Q Acoustics 3020 Speaker Review
The 3020 is a little bigger than the 3010- is it a little better too?
What is the 3020?When you review a product from a range which turns out to be absolutely brilliant, there is an automatic tendency to assume that the rest of the range will be equally exceptional. This is understandable but not always entirely correct. With loudspeakers in particular, the peculiar relationship between the driver, cabinet and the outside world can sometimes be grievously affected by scaling the design up or down. Even when the effects are less pronounced, it can leave a star in a range of otherwise good speakers.
The Q Acoustics 3000 Series has done superbly as a 5.1 package with the only real limitations I could desperately pick out of the wave of positivity were that the subwoofer was a little bit rough and ready for music use and the 3010 didn't quite go low enough for my liking to work without one. As such, what you see here is the bigger brother of the 3010, the 3020. On paper, things don't look different- in fact that all important low frequency response is barely lower than the 3010- but does the 3020 have the magic of its little brother and the ability to go it alone? There's only one way to find out and with that we cue the music. Or at least we talk about the speaker for a bit and then cue the music.
DesignAs you might expect, the 3020 shares most aspects of its construction with the 3010 and this is no bad thing. The 3000 Series is not replacing the 2000 and is instead augmenting the older models and in turn sitting below the Concept range. This means that some of the techniques learned from the Concept models are available to be used in the 3020. The trick 'Gelcore' cabinet is too expensive to reproduce at this price but the dimensions and internal bracing are closely derived from it.
When this is combined with the decision in the 3000 Series to move the terminals to the rear of the speaker, the result is a speaker that has far happier proportions than the older 2000 Series. The 3020 is bordering on the golden rectangle for many of its key measurements and this means it looks rather better than the 2000 Series ever did. Neither is this purely aesthetic. The cabinet is designed to be more inert- greatly aided by the reduced depth of the design and in acoustic terms this is very good news. The Concept 20 uses drivers that Q Acoustics can afford to fit to a speaker that costs £150 into one that costs more than twice that and the performance boost (a considerable one it must be said) is purely down to the cabinet.
The 3020 uses a 125mm doped paper mid bass driver that is effectively unchanged from the 2020i (and by extraction the Concept 20). The reason for this continuity is broadly because there is absolutely nothing wrong with it so there was equally no point in changing it. This is 25mm larger than the one in the 3010 and results in a usefully greater radiating area. The tweeter has been the subject of rather more extensive revision though and the 25mm soft dome now has a radiator surround to improve the handover to the mid bass driver and the whole unit is now encased in a decoupled housing from the rest of the cabinet. This is clever engineering and one that is intended to extract the absolute most from the available technology.
The review samples were supplied in the one of the two 'range' finishes of matte graphite (the other being walnut). If you want gloss white or black or indeed the peculiar but rather cool leather finish, you will need to stump up an extra £60 for them. As I've never been a huge fan of white speakers I make no bones about the fact I prefer the graphite to the white but I have to admit that the leather finish is unexpectedly cool and not in the slightly kitsch way I might have imagined. Whether a trick finish is worth £60 to you is something you'll have to work out for yourself but the graphite finish is pretty cool.
PositivesLike the 3010, the 3020 feels solid, carefully thought out and- perhaps most importantly of all- in no way cheap. It uses those better proportions combined with neat styling touches like the highlighted trim rings to look clean, modern and very smart. This is then combined with build quality that feels solid and substantial. Little tweaks like magnetic trim tabs for the grilles reduce the number of visible perforations in the design and the resulting product is what a speaker needs to be in 2015- smart yet unobtrusive.
It is also a speaker that should not present an amplifier with any significant issues to drive properly. With a 6 ohm impedance and a sensitivity of 88dB/w (which for a fairly small speaker is fairly impressive), the 3020 should present no problem to all but the most underpowered of amps.
Like the 3010, the 3020 feels solid, carefully thought out and- perhaps most importantly of all- in no way cheap
NegativesMy criticisms of the 3020 are by contrast very limited. Ironically the most annoying was shown up by the runs of QED cable supplied with the 3020 for review (QED is a sister brand of Q Acoustics under the Armour Home Electronics portfolio). The placement of the terminals at the rear of the speaker is superior to the underside where they are with the 2020 but Q Acoustics has undone a bit of the good work by placing them pointing inward toward one another on a vertical axis. With a fairly rigid speaker cable like the QED, the fitment is a little bit more awkward than it needs to be. I'd also say that the magnets that hold the grilles in place could do with being a little stronger.
TestingThe Q Acoustics came supplied with a pair of the rather excellent Concept stands which we felt show them off to best effect. In order to see what happens if more normal stands were substituted, I also used my long serving Soundstyle ZT60s as well. The speakers were connected to a Naim Supernait 2 and Cambridge Audio 851A integrated amplifier and ND5XS streamer with XP5XS power supply. Additionally, the VPI Prime and an Avid Pellar phonostage were used as a secondary source. Material used included lossless and high resolution FLAC, vinyl and music streaming services like Spotify and Tidal.
Q Acoustics 3020- Sound QualityAside from the lack of low end weight, my brief tests with the 3010 had revealed a speaker that is genuinely engaging in stereo. The 3000 Series- in fact pretty much every speaker that Q Acoustics has ever made- is an admirable demonstration that just because you can build drivers out of very exotic materials does not necessarily mean that you should. Ultimately though, I found myself wanting that little bit more bass extension and finding that the 3010 came up a little short.
The 3020 however comes good. Quite why it does is slightly mysterious as Q Acoustics only quotes an additional 4Hz of bass extension from the 3020 over the 3010. In reality however, the 3020 sounds like a speaker giving you full range where the 3010 doesn't. The better news is that everything that makes the 3010 so impressive is retained here. The upper frequencies sound full and extremely detailed and like the 3010, the 3020 has a real talent with vocals. To hear this small and relatively affordable speaker deliver Martha Tilston's vocals in Zero 7's Pop Art Blue in a way that is immediately attention grabbing is rather wonderful. Balancing detail and sharpness in the upper registers with the ability to stay smooth and civilised when things get rough is a tricky art at pretty much any price point and the 3020 has it down to an art.
Between these two frequency extremes lies a midrange that integrates the two drivers perfectly and sounds rich, involving and entirely believable. There was no instrument, effect or vocal that I threw at them that made them sound anything other than well behaved and believably real. Like the 3010, the 3020 works best with the speakers set with a bit of toe in towards the listening position as they are relatively directional, but this is hardly the preserve of this particular range. Equally, the speaker is not hugely fussed about proximity to walls either at the front or the side which is frequently the hardest thing to cater for in a
The other area where the Q Acoustics is a strong performer is that it is consistently forgiving of poorer recordings. The Prodigy's latest effort The Day is my Enemy on both FLAC and vinyl is not exactly the sort of recording you are going to hear at a hifi show but the 3020 manages to make the best of it and deliver the energy and the drive that the album has while managing to bypass the worst of the compression and jagged edges. Many of these speakers are going to find themselves fed a diet of compressed music- both at the mastering and delivery stage- and they are able to maintain their composure admirably as the quality drops.
In comparison to the Acoustic Energy AE101 that passed through the review process last month, the Q Acoustics has to trade a little bass depth and they can't always match the impressive way that the Acoustic Energy could show up what the rest of the system was doing- the way that the 3020 performs is more consistent in that it will flatter poorer equipment and recordings rather better, but tends to sound very consistent almost (but I stress, not entirely) unrelated to how good the partnering electronics are. As they are undoubtedly voiced to be connected to affordable amps rather than Naim's offerings, this isn't really a surprise.
One area that does make a surprising difference are the stands and having spent some time comparing the supplied Concept stand and the good but rather more conventional Soundstyle, the 3020 appreciates the additional mass and clever design of the Concept stand and this seems to be the source of some of the mystery bass. The performance from the Soundstyle is still excellent but if you are buying stands at the same time, something heavy with a few pea sized lumps of blutac will really help the 3020 deliver the goods.
Balancing detail and sharpness in the upper registers with the ability to stay smooth and civilised when things get rough is a tricky art at pretty much any price point and the 3020 has it down to an art
- Refined, energetic and detailed performance
- Well built
- Easy to drive
- Odd terminal layout
- Require decent stands to deliver their best
- Still not especially bassy
Q Acoustics 3020 Speaker ReviewThe Q Acoustics 3020 is an intriguing blend of the conventional and the revolutionary. None of the technology it encompasses is new or even terribly bold. Every aspect of their design is sound and logical engineering practise. What makes them revolutionary is that even adjusted for inflation, I can't remember when such levels of care, thought and clever thinking were available for under £200. This is a tremendous loudspeaker that delivers more musical satisfaction than you would ever reasonably expect. That it is well built, handsome and a ridiculously talented speaker, it earns the budget wizards yet another badge.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £190.00
Value For Money10
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