Q ACOUS­TICS 3050i

Stereo speak­ers

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The Bri­tish-de­signed speaker mar­que dots the ‘i’ on a new 3000 Se­ries, led by these high-value and flex­i­ble floor­standers.

In an old land like the United King­dom, full of fa­mous, long­stand­ing loud­speaker brands, you’d think that it’d be hard for a new­comer to find any space. But Q Acous­tics man­aged it, start­ing up only a dozen years ago, and since re­ceiv­ing ac­co­lade upon ac­co­lade, as well as wide­spread con­sumer ac­cep­tance. It has care­fully tar­geted the mid­priced, high qual­ity seg­ment (it was fill­ing a per­ceived vac­uum left by Mis­sion when it first emerged,), and here we have the ‘i’ up­grad­ing of the 3000 se­ries, its sec­ond-from-the-top range. This Q Acous­tics 3050i is the largest speaker from that se­ries, its only floor­stander.

Equip­ment

So, yes, these are stereo floor­stand­ing speak­ers priced at just un­der $1400 for the pair. That makes them quite af­ford­able, yet they ex­ude a sense of qual­ity just from their styling. They stand just over a me­tre tall. The en­clo­sures have curved edges where the sides meet the top and bot­tom pan­els. The wrap fin­ish is avail­able in white, black, grey or English Wal­nut (see over­leaf) and our re­view speak­ers used the last of these, a su­pe­rior wrap seem­ing in­dis­tin­guish­able from a real-wood ve­neer. It also fully cov­ered the front baf­fle be­hind the small mag­net­i­cally-se­cured grilles. Should you wish to use them with the grilles re­moved, you’ll see the driv­ers are fit­ted with stylish me­tal rings. It’s a high qual­ity look.

The for­mal di­men­sions (see the specs box) read chunkier than the speak­ers ac­tu­ally are. They are in­deed 310mm deep, but the quoted 310mm width in­cludes the me­tal sta­bil­is­ing bar that bolts onto the bot­tom rear of the speak­ers. Its pur­pose is, of course, to give the speak­ers a wider foot­print so that they are less likely to be ac­ci­den­tally over­turned. The

en­clo­sures them­selves mea­sure only 200mm wide. At the rear is a large, smoothly fin­ished bass re­flex port.

The cab­i­nets use Helmholtz Pres­sure Equal­izer tech­nol­ogy to re­duce pres­sure within the cab­i­net, and thereby re­duce cab­i­net res­o­nances. Fur­ther help­ing there is the com­pany’s P2P brac­ing, de­signed to in­crease the stiff­ness of the cab­i­nets.

In­side each en­clo­sure is a pair of 165mm bass/midrange driv­ers, with a 22mm tweeter be­tween them. The cen­tre of the tweeter is 795mm from the floor, so pretty much right for a couch-seated lis­tener. With speaker driv­ers ar­rayed like this, it’s im­por­tant for the lis­tener to be on the same hor­i­zon­tal plane as the tweeter. Sig­nif­i­cant di­ver­gences from that can lead to some fre­quency re­sponse comb­ing around the cross­over point.

There’s one pair of con­nec­tion ter­mi­nals for each speaker, and none of the bi-wiring stuff (some­thing about which I’m per­son­ally skep­ti­cal). These ter­mi­nals are par­tially in­set into the cab­i­nets. If you use spade ter­mi­nals they’ll be pok­ing out by per­haps 8mm. That al­lows very-close-to-wall place­ment if you wish. To that end, each pair comes with a pair of foam bungs to fill the bass re­flex port, turn­ing them into some­thing like acous­tic sus­pen­sion speak­ers. That re­duces the out­put lev­els around the 44Hz bot­tom-end, while ex­tend­ing the depth of reach of the bass a lit­tle. I used them in my stan­dard free-breath­ing po­si­tion, most of a me­tre out from the rear wall. Bung-free of course.

In ad­di­tion to those me­tal sta­biliser bars, they come with spikes and also spike caps for use on hard floors that you don’t want dam­aged.

Still on the ter­mi­nals, they also work with bare wires and ba­nana plugs. The holes for ba­nana plugs also reach a lit­tle into the cab­i­net, so even they stick out less than the usual amount. Fi­nally, the nuts on the ter­mi­nals have a larger di­am­e­ter than usual. That makes it eas­ier to do them up tightly.

Q Acous­tics rates the fre­quency re­sponse of these speak­ers at 44Hz to 30,000Hz in a 9dB band and their sen­si­tiv­ity at 91dB for 2.83 volts in­put at one me­tre. It says they’re suit­able for use with home theatre re­ceivers rated at be­tween 50 and 165 watts per chan­nel, which is at least 95% of all home theatre re­ceivers. With a 6-ohm nom­i­nal im­ped­ance (al­beit a 4-ohm min­i­mum) they should again work with just about all home theatre re­ceivers.

Per­for­mance

You can buy these speak­ers are part of a home theatre pack with a spe­cialised cen­tre-chan­nel and sub­woofer. How­ever we’re just look­ing at them in a stereo mu­sic con­text. Be as­sured, though, that loud­speak­ers that do well in that con­text also do well in home theatre. I used them with a fine home theatre re­ceiver from Denon rather than an au­dio­phile am­pli­fier. That is the ap­pro­pri­ate con­text. But I didn’t cal­i­brate them or EQ them. I lis­tened to them in their na­tive state, with ‘Di­rect’ en­gaged on the Denon to make sure there was no sound pro­cess­ing.

I started with Nick Cave’s heart-rend­ing al­bum ‘Skele­ton Tree’ on vinyl. The de­tail and tone of these speak­ers de­liv­ered a close in­ti­macy of the kind de­manded by this mu­sic. On tracks like Mag­neto the deep pul­sat­ing drone was full, was com­plete. There’s a round­ness on vinyl (no doubt due to its de­fects) not ap­par­ent in the dig­i­tal ver­sions. This came through won­der­fully well with these loud­speak­ers.

Again, the fat synth bass of (then) Wal­ter Car­los’ ren­di­tion of Sheep May Safely Graze on ‘Switched-On Bach II’ was equally de­liv­ered in full, ground­ing the mu­sic and giv­ing it a weight that the Moog may not have oth­er­wise de­served. (Did you know there was a Switched-On Bach II? One of this writer’s guilty plea­sures in­cludes good synth cov­ers of clas­si­cal works. That in­cludes Ray Man­zarek’s Carmina Bu­rana, but doesn’t in­clude any­thing much by Tomita.)

Then I went dig­i­tal, start­ing with a DSD128 record­ing of 3 and 1 – Take 2 from Kent Poon’s Au­dio­phile Jazz Pro­logue IV. At about this point I started won­der­ing why one would spend more than $1400 on a pair of stereo speak­ers. The im­me­di­acy of this per­for­mance was such as though it had been piped di­rectly from stu­dio into my lis­ten­ing space. The sax­o­phone in par­tic­u­lar was a tan­gi­ble pres­ence be­tween the speak­ers. The loosely ten­sioned skins of some of the drums had a first-class round­ness, while the snares rang out with pre­ci­sion and zero dy­namic com­pres­sion. The dou­ble bass was de­liv­ered with a fine co­her­ence to all its con­stituent har­mon­ics, meld­ing seam­lessly into a pow­er­ful fun­da­men­tal.

I de­cided to stick with DSD for the mo­ment, so I switched fold­ers on my NAS to Michael Jack­son’s ‘Thriller’(this one in reg­u­lar DSD64). I chose Bil­lie Jean and started it play­ing, for­get­ting that the Kent Poon record­ing is at a rather low mod­u­la­tion. ‘Thriller’ isn’t. I jumped with the open­ing crash of per­cus­sion, and rushed to re­duce the vol­ume. Then had sec­ond thoughts. Although eas­ily ten deci­bels higher than my usual lis­ten­ing vol­ume, it was clean and con­trolled. I pulled out a dig­i­tal SPL me­ter and set it to the C-weighted scale (which is the clos­est it has to zero weight­ing). The sound was peak­ing at just about 100 deci­bels in my seat, some 2.7 me­tres from the speak­ers.

The thing is, the speak­ers re­mained bal­anced. Some speak­ers re­spond to Michael Jack­son with a de­gree of sibi­lance, even at nor­mal lis­ten­ing lev­els. These kept him in place, while pre­sent­ing the rhythm sec­tion at a com­pelling level, full and still con­trolled.

Af­ter turn­ing down the vol­ume for a while to al­low my ears to re­cal­i­brate, I moved over to some solo pi­ano in reg­u­lar CD-qual­ity FLAC for­mat. It was Tz­i­mon Barto play­ing Liszt’s Hun­gar­ian Rhap­sody #2. I’ve long been of two minds about this record­ing. The play­ing is ut­terly thrilling, but the record­ing is a touch too bright on an al­ready bright pi­ano. Again, these speak­ers tamed that top-end just a lit­tle. It was still clear that this was a bright pi­ano, but by es­chew­ing a flashy top-end, the Q Acous­tics speak­ers pro­vided it as it was, not to ex­cess. Barto’s busy left hand was given the promi­nence it de­served, with­out the fun­da­men­tal fre­quen­cies be­ing over­whelmed by their up­per har­mon­ics. Mean­while, the ac­cel­er­at­ing sec­tions on the right-hand end of the key­board were beau­ti­fully sweet, rather than forced.

Go­ing from the sub­lime to the dif­fer­ently sub­lime, I put on Rage Against the Ma­chine’s self-ti­tled al­bum. How would these speaker, so com­fort­able with glo­ri­ously recorded jazz, and fire­works solo pi­ano, do with high pow­ered rap me­tal?

Very well, it turns out. Want some speak­ers to pro­duce mu­sic suit­able for head­bang­ing ac­tiv­i­ties? The Q Acous­tics 3050i speak­ers will do very nicely. It was only with this that I fi­nally started to plumb their lim­its a lit­tle. With Bomb­track peak­ing at close to 105dB (C-weighted) the mid­dle sec­tion started to be­come just a lit­tle con­fused in the low and mid tre­ble. But that was only in the more com­plex sec­tions of sus­tained loud­ness. The next track — Killing in the Name — is more up and down dy­nam­i­cally, each pulse sur­rounded by an in­stant of rel­a­tive (rel­a­tive, mind you, not ab­so­lute) quiet­ness. No con­fu­sion there, so that those brief in­stants al­lowed re­cov­ery. The driv­ing rhythm was dom­i­nat­ing, leav­ing me un­able to turn down the vol­ume, while hop­ing that the neigh­bours would hold off call­ing for noise po­lice for a few more min­utes. The lan­guage isn’t the nicest.

Con­clu­sion

I could go on, but these loud­speak­ers didn’t mind style or genre. The Q Acous­tics 3050i loud­speak­ers pro­vide re­mark­able per­for­mance at a re­mark­able price. Stephen Daw­son

Q Acous­tics 3050i stereo loud­speak­ers

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