Q Acous­tics 3020i book­shelf speaker re­view

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY JONATHAN TAKIFF

Some speak­ers are crit­i­cized for their overt per­son­al­ity, for ex­ag­ger­ated (or un­der­nour­ished) tonal char­ac­ter­is­tics that can mis­rep­re­sent the mu­sic. But it’s hard to imag­ine any­one tak­ing Q Acous­tics to task for what they’ve wrought with the per­son­able 3020i book­shelf speak­ers. Th­ese speak­ers’ spe­cial dis­tinc­tion is a fo­cus on sound­stage op­ti­miza­tion and un­wa­ver­ing clar­ity that serves al­most ev­ery mu­si­cal mas­ter ex­ceed­ingly well, from clas­si­cal to folk, rock to hip hop to jazz.

Th­ese speak­ers will send you run­ning for your fa­vorite record­ings, so you can hear what nu­ances will be re­vealed. They im­bue stu­dio per­for­mances with such

pres­ence, depth, and bounce as to cre­ate a sort of sonic holo­gram that pin­points mu­si­cians’ spa­tial place­ment in the mix, not just in the hor­i­zon­tal plane but also for­ward and aft, high and low. And it all comes from an at­trac­tive pack­age that pos­i­tively oozes qual­ity at an al­most un­be­liev­ably low price: Just $299. For the pair.

The 12-year-old Q Acous­tics de­sign team is largely com­prised of alumni from a host of au­gust home au­dio brands, in­clud­ing KEF, Merid­ian, Mis­sion, and Tan­noy. The com­pany’s pinch-me pric­ing is achieved by man­u­fac­tur­ing its speak­ers in China and sell­ing them di­rect, at Qa­cous­tics.com and via on­line store­fronts at Ama­zon, Jet, Re­verb, ebay, and Wal­mart.

The 3020i are in the mid­dle of a range of speak­ers con­sist­ing of the smaller 3010i speak­ers at one end and the 3050i floor-standers at the other. If you’re look­ing to build out a 5.1-chan­nel sys­tem for your home theater, Q Acous­tics also of­fers the 3060S sub­woofer and the 3090Ci cen­ter chan­nel.

On their own, how­ever, a pair of Q-acous­tics 3020i’s fab­u­lous for both mu­sic and Tv/film pre­sen­ta­tions, es­pe­cially in a small to mid-sized room. Hon­estly, th­ese two-way, rear-ported speak­ers could eas­ily pass for floor-standers. On the cin­e­matic front, they swept me away with pre­cisely cal­i­brated di­a­log, dy­namic in-mo­tion sound ef­fects, and ro­bust scor­ing.

TEST EQUIP­MENT AND SE­LEC­TIONS

My test equip­ment in­cluded a Sonos Con­nect:amp and a Oppo BDP-103 Uni­ver­sal Blu-ray CD//SACD/DVD-A steam­ing video player. With 55 watts per chan­nel, the Sonos falls smack dab in the mid­dle of the rec­om­mended power range (25 to 75 watts) for the moder­ately sen­si­tive (88db) 3020is. Suf­fi­cient to crank

the speak­ers to a Spinal Tap-ish “eleven” with most con­tent in my fam­ily room, though re­ally sound­ing at their best at the mid­dle of the amp’s range.

Th­ese ears also ob­sessed over madeabroad mu­si­cal con­tent, from Sting’s ar­rest­ing Live in Ber­lin, videoed in con­cert with the Royal Phil­har­monic Con­cert Orches­tra on Deutsche Gram­mo­phone/ UMG Blu-ray disc, to the newly un­earthed

(by Columbia Le­gacy) 1960 Euro con­cert ses­sions of Miles Davis and John Coltrane ( The Fi­nal Tour – The Boot­leg Se­ries Vol­ume 6). Yes, the quin­tet romps through the likes of “Bye Bye Black­bird,” “On Green Dol­phin Street,” and “All Blues” in pris­tine monau­ral. And ev­ery­thing is firmly phan­tom-cen­tered on the Q Acous­tics; yet, there’s a sense of stag­gered depth and room am­bi­ence in the play­back that sounds 3D-ish!

I also streamed the new self-ti­tled set by Cuban mambo jazz band Orquesta Akokan (on the Dap­tone la­bel.) The 3020i charm­ingly cel­e­brate both the quaint, brassy sound of the en­sem­ble, and the fa­bled, res­o­nant qual­i­ties of the wood-pan­eled Are­ito stu­dios at EGREM, the state-owned mu­sic com­plex in Ha­vana where Buena

Vista So­cial Club also recorded.

Our test speak­ers also showed their met­tle with the just-out ECM clas­si­cal odd­ball Tan­gere per­formed by Alexei Lu­bi­mov. Cov­er­ing works by the lesser known C.P.E. Bach, the Rus­sian key­boardist is play­ing the now ob­scure tan­gent pi­ano ( go.mac­world.com/tnpn), a hy­brid in­ven­tion of the 1700s that is evoca­tive at turns of harp­si­chord, clavi­chord, and ham­mer dul­cimer. With the 3020i put to the task, that ec­cen­tric, quirky na­ture is ap­par­ent and in­trigu­ing. You’ll never con­fuse the sonic por­trayal as just an­other small pi­ano.

SET-UP ESSEN­TIALS

To coax tight and ac­cu­rate sound out of small boxes with ex­tended bass re­sponse, Q Acous­tics’ engi­neers built the 3020i with a 25-per­cent larger cabi­net than was de­ployed in the ear­lier 3020 (with­out the “i”). The cab­i­nets grew in depth es­pe­cially— to 10.9 inches—so they’re nearly as deep as they are high (11.1 inches), a for­tu­itous for­mula for boost­ing dy­nam­ics. While no wider (6.7 inches) than aver­age book­shelf speak­ers, you might find th­ese too deep for shelf place­ment, even with their deeply re­cessed bind­ing posts.

If you do in­tend to place them on a book­shelf against a wall, you’ll likely want to insert the in­cluded foam bungs into their rear re­flex ports, to sub­due ex­ag­ger­ated bass. A bet­ter place­ment would be on stands, a few feet away from the wall, prefer­ably at ear level (when seated, that is).

Clean, curved-cor­ner uni­body con­struc­tion (there are no vis­i­ble seams or in­dents) and ro­bust in­ter­nal stiff­en­ing are key to the 3020i’s sonic re­fine­ment. Th­ese de­sign el­e­ments aim to elim­i­nate un­wanted vi­bra­tion and col­oration and fine-tune sig­nal de­liv­ery. Q Acous­tics ap­plies its trade­marked “P2P” (point-to-point) brac­ing tech­nol­ogy here to tighten up ar­eas of the Mdf-con­structed box that suf­fer the most strain, such as the cor­ners and the front baf­fle that sup­ports the tweeter and lowfre­quency/mid-range driver.

Q Acous­tics is equally proud of its pro­pri­etary, col­oration-free driv­ers, of course, which col­lec­tively achieve a fre­quency re­sponse of 64Hz to 30khz (+3 db, -6db.) The 5-inch low/midrange units uti­lize an ex­tra sturdy Aramid fiber ma­te­rial for the cone, coated with an acous­ti­cally neu­tral ma­te­rial (mostly to pre­vent dam­age in hu­mid cli­mates). The cone is sur­rounded with low-lag rub­ber for ac­cu­rate move­ment. The 0.9 inch soft dome tweeter is polyester mi­crofiber with a polypropy­lene sur­round that de­cou­ples it from the baf­fle.

I pre­fer the look of th­ese speak­ers (avail­able in vinyl-lam­i­nated Graphite Grey, English Wal­nut, Car­bon Black, or Arc­tic White fin­ishes) with their mag­ne­tized black cloth grills in place. With grills off, your

eyes are drawn to the semi-shiny bling of me­tal trim rings sur­round­ing the woofers and tweet­ers, a look that shouts “boom box” to me. But I found it es­sen­tial to take the grills off for my lis­ten­ing tests. It was the only way re­al­ize the full holo­graphic ef­fects th­ese magic mak­ers can cre­ate, and to elim­i­nate any trace amounts of sig­nal blunt­ing and dis­tor­tion. This was par­tic­u­larly no­tice­able while lis­ten­ing to Sting and the sym­phony vamp like mad on “Ev­ery Lit­tle Thing She Does Is Magic.” The is­sue here is that the artist in­tro­duces a bit of in­ten­tional mi­cro­phone dis­tor­tion to thicken his vo­cals. That ex­tra grit is bear­able with the grills off, but it sounds more like nasty sput­ter­ing with them on.

I also found the need to futz with the Sonos amp’s EQ con­trols with the grills on, mak­ing ad­just­ments when re­vis­it­ing fa­mil­iar al­bum plea­sures such as bassist Rob Wasser­man’s son­i­cally im­mac­u­late Duets, with col­lab­o­ra­tors like Aaron Neville, Rickie Lee Jones, and Jen­nifer Warnes (also avail­able in Wasser­man’s Tril­ogy col­lec­tion); the newly remixed (by Bob Clear­moun­tain) 50th an­niver­sary edi­tion of Mu­sic from Big Pink (The Band); and when jump­ing into Ste­vie Won­der’s mas­ter­work Songs in the Key of Life in 24 bit/96khz fash­ion on Pure

Au­dio Blu-ray.

It was a to­tally dif­fer­ent story with the grills off. I could then leave all set­tings flat and just flip on the Sonos amp’s “Loud­ness” set­ting to let the 3020i frolic: bold, free, and happy. Me, too. ■

The 3020i is the sec­ond up model in a full range of 3000i-se­ries speak­ers. You can mix and match them for mul­ti­ple rooms and mul­ti­chan­nel home theater in­stal­la­tions.

Yes, th­ese are book­shelf speak­ers, but they beg for place­ment on stands so you can set them a lit­tle fur­ther from the wall be­hind them.

While deeper than the aver­age book­shelf speaker, the re­cessed, ba­nana plugfriendly bind­ing posts on the 3020i re­duce the space needed be­hind the cab­i­nets.

Have it your way: mag­net­i­cally-at­tached cloth cov­ers lend a dis­crete look to the Q-acous­tics 3020i, while tak­ing the cov­ers off pro­vides a flashier tech fash­ion state­ment and airier sound.

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