Fixed to their tripod stands, the Concept 300s look like they’ve stepped out of an H G Wells novel. Which is just as well because the sonics on offer here are simply out of this world.
While some may consider a price tag of £2,999 also to be rather astronomical for a pair of bookshelf speakers, once we tell you what lies inside each exquisitely finished cabinet you’ll soon appreciate why the Concept 300s are worth every penny.
Since launching in 2006, Hertfordshire-based Q Acoustics has rapidly established itself as a designer and maker of highly-engineered speakers for hi-fi and home cinema use.
Now unlike The Beach Boys, the boffins at Q Acoustics are likely to say there’s nothing good about vibrations. In fact, they can be bad.
Let us explain.
When speakers get going, their moving drive units generate high frequency (HF) vibrations that can cause the cabinets to resonate. This impacts performance and compromises sound quality.
So a major quest for speaker engineers is to design ‘dead cabinets’, i.e., enclosures that are protected against unwanted vibrations. For Q Acoustics, part of the solution lies in an innovation it calls ‘Dual Gelcore’.
Each Concept 300 cabinet is made up of three individual layers that are separated by a specially developed gel that does not set. According to the firm, this gel adhesive dissipates HF vibrations into heat, thereby maintaining a focused audio performance.
But the war on vibration does not end there.
There is also extra bracing fitted to interior areas of the cabinet that are prone to low-end frequency reverberations; the tweeters are fixed using an isolating mount to protect them from sending or receiving unwanted vibrations; the mid/bass drivers are held in place from behind by strong spring-tensioned retaining bolts, thus negating the need for vibration-attracting decorative trim to hide unsightly bolt heads; and the entire mass of the speaker rests on four springs, damped using a material that is said to be precisely tailored to the mass of the speaker to convert any vibrational energy in the springs into heat.
And then there are those tripod stands.
Using a design principle called tensegrity, these are built using load-bearing aluminium rods and thin stainless-steel cables. The result is a rigid, self-supporting structure that is never subjected to bending force as the elements used for construction are either in compression (the rods) or tension (the cables).
As well as creating a stand that has a low surface area to eliminate radiating sound and reflections, Q Acoustics claims three legs are better for leveling and stability than the four feet used in more conventional bookshelf speaker supports.
Now, while all this tech goes some way to justifying the price of the Concept 300s and their innovative stands, that’s only part of the story.
If you really want to know why it’s worth shelling out three grand for these speakers, you need to get them wired and fired. And then prepare yourself for some aural pleasure.
Depth. That’s the word that immediately comes to mind as soon as the Concept 300s spring into action.
Fed with the electronica of Two Lanes’ atmospheric ‘Another Time’, the Qs project sound all around the room, creating a credible three-dimensional soundstage.
Their ability to ‘throw long’ is revealed again with Beach House’s ‘Space Song’ – its steady percussion seeming to creep in gradually from somewhere behind the speakers and into the foreground.
Try something more multi-layered, such as Boards of Canada’s ‘Peacock Tail’, and the Concept 300s reveal their next trick: timing.
The percussion on this moody track is precisely delivered in the way the drivers stop and start, and without a hint of any smearing, delay or wobble.
That accuracy draws the listener in, with the keyboard refrains and vocals from Hilary Gardner on Moby’s ‘Hope Is Gone’ proving to be a case in point. The 300s paint this track with clearly delineated tones that are bristling with a vibrancy and energy that craves attention.
It’s the same with Amy Winehouse’s ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ – the expression in the vocals is laid bare, drawing the listener in and proving to be utterly captivating.
Switch to something simpler, such as Ludovico Einaudi’s piano, and the Concept 300s do not fail to impress. Listen to ‘Nuvole Bianche’ or ‘Oltermare’, and these speakers instantly convey the passion of the pianist and you remain firmly locked into the performance until the concluding notes fall into decay. Breathtaking.
There’s masterful control here, too: nothing is rendered with over-exuberance or comes across as too forward when it shouldn’t (so we’d better also add ‘balance’ to the speakers’ attributes).
What the Concept 300s are capable of revealing is akin to an old oil painting being skilfully cleaned - you always knew the detail was there, but the wiping away years of grime and faded varnish suddenly exposes the original colour and vibrancy of the work.
The Concept 300s’ sound quality is as solid as their sturdy, sealed cabinets suggest, but it’s that ability to conjure up performers and present them before you in a believable 3D soundscape that’s the ace in the hole.
Not only are these speakers a joy to the ears, we also reckon they’re a feast for the eyes. The lacquered cabinets use real wood veneers and are available in a choice of three dual colour finishes: gloss black/rosewood; gloss white/oak; and silver/ebony.
Of course, the looks aren’t going to be all tastes, especially when you factor in those stands (which will prove a talking point if nothing else).
It may also be worth noting that when the Concept 300s are used with their stands, the entire set-up ends up occupying a similar or larger footprint than a typical floorstander. That may not prove practical for those looking for bookshelf speakers specifically because they don’t have the room for floorstanders.
While Q Acoustics obviously recommends using the 300s with their dedicated stands for the best results, they can be purchased separately, coming in at £2,499 and £699, respectively (the stands also include adapter top-plates to use with other similar-sized speakers.
Two Lanes - Another Time (featuring Kwesi)
This recording captures all extraneous noises of the piano levers and pedals moving during the intro which gives it a live and atmospheric feel. Kwesi’s breathy vocals add to the atmosphere, and it’s all beautifully portrayed courtesy of the Qs.
Moby - Hope Is Gone
Female vocals present no problem for the Concept 300s which take Hilary Gardner’s melancholic refrains to new heights. At the same time, the simplicity of this track, with its steady rhythm, presents an opportunity for the speakers to show off their timing skills.
Ludovico Einaudi - Nuvole Bianche
Einaudi gets some bad press from the classical snobs, but once your spine tingles with the energy and vitality of this piano piece played back through the Q Acoustics, it’s hard not to be drawn in and wanting more.
There are a trio of pleasures to be had with the Concept 300s.Firstly, there are the aesthetics. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we reckon that straight out of the box, these elegant, speakers with their modern styling and high gloss cabinets are sure to turn heads. And then, once you get them wired and fired, there’s the second charm: they’ll catch your ears, too. If you are upgrading from a mid-market set-up to something with a four digital price tag (all on the left of the decimal point, of course), you’ll be seeking next-level sonics that offer greater insight into your music collection. Well, the 300s not only deliver all of that but there’s so much more with in terms of keeping the listener engaged and wanting more. How do they do that? The secret must lie with their third attribute - the technology that drives them. Beauty is more than skin deep here as underneath each sleek cabinets are unique performance-enhancing innovations that make sound sense and are clearly worth shelling out for.