Q Acoustics Concept 5.0 Speaker Package Review
A hero in a Gelcore cabinet?
What is the Concept 5.0?For something that has been a very significant part of home audio for decades, speaker cabinets remain at the surprisingly unresolved end of the technical spectrum. The majority consensus leans to as inert a cabinet as possible but the means by which this is done can vary enormously. I've seen lightweight cabinets braced to within an inch of their lives and others made of materials that try to create density and rigidity in their own right. At the same time, small but determined subsets of designers build speakers with cabinets that are designed to flex and resonate in sympathy with the drivers while still others choose to build speakers with little or no cabinet at all.
One consistent part of all of this is that the affordable end of the market wasn't really party to the same level of innovation. For the most part, speaker cabinets in sub £1,000 speakers are made of MDF with as much bracing as limited internal capacities and development budgets allow. We should not have been too surprised however when Q Acoustics- who have an impressive history of looking at what can be done for the price and ignoring it- decided to alter this by launching the Concept Series. These speakers took the bold decision to retain the drivers from the distinctly affordable 2000i speakers and place them in a very sophisticated cabinet designed around a principle rarely seen at any price.
We have enthusiastically reviewed the Concept 20 and 40 speakers as stereo models but when they were launched, Q Acoustics was undecided on whether they would be joined by a centre speaker. Happily, tucked away in the Q Acoustics room at
Munich was the Concept Centre which opened the door to a multichannel test. Does the Gelcore cabinet equate to greatness for AV use too?
DesignThe Concept Series effectively takes the drivers and crossovers of the 2000i models and then places them in cabinets that are superficially similar in dimensions but completely different in terms of their construction. Both myself and Steve Withers have gone into this at length in the stereo reviews of the Concept 20 and Concept 40 but in essence, each speaker has a double layer cabinet that together gives the speaker a conventional thickness. Between these layers is a substance that retains a degree of liquidity and serves to both damp the cabinet more effectively than a single whopping sheet of MDF and additionally turn resonant energy into heat.
This is no simple undertaking in a production sense but Q Acoustics being the resourceful bunch that they are have successfully achieved it. Picking up a Concept speaker- be it centre, standmount or floorstander- is a curious experience. The speaker doesn't feel unnaturally heavy but it does feel decidedly dense in the hand. Tap your knuckles against the cabinet and you get the sensation of it being almost completely solid. As I noted when I reviewed the Concept 20, you can spend a great deal more on speakers that feel much less stout than these ones do.
At first, the idea of simply reusing the drivers from much less expensive speakers in these cabinets seems a little odd but it reflects the importance of the cabinet on the overall speaker performance. Q Acoustics felt that the performance of the drivers in the 2000 Series was excellent and that more could be gained from placing them in a better enclosure than making new drivers although since the Concept speakers have launched, a revised tweeter has appeared in the 3000 Series so the company hasn't ruled out further tweaks in the future.
As the last member of the family to appear, the Concept Centre doesn't deviate from the pattern set by the Concept 20 and 40. The speaker mounts a pair of 100mm mid bass drivers and a 25mm tweeter that uses that same decoupled mounting as the rest of the range meaning that this delicate driver is as isolated from the outside world as it is realistically possible to be. The cabinet is then designed around the same principle as the rest of the range and is fitted with small but sturdy feet to ensure it sits happily on a rack or stand.
The more eagle eyed amongst you will have noted that this pack has been delivered without a subwoofer. While Q Acoustics has added the Centre to the range, there is no Concept subwoofer. A 3070 sub would be a logical partner if you want to keep everything in house but in this case the set was requested without the sub. Why is that? Simply put, in the context of a five channel pack that costs £1,600, a sub that costs £290 is going to be solid but not a necessarily spectacular partner. As such, the Concept 5.0 underwent testing with the talented and competitively price BK Electronics P12-300SB subwoofer.
PositivesFrom the first instance I unboxed the Concept 20, it became clear that the fit, finish and general quality of the Concept speakers is exceptionally good, even judged by the traditionally high standards of the brand. The Concepts feel solid and extremely well thought out. The paint finish is absolutely top notch and everything supplied with the speakers is well thought out, well implemented and a doddle to use.
The relatively humble origins of the Concepts gives them another advantage too. The 2000i (and the 3000 Series for that matter) offer benign impedance, good sensitivity and fairly unfussy placement. If you are looking to squeeze more performance out of a £400-500 AV Receiver, the Concepts are easy enough to drive while still offering the potential and ability to work with a more expensive AV Receiver in the future.
You can spend a great deal more on speakers that feel much less stout than these ones do.
NegativesThe design of most Q Acoustics products has been undertaken in such a way as to ensure that they are entirely easy to live with and by and large this is the case. There are some slight caveats that are worth pointing out. The first is that- in keeping with quite a few models that have passed through this parish- the magnetic tabs that retain the grilles in place lack the oomph to keep them in place confronted with a two year old. The second is that the Concept 40 (and indeed the Concept 20 if you use the dedicated stand) are usefully compact but the outrigger design of the base is rather space hungry. This being said, the speakers are impressively stable when used with them so there is a useful safety aspect to the design.
How was the Concept 5.0 pack tested?The Q Acoustics were used with a Yamaha RX-A3040 AV Receiver, Cambridge Audio 752BD blu ray player and Sky HD connected to a Panasonic GT60 Plasma all running from an IsoTek Evo Aquarius mains conditioner. As previously mentioned, a BK Electronics P12- 300SB sub was used for the partnering LFE. Material used included Blu Ray, broadcast and on demand TV and audio from lossless and high res sources as well as compressed services such as Spotify.
Performance with Film and TVThe review set of speakers had been thoroughly run in so were installed and used in the main system from the outset. Installation was painless and I found that the best results were obtained with the front Concept 40s given a 60Hz crossover and the Centre, and Concept 20s an 80Hz one. The Concept 40 is capable of going considerably lower than 60Hz but in the relatively tight confines of where they were placed, the supplied foam bass bungs were used which restricts the output slightly. This is well within the comfort zone of the supporting BK though so as it was garnering the best results, that is what I went for.
And make no mistake, those results are deeply impressive. The overriding theme that flows through both my review of the Concept 20 and Steve's review of the Concept 40 is the cleanliness and clarity of the performance. There is minimal colouration and little sense of an enclosure to any of the drivers involved in the system (the tank like build of the BK allowing it to play along in the same fashion). When you couple this to the good dispersion of the speakers involved, you are treated to a performance that is subtly but effectively different from many rivals.
This is because the five speakers offer a seamless handover to one another and coupled with the lack of cabinet colouration, it leaves you with a soundfield that has very little sense of fixed placement. The mini van sequence in Big Hero 6 is effortlessly cohesive with little perceptible sense of effects steering in action. Instead, there is the right amount of sound available pretty much anywhere in the 360 arc of the room regardless of which speakers are being asked to generate it. This is a talent that transcends any particular genre of film and simply ensures you have a convincing space in which the film is shown.
This is not to say that there isn't plenty of punch available when required too. The driver technology used in the Concepts is in many ways as conventional as the cabinets are radical but when it counts, they demonstrate a fine balance of detail and attack tempered with a refinement and smoothness that is extremely welcome at this fairly terrestrial price point. Where effects need to have aggression they do so but the overall balance is extremely refined and this means that the Concepts are extremely easy to listen to for long periods. If you compare than to something like the Monitor Audio Bronze pack that went through the review process recently, there isn't the same high energy sizzle that the they could sometimes generate but this is as much down to partnering equipment- a more aggressive presentation that the Yamaha would likely see this restored.
Where the Concept scores over many recently tested rivals is that it still delivers a great many of its qualities at low levels. Very often, I insert the caveat that a package will need a bit of volume behind it to deliver its best. The Q Acoustics does without such a rider. Even at very low levels, it retains that wonderfully immersive quality and everything stays intelligible and easy to follow. The sensitivity of the speakers plays a role here too. In comparison to my resident Elipson Planet M speakers, the Concepts, need 3-4 volume increments less to achieve a given level and this feeds back to the Concepts being an ideal upgrade for someone not wanting to chop their receiver in yet as it doesn't need a vast amount of power to run.
This effectiveness at lower levels also translates into the Concepts being good partners for TV viewing. There is no requirement for you to run them at high levels or use a different group of settings for best use. Dialogue stays intelligible, that wonderful sense of cohesiveness stays present even when running in a virtual surround and even poorer quality, low bitrate material manages to deliver a performance that is unfailingly good. The highest praise I can give the Concept Centre is that confronted with the mumblefest that is both Homeland and Elementary, it kept dialogue understandable in both. This is not a task you should take as a given with any centre speaker.
Even at very low levels, it retains that wonderfully immersive quality and everything stays intelligible and easy to follow.
Performance with MusicAs there is a full review of both the Concept 20 and Concept 40 in stereo, I won't rehash old ground here except to say that the combination of RX-A3040 and Concept 40 is more than a tolerable partner for background listening but is instead a genuinely immersive and impressive partnership that does a fine job of presenting musicians and instruments in a believable and compelling soundstage. The use of the port bungs takes a little out of absolute bass depth but as with multichannel allows for happier placement in confined spaces.
- Expansive, detailed and well balanced sound
- Unfussy placement
- Usefully sensitive
- No dedicated Concept sub
- Some rivals can be more immediately exciting
- Spike arrangement quite space consuming
Q Acoustics Concept 5.0 Speaker Package ReviewSo, another Q Acoustics review ending in a barrage of fullsome praise. Maybe one day, they'll slip up (or possibly release a product purely for reviewers to slate) but the simple, unvarnished truth of the matter is that these are brilliant speakers that have a real world ability that few rivals can match. What the Concept package does is introduce a number of performance attributes that are very much high end in how they work. The clever bit is that they do this while asking little more of their partnering equipment and room space than their budget relatives. This is a package that delivers immense real world ability with very little in the way of corresponding demands made in return. The only logical response to that is to slap a Best Buy badge on them and acknowledge that Q Acoustics has gone and done it again.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,600.00
Value For Money10
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