Preface: Born in 2006, the Q Acoustics brand is one that may be considered as fairly new to the consumer Hi-Fi market. However, this a minor formality as Q Acoustics have always been fanatical in their ventures to produce exceptionally performing Hi-Fi speakers that won't break the bank. Here at The Pro Audio Web Blog it is our understanding that the Q Acoustics brand is one that has delivered time and time again, where their products on offer have gained a sheer high level of respect in such a short space of time amongst the reviewing fraternity. In fact saying this we are captivated by our impulsive nature to prematurely announce that the Q Acoustics Concept 20 bookshelf speakers have, yet again, won another five star award, but this time from The Pro Audio Web Blog.
Above: Beautiful In White - The Q Acoustics Concept 20 Speakers
Unboxing: With your pair arriving in the industry standard brown box, featuring a printed side-note illustration, the Concept 20's sit beautifully inside, carefully packaged in eight point polystyrene suspension, with a thin felt like cover that protects the gloss finish. As we all know that this is the standard packaging procedure you may be rolling your eyes at this description, but either way you now appreciate that your purchase will arrive in your hands, in perfect condition. Additionally, the speaker grille comes pre-installed, as does the coupling bar at the rear connectors, and both are easily removable. With any rear firing bass reflex port speaker cabinets you should ideally place your speakers at a minimum of 60cm's from a back wall, but failing this the package does include a pair of primitive rear bass reflex port plugs that appropriately function, although they are designed to nestle deep within the bore (more on this later).
Features and Build Quality: For the design of these passive hi-fi speakers Q Concepts pulled out all the stops with both the physical and aesthetic design of the overall product, and it is only fair that we shall begin our voyage from the outside in. Regardless of your colour choice, either black or white, the Concept 20's will arrive with a black speaker grille that is easily removable, but note that if you do choose to remove this then be aware that the tweeter and speaker cone are now more exposed to the elements of modern living. Now we turn our attention to the cabinet finish of this product, I can proudly report that this pair have been manufactured to display a premium modern piano gloss finish that appears to be resilient to minor scratches or fingerprints. I find this finish to be cosmetically flawless, and personally I love the Concept 20's appearance without their grille, because they have such a beautifully simplistic, well machined, matt sandblasted aluminium faceplate that juxtaposes the glossy piano finish, but of course you have the option to take a look above image and decide for yourself.
In terms of connectivity, Q Acoustics have allowed for the Concept 20's to be bi-wireable by the user with four strong thread chrome locking nuts that can be removed to support banana plugs. There is nothing remarkable to report on the connectivity apart from the solid machining, so at £199 a pair we should briefly discuss the optional floor-standers. Appearing elegant with the same flawless piano gloss finish and incorporated glass details, the floor-standers are highly functional in dampening acoustic transmission, and stand at one meter from the ground. Q Acoustics have placed the same GelCore Technology (that we shall shortly discuss) on the top plate and finish of the bottom of the stands with a triple speaker spike arrangement that does give a critical 10% in perceived sonic improvement thanks to limiting the harmonics introduced from typical items that 'bookshelf' speakers are placed on. During operation they perform as expected, although they are a fancy optional extra that, considering the cost, some users may feel that they do not immediately need.
Moving on to more specific details now, the cabinet footprint is small thanks to a modest five inch cardboard/carbon-fibre bass to low-mid driver unit that is coupled with a polyester weave, dual resistance coat protected (of an undisclosed custom composite), one inch tweeter. With a recommended power draw of 25-75w the Concept 20's can kick out a high enough output, and they feature a five inch driver that immediately screams that these speakers are best suited to a small to low-medium size room, and are hardy enough to perform well for years in a typical consumer environment. Additionally, Q Acoustics have further informed us that the crossover design used in the Concept 20's is of the active fourth order Linkwitz-Riley configuration set at 2.9kHz. Typically this configuration is seen in many high-end products due to the increased cost to manufacture, but with a proven audio quality, thanks to great linear phase response, this configuration proves itself in terms of the sound quality and doesn't just look great on paper.
Returning back to the specifics of the cabinet design, most manufacturers in this price range settle on using a single MDF wall construction for predictable sonic characteristics, and use of internal acoustic mineral wool for resonant dampening... But oh no, the buck does not stop here with Q Acoustics. Whilst acoustic mineral wool is used as an effective acoustic isolation method in the Concept 20's, they have gone much further. In the lab Q Acoustics designed a new material, which they call GelCore, to reduce the cabinet resonance to provide the user with a sound that is as pure as possible from the drivers without resorting to an egg shaped design. Separated by a thick layer of GelCore between the two, inside the Concept 20's there is essentially a box within a box, and the effect this has on your listening experience is remarkable. So, how does it perform? Excellently. Is it a gimmick? No.
Having meticulously analysed this product, with thanks to the high quality external materials used, I would like to conclude this area of investigation by stating that the physical build quality is definitely first class and that as an overall product the Concept 20's demonstrate fastidious design protocols in a 'no holds barred' engineering process that easily ousts the competition.
Sound Quality: Following a forty hour burn in, right off the bat there is clear indication that the Concept 20's are not just any old speakers... They have class and sophistication. If we are to read right off the sheet, these speakers have a noted frequency response of 64Hz - 22kHz and, even without the bass reflex port plugs, it is very clear from first impressions that there isn't any of that muddy deep bass boom to ruin all hope of a detailed low-midrange. In essence we shall start from the floor, and the bass is quite articulate where the core sonic frequencies of a kick drum are by no means overly pronounced like a highly-spherical or with dull warmth, nor do they come across as overbearingly tight or clinical. Somewhere in the middle we find a common ground that seems to describe the Concept 20's performance across the board, and I do think to myself that they hit the nail on the head with the GelCore because it has created a bass detail and depth that is somewhat uncommon. If you do find yourself locating this pair near to a back-wall then you will insert the port plugs. These do have a noticeable effect on the presentation of the bass in that they sound a tad too clinical, so I preferred to correctly locate them away from such a space. Likewise, I found that the low-mids appear quite open where no boxiness is present and are nicely true to the original format; very refined. Sometimes when listening back you feel that you are listening to a pair of speakers that cost quite a bit more than the price that you will currently pay. All in all the mid-range is refined, very, very slightly recessed, with a soothing smooth quality that leaves you wanting more. However, as we come up to the treble, for me this is where the Concept 20's shine. Clearly the top end frequency extension allows the tweeters to breathe so that all the instruments are adequately presented and 'perfect' nuances are found in harmony to create an engaging exceptionally detailed sonic separation. I really cannot say that this pair will lead to premature listening fatigue as the treble is quite the opposite of what you would define as 'harsh', so it is this special sonic signature that really does captivate your attention through a litany of genres.
During our time of testing I ploughed everything you could imagine through the Concept 20's and was never disappointed. I would say that these are for refined users, not the average 'bass head' because these should be treated with respect and, as I love classical, this was the clincher for me... the Concept 20's won me over. So, we have discussed 'the sound' but what about the stereo separation. Without introduction, what adjective can I say that hasn't been said before? I have no idea, but let’s start by saying that you won't be disappointed. The stereo image with this pair is something else, where the air is adequately open to well placed (panned) instrumentation. With stunning depth, complex instrumentation sings well, and this is where we would like to conclude.
Pro Audio or Hi-Fi? The Pro Audio Web Blog was asked by Q Acoustics if this speaker can be used in a professional studio environment. We feel that the Concept 20's do have a place in referencing back mixes, but they should be adequately placed as far as possible from the wall whilst still being in a near-field working environment because the bass is tamed in when using the reflex port plugs. Additionally there is a minor amount of latency caused by the Linkwitz-Riley crossover configuration so in a studio environment you may find difficulty during tracking, and you would need to pair this with the right amplifier to have a useable sound that translates well. Regardless of these findings I cannot fault the product for it's intended purpose, nor can I fault it at all, so in a consumer Hi-Fi market there is no doubt in my mind about this product. The Concept 20's use in a professional audio environment would be well suited for reference post-mix or mastering.
Conclusion: Q Acoustics have produced an excellent sounding product for a price that is very hard to beat. The build quality is flawless, and the finish will make this product stand out from the crowd. When all of the above factors are matched with a sound quality that is deeply engaging you find a speaker that The Pro Audio Web Blog can award a five star rating. We take our hat off to you Q Acoustics, and look forward to reviewing more of your products.