Q Acoustics Q Active 200 Speaker System Review

Come now - you weren’t expecting these to be normal were you?

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

33

Recommended
Q Acoustics Q Active 200 Speaker System Review
SRP: £1,499.00

Introduction - What is the Q Active 200?

The Q Acoustics Active 200 system is a self contained, wireless active speaker system. It is the first such system from Q Acoustics (as distinct from earlier powered speakers) and it is unapologetically radical (think “hour long Zoom meeting with several members of the Q Acoustics team” levels of radical) in design and execution. Of course, Q Acoustics is not and never has been about passion projects. It makes clever things that enter the market and generally do rather well in them. The cleverness is directed and never there for the sake of it. There are a number of features in the Active 200 that I’ve never seen anywhere else but there are solid, on paper reasons for all of them.

The Active 200 exists to fill a specific design requirement and in many regards, it should be seen as a competitor to devices like the Naim Mu-So2 rather than something you might look to add to an existing system. And, in much the same way the Naim is something that offers a viable alternative to a more conventional premium sound bar, the Q Acoustics does too. Of course, this is only the case if all this technology and thinking is harnessed in a way that actually delivers. Is this a brilliant one stop shop or a technical curio? Time to find out.

Specification and Design

Q Acoustics Q Active 200
Does it make sound, shoot lasers or issue fixed fines and three points on your license?

First up, lets cover off the most basic element of the Active 200. The word active is correctly applied here as each speaker is a genuine active design where the crossover is placed in front of the amplification. As should be fairly obvious from the pictures, the drivers in question are not the same as you might find in the 3000i Series or the Concept range. Instead, the drivers that each speaker presents to the world are a pair of 2.25-inch BMR drivers. There was a point a few years ago where it looked very much like BMRs were going to wind up in everything. The notional benefits of their design; wide dispersion, impressive frequency response from a relatively small area and a generally robust construction seemed too good to ignore.

The reality of BMRs is that they are subject to the same balance of benefits and trade offs as more conventional drivers. In using them in an active configuration though, Q Acoustics is able to eliminate or bypass most of them. The Active 200 is both designed to run them and equipped to implement them as effectively as possible. The duo of BMRs handles everything from 150Hz upwards (in this case, to a claimed upper roll off of 20kHz). They do so while offering an even dispersion of something approaching 180 degrees and the notional time alignment benefits of something like a dual concentric driver.

The actual amount of cabinet given over to the BMRs is fairly limited. The lion’s share is taken up by the mechanics of delivering frequencies under 150Hz. Around the back, you’ll find a 4.5-inch driver that has been set up to deliver low frequencies. Again, the active nature of the speakers takes some of the unsettling novelty out of this configuration. Sending a single amplified signal to a passive crossover and expecting it to do much good with this driver arrangement would be… interesting. Thanks to being DSP controlled, the Active 200 is able to ensure that the signal from the different drivers pointing in various directions makes it to your ear in an orderly way. The amplification that drives the Active 200 is class D and, across the three drivers, delivers 100 watts continuous and 280 watts peak.

Q Acoustics Q Active 200
The rear facing driver acts against the back of the cabinet

This has very little in common with most other Q Acoustics devices but there are some brand similarities in there too. The cabinet makes extensive use of the P2P bracing principles that the company has been working on for some years and, while it has nothing in common materially with the Concept series, there’s enough of the aesthetic in there for you to know that it’s a Q Acoustics product (more on the aesthetics in a bit). The cabinet itself is rear ported and bungs are provided in the great Q Acoustics fashion. This being an active design with a DSP though, you can also tell each speaker if it is in free space or near a wall or corner.

What you can’t do is take an XLR or RCA feed from your existing preamp and communicate with the Active 200 directly. Each speaker is a sealed unit with a 5.8GHz receiver in it. The only way to send audio to them is via the Q Active Hub. This is both the transmitter and connectivity point for your other equipment and, the good news is that it is comprehensively equipped to do this. First up, the Hub is a UPnP renderer. Q Acoustics has not developed their own control app but if you buy the premium version of MConnect, you’ll have a control point that is generally less irritating than most manufacturer specific options. It’s also Roon Compatible, with Roon certification going through while the system was under test. 

Q Acoustics Q Active 200
The hub is where inputs are made

As well as UPnP, you can use AirPlay 2, Google Cast, Bluetooth and Spotify Connect. Intriguingly, there are two Hubs. One is set up to be compatible with Google Home while another is able to work with Alexa. I don’t know enough about the hardware implementations of either digital wiretap to surmise why this is but it does mean you probably ought to know which flavour of disembodied robot voice you want in your life before you buy it as changing will require you to buy another hub.

As well as the network hardware, the Hub also has an HDMI ARC input, an optical input and an RCA line input that can be switched to a moving magnet phono stage should you fancy. Socketry is finished off by a single sub out. It means that the Q Active 200 is a well equipped to handle the bulk of things you’re likely to want to connect to it. Control is simple enough with third party app options, HDMI slaving or an RF remote (meaning no line of sight is required) being supplied. The hub will receive digital up to 32/192kHz but everything that it sends to the speakers, regardless of sample rate or if it's analogue or digital will be resampled to 24/96. Ideally, I’d have liked to have separate recoding for 44.1 and 48kHz multiples but I’m realistic enough to work out that Q Acoustics has probably run the tests, decided that the people likely to care can be counted on the fingers of one knee and gone with the system they have.

Q Acoustics Q Active 200
Physical connectivity is reasonable enough

Now, honesty dictates that I make it clear that the first attempt to get the review hub talking to the review speakers did not go well. The hub synced with the remote and Google Home got it on the network. One of the two speakers resolutely refused to pair with the hub however and I had to admit defeat and get in touch with Q Acoustics. After a reset, everything worked perfectly (and has continued to do so). I suspect that before being sent to me, one of the speakers has been paired to another hub and not reset. In the interest of fairness I have performed a full factory reset on the review samples on ten occasions; five in a row and then five more at random. On every occasion, it has put itself back together with the dogged insistence of a T1000 and I am confident that anyone receiving a boxfresh example will not have this issue.

They might have some other installation issues though. Some design aspects of the Active 200 feel like that they didn’t receive much exposure to the outside world before production kicked off. The mains leads supplied to power the speakers are too short for much in the way of routing around things or having an offset mains supply (although they use a standard fig8 socket so buying aftermarket ones would be easy). Attaching a black speaker to a black top plate on the speaker stand is also fiddly and thankless. The stands themselves are lovely things, reminiscent of the beautiful tripods supplied with the Concept 200 but they are no less than £350 for a pair which, however pretty they are, is a lot of money.

I also can’t decide if I like the looks. For every time I’ve looked at them and admired the boldness, clean lines and purposeful design statement they make; half exotic art project, half superweapon, there have been others where they look like the result of a romantic liaison between a theodolite and a speed camera. Two things I can say in defence of Q Acoustics are that you could never accuse it of being derivative and that it’s put together with the customary quality and attention to detail that we’ve come to expect from the brand.

Q Acoustics Q Active 200
The remote is RF based and completely non directional
 

Thanks to being DSP controlled, the Active 200 is able to ensure that the signal from the different drivers pointing in various directions makes it to your ear in an orderly way..

How was the Q Active 200 tested?

The Active 200 has largely run as a self-contained device, being tested over UPnP with both MConnect and Roon. AirPlay and Cast have been tested via iPad Pro and It has been connected to an LG 55B7 OLED via optical (HDMI ARC sadly remains out of service). An Audio Technica AT LP5X was briefly employed with and without its internal phono stage to test the analogue input. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, Tidal, Qobuz, on demand TV service and some vinyl.

More: Audio Formats



Performance

Q Acoustics Q Active 200
Controls to set the channel and orientation of each speaker are on the rear panel

Sometimes it is possible to make a ‘call’ on the relative merits of a product after no more than 20 or 30 minutes of use. This is not one of those devices and you should take this into account before you go and demo an Active 200. One of the reasons for this is the BMR pairing on the front. The reality of that exceptionally wide dispersion is that if you switch to the Active 200 straight after listening to a conventional speaker it’s going to sound a bit odd. The manner in which a BMR works means that if you previously had a sweet spot where you listened from, it will have gone. Compared to a set of conventional speakers that have been well set up in a reasonably forgiving room, the Active 200 always sounds fractionally diffuse.

The payoff is that for everyone else in the room, the Active 200 is an upgrade from the cheap seats to something far closer to what you experienced in the sweet spot. Their off axis performance is excellent; you practically need to be behind them before the stereo image collapses. When we talk about something being ‘room filling’ we frequently mean that solely in the sense that it has plenty of grunt. What you see here is a device that does a magnificent job of putting together a meaningful take on the music or program it’s playing almost regardless of where you happen to be relative to it.  

To be clear though, the Active 200 doesn’t struggle with the more traditional idea of room filling either. The 100 watts they possess manages to go an extremely long way and they have headroom beyond what any all-in-one, short of the T+A Caruso (which is rather more expensive), can get near. The caveat to this is that the Active 200 has a definite performance envelope. It’s a fairly wide envelope but it is there nonetheless. At low volumes, it never sounds that exciting and that softness and slightly diffuse aspect of what they do is more prevalent. Go ballistic at the other end of the volume dial and it’s the 4.5-inch driver that wants to tap out. It will eventually lose cohesion and things become boomy and uncontrolled.


Q Acoustics Q Active 200
White is also available

Keep them in their sizeable happy place though and the Active 200 is able to give a good account of itself. The way it gets stuck into the delightfully ballistic Kitty Kitty by De Staat is a demonstration that a ‘lifestyle active’ still has the word ‘active’ in it. The Active 200 is punchy, energetic and fun. Compared to a passive speaker at a bit less like the Acoustic Energy AE500 or KEF LS50 Meta, there are fine details that are harder to find in the mix and if you pivot to Agnes Obel’s Aventime some of the delicacy that music like this revels in is less apparent. This rather misses the scope what the Q Active can do though - something you’d struggle to sort for the £500 difference between the passive speakers mentioned. There are facets of behaviour beyond single chassis rivals too in terms of width impact and scale. It’s undoubtedly a halfway house but it does manage to hit more of the performance benchmarks than it misses. 

Something that has become apparent under test is that this system is less discriminatory about what you are sending it than the more conventional passive models from Q Acoustics. Connect the 3030i to a Rega Io and Chord Mojo and it will allow you to perceive small but noticeable differences between Qobuz and Spotify. Use the same material on the Active 200 and while some of the differences are still apparent, they’re arguably smaller than on the more affordable bookshelf. Some of this is down to the design of the speaker itself but I think that some of it is on account of the 24/96 upscale prior to transmitting to the speakers. There’s two ways of looking at this. If you’re a dyed in the wool audiophile, you can paint this as a lack of transparency. If you’re looking for a device to make a decent fist of multiple sources though, it’s rather less of a detractor. I would say that it renders the phono stage a bit of a convenience thing though. Does a turntable sound perfectly listenable via the Q Active? Yes. Is it comparative with a much simpler, wired system at giving you the true character of the record? I’m going with “not really.”

The other key ribbon in the Active 200’s bow is the performance with TV and film. Even when you watch TV in stereo; as I do all the time, the requirements are different to music. The demands on the soundstage change to anchoring the on screen images but extending beyond the screen itself. This is grist for the mill of what the Active 200 does. In the time they’ve been here I’ve watched a swathe of stuff on them from ancient episodes of A Touch of Frost (what can I say, I really enjoy them) through to American Gods and I’ve been consistently impressed at every stage. Used via the HDMI ARC connection where the Hub will wake up automatically and have volume controlled by your TV remote, it’s a heady blend of convenience and performance.

Q Acoustics Q Active 200
This Q Active 200 is using an aftermarket mains lead that's longer. And invisible.
 

Used via the HDMI ARC connection where the Hub will wake up automatically and have volume controlled by your TV remote, it’s a heady blend of convenience and performance.

Verdict

Pros

  • Expansive, room friendly performance
  • Decent spread of inputs
  • Well made

Cons

  • Supplied mains leads too short
  • Stands are too expensive
  • Looks a matter of taste

Q Acoustics Q Active 200 Speaker System Review

More by accident than design, the Active 200 almost directly followed the Piega Wireless 301 through testing. On the surface, these two products are similar enough to be notional competitors. The reality of the situation is very different. The Piega is a Hi-Fi product that has been cajoled into doing the sort of things we might expect of an all-in-one system…. with a somewhat variable level of success.

The Q Acoustics by contrast is every bit as slick and cohesive as an all in one but it just happens to come in three boxes and need three mains sockets (or two and a USB power outlet if you wish to be pedantic). Because of these multiple chassis and because of the words ‘active’ and ‘speaker’, it’s tempting to view the Active 200 as a Hi-Fi product, like the Piega or Acoustic Energy AE1 Active and if you do, it’s going to come up short. Feed a decent digital preamp into the conventional active speakers and they will do things that Active 200 cannot.

Think of this as a Mu-So2 rival though and it makes much more sense. This is a rare thing from Q Acoustics in that I cannot consider it an absolute knock out but if you’re looking for something that works as cohesively as single chassis all-in-one but delivers a performance across music and film that is bigger and more confident than any of them, this is where you need to start looking. This isn’t a perfect product but if you appreciate what it can do, it’s one that earns our Recommendation.

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
9

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Features

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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