A proper HiFi Soundbar
What is the Q Acoustics Media 4?
Q Acoustics are amongst an elite band of audio manufacturers.Each and every product they have sent for review has been ‘badged’ and we’re not talking any old AVForums Awards, they have an unusually high proportion of ‘Best Buy’s’ amongst them. That should tell you something but in case you need it spelt out – it means the company has consistently been knocking out product that outperforms the competition, at their respective price-points. This is in fact part of the very fabric of the company ethos, that they manufacture, ‘the best loudspeakers on the planet... for the money.’
And what sort of sums are we talking with the Media 4 Soundbar – arguably their first serious attempt on this ever-expanding market? Well, the M4, as it shall be termed hereafter, will cost you a whisker under £400 which, whilst not cheap for a package not shipping with a separate subwoofer unit, is hardly bank breaking. The similarly equipped Yamaha YAS-152 is around £150 less, for instance but Q Acoustics are extremely confident they’ve done it again, so it should be a blast putting it to the test and we’re all set to go.
Q Acoustics Media 4 Design & ConnectionsThe M4 is quite an imposing sight, relatively speaking. Be warned that if you have quite a recent TV with a low-slung design, there’s a good chance the cabinet will obscure a small sliver of the bottom of your screen, should you be table top mounting, but there is a wall-mounting bracket at the back. With rubber feet attached, the M4 takes the tape at 105mm in height and it has a depth of 135mm with a span measuring exactly a metre. Q Acoustic does publish a feetless height spec of 90mm but you’ll be comprising the sub driver performance by removing them, if only slightly. The finish is excellent with a matte black MDF cabinet fronted by a high quality plastic grille which carries the simple Q Acoustics logo.
The top of the cabinet features three simple control buttons – volume up and down plus power – which are raised and about the size of a smartie and they present a satisfying click when pressed. You also get an indicator light which illuminates in a different colour, dependent on input selected, and since there are only four, you’ll soon learn what’s what. Those connection terminals also feel very well engineered and include two analogue stereo line level inputs (1 x 3.5mm mini jack, 1 x pair phono sockets) and a digital input, featuring a low distortion Digital to Analogue Converter (DAC), accessed via a ‘Toslink’ optical cable. You also get the option of aptX Bluetooth but more on that later.
The height may be a concern for some but this is a fantastically well finished unit - for the money
Q Acoustics Media 4 SetUp & ControlThe only part of the package that doesn’t feel particularly well-crafted is in the credit card style remote which the manufacturer describes as small and elegant but we’d probably say easy-to-lose and forgettable. It gets the job done via its basic set of 5 buttons and it works on the same infra-red frequency as Virgin and Sky boxes, so you can use those remotes for volume control instead, but we’d prefer something a little more substantial, preferably with a back light.
Although there wasn’t one in the box with the review sample, Q Acoustics do faithfully promise that a digital optical cable will come with your Media 4 and, for most, this will be their primary input. Most flat panel TVs carry an S/PDIF output which will route any source’s audio to the soundbar but alternatively you could use the headphone or RCA stereo outputs. For the purposes of the review, we mostly used the optical input with a couple of Panasonic TVs, one of which ‘leaked’ audio from other inputs when using its RCA outs so your best option probably is digital as the manufacturers aren’t likely to be spending much on analogue outs nowadays.
Q Acoustics Media 4 FeaturesWe don’t receive that many soundbars where having aptX capable Bluetooth makes much of a tangible difference but the M4 is comfortably good enough to highlight its more detailed sound. Using Spotify streamed at 320kbps, via both a Nexus 7 (non-aptX) and Windows 7 PC equipped with an aptX capable Bluetooth dongle, it was quite easy to pick out the more defined bass from the PC source and so it’s genuinely a worthwhile feature to have in this instance.
You can even pair your device via NFC (Near Field Communication) by touching it in an area top-right of the control buttons. We think Q Acoustics should make some reference to the area beyond the large, unsightly sticker on the top of the cabinet in case, as we did, the new owner removes it straight out of the box. For anyone looking in and wondering how to remove that ‘orrid reside sticker adhesive, a few sprays of WD40 and a clean, wrung-out damp cloth did the trick.
aptX Bluetooth really made a difference here
The Media 4 differs in its driver design to most with its deployment of left channel and right channel speakers that are 65mm advanced ‘BMR’ (Balanced Mode Radiator) designs which are intended to disperse sound in a wider field than the competion can manage. The down-firing subwoofer is a twin coil, 150mm x 100mm elliptical affair which is designed for speed and accuracy. Something we’ll be looking at below.
Q Acoustics Media 4 Video Review
Q Acoustics Media 4 ListeningThe first thing to get out of the way is the Q Acoustics Media 4 needs a certain amount of volume applied before it really gets into gear. Not so much that you’re going to wake the neighbours but enough that you might just disturb those in your own house, if it’s late at night. There is no numbering to the volume indicator – just the light blinking – but you’ll know once you get there are the M4 explodes in to life with true dynamism and purpose, delivering a beautifully detailed audio with the promised wide soundstage and crisp and responsive bass.
The M4 is as equally poised with music as it is TV and movies. The recent Glastonbury festival gave us chance to put it through both disciplines simultaneously and even the lower bit-rate content available via the ‘Red Button’ services sounded surprisingly presentable but the likes of Elbow’s set, broadcast through the BBC HD channels at higher bitrates sounded simply sublime. The Media 4 gives everything room to breathe, whilst being right on the money when called upon to submerge you in sound.
One of our current favourite Blu-ray audio mixes, Gravity, gave the Media 4 its chance to shine with more complex effects and, given the constraints of the cabinet, it proved a highly immersive tool. Q Acoustics eschews any DSP surround modes and instead rely on the tuning, filters and natural harmonics of the package to deliver the goods and it all straddles a successful middle ground where just about everything can sound great.
It can make anything sound great
At times this is more like listening to a decent pair of bookshelves than it is a conventional soundbar and that, dear friends, is very much a good thing. There might be some that yearn for a bit more sheer bass volume but we find that many of the bar/sub packages we see don’t offer the same low-end detail retrieval that the Media 4 can manage. There’s a near seamless integration with the low-end and BMR drivers that is both encapsulating and convincing and our only small gripe will bring us right back to where we started in that the M4 is nowhere near as satisfying when run quiet. It’ll still kick your TVs speakers into touch but we’d prefer to see a little bit more get up and go in that scenario.
- Superbly integrated soundstage
- Crisp and detailed bass
- aptX Bluetooth
- Great for Movies and Music
- Fabulous build-quality
- Remote is a disappointment
- Will be too tall for some TVs
- Not great at lower volumes
Q Acoustics Media 4 (M4) Soundbar ReviewThe Q Acoustics Media 4 presents quite an imposing cabinet that may not dimensionally suit the latest low-slung breed of TV design but it’s a fabulously finished unit that grows on you, in terms of appearance, the more time you spend with it. The connectivity options should be adequate for most with a digital audio input and a couple of stereo options but there’s no HDMI - so no ARC - but that might be saving you some frustration in any case. Your final connectivity choice is Bluetooth and this can be enabled via NFC, provided you have a compatible smartphone or tablet.
The M4 is aptX compatible for Bluetooth and it’s a mark of how well it performs that this makes a useful and welcome improvement in streamed music. Q Acoustics utilises Balanced Mode Radiator drivers for the stereo channels and they do a wonderful job of radiating sound all around the room. The built-in subwoofer is refined and responsive but is no wilting wall-flower when it comes to sticking the boot in when necessary. It’s a superbly tuned package that is equally at home with movies and TV as it is with music.
The only small caveat we have is that you really need to open up the Media 4, volume wise, more than some of the competition before you can hear what it’s really about. This may mean that if you were designating it for late night duties, as a primary concern, there are probably better choices out there but for everyone else surfing the £400 price-point there are very few – if any – that can match the sound quality on offer from the M4. Highly Recommended.
Ease of Use8
Value for Money9
Our Review Ethos
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