Introduction - what is the Q Acoustics 3030i?
The Q Acoustics 3030i is a two way standmount loudspeaker. It has arrived as an extra member of the 3000i range of speakers that appeared a few years ago and that is an evolution of the earlier 3000 Series. At first glance, it looks like a curious new arrival, turning up two years later to join a range that was doing perfectly well without it but there is some method in the madness.
This is because the defining characteristic of the 3030i is hard to spot in isolation. Seen in the pictures that accompany the review, it looks the same as the 3010i and 3020i but parked next to them, it becomes clear that this is quite a bit bigger. This is in fact, the first Q Acoustics standmount to feature a 6.5 inch driver outside of the rather more ornate (and expensive) Concept 300 which I’ve never reviewed for AVForums but is, I can assure you, a bit good.
More than its illustrious bigger brother though, the 3030i is possessed of a set of drivers of a size that, in the context of a UK lounge, have the pleasing habit of ‘just working.’ Given that the smaller standmounts aren’t exactly shabby (and, as noted, the Concept 300 is outstanding), is this the affordable standmount you’ve been waiting for? Time to find out.
Specification and Design
Q Acoustics is a fascinating example of how a brand philosophy evolves from a standing start. The speakers started out as entirely straightforward engineering and the ensuing 14 years have seen that straightforward engineering gain progressively clever refinements without losing the original essence of simplicity. At the heart of every Q Acoustics speaker is a soft dome tweeter and a doped paper driver. No metal, no hydrocarbons, not even any exciting additives to the paper. The argument from day one has been that it’s the environment that the drivers work in that makes the difference.
Neither driver is new. The tweeter is used across the entire 3000i range (meaning that if you do want to integrate the 3030i into an AV package, it will do so uncomplainingly). The tweeter itself is a 22mm soft dome that features the increasingly popular practice of having a smaller inner dome that is partnered with a rolled surround that is also part of the resonating area of the tweeter. The idea is that the inner dome delivers high frequencies, helped by its low mass and relatively small radiating area, while the ring surround obviates the tendency for such a setup to ‘beam’ information and provides the ability to generate enough of the frequency response to generate a sensible crossover point - in this case 2.4KHz.
Less critical than the design of the tweeter is its mounting. Q Acoustics has gone to great lengths to decouple the tweeter and the supporting hardware from the rest of the speaker. If you have - for the sake of argument - £2,600 to play with, you can put the tweeter in its own enclosure like the Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature. When you budget is more terrestrial as is the case here, you need to be more flexible. The tweeter is relatively conventional but includes a rubber gasket at the point where it mounts to the cabinet which provides the necessary decoupling.
The mid bass driver is closely related to the one found in the 3050i floorstander. It’s a doped paper unit which features an optimised drive assembly (although, I do take this to be something of a given with pretty much any driver in fairness). A large rear port augments output and the driver handles everything from the crossover point of 2.4kHz down to a claimed roll off of 46Hz (although the figures quoted here are somewhat unclear). Dipping below 50Hz is generally a fairly significant psychological barrier though and it means that the 3030 does comfortably better the 3010i and 3020i (although it’s worth noting that when I tested the preceding 3020 back in 2015, this rather bettered the quoted figures and definitely had meaningful output below 50Hz too).
Some of this extension is down to the cabinet. Q Acoustics has pushed some of the most meaningful refinements of cabinet design at the sensible end of speaker market in recent years. The development of their ‘Gelcore’ system that first appeared in the Concept 20 and then was turned up to eleven for the Concept 500 has seen an upswing in the concept of constrained layer damping (and to be clear, Q Acoustics didn’t invent this idea and nor do they claim to, they simply cracked a process that didn’t require a budget up there with a space program to do it) in recent years.
Affordable though the Gelcore process is, it’s still too expensive for the 3000i models but some of the data about resonance control is applied to the assembly, as is the use of specific point to point bracing, applied at the points where the need is calculated as highest, rather than banging some into the corners and going “that’ll do.” The 3030i doesn’t feel like a Concept speaker (either at the simpler or more ornate level) but it does feel solid and usefully inert.
As to the looks… it might be fair to say that I am pleased that Q Acoustics has evolved a design language for their speakers but I don’t truly love the 3030i. In the grey finish, the slightly unusual proportions (like many speakers from Q Acoustics, this is a very deep cabinet) is not the most invigorating aesthetic partnership. The brightwork at the front is pleasant enough but it feels a little contrived and, at this time of year with low level sunlight, intermittently blinding. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s ugly, and it looks better in some of the other finishes. Compared to the £70 more expensive Triangle Borea BR03 (or even the £100 cheaper Mission LX-2 MkII) though, I don’t feel it’s a truly handsome one.
This is Q Acoustics though and whatever aesthetic quibbles I have, there is much to like too. Fit and finish is immaculate and the details are all beautifully realised. The grilles are magnetic and held in place by an ideal amount of force and the terminals no longer point in random directions and are in fact nicer to use than some fitted to much more expensive speakers. There’s a dedicated stand and a general user friendliness that impresses from the outset. The 3030i is easy to drive and unfussy about placement and everything about it seems to have been thought through to make sure that, if they are your first pair of Hi-Fi speakers, they should deliver on the promise without requiring huge amounts of fiddling around.
At the heart of every Q Acoustics speaker is a soft dome tweeter and a doped paper driver. No metal, no hydrocarbons, not even any exciting additives to the paper. The argument from day one has been that it’s the environment that the drivers work in that makes the difference
How was the 3030i tested?
The 3030is have been used in a few different situations. Absolute performance testing has been undertaken on the end of a Cambridge Audio Edge A integrated amp running off an IsoTek Evo3 Sigmas and using its internal decoding as a Roon Endpoint. More price relevant testing was undertaken with a Rega Io and Chord Mojo and Topping E30, again taking a feed from a Roon Nucleus. Some additional testing took place with the Leak Stereo 130 and an AVID Ingenium Twin, Rega RB330 and Apheta Pro cartridge running into a Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage was also used at points. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, DSD, Tidal and Qobuz and some vinyl.
More: Audio Formats
While the 3030s were under test, I was in contact with another reviewer, ensuring that another review sample going from me to them would find them in to receive it. We briefly discussed the 3030i and Q Acoustics in general. They then asked the perfectly reasonable question; has Q Acoustics ever made a truly bad speaker? After a brief back and forth, we had to concede that - in fourteen years, with the partial exception of the long and thin subs which neither of us was fond of - they hadn’t.
And, just to make this clear nice and early, the 3030i doesn’t drop the ball either. Connected to the Edge A, the resulting system is a 93% value split in favour of amp and decoding but to listen to it, you’d struggle to pick this up on an initial listen. The reason for this, more than anything else is down to the efforts that have gone into the cabinet. So long as a modicum of care has gone into their positioning, the 3030i is able to replicate some of the incredible ‘drivers in free space’ feel that the Concept 500 still delivers better than almost any other speaker. The result is clean, uncoloured and unforced audio.
This creates a step change in how you interact with the 3030i because, unless you are being invited to sit down and evaluate them as I am, your tendency will be to listen through them rather than to them. As the reason you got into this moneypit of a hobby in the first place was to enjoy the high quality reproduction of music (remember? Honestly it was), this is something of a boon. Enjoying the gorgeous Philharmonics by Agnes Obel, the 3030i is able to take the utterly captivating Riverside and spring more than a few surprises. The piano has weight and presence to it and you can discern the movement of Obel’s hands across the keyboard as she plays. Obel herself sounds sensational; her exceptional vocal range and the haunting tone she can achieve are beautifully captured. It takes an extremely short period of time to forget you’re listening to £330 speakers and there are moments, brief moments but significant nonetheless, where you forget you’re listening to speakers at all.
Drag yourself back into focusing on the speakers themselves and there really isn’t anything magical happening here. The 3030i isn’t doing anything radically different to the older members of the range. What is happening is that it benefits from the boost in proportions that comes from that single 6.5 inch driver. As noted earlier, the 3020 was comfortably exceeding its quoted figures in room and so it is the case here. Beyond numbers, the 3030i is room filling in a way that makes things convincing. The sensational Thank You by Late Night Final is punctuated by some moments of truly seismic bass and the 3030i always does enough to convey them correctly.
Where it wields a small advantage over the floorstanders is the simplicity of the relationship between the two drivers. This is not a truly ballistic sounding speaker as that’s never really been part of the design priorities of Q Acoustics. It never fails to sound fast on its feet though and even something full bore like My Own Soul’s Warning by The Killers is delivered with exceptional composure and control. The limitations of the 3030i do make themselves felt eventually - push it into firmly antisocial levels and those cabinets begin to become audible again - but it feels entirely unflappable most of the time.
Strip the Q Acoustics of the £5,500 comfort blanket of the Edge A… and to be honest not a great deal changes. With the Rega io and Mojo running as source and amp, some of the effortlessness is chipped away and it doesn’t image as well but the 3030i still largely delivers what it did on the end of the big amp. That it can reflect these improvements is hugely impressive and it is something beyond that which I usually see from products at this price point. This is a speaker with some meaningful stretch to it and it would be able to handle being the last piece of that system you changed if you wanted it to be.
It takes an extremely short period of time to forget you’re listening to £330 speakers and there are moments, brief moments but significant nonetheless, where you forget you’re listening to speakers at all
- Composed, neutral yet engrossing performance
- Easy to drive and place
- Very well made
- Not exactly pretty
- Will eventually reveal some limitations when driven hard.
Q Acoustics Q3030i Standmount Speaker Review
And so, we reach the end of another Q Acoustics Review where I have to scrabble around to try and put some marks in the ‘against’ column. Like the rest of the range, those pointers are pretty limited. The 3030i isn’t the prettiest speaker going and once you exceed its performance envelope it has no choice but to let you know. That’s it.
Against this, you have a pros column that overflows with positives. There are speakers that are subjectively more fun and there are definitely ones that are better looking but the Q Acoustics is an all rounder with a breadth of talent that subsumes these one off attributes. Right now, if you were to ask me what the most capable speaker you can buy for under £500 is, I could not in good conscience say anything other than this one, which is why the Q Acoustics 3030i has to be seen as the current Best In Class.
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