British Q Acoustics has rapidly established itself as one of the major players in the affordable hi-fi sector, with a wide range of speakers combining room-friendly dimensions, excellent performance and very sensible pricing, not to mention high-quality engineering. There’s no sign of the ‘inexpensive drivers in basic boxes’ syndrome here: instead the company’s range has sleek rounded corners to the enclosures, creating a very contemporary look, and uses drivers custom-made to suit the rest of the construction. This is mass-market hi-fi that looks – and sounds – a cut above, and even when the company aims very high – as it has with its flagship Concept 500 model – it manages to deliver a sound way beyond the expectations created by the pricing.
The M20 is not unique in the market – there are more than a few ‘system in a speaker’ offerings out there with amplification built-in, meaning you only need to add a source to deliver the music to them – but it does stand out by offering all this at a seriously tempting price. Whether you’re looking for a second room system for a bedroom or study, desktop audio, or even a main set-up for use in small to medium rooms, the M20 has (almost) all you need to start playing music. For while these may look like conventional small speakers, standing just under 27cm tall and in the familiar Q Acoustics ‘deeper than they are wide’ format, as well as that amplification they have digital-to-analogue conversion onboard, and come complete with a dinky remote-control handset.
The drivers here are conventional Q Acoustics designs; there’s a wide-dispersion 22mm tweeter, designed for room-filling stereo imaging and decoupled from the main enclosure – which uses ‘point to point’ bracing to damp resonances – to prevent it from being affected by vibrations from the 12.5cm mid/bass driver, itself tuned with a rear-venting port. Foam bungs are provided to reduce the effect of this port, for example if the speakers are to be used close to a rear wall, but the design goes further than this: a three-position switch on one of the speakers allows the sound to be tuned for a variety of positions – in free space (for example out into the room on stands), close to a rear wall, or in the corners of the room. It’s widely known that corners are just about the worst place to put speakers, but in this real-world design Q Acoustics acknowledges that sometimes there’s nowhere else to position them.
The reason that the position switch is only on one speaker is because that’s the one containing all the electronics. The second speaker is entirely passive, and connects to the powered one using conventional speaker cable – a 4m run is supplied as part of the package. Therefore only one speaker needs a mains cable – which is handy for positioning compared with more advanced designs where both speakers need mains power – and also carries all the connectivity. You can designate whether the main speaker handles the left or right channel with another switch on its rear panel.
The power output here is 65W per channel, which is more than enough to deliver a room-filling sound and, as well as Bluetooth for the convenience of wireless streaming from your phone, the M20 has a USB port that enables it to be connected to a computer, along with an optical digital input, both able to handle hi-res music at up to 192kHz/24bit, plus analogue inputs with RCA and 3.5mm sockets.
While the M20 lacks some of the complexity of pricier designs – there’s no onboard Wi-Fi streaming, for example, as there is in the company’s upmarket Q Active models – what it does deliver is performance, and lots of it. Quite simply, someone forgot to tell this system it’s built around two pretty small speakers, and so it has a sound that’s big, rich and full of impact, along with beautiful integration between drivers and amplification to ensure you never miss a thing in whatever music you’re playing. OK, so there’s not the ground-shaking bass possible from huge speakers and amplification, but there’s more than enough for the kind of rooms in which these speakers will be used, and it’s massively impressive in both its sense of extension and its speed and control. These are remarkably fast and dynamic speakers, and with a detailed, informative sound good enough to make some much more expensive designs look a bit silly, whether you’re playing mainstream chart-fodder, soulful jazz or even classical warhorses. That means they make an excellent stab at all the hi-fi niceties – the character of instruments and voices, the positioning of those performances in the sonic picture before the listener, and even that sense of the space in which the recordings were made (or the one the engineers endeavoured to create) – but above all they play music wonderfully well, and are a blast to listen to.
Thanks to the combination of foam bungs to tame the bass and that simple ‘position’ switch, the M20 speakers are easy to set up and position, either on stands or shelves, or even using the optional Q Acoustics wall-brackets. The combination of the wide-dispersion tweeter and power mid/bass unit will fill most sensibly-sized rooms with music – and what music!
Small they may be, but ‘only’ having the M20 speakers on which to play your music is no hardship. They offer sensational performance for the money, and will challenge some conventional amplifier and speaker set-ups while having the advantage of keeping all the electronics hidden inside. Add in the fact they’re a breeze to use via the supplied handset, and will handle a range of music sources, and at the price they’re just about perfect.
Taylor Swift: Starlight
Taken from her Red (Taylor’s Version) Could You Be The One Chapter EP, whose title is almost as long as the music itself, this track shows the ability of the M20 to deliver everything from intimate vocals through to full-on large-scale production, giving both focus and excellent weight
Paul Oakenfold: Hypnotic
Oakenfold’s latest studio album has a mass of collaborations, and ranges from trance to drum and bass and string breaks that wouldn’t be out of place on a movie soundtrack; the M20 breezes through the set, as adept with the driving low bass as it digging deep into the mixes
Billy F Gibbons: Stackin’ Bones
The ZZ Top guitarist got even more stripped-back on his 2021 solo outing Hardware, and all the rawness of the sound comes over in killer fashion via the M20 system. If it sounds like a bunch of battle-hardened old rockers just getting down and playing for the hell of it, you’re right on the money
Why wouldn’t you? This is a fabulous little system with a big, big sound, all crammed into a pair of compact speakers without compromising the performance one bit. Wherever you want great music in your home, the M20 will deliver – for a ridiculously affordable price