At a time when many brands are crowing about turning 50, or an even more seasoned age, UK speaker company Q Acoustics could be considered an adolescent, having launched its first range of speakers, the 1000s, a mere 17 years ago. Since then, it has built a solid reputation for a winning combination of quality and value for the serious audiophile through to the cost-conscious music lover.
The launch of the new 5000 range is aimed somewhere in the middle of that wide stratum, with the customary balance of technology-sound quality-value for money still very much to the fore.
We’ve already looked at the bookshelf 5020s, now we are putting the floor standing 5040s through their paces.
In comparison, the 5040s seem like whoppers, despite being just under one metre in height. They should be ample for most tastes but if you want even more presence in your listening room, the larger 5050 will be released later this year.
What the 5040 delivers with ease is the wide-open sound of floor standing speakers, provided there is enough room for them to be able to do their stuff without having to be jammed into a corner. This is important. The 5040s are not designed for pokey rooms and cupboard-sized man caves, they need to breath – more about that later.
From the outset, the 5040s immediately strike you with their presence and form. The proportions look considered, nothing is jarring; they’re of a slim build, with a modest 18cm width and slighter larger 28cm depth. But it is the overall form rather than just the dimensions that makes them such an eye catcher, particularly the rounded corners which add a contemporary feel. With modern décor they sit very happily, in a more traditional setting they may take some getting used to.
For stability, a solid aluminium foot, featuring top adjustable spikes for levelling, is easily fitted to the rear underside of the speaker. The front spikes screw into the base of the speaker itself.
The speaker cables from your amplifier attach to low profile terminals on the rear panel, sensibly positioned just a few centimetres from the bottom of the speaker.
The radical design on the outside is barely half the story, much of what has gone into the making has come from the knowledge gained with the company’s higher priced flagship, Concept range. Plus, there is the introduction of a completely new design for the two low profile 125mm mid bass drivers, called Continuous Curved Cone, which Q Acoustics says, “ensures smoother high-frequency integration with the tweeter and superior bass dynamics”.
The driver layout, too, is one of the tech features handed down from some of the Concept range models. Known as D'Appolito configuration, or "MTM", where the tweeter (T) sits in between the two mid/bass drivers (the Ms).
This layout is not unique to Q Acoustics but it is not as common as some other configurations and helps to convey that modern design appeal as well as a defining influence on the sound. The whole configuration sits in a black inset provided a pleasant contrast to the white cabinets of the test samples.
Other technical features handed down from the Concept range include a 25mm tweeter which is isolated from the front baffle to protect it from internal cabinet pressure and resonances from the mid/bass driver and a Q Acoustics developed method of internal bracing to stiffen the cabinet to minimise lower frequency vibrations and at the same time help to focus the stereo imaging and bring detail and depth to the soundstage.
Covers on or off will depend on your preference for the appearance. In either version the 5040s are attractive, although I prefer the grilles off, not so much from a sound performance point of view, it’s just that I like my speakers looking like, erm speakers…
Maybe I’m just not so used to having big speakers in the house, and believe me these aren’t exactly huge, but for whatever reason I expected them to be a bit macho – perhaps lacking in subtlety with lots of low-end growl. What was served up proved me totally wrong and delivered a good lesson regarding nonsensical, preconceived ideas...
Admittedly, straight of the box they didn’t have me dancing around the room but after a vigorous exercise regime over a few hours, the sound transformed and became considerably more welcoming, enlightening and rewarding. This is nothing other than normal, all speakers only really get into their stride after several hours of playing.
And even after their workout, I found the 5040s to be the type of speakers that provide a level of enjoyment that builds the longer you listen, rather than delivering an immediate climax in the ears.
Also, it was really gratifying to discover that these speakers don’t need to be cranked up to the max to deliver. Even at modest volumes, the accurate definition of what is being played, the sheer musicality, is such to render you totally captivated.
Sure, the 5040s do loud and low with aplomb, but it is the seamless integration of the complete range of lows, mids and uppers that makes them such a welcoming, relaxing listen. Q Acoustics say this is a result of the driver configuration mentioned earlier, if that is the case, then it’s doing a mighty impressive job.
On vocals, too, the 5040s really know how to please. The three-part harmony kicking off Lana Del Rey’s The Grants is a joy of timing, enunciation and revealing clarity, finger clicks and intakes of breath.
Accuracy in reproduction is all the better after taking some care in set-up; a little fiddling with the angle the speakers sit at, the distance apart and from the rear wall means the speakers suddenly change gear, accelerating from very good to superb. What’s more, get the positioning right and the speakers simply disappear and you are left with a lovely open soundstage, particularly effective on orchestral tracks such as the new, dramatic recording by Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto by Yuja Wang and the Los Angeles Philharmonic – you feel as if you are sitting right next to this brilliant young musician, where every single touch of the ivories is perfectly reproduced.
The 5040s enjoy a modern rather than neutral design, so to my mind they suit a similar setting; think open plan, uncluttered spaces, contemporary furniture, wooden floors (remember you do have the option of rubber ’boots’ to put over the spikes to protect naked wood) rather than floral wallpaper and 19th century pastoral watercolours. And the equipment to drive them as well; while they may well sound perfectly wonderful with a retro styled amp, it would be a little incongruous in the visual harmony stakes. Although speaker design can be extremely conservative, the 5040s aren’t. And to me, that is something to be celebrated and taken advantage of.
These are not hungry speakers, by that I mean they are easy to drive without requiring oodles of power to perform to their best, a modestly spec’d and powered amp will easily get them rocking.
Neither are they fussy, up to a point. To really have the 5040s turning in star performances, they need space – otherwise the sound stage will appear restricted and nowhere near as impressive as it could be. Q Acoustics recommends a distance between the speakers of two to four metres. At first in the testing, they were less than two metres apart and they sounded a tad underwhelming, increasing the space between them to 2.5m a higher degree of performance was immediate. If you don’t have the space, we’d suggest looking at the 5020s as an alternative.
It is not only the distance between the speakers that proved critical but how far they protrude into the room. The manufacturer recommends 20cm from the rear wall and 50cm from the corner. This proved to be a good starting point although I preferred the more controlled bass produced by moving the speakers slightly further into the room, possibly because they were sitting in front of a floor to ceiling glass window which provides precious little sound wave absorption.
The 5040s have a large, eight-centimetre rear port to help project that impressive bass. But if the wall behind is too close or too reflective, the bass ends up all over the place. A foam bung is provided to control the response but for me, moving the cabinet further from the wall was a more beneficial option.
What you are getting for your £999 with the 5040s puts them into a class of their own. The exceptional sound quality, resulting from the carefully considered build and technology, combined with an attractive modern design, in the right environment makes them a strong statement, in every respect.
Respectful and appreciative of every genre, from floor thumping bass to delicate strings, these are a joy to listen to, and clearly designed by people who love their music.
Farid Bang Maghreb Gang
A chaotic sampling in German, Arabic and English of Abdel Kader, a traditional Algerian song made famous by the raï artist Khaled, back here in cahoots with French Montana and Farid Bang. Lively, loud and great fun, with a floor-plank rattling bass than goes way beyond hearing. People often buy floor-standers for the bass response, here’s the ultimate proof of why the 5040s are so good at doing just that.
Tom Waits Cemetery Polka
From the 1985 Rain Dogs, remastered and just released, by the singer/songwriter who can’t be touched for originality in every respect. Waits brings his ragbag characters to life through song. While every track is a surprise, in which a wide range of instruments define their weirdness, including marimba, accordion, double bass, trombone, and banjo, Cemetery Polka stands out as a classic, get past the distinctively gruff vocals to find a mass of complexity, discovery and joy and a very disturbing sounding family…
Natalia LaFourcade Hasta La Raiz (down to your roots)
Yes, the 5040s are big, but they can do delicate just as well as loud. This Mexican singer songwriter has an incredible gutsy voice, and at the same time can sound as light as a feather. The 5040s handle this with ease, perfectly reproduced throughout her vocal talents, with the right amount of heft in the sparse bassline and tying together the harmonies and instruments in a characteristic, catchy Mexican groove.
Good value for money; easy to drive; thoroughly rewarding;, satisfyingly humungous, spacious sound; understanding the need for delicacy and stupefyingly deep bass when required; with a thankful modern design appreciation in a world of conservatism