Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
Q Acoustics was founded in 2006, and in competing with the UK’s old guard -- Bowers & Wilkins, KEF, Tannoy, Wharfedale, etc. -- Q likes to present itself as younger and fresher, focusing its speaker designs on high value, high sound quality, and great appearance. From their website: “Q Acoustics is a young brand. No heritage. No tradition. No old black and white photographs. We believe that to be the secret of our success.” I hope they realize that, if they succeed and survive, at some point they will be old -- just like the rest of us. But for now, they’re still one of the newer kids on their UK block.
Q Acoustics considers the Concept 300 to be a “step-change in loudspeaker design and a redefinition of what is possible at its price.” Priced at $4499/pair (all prices USD) with integral Tensegrity stands (the only way it’s sold), it was designed in the footsteps of their highly regarded Concept 500 floorstander ($5999/pair). They’re the two most expensive speakers Q makes.
The Concept 300 is a modern-looking minimonitor measuring 14”H x 8.7”W x 15.75”D and weighing a hefty 32 pounds without stand. Unusually, the cabinet is deeper than it is high, with a solid-color finish (Black, Silver, or White) for the front four-fifths of its depth, and the rear one-fifth clad in real-wood veneer (Rosewood, Ebony, or Oak). The entire speaker is then thickly coated with high-gloss lacquer. You can’t mix and match -- the only front+back finish combos available are Black+Rosewood, Silver+Ebony, or the White+Oak of my review samples. Casual and close inspections revealed that Q Acoustics has spared no expense in making the Concept 300’s cabinet look very appealing.
But there’s more to the Concept 300 than appearance. Like the Concept 500, its cabinet is made using what Q calls Point 2 Point Bracing (P2P). They claim to identify, at the microscopic level, the precise points inside the cabinet that require bracing to damp low-frequency vibrations -- theoretically, the cabinet receives exactly the support it needs where it needs it, and no more. To damp unwanted higher-frequency vibrations, Q uses another of their trademarked technologies, Dual Gelcore, to build up the Concept 300’s cabinet in three layers bound together by layers of non-setting gel that, they claim, converts these unwanted vibrations to heat. For the price, then, this seems to be one very inert cabinet, considering that it’s made mostly of MDF -- no aluminum or even costlier materials used. It seems to work -- it passed the knuckle-rap test with flying colors. Solid as a rock.
Contributing to the unique look and Q’s commitment to damping resonances is the integration of the Concept 300’s cabinet with the speaker’s dedicated Tensegrity stand, which itself measures 27.2”H x 19.4”W x 16.9”D and weighs 8.6 pounds. The Tensegrity comprises three stainless-steel rods as legs, terminated with adjustable spikes, whose upper ends are inserted in sockets in a circular steel plate, the rods linked and braced with thin cables of stainless steel. The cables then drop, at an acute angle, almost the stand’s full height in three separate strands, then run parallel to the ground near the bottom of the stands, wrapping around the steel legs to bind them together and ensure the stand’s stability. Finally, they join at the top plate, where mounting hardware keeps them under tension. The top plate is affixed to the speaker’s isolation base, which is an independent, spring-loaded platform incorporated into the Concept 300’s cabinet. According to Q Acoustics, this entire system -- cabinet, bottom spring plate, stand top plate, cables, legs, spikes -- ensures that the Concept 300’s sound is unaffected by internal and external resonances.
The 1.1” dome of the Concept 300’s tweeter is made of super-fine strands of microfiber, and the driver is decoupled from the cabinet with a rubber gasket. Its 6.5” midrange-bass driver has a coated-paper cone. As in many other current speaker models, the drivers are attached to the sleek front baffle in such a way that no mounting hardware is visible.
On the rear panel are two pairs of high-quality, five-way binding posts, a port, and three female banana connectors, to accommodate the included jumpers that let the user set the tweeter’s output to -0.5, 0, or +0.5dB.
The Concept 300’s frequency range is specified as 55Hz-30kHz, its sensitivity as 84dB, and its impedance as 6 ohms average, 4.7 ohms minimum. The drivers hand off to each other at 2.5kHz.
When I unpacked the Concept 300s, I’d already seen photos of their unique Tensegrity stands, and feared that assembling them would be as headache-inducing as erecting a tent -- and I am no camper. But the Tensegritys, packed in a separate box, come almost entirely preassembled. All I had to do was screw the three floor spikes into the bottoms of the legs, and the tops of the legs into the top mounting plate -- easy. You can have the stands pointing straight ahead but the speakers toed in just by rotating the top plate along the three mounting slots -- a nice touch. The stands assembled, I moved on to the speakers, which were individually and carefully packed.
Each speaker comes with a manual, a foam port plug to reduce the bass output if needed (I didn’t use the plugs), and a magnetically attached grille (which I also didn’t use). Packed in a small box with the stands is the mounting hardware for attaching them to the speakers. The easiest way to do this is to place a speaker upside-down on a soft surface (so as not to scratch it), and line up the mounting holes on the stand’s top plate to those on the speaker’s isolation base. After I’d inserted and tightened the bolts, then turned speaker and stand right-side up, the effectiveness of Q Acoustics’ vibration-damping system became very apparent. When I gave a gentle nudge, it wobbled a bit -- something I’d never seen a speaker screwed to a stand do. But that’s how Q’s Tensegrity stand and speaker isolation base are designed to work together.
I placed the Concept 300s where my reference minimonitors, Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2s ($2500/pair; add $500/pair for stands), usually sit: with their rear panels 16” from one long wall of my 15’L x 12’W x 8’H room, toed in 18°, and describing a 9’ equilateral triangle with my listening seat. My dedicated listening space is carpet over concrete slab, and treated with broadband absorption at the first sidewall reflection points and on the front wall between the speakers.
When the speakers were properly placed in my listening space, I took a good look at their visual design -- something that Q Acoustics clearly emphasizes. My listening room is admittedly more a shrine to audiophile utilitarianism than a comfortable living space, and the Concept 300s did seem a bit out of place. It’s a dim, windowless basement room full of the black boxes of audio components and -- the curse of the audio reviewer -- their empty cardboard shipping cartons, as well as those black acoustic treatments, my black recliner, plain black end tables . . . you get the idea: dark. But I could easily see how the Concept 300s would seamlessly blend in and perhaps even accent the looks of a bright, modern, minimally furnished living room.
I connected the Concept 300s to the 8-ohm output taps of my McIntosh Laboratory MC302 two-channel power amp. Upstream, I used a Bluesound Node streamer as a source and Roon endpoint, connected via an optical interconnect (TosLink) to a miniDSP DDRC-22D processor (with its built-in Dirac Live room-correction software turned off), the latter’s digital output in turn connected via TosLink to the DAC in a McIntosh C47 preamplifier. The C47 was linked to the MC302 with balanced (XLR) interconnects. I played tracks ripped from my library of CDs to a Western Digital NAS device through Roon Core and Tidal running on a Windows 10 laptop, with Roon’s Remote app installed on a Samsung Galaxy Tab S smartphone. Without any of the Concept 300s’ jumpers installed, the tweeter-level setting is -0.5dB, which I found ideal in my room and used for most of my listening -- though boosting the tweeter level by 1dB did change the character a bit. Try all three settings to see which works best for you.
Before doing any critical listening, I played music through the Concept 300s for a few days, then measured their in-room sensitivity using a 1kHz warble tone to perform level-matched comparisons against my B&Ws.
I first played “You Don’t Know Me,” from Ray Charles’s Genius Loves Company (24-bit/192kHz FLAC, Concord/HDtracks). The Q Acoustics Concept 300s did not disappoint. From the opening piano notes and the gently brushed cymbal to left of center, the Concept 300s got out of the way and let notes hang in air with superb transparency. And when Charles’s voice enters to left of center, then Diana Krall’s at dead center, I could hear all the inner detail in each voice. The Q’s tonal character sounded essentially neutral, slightly leaning toward the warm and full-bodied -- quite pleasing and easy to listen to.
But compared to my references, it was obvious from the opening brushed cymbal that the B&W 705 S2s sounded much brighter than the Concept 300s -- through the B&Ws the cymbal sounded more present, and the voices were portrayed with more height, air, and space around them. Through the Qs, Charles’s voice had more weight and body, and Krall’s sounded more neutral and balanced, while through the B&Ws Krall sounded a bit too wispy and sibilant. A difference I heard with every track I played in these comparisons was the B&Ws’ tighter, more focused imaging. The Concept 300s, though not bad in this regard, weren’t the last word in reproducing laser-sharp aural images. I found that the apparent sizes of voices and instruments that appeared on the Concept 300s’ soundstages were a bit larger, with less clearly defined boundaries, than those I heard from the 705 S2s.
Next, some hard rock: “Nothing Else Matters,” from Metallica’s Metallica, aka “The Black Album” (16/44.1 FLAC, Elektra). This track is decidedly bright, and the Concept 300’s neutral, balanced sound nailed it. Although the opening electric-guitar notes to left of center were more engagingly reproduced by the 705 S2s -- they had not only more image focus but more leading-edge bite and presence -- when Lars Ulrich’s drum kit and James Hetfield’s voice entered, it was very easy to choose a winner: the B&Ws were just too damn bright, exhibiting excessive vocal sibilance and significantly over-emphasizing the aggressive cymbal crashes. By contrast, the Q speakers delivered a more listenable tonal balance -- no excess sibilance, and with only the brightness that this recording actually contains. With respect to the bass, while both pairs of speakers delivered satisfyingly tight, punchy kick drums that I felt in my chest, the B&Ws did so with a bit more slam, while the Qs went slightly lower in the low bass.
Continuing my comparison of these speakers’ reproductions of the low end, I played some synth bass: “La La La,” from Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour (16/44.1 FLAC, Capitol), served as a good test track. My suspicions were confirmed: The Concept 300s definitely went deeper in the bass than the 705 S2s -- I could feel the sustained vibrations from the synth bass through my chair a bit more. Using my calibrated UMIK-1 microphone, I measured the speakers’ -3dB down points: the B&W 705 S2s got down to 33Hz, the Q Concept 300s to 29Hz. For a minimonitor, the Concept 300 has very impressive bass.
To zero in on vocals, I turned to a go-to track: “Black Velvet,” from the eponymous album Alannah Myles (16/44.1 FLAC, Atlantic). I focused on Myles’s voice through both pairs of speakers, and here the B&Ws had a slight edge over the Qs. The 705 S2s’ sound was slightly more focused, with greater image height, more air, and more of a feeling of a voice floating in space, completely divorced from the speaker cabinets and thus fostering the illusion that I could reach out and touch Myles’s face. Both speaker pairs were actually very good in this regard -- but the 705 S2s were just a bit better.
Last, I cued up “Here But I’m Gone,” from Vanessa Fernandez’s Use Me (16/44.1 FLAC, Groove Note/Tidal), a very well-recorded track with wide dynamic range. It sounded spectacular through both pairs of speakers, though different. The image of the acoustic guitar to the left of the right speaker was more forward on the soundstage through the B&Ws, and the bite in the leading edge of each plucked note was more subdued through the Qs. Again, the image of Fernandez’s voice was tighter through the 705 S2s, which I liked, but the amount of treble energy in the brushed cymbal was more pronounced, which I didn’t. The more neutral frequency response of the Concept 300s nailed this track’s overall tonality, which led me to choose them over my reference 705 S2s.
My overall impression of Q Acoustics’ Concept 300 was that, for a minimonitor, it did nothing wrong and almost everything right. As set up in my listening room, the pair of them had: a full-bodied, pleasing, detailed midrange; a textbook high-frequency response -- mostly flat, with a gentle negative slope from 2 to 20kHz -- that sounded delicate yet extended, with good dispersion throughout my room; and bass extension exceptional for a minimonitor. The Concept 300s also sounded very transparent -- never did I hear, or even think I heard, any hint of cabinet coloration. This speaks well for the great lengths Q has gone in their designs of this speaker and its stand to mitigate unwanted resonances that could color the sound.
What truly sets the Concept 300 apart, however, is not how good they sound or how good they look, but their combining of those qualities. From their beautifully finished cabinets to their unique integrated isolation bases to their stylishly minimalist Tensegrity stands, the Concept 300s look slick enough to easily enhance rather than intrude on any room with clean, modern décor. They’re not cheap at $4499/pair with stands, but this sort of top-to-bottom, cutting-edge engineering and industrial design never are. My time spent with the Q Acoustics Concept 300s has convinced me that they’re well worth the price of admission.
. . . Diego Estan
- Speakers -- Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2
- Subwoofers -- SVS SB-4000 (2)
- Power amplifier -- McIntosh Laboratory MC302
- Preamplifier-DAC -- McIntosh Laboratory C47
- Crossover -- Marchand Electronics XM446XLR-A
- Room-correction EQ -- miniDSP DDRC-22D with Dirac Live (between digital sources and DAC)
- Digital sources -- Rotel RCD-991 CD player, Bluesound Node streamer, laptop computer running Windows 10, Roon Core
- Analog source -- Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit turntable with Ortofon 2M Red cartridge
- Speaker cables -- 12AWG oxygen-free copper (generic) terminated with locking banana plugs
- Analog interconnects -- AmazonBasics unbalanced (RCA), Monoprice Premier balanced (XLR)
- Digital link -- AmazonBasics optical (TosLink)
Q Acoustics Concept 300 Loudspeakers
Price: $4499 USD per pair, including Tensegrity stands.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Armour Home Electronics
Woodside 2, Dunmow Road
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire CM23 5RG