The Q Acoustics Concept 300 Speakers are very special.
By Steve Huff
My video look at the Q Acoustic C300’s!
A short while ago I received an email from Q Acoustics asking me if I wanted to review their flagship bookshelf speaker, called the C300. I was aware of the brand, and have seen others speak of these Q300’s and the larger tower C500’s (all in a glowing way). I was thrilled to be able to check them out even though my (main) new music room will not be finished until 2021.
With that said, I do have a nice temporary space for my HiFi and in this space I have a Naim Atom and Nova, with 2-3 sets of bookshelf speakers I alternate between (Dynaudio S40, Wharfedale Denton, B&W 705 s2) for comparison and review purposes. When my main room is done I will decide what stays and what goes. For now, I have been enjoying these “do it all wonders” Naim pieces with some lower end and mid end speakers ranging from $500 to $3000. These Q300’s come in at $4,199 with stands so they are priced above what I have here currently. Will they outperform them?
The C300’s, in images I have seen, looked quite nice but in those images the (IMO) mandatory Tensegrity Tripod Stands, well, I was not so sure about. The looks are different indeed. Looking like a flimsy metal tripod of sorts (in images) they did not appear to be the most sturdy things but when I researched the stands I understood more about why they were designed as they are. They are part of the system and this speaker system is basically free of colorations from the box or vibrations from the stand due to the way the speaker cabinet is constructed and the way the stands interact with the speakers themselves.
When you have a speaker and stand system like this, that is free of vibrations and colorations you will easily hear the difference instantly when compared to other speakers. It’s why these sound so “quiet” and “clean” and very spacious. There are no vibrations to alter the sound as it emits from the speakers. CLEAN is a word I kept saying again and again. This told me right there that Q acoustics were onto something with their stand and speaker design.
IN THE FLESH
In the flesh, the stands have beautiful construction and never do you feel anything was skimped on, and yes they are sturdy. The spikes even have rubber coverings if being used on a wood or hard floor and this was a nice touch. It’s odd but Q Acoustics is a company known for their affordable speakers, and here they truly showed what they could do with a true statement bookshelf speaker. The good news for us, the consumer, is that this Q Acoustics flagship costs so much less than many other audio companies flagship while keeping the quality and sound traits of many of those uber high dollar boxes intact. I am talking companies like Focal, Magico, Wilson and the like which are all upper echelon in their designs and prices, way above Q acoustics in cost yet these C300’s offer a lot of what these companies offer for much much less. These are truly world class speakers here my friends yet they are attainable.
An early spoiler…Even with the little Naim Atom powering these seemingly power hungry speakers (84 Db) there is no issue driving them loudly, cleanly and to mind numbing levels. The beauty of the Q300’s is the fact that there are really no colorations from cabinet and stand, therefore when you hear what they put out you will hear total transparency, a quietness, a calm, a smoothness and one of the biggest most wide open soundstage’s I have ever heard. Again, CLEAN. PURE. MUSIC yet with a richness and slight touch of warmth that brings the human and emotional element into play.
These are imaging and soundstage champs, quite possibly the best I have heard in this regard (no matter the cost) and quite the opposite to the JBL L82’s I reviewed last time. Where the JBL’s were big, loud, direct and just pumped out loud enjoyable heart thumping music, the Q Acoustic C300’s are much more refined, open, airy and they really do let you see and hear deep inside of the music.
These speakers have a unique spring base as well, that is designed to absorb any vibrations. This double whammy (stands and speaker base) ensure you get nothing but clean pure sound from the speakers.
The base of each speaker is spring loaded so too speak. When attached to the stands, each work in unison to control nasty vibrations and colorations. It’s genius.
When the C300’s arrived I unbowed the stands first and was happy to see that they were fully assembled. So no need to figure out how to put this strange looking set of sticks together. In fact, when I took them out the quality was much higher than I anticipated. Very nice, solid and when I attached the speakers to the stands with the supplied screws I was now starting to understand just how these kill those pesky vibrations. It is a genius concept really, and I am surprised more companies have not done something similar.
It’s a pretty nice system and I would say to anyone thinking of these speakers to 100% buy the stands for them, as they were designed as part of this system. They will sound their absolute best with the stands. I know as I tried putting them on some other stands I have that are quite nice ($1200 stands) and they lost some of the magic. So before I even start to dig into these speakers I will say if you consider these, buy the stands with them as it will bring you the best of the C300’s.
When I unboxed these beauties I was very pleased with the design. They are very deep cabinets, with a high gloss finish of silver and ebony. Yes these are MDF but so are 90% of speakers made today as their is no downside to using MDF. Rather, most companies today praise MDF over real wood for cabinets due to the way wood can effect the sound. Sounds like a bunch of nonsense really but I can not argue with results, reality and the fact that these C300’s sound absolutely beautiful and even better than some real wood cabinet speakers I have owned.
There are three colors to choose from here. These also come in a white and a black with rosewood but the silver and ebony are very nice. If I were choosing I would most likely go with black and rosewood but the silver and ebony would be my 2nd choice for sure. The speakers have a nice weight to them, and look like a very classy, very pricey set of speakers. The front baffle is curved and not only does this separate the style from others it has a purpose. The curve also helps these speakers to have such an amazing soundstage and precise imaging performance. It’s about sending that information into the room in the proper and most pleasing way.
Looks wise, these are modern beauties. Very classy, very unique. Not for everyone of course but in person these are even better looking than they are in photos.
The speakers do have bracing inside, and polyurethane elastomer sandwiched in actual LAYERS inside of the speaker. If you cut one open it would look like a fancy slice of cake with layers separated by this gel. All of this care taken in the build and design ensure these speakers present music in a very holographic way. Music does seem to float all around the speakers rather than coming from the speakers. It’s surreal with some recordings. Even more so than with other speakers that also excel at this.
This is yet another area where the C300’s truly shine, and I will just state now that these are the most pleasing bookshelf speakers I have heard in 2020, large or small, cheap or expensive. They beat out the B&W 705 S2, they manage to beat out the Dynaudio S40, they beat out the JBL L82 and ALL speakers I have had in my room for 2020 when it comes to sounding like a more expensive pair of speakers. They are also the most refined of the above mentioned speakers. At the price they come in at, with stands, these are truly special sounding (and looking) speakers. Nothing feels cheap or skimped out on, I have to say this as some may be wondering about the build, and the solidity of the speaker on the stands. These are solid.
The Mighty Atom
I first hooked them up to the little Naim Atom and was shocked at how well the little magic box Atom drove them. I did feel like the bass was a tad lacking but wasn’t sure if it was the amp power or speaker. When I swapped in the almost double the power Naim Nova I heard these speakers go up the sound ladder further. The Nova is such a beautiful piece, and if you read my review HERE from a while back, I even compared it favorable to a $26,000 integrated. The Nova was 95% there and at $6000 including DAC, Streamer and gorgeous display it is one of the best purchases any HiFi enthusiast could make. I still say this today and use the Nova daily. It gives up nothing to much more expensive audio integrated amplifiers. Heck, I’d argue it offers more than most uber pricey integrated amps.
The binding posts are high quality as well, and are bi-wireable. The holes above the binding posts are where you can place a jumper (included in the box) to change the liveliness of the tweeter. You can take it down, keep it neutral or ramp it up depending on your room and tastes. In a lively room, remove the jumper and enjoy silky smooth treble response. In a room that leans dark due to having carpet and loads of furniture you can add in the jumper to enhance the sparkle. This is something I normally see only on VERY expensive speakers.
Hooking Them Up
I hooked it all up with some Nordost Blue Heaven speaker cables. Once I set the speakers up with the tweeters aimed almost to my ear with some slight toe in, I sat down and was in awe in what I heard. This happens often, yes…but not usually at this price point. When I review speakers in the $3k range and love them, I love them for what they deliver in their price range and slightly above. In this case, what I am hearing from the Q300 with the Naim Nova goes above and beyond most $3-4k speakers I have heard in the past. I hear the following from the Nova and C300 Combo in my room.
- Super transparency allowing me to hear deep into the music. These are more transparent than the Dynaudio S40’s and other speakers I have recently reviewed. This means it’s like the music is just there, hanging in the air and I can literally see where every voice and instrument would be. They make the S40’s sound a tad compressed and flat in direct comparison. Crazy as the S40’s are no slouch but the C300’s literally have no compression, they are so wide open in their presentation. They just sound so good, so addicting and yet nothing in particular stands out about the sound. They are complete. The 705 S2’s sound a little plump and tipped up by comparison, like they have a smiley face EQ attached. The C300’s are so natural and flowing when compared side by side.
- So clean yet so smooth. Not smooth as in hiding details, not at all. There is plenty of detail on tap but they are also smooth and give off a very comporting sound. Pleasing, and one you would never fatigue from but at the same time one you would not find lacking in details. It’s crazy really how good these are. They are not warm, or cold…more neutral with a hint of warmth injected (which is so much nicer than having a cool vibe). Details and clearly defined instruments and voice for days yet without fatigue.
- Bid deep and wide soundstage. The instruments have that decay that hang in the air with really good recordings. You feel as if the music is way beyond the speakers. Almost as these speakers can reproduce the reverb in the studio or hall where the music was recorded. I have had this happen once before with the original Guarneri Homage speakers by Sonus Faber. Those speakers are true instruments, and these C300’s remind me a lot of those original Guarneri’s but with more bass.
- The depth is also remarkable and it’s rare in this price point to have both a wide and deep soundstage. I am super impressed with the way music just floats in the air around the speakers. These are the best I have heard in this regard, no matter the cost.
- Imaging is spot on. In fact, when listening I wrote down (these image like $10-$20k speakers) and they also look the part.
- The midrange is very pure sounding and voices sound exactly as they should. Never congested, nor bloated. Instead they are clean, clear and have a beautiful way of projecting in the dead center of the image. They will not give a big chesty vocal unless called upon to do so but will instead portray them as realistic as possible. This means guys like Johnny Cash will sound big, bold and chesty but guys like Michael Buble will sound smooth, liquid and rich. Again, it seems these are going for a more neutral way of presenting the music, and some would say a proper way of reproducing the music.
- One downside is that at low volume these are not at their best. They sound great but lose some body as you go lower on the dial. I’m talking low volume as in, running it at 1AM while everyone else is sleeping. Something like the Klipsch Heresy IV do very well at low volume but more speakers these days than not are not at their best when you have to listen low. Even so, I did listen at 2am one night, and with the Nova set to 30 on the dial that sounded stunning, and it was still low enough not to wake Debby in the other room. So while not the best for low volume, they are better than others in this area.
The Naim Nova powers these speakers in a way that makes it appear they were made for each other. Bass lines are so tight and clean, and boy do I mean TIGHT. Treble is JUST right.
The most amazing thing about this is that while we hear details, have precise imaging and a wide and deep soundstage these are not speakers you will find lacking in musicality.
Listening to “Spinning Song” from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (from GHOSTEEN) I was brought into a surreal world where sounds were spinning all around the room. Then Nick’s voice came out as if he was standing right there in the center of the room. Spooky. Leonard Cohen? These C300’s do justice to his voice and musical style bringing him to your space for a private show.
The sound is very cohesive. Noting sticks out. With some speakers you will notice the treble more than anything else. Some you will hear boomy bass. Others will have a thin sound. The Q300’s somehow, by some sort of magic, have a way of sounding just about complete. While I truly love the B&W 705 S2, these are up a few notches from those in every category while being just a little bit more in the cost department. With that said, I do feel like the C300’s could have a touch more “oomph” in the mids. Just a touch. The B&W 705 S2’s do have this heftier midrange but are not as good as the C300’s in the imaging and space dept. Both are amazing speakers for the money but one should pick depending on their preferences. These two speakers are around the same cost when you factor in stands for the B&W (and never skimp in stands otherwise you are crippling your speakers). I can say that in person, the C300’s make the 705 S2 look like a cheaper speaker. The C300’s are gorgeous and so well made they again, seem more like $10k speakers in the design and build dept. No cheap binding posts, etc.
These C300’s even have superb dynamics and volume capability. These suckers can play LOUD while staying clean. I feel it’s due to the cabinet construction and stand performance.
In this price range we have a lot to choose from. I have not heard every speaker in the $4,000 price bracket but I have heard a lot and many way above this price point. While Q Acoustics may not be super well known my the masses, I can tell you they are QUALITY. From the way they package each speaker (these will not get damaged in shipping, and I can not say this for many other manufacturers who skimp in this area) to the way they designed the stands to the way the speaker cabinet is so solid, so free of colorations and bring loaded. Most of all, the sound quality is just sublime and they have the ability for almost any amp to drive them and sound superb.
I threw on a Musical Fidelity M3i that cost me $800 and they sounded great with that amp as well. They lost a little of their delicacy and sweetness that that Naim brings but no matter what I hooked up to these they retained the sound signature. The better the amp, the better these will sound but they never sounded bad for me, no matter what I ran them with : ) The Musical Fidelity brought out some serious OOMPH with a lessening of the finesse, the delicacy and spaciousness. Even so, the M3i could rock and roll.
I love the Dynaudio Special 40 but these make those sound thick or slightly compressed by comparison. These C300’s have an airy quality about them and completely disappear when you play music through them. I’ve never heard a speaker sound quite like them but I can say they sound “expensive” and look “expensive” which is good because I have heard $20k speakers not sound as nice as these. Remember, just because something is insanely expensive doesn’t always make it better. Sometimes you can pay less and get more, and these are the kind of products I love above all else.
A friend asked me…”what would you prefer, the $4200 C300’s or the $3000 Klipsch Heresy IV”. My answer was “THAT IS A TOUGH ONE” as they are such different speakers. At the end of the day though, I would maybe take the C300’s because the sound is more refined, transparent, clean, and 3 dimensional. They are constructed better and offer a more cohesive sound. They may not sound as “ALIVE” as the Klipsch but when you experience the sheer musicality of these speakers you will find it hard to pull yourself away.
Then again, the Klipsch are such an easy drive, have dynamics for days, sound so LIVE and REAL and look like a classic 70s speaker. Something about them touches my heart and soul, and I love that. I love the Klipsch Heresy IV. I guess it would be a tough one but I’d lean to the C300, or maybe keep both and swap them from time to time to keep me from wanting something different. I’d have the best of both worlds. The Klipsch, I can say that it is not made to the level of the C300 when it comes to construction. The Klipsch uses much cheaper binding posts, bracing, and the wood chips very easily. They sound amazing but the parts used are not up to the Q Acoustics.
I sat here for 20 minutes while writing this trying my best to think of any other bookshelf speaker I would prefer in my home over the C300’s if given a choice (I do not consider the Heresy IV a bookshelf). I truly couldn’t think of any, no matter the price. That made me really think, and appreciate just how good these speakers are. Nothing from B&W, nothing from Dynaudio, nothing from the usual suspects. Maybe, just maybe the Sonus Faber Minima Amator II with Carera stands. These can be found for $4500 or so if you look hard enough and are gorgeous in looks but I have not heard them. They would be different as SF speakers have a romanticism about them, a richer darker not so light footed sound which means warmth and richness. I love this sound as well. I may have to give these a try if I can get a hold of a pair. : )
Back to the C300’s and listening…
Listening to Brandi Carlile’s “Sugartooth” on the C300’s I have never heard this song sound so good and I have listened to this song on all of my 2020 review systems and speakers. On most systems this song sounded a tad dark, closed in even, with some digital glare showing itself at times. I love the music on this album but was never happy with the sound reproduction, no matter if I was listening on a $45k system or a $2000 system.
Not anymore. With the C300’s it’s crazy how it has opened up, how her voice is dead center and so full of energy and realism. Attack, dynamics, instruments everywhere that sound like the true instrument. Every instrument can be heard, clearly separated and showcased. None of the darkness I had with the B&W’s or even Dynaudios is here. The best I have heard this track and entire album sound and in fact I listened straight through at 2am on night track after track as it was just so compelling and kept drawing me into the music.
The sound is just so open, like someone pulled earplugs out of my ears.
I’m going to have to dig deep to find any faults here, and the main one is that they are not at their best when listening at really low volume levels, as I hinted at earlier. They like juice and to be played loud or louder that loud. When pushed they thrive and just get bigger and bigger sounding while still sounding clean and solid. But they can sound beautiful at a lower mid volume. It’s not like they lose all life when turned down, they do NOT. It’s just there have been other speakers that did the really low volume thing better and if I had to find a con, this is the best I could do.
For some the stands may be a bit odd looking when we think of speaker stands. While they do their part for the sound, some of you may feel they look odd. I think they are unique, and sort of cool looking. But some of you will prefer a standard stand type of appearance. Remember though, these speakers are DEEP. Much deeper than most bookshelf speakers so it needs a stand with a very big plate. Do not think you can just place these on any old cheap stand. The spring loaded base and depth mean you will need something substantial if going with traditional stands.
The bass could maybe be a bit more pronounced for some who have those tastes, but then again, I am afraid if it were pumped up some in the bass or mids it would take away from the gorgeous presentation these put out. When there is too much mid bass or bass in general, things can get boomy and muddy. Then forget about it, you lose some of or even all of the magic. The C300’s have beautiful tight and kicking bass when called upon, just do not expect overblown or hyped up bass (beats headphones style). I will say my couch rattled a bit when I turned up “High by the Beach” by Lana Del Ray so yes, these can bring authoritative bass if the track calls for it. ; ) The high end is crisp, and detailed for sure but I wouldn’t call these bright, again, neutral. Rather I keep feeling “SMOOTH”. These have plenty of bass, just some out there expect big boomy bass. These do not do that. (That’s good but some of you will se it as a con).
How they Excel
These truly excel with vocals, jazz, acoustic music and even classical. While they also sound amazing with rock and metal I would say that if you mainly listen in those genres you may want a thicker sounding speaker with a more kicking mid bass. Even so, I had Metallica, Megadeth and KISS jamming loudly and loving it. It did offer up very spacious renderings of these recordings which means they sounded quite different than I am used to. Imagine audiophile Metal? Lol. You can hear this with the C300s when playing high res well recorded rock and metal tracks from Qobuz or Tidal.
Whatever it is, I love it and these speakers are indeed truly worthy of their asking price for all they deliver.
The manual states these will be at their best after 24 hours of use, and I found that to be spot on. No need to do the 300 hour thing as after about 18 hours or so the bass fleshed out, the layering started, the smooth yet detailed sound rounded out some and they just started sounding so room filling and so gorgeous. The first 18 hours had them sounding a tad thin and not as open. But when the bass started kicking in at 18 hours I knew they had opened up as the sound became bigger, wider, taller, smoother and had more substance.
With the beautiful design, rock solid construction, zero coloration, unique stands that improve the sound and ease of driving with any modern day amp it is going to be hard for me to send these back to Q Acoustics. I will miss them for sure. They are a wonderful match to the Naim Nova in my room, and this means that for around $10k one could have a killer mid rage TRUE audiophile system that gets close to much more expensive systems. One that would get rid of any “upgraditis” going on for a lot of us who go through the buy and sell game again and again (I am also guilty as charged with this). I mean, sure…$10k is ALOT of cash but not in the world of HiFi where we see $40,000 speaker cables that bring 2% improvement.
This has been the very first Q Acoustics speaker I have heard, and it’s one of the great perks of being a guy who reviews audio gear. I get to try a lot of cool stuff and sometimes something comes along that is quite special. I will put these up on that “special” shelf, as they did so well with whatever I threw at them. They offered me those audiophile sounds without being analytical or having my brain pick apart each sound. I just enjoyed the very musical presentation. They delivered each and every time I powered up the system. Nothing sounded bad, or offensive. Old music, new music, and yes even the dreaded poorly recorded 80’s music. All sounded wonderful.
They may not be for everyone as some will prefer more bass, and more boogie (Try the C500’s if you want more bass but you may miss out on some of the spaciousness these offer). Some will not like the stand designs but some will love them and when you realize what they do for the music you may wonder where they have been all your life. If you enjoy transparency in your music, that wide spacious sound, airy treble, a touch of human warmth and emotion all with a beautiful design and style then you may find what you have been looking for in the C300’s from Q Acoustic.