At this point, Q Acoustics’ Concept speakers aren’t so much an abstract idea as a fully established and successful reality – a product line that’s existed for close to a decade and barely put a foot wrong.
The British brand’s first Concept model, the Concept 20 standmounters, arrived in 2013 as more ambitious designs than the entry-level efforts that had set the company in motion some years before, and would be far from the only Concept model to walk away from our test rooms with a five-star review (and a What Hi-Fi? Award, come to that). In fact, the only slight hiccup in the Concept lineage in our minds has been the more recent high-end Concept 300, which we considered a technological triumph but, at odds with previous Concept executions, not quite an exemplary performer in its particular class.
So, can the all-new Concept 30 standmounters make amends and return the range to five-star footing?
Along with its Concept 50 floorstander and Concept 90 centre-channel siblings, the Concept 30 are, Q Acoustics says, technologically closer to the flagship 300 and 500 models than the veteran Concept 20 – which is just as well considering the older model launched at almost a third of the price you can spy at the top of this review. While visually all Q Acoustics speakers are almost one and the same, sharing smooth, curvaceous, deep cabinets with driver-dominating baffles, it’s easy to draw a line between the Concept 30 and the company's higher-end models when it comes to the engineering under the hood.
Firstly, the Concept 30’s 12.5cm mid/bass driver inherits the cone material, voice coil structure and suspension system from the Concept 500, while its 2.5cm dome tweeter also benefits from learnings from the flagship design.
The 3mm-thick aluminium baffle to which the drivers are mounted is fixed with studs that attach to the internal bracing and are pre-tensioned to provide an optimum acoustic seal while minimising the structural coupling of the baffle to the main cabinet assembly. What's arguably more interesting is the Concept 30’s isolating cabinet base, which comprises two plates – the upper fixes to the speaker’s base while the lower, separated by a suspension mechanism, couples to the support. The idea is to isolate the speaker from unwanted vibrations while also preventing energy from escaping to external surfaces. Sensibly then, it’s here where Q Acoustics has mounted the crossover, reducing the unwanted effects of electromagnetic fields and the vibrations generated by the drive units.
Recommended amplifier power 25-100W
Nominal impedance 6 ohms
Dimensions (hwd) 28 x 18 x 32cm
The Concept 30 also adopt the brand’s ‘P2P’ (point-to-point) cabinet-stiffening bracing technique, and use its Gelcore treatment for tackling cabinet noise. Quite frankly, the Concept 30 pack a lot of technology for a speaker at this price point and, arguably, their size.
Each cabinet is 32cm deep, 18cm wide and 28cm tall, adopting that neat and narrow front-on appearance that Q Acoustics has made its own. And this is very much a Q Acoustics speaker through and through, with its familiar dimensions complemented by its equally familiar cutesy, rounded corners and shimmery glossy finish. Make no mistake, this is a fantastically built and handsomely finished speaker that is right up there at this level.
The Concept 30’s aesthetic and engineering plaudits don’t stop at the cabinets, either. The speakers can be partnered with the company’s Q FS75 skeletal stands (also compatible with the Q Active 200), which have been inspired by the Tensegrity (see Buckminster Fuller’s work on ‘tensional integrity’) supports that are part and parcel of the Concept 300’s design. The Q FS75 are essentially comprised of rods in compression and cables in tension that, compared with traditional designs, are claimed to work together to more effectively minimise the transmission of vibrations to and from the speaker – and they look the part, too. They’re a rather pricey optional extra for £349 ($499, AU$799), mind you, and, unlike the stand-speaker relationship of its pricier sibling, not central to the Concept 30’s performance. We find they work well atop our reference Kudos S100 stands. Needless to say, dedicated stands of whichever design are highly recommendable at this level for the speakers to perform optimally.
When you’ve worked out what to put the Concept 30 on, your next decision is where in the room to put them, and in our 3 x 7 x 5m (hwd) test room we find they sound right at home with a bit of space behind them, toed in towards the listening position slightly.
As visually recognisable as the Concept 30 are as Q Acoustics speakers, they’re just as familiar to listen to. Anyone well versed in the British brand’s output will know to expect a smooth, refined and punchy performer – and, satisfyingly, that’s what you get here.
Expand on those adjectives to include ‘big’, ‘open’ and ‘clear’ and we’re still in line with the Q Acoustics 101 handbook. The Concept 30 produce a lovely spread of sound that’s well imaged and peppered with precise levels of detail, with the whole frequency band settling on a nice balance between weight and crispness. Overall, it’s a spotlessly spic-and-span presentation for this calibre of speaker.
Soon into our listening, we get a feeling something isn’t quite repeating history here – like when your best friend walks in looking slightly different but you can’t quite put your finger on why. And then it hits us: the Concept 30 offer a more upfront listen than Concepts of old. That pays dividends when listening to the upbeat likes of Dave’s System or ZZ Top’s Gimme All Your Lovin’, which come through with immediacy and attention-grabbing bass weight.
There is a ‘but’. While favouring fun in many ways, the Concept 30 don’t do everything in their power to be musically satisfying – and that omission largely surrounds dynamic subtlety. We Play Anderson .Paak’s Tints (feat. Kendrick Lamar) and while you feel inclined to tap your feet along to the Concept 30’s sprightly rendition, the genius interplay in the groove is significantly better communicated by the class-leading KEF LS50 Meta as they track the instruments’ rises and falls within a soundstage that also has greater dimensional awareness. The Q Acoustics’ comparatively one-tone dynamic performance doesn’t give the song’s crafty composition its due credit, much in the same way it isn’t able to as convincingly convey the change in feeling from solemness to hopefulness in Ludovico Einaudi’s Einaudi: Experience.
We admit that the Q Acoustics are up against greatness at this level – the KEF is indeed a subtler, more mature speaker than everything else we’ve come across at this price – but the very best speakers that cost much less are better able to communicate dynamic fluctuations (even if the Concept 30 could certainly better them in other areas), and we can’t help but find that disappointing.
It’s a blot on what is an otherwise spotless landscape. Q Acoustics’ engineers have packed much of the brand’s flagship speaker technology into more accessible speakers, and that effort comes through in the sheer quality of the Concept 30’s sonic strengths – namely clarity, size, across-the-spectrum authority and refinement.
While they aren’t the finished sonic article in our books, and happen to be up against some extremely tough competition in the KEFs, there’s a lot to like here before even taking into account their innovative technology and unrivalled build quality. Bring back some of that musicality of previous Concepts and you’d have truly formidable contenders in this class.
- Sound 4
- Compatibility 5
- Build 5
Read our review of the KEF LS50 Meta
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