Q Acoustics Concept 30 Standmount Speaker Review
- Sounds great
- Looks great
- Feels great
- Stand is less great
- Competition is also great
Introduction - What is the Concept 30?
The Q Acoustics Concept 30 is a two way standmount speaker. We’ll cover off the specification in due course as is tradition in these parts but, those of you who read speaker reviews here and elsewhere with any regularity might not be too surprised to hear that it follows many of the ‘rules’ of being a Q Acoustics speaker. What marks the Concept 30 out is the price it enters the market at.
Critical price points for products are not a fixed position. When I was a teenager, the £150 standmount was something contested by literally dozens of companies. Inflationary pressure and a reduction in the number of brands active in the market has now spread the price of entry level standmounts to somewhere between £250 and £350 and diluted the concentration somewhat. Where there is a similar concentration of activity as there was when I was younger (oh so much younger than today) is around £1,000. For one reason or another, it has become one of the most keenly contested segments going and we’ve tested a fair few speakers at this level.
Q Acoustics has, up to this point anyway, left its rivals to it, focusing instead on that aforementioned entry level point and then adding a halo range in the form of the Concept 300 and 500. Only now has it turned its attention to this £1,000 dogfight and pitched the Concept 30 into the fray. Can the company achieve the success it has at lower price points while bringing some Concept sensibilities to a more affordable level? Let’s crack on.
Specification and Design
The Concept 30 makes a point of doing something that Q Acoustics has embodied since its creation. If you are looking for exotic drivers, you have come to the wrong place; go and re-read the Acoustic Energy AE500 and KEF LS50 Meta reviews and revel in their technical wizardry. The Concept 30 by contrast, mates a 25mm soft dome tweeter with a 125mm doped paper mid bass driver. This is Q Acoustics 101 and on a personal level, it’s an approach I agree with entirely (the Kudos Titan 505 muddles through with drivers made from the same basic materials too).
These drivers aren’t simply plucked from the more affordable models though. They are all new for this Concept series. The face they present to the world looks much the same but internally, the mid bass benefits from a heftier voice coil which makes use of copper clad aluminium wire to ensure that the larger physical dimensions of the unit are not matched with a commensurate increase in weight. A new spider made from nomex has improved the measured characteristics of the driver under finite element analysis.
The tweeter meanwhile takes engineering knowhow from other Q Acoustics projects and has been designed to have its structural resonance in the region of 700Hz (or, well below the point it actually works at). Care has been taken to minimise both the back pressure and the effect of reflections coming back through the dome; two areas that are a balancing act as they tend to work against one another. Unlike the more affordable 3000i models, there is no prominent outer roll to this unit and it is placed in a shallow waveguide to help dispersion.
The key innovation to both these units though is not the drivers themselves but their chassis and how it relates to the cabinet as a whole. Both drivers have been designed with a view to becoming a single rigid whole with the cabinet itself. This takes the form of a large, damped metal chassis that allows for a decoupled connection to the front baffle. This is a modified version of how the Concept 500 goes about the same issue but, where that extends from the back of the cabinet, the Concept 30 simplifies it a little and mounts them from the internal bracing.
The front baffle itself is made from 3mm thick, damped aluminium. Q Acoustics feels that this is a happy blend of performance and aesthetics, allowing the cabinet to be terminated in something behaviourally similar to the rest of the cabinet while looking fairly smart at the same time. Something that you would never appreciate unless you pore over the technical info is that the complete front section of the Concept 30 is a separate part to the rest of the cabinet. Even allowing for the lacquering being used to cover a join, there’s not the slightest hint they are anything other than a single unit.
The body of the cabinet uses the gelcore principal that Q Acoustics has now had in its inventory for nearly a decade. In the Concept 30, this forms the sides, top and most of the rear panel and is a two rather than three layer arrangement as seen in the bigger models. I’ve written enough about gelcore over the years for me to avoid going into it again at length. Suffice to say, it creates a supremely inert cabinet and is something that Q Acoustics has very effectively made its own. This is then further bolstered by the use of P2P bracing; where the cabinet is laser measured and bracing applied at flex points rather than to an arbitrary pattern. I’ve no means of testing this supposition but I suspect that the Concept 30 is about the only speaker I’ve so far tested at the price that would challenge the LS50 Meta for rigidity.
The lower section of the cabinet is not gelcore. Not only does this simplify the construction but allows for a metal section to mount the crossover on a mechanically isolated suspended plate arrangement, where two plates are kept apart via fourteen spheres. This ‘raft’ ensures that the crossover is no less decoupled from the rest of the speaker as the drivers are. The crossover itself also borrows thinking from the bigger models, with a large air core inductor that helps to reduce noise levels further. The crossover between the two drivers in the Concept 30 happens at 2.4kHz and impedance is given as 6 ohms with a claimed sensitivity of 87.5dB. One minor point of interest is that the Concept 30 is fitted for biwiring and the review samples came with two runs of QED biwire speaker cable to facilitate this (links are supplied as normal for people not wanting to do this).
Like the Active 200, the Concept 30 can make use of the FS75 ‘tensegrity’ stand available for £325 and a set was supplied for review. I’m afraid I’m still not a huge fan of this design. The Concept 30 reduces the number of mounting bolts from four to two but they’re still a pig to fit and the stand itself has a fairly large footprint as a result of the legs extending outward; each Concept 30 so fitted requires more space than a Titan 505 when it is fitted to its own stand. Unlike the Concept 300 though, which must be used on its stand, it’s strictly optional for the Concept 30 so I leave you to make your own decisions about it in the knowledge you don’t have to go for it.
Aesthetically, it doesn’t really matter what stand you put the Concept 30 on though. In the time I’ve spent with the review samples, they’ve gone from something I’ve looked at and gone ‘not bad!’ to a speaker I genuinely feel is really lovely bit of industrial design. The visual cues that mean you identify it as a Q Acoustics speaker are effortlessly worked into a visual package that looks and feels absolutely in keeping with the competition. Q Acoustics is, believe it or not, now closer to its 20th birthday than its 10th and it reflects this confidence that the Concept 30 is such a simple, unfussy and elegant speaker. In particular, I think the decision to offer the painted finishes is a very good one and the silver of the review samples is an absolute winner.
As you might expect, the build quality is excellent too. Like that imperceptible join between the front panel and the rest of the cabinet, everything else on the Concept 30 feels built to last and designed for the job. This is a different sort of ‘quality’ to the manner in which a Sonus faber Lumina II comes across; it’s more sober and engineering led, but it is indisputably quality nonetheless.
In the time I’ve spent with the review samples, they’ve gone from something I’ve looked at and gone ‘not bad!’ to a speaker I genuinely feel is really lovely bit of industrial design
How Was the Concept 30 Tested?
A high volume of equipment moving through the house at the time the Q Acoustics was tested led to it being tested on the upstairs system, comprising a Naim Supernait 3, a Chord Electronics Qutest and an iFi ZEN Stream acting as Roon endpoint, with all devices connected to an iFi Powerstation. At one stage or another, the KEF LS 50 Meta, Acoustic Energy AE500 and Sonus faber Lumina II have all been tested on the same basic system, simplifying comparisons. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, DSD, Tidal and Qobuz.
More: Audio Formats
Like most speakers I have tested from Q Acoustics (barring the… ambitious… quoted power output of the M20), the measurements of the Concept 30 are solid but not spectacular. The quoted frequency response is given as 54Hz-30kHz at +/- 6dB and that low end figure in particular feels very conservative against the in room performance I’ve achieved here. The sensitivity figures feel about right though, making this a fairly easy speaker to drive; certainly a less demanding one than the LS50 Meta.
That’s not the only comparison I’m going to make to the KEF either. The Concept 30 is the first speaker I can recall testing since the KEF passed through that genuinely challenges it for the creation of a three dimensional listening space for the listener. That carefully constructed cabinet does the same basic trick as the mighty Concept 500 in that, so long as a modicum of care is taken with placement, the two speakers simply vanish into the space they create. This leaves drivers in free space and, it is mark of how effective the crossover arrangements are for the Q Acoustics that it’s barely harder to perceive them than it is the specifically placed Uni-Q of the LS50 Meta.
I’m happy to accept the trade off though because the Concept 30 is a smoother and more forgiving piece of kit. It handles the angular presentation of Talking Heads' Born Under Punches with a wonderfully considered balance of energy and sweetness. The upstairs system is far from bright but it isn’t exactly cosseting either and the Concept 30 complements it exceptionally well. There’s something about the way the more sophisticated Q Acoustics speakers go about making music that is almost heroically unforced. In a side by side demo, you might be swayed by the more overt showiness of some rivals but, the longer you listen and the more different styles of music you throw in, the more it should become clear that the Concept 30 is about even handed, getting out of the way.
This should not be taken to mean that the Q Acoustics has no character of its own. While the two separate drivers cannot match the absolute cohesion of the LS50 Meta, there’s a midrange warmth and vibrancy to the Concept 30 that’s hugely appealing. It takes the bouncing, energetic Little Bird by Annie Lennox and injects a little joy into the proceedings without unsettling the overall presentation. When you give it something deliberately emotive like Twin Shadow’s Runaway, the Q Acoustics is simply gorgeous. Without once affecting the tonality, the effect is gloriously and consistently beguiling.
The really clever part of this is that when you tire of behaving like an adult and you want to drive the bolts out of them, the Concept 30 responds magnificently. While I feel that it effortlessly betters the quoted 54Hz figure I mentioned earlier, I don’t feel that it goes as low as the LS50. The counter to this is a presentational energy and perceived speed closer to the Sonus faber Lumina II and Acoustic Energy AE500. The live version of Underworld’s King of Snake on their Everything Everything album in the hands of the Concept 30 is a riot. There’s little or no colouration; nothing from the cabinet or bass port and those old school driver materials are utterly benign. What you’re left with is the performance in its ballistic warts and all glory, only thanks to how forgiving this speaker is, those warts barely register.
Push it far past the realms of acceptable listening levels and it starts to harden up but another positive quirk of silk and paper is that they exit their operating envelope far more gracefully than many more exotic options do. The sensitivity on offer though means you don’t need vast amounts of power to go loud either. For the bulk of testing, the Supernait 3 has barely passed 9 o’clock on the volume dial. While I would say that bass extension softens a little at low listening levels, most of the positive attributes barely suffer. Like most speakers possessed of the transparency that this one has, it won’t fix problems further upstream but neither will it accentuate them.
There’s something about the way the more sophisticated Q Acoustics speakers go about making music that is almost heroically unforced
Q Acoustics Concept 30 Standmount Speaker Review
In my review of the M20, I briefly embarked on an extended and possibly tortuous fried chicken metaphor to note that when Q Acoustics adheres to some core principles, the results are frequently untouchable. It’s hard to make any argument about the Concept 30 that dents this position. The new ideas at work here serve to refine the core processes that the company has made its own and have resulted in a speaker that is a genuinely spectacular arrival at the price point.
How spectacular? Well, consider this. When I reviewed the LS50 Meta I celebrated its technical excellence but noted that it came at the price of being a fairly demanding piece of equipment in its own right. This is why it proceeded to lose out to the Lumina II for the 2021 Editor’s Choice. The Sonus faber is far less sophisticated but the results of the careful application of sensible engineering led to a speaker that was more fun and rather easier to live with, if not as devastatingly capable in terms of imaging and impact. The Concept 30 arrives, bridging the gap in a manner that is unlikely but deeply impressive. It’s as technically accomplished as the LS50 Meta, at the same time retaining the joy, ease of drive and general bonhomie of the Lumina II while costing £100 less than either of them. It’s all things to all people and a well deserved Best in Class.
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