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Q Acoustics M40 HD

Just as surely as Q Acoustics know precisely what it’s doing when it comes to turning out profoundly competitive passive loudspeakers at a range of price-points, it’s demonstrated a deep understanding of exactly what’s what where affordable wireless speaker systems are concerned. You only need to look at Andrew Everard’s review of the company’s M20 system to have the point quite forcibly made - he’s not the sort of person to say “sensational performance for the money” even remotely lightly. 

That Q Acoustics might be keen to build on the success of the M20 is no surprise. What is slightly surprising, at least on first acquaintance, is how modest - in physical terms, at least - that building is. The M40 HD wireless audio system is, fundamentally, a startling compact (710 x 250 x 296mm, HxWxD) pair of floorstanding speakers, one of which requires mains power and both of which join together via a length of speaker cable. If there are smaller floorstanders (or ‘micro-towers’, as Q Acoustics prefers) around, I’ve yet to see them.

They have a fairly full helping of functionality, though.

One of the speakers is a purely passive design, but the other has plenty going on. It’s where the system keeps its amplification (Class D, naturally, and rated at 2 x 100 watts peak and 2 x 50 watts RMS), and all of its physical and wireless connectivity.

The wireless stuff is handled by Bluetooth 5.0 with SBC, AAC, aptX HD and aptX Low Latency codec compatibility. Physical connectivity is all on a little panel on the rear of the cabinet: there are stereo RCA and 3.5mm analogue inputs, a digital optical socket, a USB-B input and a pre-out for a subwoofer. In addition, there are a couple of toggle switches: one lets the speaker know if it’s the left or right channel of the system, the other advises it as to its position (free, space, against a wall or in a corner). 

Both speakers have binding posts to allow them to be joined together, and both have a fairly assertive-looking bass reflex port on the rear of the cabinet too. Q Acoustics provides a length of speaker cable and a couple of port bungs. And on the inside, both vinyl-wrapped MDF cabinets feature the company’s proprietary point-to-point bracing technology (to make the cabinets as inert and rigid as possible) and Helmholtz Pressure Equaliser technology (to minimise both internal pressure and standing waves). 

The grilles covering the entire front of the speakers can’t be removed - Q Acoustics says this arrangement allows it to keep the structure of the grille as minimal as possible, which should help reduce sonic reflections. So I really only have the company’s word for it that behind each grille is a 22mm decoupled soft-dome tweeter and a couple of the Continuous Curved Cone (C³) mid/bass drivers that debuted in the pricier (and award-winning) 5000 series of passive loudspeakers.

Sound quality

A bit of free space, a degree of toe-in towards your listening position - these are about the only demands the M40 HD makes if it’s going to sound its best. And they are demands worth responding too, because on a pound-for-pound basis the M40 HD’s best is very good indeed.

Tonally, it’s fractionally warmer than ‘neutral’ - but that’s hardly a problem in the overwhelming majority of circumstances. Equally, its tendency to roll off the very top of the frequency range just slightly (despite what Q Acoustics says about a 38Hz - 22kHz frequency range, there’s no getting away from the fact that treble sounds are played safe here) is only sensible in the context of the sort of equipment the system is likely to be paired with, for instance, you could start with a smartphone loaded with the Spotify app and take it from there. It's that simple...

And besides, everything else about the way the M40 HD sounds needs no excuse making for it.

Low frequencies are punchy and substantial, but they’re properly controlled - so both momentum and rhythmic expression are good. Bass sounds carry plenty of detail and variation, too, rather than just droning along. There’s proper ‘snap’ to the entry into and exit from low-end sounds, too - the M40 HD is an energetic and engaging listen, and those traits start here.

The midrange, meanwhile, is open and communicative, and just as detailed as the areas of the frequency range above and below it. Vocalists get every chance to express themselves, and although they enjoy a little pocket of space in which to operate they’re not estranged from the presentation as a whole. The Q Acoustics system generates a sense of ‘performance’, unifying even complex and/or instrument/heavy recordings into a convincing whole.

There’s plenty of dynamic headroom, too, so those recordings that indulge in big variations in volume or intensity get those shifts described properly. Small-scale harmonic variations don’t get overlooked, either. Add in a facility with soundstaging that makes even the most complicated recordings sound nice and open, and the M40 HD is an accomplished little performer. 

Living with

No wi-fi connectivity means no control app, of course - but taking control of the M40 HD is no hardship. Q Acoustics provides an unremarkable remote control handset that deals with every major function (volume up/down/mute, power on/off, input selection, Bluetooth pairing, skip forwards/backwards), and the powered speaker has three little buttons on its top that duplicate those controls (except skip forwards/backwards).

The cabinets themselves are available in three finishes: walnut, white and black. No matter which finish you prefer, though, you can be sure there’s not all that much of it. Q Acoustics has obviously decided that a significant number of customers are unwilling and/or unable to accommodate big floorstanding speakers, and have developed these little ones instead.

Despite their room-friendly dimensions, though, it’s important to note that the M40 HD speakers require some small concessions to be made. Well, just one concession really: don’t position them too close to a rear surface. You can mitigate the bass bloom that is the result of careless positioning by using the provided reflex port bungs, of course - but only up to a point. Even in the best circumstances, this Q Acoustics is an assertive listen where the lower frequencies are concerned - and in less than ideal circumstances, bass response can easily become problematic. If the only spot for your nice new speakers is hard against a rear surface, you’ll need to think long and hard about the M40 HD’s suitability…   


I realise I’m not the first person to suggest this, but bigger quite often really is better. And as the M40 HD demonstrates, it doesn’t even need to be all that much bigger…

Listening notes

Lambchop The Man Who Loved Beer

For a recording in which not a great deal might appear to be happening, The Man Who Loved Beer can be tricky to handle. Midrange resolution needs to be considerable, and the ability to open up the recording and let each element get a bit of breathing space is important too. And those steel guitar glissandos can easily get out of hand…

Pantha du Prince Lay in a Shimmer
If your M40 HD is positioned nicely, this will sound as it should: an eccentrically punchy recording with a slightly club-footed rhythm that requires a bit of attention in order to give it full expression. If it’s positioned unhappily, though, it will sound a bit like a low-frequency punch-up.

David Sylvian Brilliant Trees

The tonal balance of any system gets a thorough examination by this recording, thanks to as disparate a line-up of instruments as was ever assembled in the name of ‘popular’ music. Control of attack and decay comes under the spotlight too, as does a set-up’s ability to extract the finest details and variations out of the midrange sounds.  

What the press say

Why you should buy it

You buy the Q Acoustics M40 HD because space (and money) is at a premium but your desire for full-scale, full-on audio quality is not. 

Video review

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