Introduction-what is the 3000 Series?
Some brands manage to enter a category so successfully that we reach the point after one or two of their offerings that we subconsciously stop wondering if it is likely to be any good and start asking if it can be better than the product that it replaces. Once Pioneer got into their stride with the Kuro program, each model year arrived with the greatest challenger to it being the model before rather than from other brands.
This domination normally occurs in categories where a degree of specialist technology is present or at price points where engineering flair can be combined with exceptional materials to produce something that is decisively better than the competition. Achieving the same domination at more affordable price points is much harder because the limited production and material budget is lower and this effectively levels the playing field for everyone. Clever use of economies of scale and engineering flair will buy you a minor advantage but rarely one that allows you to consistently sit at or near the top of the pack.
There must always be an exception to any rule however and in the case of audio this seems to be Q Acoustics. Set up as an all new company to give Armour Home Electronics a foothold in a critical market category, they hit the ground running and haven't taken their foot off the gas since. No product of theirs that AVForums has tested has failed to earn a badge and across the specialist press as a whole, they have come to dominate the affordable speaker scene almost absolutely. Can you keep getting better though? Can rival brands start to use some of the lessons imparted to mount more of a challenge? Both of these questions are aimed squarely at the 3000 Series, the latest Q Acoustics budget range. Can Q Acoustics deliver the goods again?
The 3000 Series inhabits a slightly different part of the Q Acoustics range to the preceding 2000 Series (which continues for the time being at a slightly lower price point per speaker). When the 2000 Series was launched, they were the entirety of the Q Acoustics box speaker range. There was no saving for best or trickle down technology at work and everything that Q Acoustics could throw at them technologically was in use in their design.
With the 3000 Series, the top rung of the Q Acoustics line-up is now occupied by the more expensive (and uniformly excellent) Concept models. This means that the 3000 Series is in a position to accept trickle down technology but this is not as simple as it sounds. As we have explained at length, the Concept Series uses the same drivers and crossover from the older 2000 Series but then uses a radically different cabinet to enclose them. As this cabinet is the sole reason for a price difference between the two models and is something of an 'all in' bit of kit, effective trickle down is going to be difficult.
This hasn't stopped them trying though. First and perhaps most obvious of the changes is that the 3000 Series moves the speaker terminals to the rear panel of the speaker and off the underside as used by the 2000 Series. This sounds like a tiny revision but in reality it sets off a cascade of changes. The new position of the terminals frees up a big slice of additional room inside the cabinet that had been lost creating a hidden mount point for the speaker cables. This in turn means that the 3000 Series can give exactly the same internal volume from a cabinet that is much shallower than the older model. This in turn is easier to brace and allows for Q Acoustics to use differing thicknesses of MDF for different surfaces to emulate some of the benefits of the Gelcore cabinet.
The mid bass driver that is mounted into this cabinet is little changed from the older models- and with good reason as there was effectively nothing wrong with it. The tweeter is a different story however. The 3000 uses a very unusual design that combines a soft dome (as seen on most Q Acoustics products from the outset) but shrinks it and surrounds it with a ring radiator. This gives the tweeter a wider operating bandwidth and easier handover to the mid bass driver. This tweeter is then placed in an enclosure that partially decouples it from the main enclosure. If this doesn't sound very interesting, it is worth taking into account that it is rare to encounter a speaker under £1,000 that goes to these lengths in design terms and pretty much unheard of for one under £300 to do so. The Q Acoustics philosophy has always been about extracting design benefits from relatively conventional selection of technology but up until now you could regard them as little 'hacks' to the basic design. This is something more significant.
Against this relentless push to improve the speakers, the 3070S subwoofer is immediately recognisable as a direct descendent of the previous 2000 Series model. The same distinctive configuration of a pair of 170mm drivers mounted above each other and placed in a tall, thin enclosure has been used and the result is recognisably Q Acoustics. Power comes courtesy of a 140 amplifier and connections are limited to a stereo input but in reality, I can't see too many customers looking to chain them at this price point.
What's good about the 3000 Series?
In general performance terms, the news is good too. both the left and right 3010s and the 3090 centre are fairly unfussy about placement but equally are easy to place on stands for a useful performance boost. Sensitivity is good and it should not be hard for even the most asthmatic of AV receivers to deliver reasonable volume levels. With many affordable speakers, through accident or design, you can be left knowing that you have bought in at the lowest run of the product ladder. The 3000 Series is one of the most effective at hiding its origins of any speaker I've seen which has to help pride of ownership.
What's not so good about the 3000 Series?
Against all this positivity, there's precious little to complain about. The footprint of the subwoofer is harder to accommodate than some rivals and the price premium of the gloss finishes over the conventional ones is possibly a little on the high side. While the revised terminal placement is better than the old one, it still doesn't really favour stiff cables or banana plugs. Really this is about it in terms of direct criticism
How was the 3000 Series tested?
The Q Acoustics was tested with a Yamaha RX-A3040 AV Receiver and Cambridge Audio 752BD blu ray player as well as Sky HD and a Panasonic GT60 Plasma. Material used included Blu Ray, scheduled and on demand TV services, lossless and high res audio and on demand services such as Spotify, Tidal and Netflix.
Sound Quality/Film & TV?
The speakers arrived run in so I was able to crack on with listening without having to do any preparatory work. In my review of the 2000 Series, I think I must have been having a bad week because I was fairly critical of some ultimately pretty trivial performance areas- I take solace that as they still seem to sell by the boatload, the effect has not been too serious. I can state with some assurance though that the 3000 Series speakers have me scraping the criticism barrel.
Put simply, with an 80Hz crossover enforced (for whatever reason in a rare moment of me not agreeing with it, the Yamaha's YPAO system wanted to use 60Hz which is 8Hz below the quoted roll off of the 3010), this is a truly exceptional quintet of speakers when their asking price is taken into account. All of those tweaks and innovations don't give you one area of clear benefit. Instead they take a speaker that was already very good and move it to within striking distance of the Concept 20 in many areas. Given that the Concept is nearly twice the price, that needs to be seen as a serious achievement.
This means that when you watch something with a considerable amount of dense and varied effects across the speakers like Kingsman or my old default Unstoppable, even when you wind the levels up to the firmly antisocial, the 3000 Series stays assured, refined and detailed. The arguments for staying with the relatively conventional driver material are eloquently demonstrated by a set of speakers that stay smooth and controlled even when you are trying to drive the bolts out of them. The detail retrieval is a neat combination of considerable information being made available to you but tempering it with excellent integration with the performance as a whole. There is very little anywhere near this price that is so effortlessly accomplished.
This sheer ability is then backed up by the laws of physics. 80Hz is far from a low crossover but it is enough to impart some presence and energy to the channels that affordable satellite speakers and soundbars simply can't match. This in turn places fewer demands on the subwoofer and ensures that the bass has a degree of omni-directionality to it that greatly aids the realism of the material you are listening to. When you compare the 3000 Series to speakers where you can drop the crossover a little further like the Acoustic Energy 100 Series or Tannoy Mercury Vi range, the effect is compromised slightly but both of these systems are more expensive and neither of them are as compact. As I have stated before, if you can accept these slightly larger speakers over similarly priced satellites, you'll thank yourself every day.
And I really do mean every day because most of the attributes of the 3000 Series are as applicable with broadcast material as they are with film. The Q Acoustics is consistently able to handle material as diverse as True Detective and Chugginton (the latter a surprisingly bassy piece of programming) without being wrong footed. Neither do you have to listen especially loud to benefit from decent dialogue levels and a pleasing sense of the space the program is being broadcast in.
My criticisms by contrast are minimal. With the wide placement of front left and right speakers in my room, I felt that toe-in was necessary to get the best effect across the front speakers and the 3010 does seem to produce a fairly focussed sound which can be a little directional at times. I would also say that in these extremely talented surroundings, the nature of the less extensive revisions to the 3070 subwoofer do show. To be clear, the 3070 is still the best sub £300 subwoofer I know of but when I compare it to Acoustic Energy's more compact, remote controlled and remarkably gutsy 108 sub- that isn't much more expensive- the 3070 feels a bit crude. With action material and especially when receiving a dedicated LFE signal, it is powerful and assured but I found it less happy with Pro-Logic II material and it doesn't work as happily at low levels as the speakers do and because there is no remote, you can't easily adjust the level to compensate.
Q Acoustics 3000 5.1 Speaker System ReviewIt has been a bit of a wait for the 3000 Series since my first listen in Bristol and I had spent a little of that time wondering if the brand with the Midas touch could do it again. The short and unequivocal answer is 'yes' and then some. The 3000 Series looks better than the 2000 Series, it feels nicer and doesn't cost a huge amount more. It then delivers frankly exceptional sonics that nothing I've listened to at the price can match. There are weaknesses; the subwoofer must content itself with simply being very good rather than exceptional and you would do well to use these smaller members of the family in a moderately sensible sized room.
Taken as a whole though, this is a truly great set of speakers even when judged at the higher price of the premium finishes. Q Acoustics has made a name for itself taking solid engineering and tweaking, cajoling and persuading it to deliver that little bit extra. This time, they've delivered a masterclass and an unquestionable Best Buy.