Review: Q Acoustics Concept 500 Floorstanding Loudspeakers
This year, Q Acoustics has been all about its new 3000i range, but the big news at the end of 2017 was the arrival of the flagship Concept 500 – their most advanced and costliest loudspeaker yet. We take a closer look.
For a company that only began trading in 2006, British speaker manufacturer, Q Acoustics, have built themselves an enviable reputation for their award-winning yet affordable speakers.
This year, Q Acoustics has a treat in store for us in the shape of the new 3000i range, but the big news at the end of 2017 was the arrival of the flagship Concept 500 – their most advanced and costliest loudspeaker yet.
While the brand has been attracting a lot of press with it’s more reasonably priced offerings, the Concept 500 is quite a radical move. Although they launched both the Concept 40 and 20 designs a couple of years back, the new 500 is considerably further up the food chain from its stablemates in terms of both ambition and price.
I’d seen the Concept 500’s online and while I was impressed with the aesthetics, a photo showing the cutaway view of an enclosure revealed them to be extremely well put together internally, with some interesting proprietary speaker tech on board. Not to mention their seemingly bomb-proof construction. All that was required was an opportunity, and I’d be keen as mustard to have a crack at them.
A few phone calls to Q Acoustics' NZ distributor, Mark Coory of Capisco, and the wheels were set in motion.
With only my Dad’s Army valve amp collection or my seductive Line Magnetic 8W SET on hand at the moment, I’d decided on an in-store audition with AV World who was most accommodating.
I'd decided to bring my motley yet familiar collection of High Res music along with me, courtesy of a Pioneer XDP-100R, iFi Audio iDSD DAC and an incredibly inexpensive and tantalisingly non-HiFi looking OTG cable. Are there even any audiophile grade OTG cables, I pondered as I attached the flimsy wire to the Pioneer DAP?
A fair pairing, the exceptional Marantz PM-10 integrated amplifier, an elegant battleship provided plenty of watts to the Concept 500’s - a reported 200 of them at 8 Ohms to be precise.
The Concept 500’s are a large, floor-standing design of pleasing proportions and excellent build. The review pair was partly coated in a beautiful real wood Italian Deep Rosewood veneer along the sides and rear, offset by the black baffle and its brace of high-tech drivers. Sitting atop stunning chromed circular plinths, the Concept 500 is a remarkable looking speaker that should blend into most domestic environments.
The drivers are arranged in a D’Appolito configuration (MTM), with two 165mm treated paper cone bass/mid units sitting above and below a mechanically decoupled 28mm soft fibre dome tweeter. Oversized voice coils allow the main drivers better power handling capability and increased ‘shove’. Unusually, the voice coil former is made of glass fibre rather than aluminium or Kapton, and although glass fibre is as rigid as those materials the use of this material is said to eliminate nasty internal eddy currents entirely.
Those fabulous drivers need a great home, and Q Acoustics have thankfully gone to town on the cabinetry. Constructed from MDF, the design team decided on a scientific approach to internal bracing. P2P (point to point) bracing is used instead of the conventional ‘shelf’ type internal bracing method, essentially strengthening those parts of the cabinet that need to be stiffened. The result is a speaker that Q Acoustics says offers much better vibration rejection at low frequencies than conventionally braced designs.
No less than three layers of MDF make up the Concept 500 enclosure and the void between each layer is filled under pressure with a compliant non-setting gel. The use of Dual Gelcore allows an open mid-band and unrestrained high-frequency performance by reducing cabinet borne interference.
Positioned at a critical location within each slender cabinet is a Helmholtz Pressure Equalisation tube. This grandly named device is used to balance pressure irregularities inside the enclosure, negating ‘organ pipe resonance’.
Last but not least is that very tasty cast aluminium plinth. It’s not just for good looks; the striking looking circular slab of alloy is devoid of large flat areas and as such, negates unwanted acoustic reflections. It’s also extremely rigid, allowing a rock solid coupling to the floor surface. Subtle movement of a loudspeaker enclosure can ‘blur’ the sound (loss of definition, narrowing of the soundstage etc.), but once positioned correctly there is no chance of cabinet movement.
It’s a high tech speaker to be sure, but for those seeking further explanation, Q Acoustics have a handy white paper explaining the Concept 500’s design brief here.
Q THE MUSIC
Norah Jones' ‘Come Away With Me’ filled the room as I started my session with the Concept 500’s. This 24/192 recording is a typical audio reviewers piece, but there was no denying the quality of the HDTracks version as the first few bars of the title song entered my yearning eardrums. Norah’s vocal appeared dead centre and larger than life, while both the piano and guitar had lovely timbre and body.
I was immediately impressed by the sense of space around the musicians/instruments. Of course, the album is a studio recording, but the engineer had a good crack at placing the performers on a stage.
Underpinning everything was a very pleasing bottom end, and even though Norah won’t get this listener running down to the mosh pit any time soon, she was undoubtedly sounding terrific via the cultured C500’s.
Like oil is to water, so is Norah to Grinderman. Nick Cave’s grungy post-punk side project provided the next musical examination in the shape of the delightfully titled ‘No Pussy Blues’. The song is a mass of pounding drums, subtle hi-hat, electric guitar wah wah pedal and combined with Nick’s wry lyrics, is a great listen.
I wanted to hear how the Concepts would handle raw, seemingly uncultured rock – it’s quite a ‘dirty’ recording and the C500’s certainly did the track justice here. Snare rim shots sounded realistic with a visceral leading edge to each hit of the drumstick against the metal part of the drum, and Cave’s surprisingly humongous guitar break early in the song hit like a freight train, filling the room with a huge wall of sound.
This track pretty much answered whether the Concepts were a touch too polite for the aggressive stuff. I can report that they metaphorically lifted their skirts up and took off like a speaker version of Usain Bolt.
Beck’s ‘Morning Phase’ provided an ethereal come down of sorts, and the first track on the album sprang forth from the C500s. Beck’s dreampop vocals are the highlight of this laidback song and along with the strummed guitar, layered harmonies and deep, warm bass, made for a very satisfying listen.
Although this particular room at AV World was smallish at approximately 6x4m, sound did emanate from beyond the speaker boundaries. They pack an excellent soundstage, while Beck’s vocals were dead centre in front of my listening spot with very good height and depth.
I suspect that Q Acoustics voiced the Concept 500’s toward a more refined sound hinting towards the warmer side of neutral, rather than a presentation focused on all-out attack.
Last on the listening list was ‘The Start Of Something Beautiful’ from Porcupine Tree’s excellent Deadwing album. This polyrhythmic masterpiece features stunning dynamics combined with delicacy and sublime micro-detail.
Gavin Harrison’s superman effort behind the drum kit is the real star of the show, delicate gong sounds and nimble hi-hat work is interspersed with his colossal kick drum and tom-tom pyrotechnics. It’s a stunning modern prog-rock track, and it sounded just superb complete with mellotron, piano, lead guitar, and bass. All the instruments were easy to separate from the mix but also well integrated into the sound at the same time.
I did turn the wick up a touch while listening to this track. Not ear bleeding levels of course, but enough to check their power handling capabilities. No need to worry here, the Q Acoustics C500 didn’t compress, break-up, or flatten the sound at reasonably high volumes.
After a few hours in the listening room I concluded that while they have a laid-back tonal signature, they can also do justice to the heavy stuff when called upon. They demonstrate a clear mid-band, a deep, yet articulate bass register and a sweet, extended top end delivery.
They present plenty of detail but it’s never in a tiring way, and because of this they are very easy to listen to for extended periods. I detected no etchiness or stridency at the top end, while the midrange is open and detailed.
Driver integration was quite excellent, in fact, I was reminded of listening to a ‘single point source’ design - KEF's Uni-Q or a single driver horn for instance.
Of course, amplifier and source componentry will impart their own authority on sound, and as the Concept 500s are a relatively benign 6-ohm load (90dB sensitivity) they are compatible with a wide range of amplification. However, the Concept 500s clearly deserve some pretty good quality partners and a decent whack of current. I’d suggest 100wpc as a bare minimum.
Q Acoustics have a star on their hands with its Concept 500 loudspeakers and although not exactly beer budget, they are pretty much worth every penny. Rock, Jazz, Dub, Techno, Gregorian chant – I’m convinced they’ll reproduce just about every musical genre with aplomb.
Was I impressed? You bet your cotton socks I was.
Q Acoustics Concept 500 loudspeaker is available now and sells in New Zealand for $7995.
For more information visit Q Acoustics.
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