brian Eno, is a record of peppy, punky dance music mainlined with an heroic dose of funk and spunk; with the exception of the last two tracks, the transcendental ‘Take Me To The River’ and the splendidly cowpoked ‘The Big Country’. Add David Byrne’s somewhat manic vocal and lush waves of organ to powerful drumming and a tight, animated rhythm section – not to mention a very nicely engineered recording – and you are rather close to having a flawless album. Even the slower numbers have a certain dance-ability. There was a degree of richness to the music, a slight but not unwelcome warmth, but mostly the 3050s just got out of the way and let the vinyl and the rest of the system do their thing. Free-flowing, smooth and fast are the words I jotted down in my battered old note book and while the sound was awash with detail and had wide open clear focus, it was far from clinical. Byrne’s voice was crisp and clear with palpable emotion and the rest of the band had an impressively rhythmic drive; an energetic swagger that might cause lesser beings to start dancing around their living rooms maniacally, forgoing all trace of modesty. This was especially true on the track ‘I’m Not In Love’, where the drums were big, extending wall to wall, totally exhilarating, and the band was pumping the sound out, the 3050s releasing the sheer energy along with Byrne’s plaintive howls and wails into the room as though it was nothing.
Moving to the fuzzy and freaked out 1970s shaggy rock that is Loose Fur’s Born Again In The USA, I was again impressed with the clarity of the delivery of the 3050s and the rhythmic drive and energy they dispatched. I believe this album needs a good system and, accordingly, good speakers in order to be heard as it should and the 3050s didn’t disappoint. The incomparable Jim O’Rourke shares vocal duties with Jeff Tweedy, and the clarity of their voices had me hanging off their every word while guitars which sound on the verge of branching out into experimental noodling jams (though they don’t), fuzzed and crackled around prominently stonking ‘70s-style basslines. And there was no nasty overhang to the aforementioned bass – the notes stopped and started with ease and had good weight and body. The drumming, courtesy of fellow Wilco-inhabitant Glenn Kotche, sounded tight and beefy with good natural timbre.
I must admit I wasn’t expecting such a high level of performance from the 3050s – though I was of course confident that they would be very good – and given the impressive display the value-for-money Concept speakers gave me, I perhaps ought to have been more open minded. There was a slight hint of something upon which I couldn’t quite put my finger around about the upper bass or lower midrange – perhaps the slightest hint of cabinet resonance, a certain intermittent hum during heavier passages of low end. This was, I admit, at quite high volumes so given the price and otherwise exceptional performance, I don’t see any reason to dwell on such a small matter.
On to PJ Harvey’s sublime album To Bring You My Love and the 3050s gave a layered and detail-rich approach to the dirty desert blues and lurid vocal imagery. Harvey’s voice – raw, expressive and most of the time plain sensual – hung proudly centre-stage in full bodied life-size glory as she sang, growled and wailed close to the microphone. The speakers easily conveyed the thick, often eerie atmosphere of the songs, while highlighting each instrument and keeping focus on the vocals. The acoustic guitar on ‘C’mon Billy’ sounded a little thin compared to usual but overall there was more going on in each song than a first listen might reveal – bells, chimes, moans, ghostly images. The 3050s spat distorted guitar at my ears and filled the room with heavy slabs of organ and on ‘Working For The Man’ the deep wobbly bassline was gripping and intoxicating, while some spectre seemed to shake a maraca in front of my face. If you don’t own this album it’s a must-have – the CD is excellent but the vinyl version is even better.
I’m never satisfied with a review until I’ve used a bit of jazz for assessment so I threw on Boss Tenor by the sadly short-lived Gene Ammons, and this proved to be another real pleasure. Ammons’ expressive tenor sax sounded at least real enough to bring a smile to my face. His image was sharp and clear, full of colour and body, big and warm of tone, the instrument resonating gently within the recording studio. Accompanying piano was tuneful and sure-footed with natural timbre while the warm bassline was airy, funky and rhythmic. There’s conga too: at times it was subtle but effective and other times an essential factor in driving the tunes along, which is just what the 3050s themselves did, lovingly reproducing the timbres, tones and rhythm. The drumming was swift and energetic and I loved the way the cymbals sounded so crisp and natural thanks to those fine tweeters.
Q Acoustics have done it again as far as I’m concerned – the highly musical 3050s are ridiculously good speakers for the money. I’m not going to go so far as to call them ‘giant killers’ as such but I will suggest that they are going to give budget conscious audio and music lovers a good taste of that oft elusive yet aspirational high end; a taste that will quite possibly linger for years to come. If you’re taking that first step into the world of ‘proper’ speakers, then this may be the only step you’ll feel the need to take.
Most people will want to ask the question: how do they do it? How do they make such a fine sounding speaker – and this can apply to the Concepts as well – for such a relatively small amount of money? Well, I’d like to add a further question if I may: why do Q Acoustics make such a fine sounding speaker for so little money? But I can at least answer that one. It’s because they love you. Obviously. AW BAKER