Released in January, the Q7 Mini Monitor is the latest addition to Falcon Acoustics’ Complete at Home range of loudspeakers that’s making high-end audio more affordable by selling kits directly to the customer. An updated version of the original Q7 that Malcolm Jones designed and sold for many years, the new model exploits improvements in driver and crossover technology, enclosure quality, and, crucially, optimises ease of assembly.
It has the same T27 tweeter and B110 woofer compliment as the Falcon LS3/5A but benefits from an extended LS3/5A-style cabinet made from 12mm and 9mm graded Baltic Ply Birch that’s 65mm deeper and more than a third larger in volume. This makes for an optimum Q of 0.7 that provides superior bass extension. According to the specs, the Q7 produces 2dB more output at 50Hz than the 3/5A and has a frequency response of 60Hz-20kHz, which is impressive for an infinite-baffle (sealed box) design with a five inch woofer. Like the 3/5A, the Q7’s sensitivity is on the low side at 83dB, but its similarly benign 15Ω impedance makes it an easy load that plays happily with valve amps. Power handling is 15-50W.
Customers have the option to upgrade from the standard Q7 23.2 crossover that mirrors Malcolm Jones’ original design to the FL6/23 Silver Badge crossover with tapped inductors (as used in the first generation Falcon LS3/5A sold from 2015 to 2019). Silver Badge upgraders can also choose classic Tygan grilles instead of modern, acoustically-transparent cloth, this steers the Q7’s voicing closer towards that of the 3/5A.
For those who don’t feel comfortable completing at home, Falcon offer a factory-built version for an additional £330. That said it took two hours to build the review pair with minimal DIY skills, so it’s very doable even for a novice. The cabinets come pre-built with wired terminals so all you have to do is bolt the drivers and crossover onto the baffle, attach the captive wires via push-on lugs and screw the baffle to the cabinet. The only tools required are a Philips screwdriver, Allen key and spanner – all of which are included with the kit – and the assembly instructions are clear and easy to follow. Soldering is required only if you upgrade to the FL6/23 crossover.
At less than half the price of Falcon’s Gold Badge LS3/5A, we’d naturally expect to see a substantial reduction in build quality, but this is not so. When you order a Q7 kit, you receive the same pair-matched Falcon T27 and B110 drive units, state-of-the-art crossovers that use multilayer boards, and Italian-made enclosures constructed from Baltic birch ply and beautifully finished with book-matched wood veneers. Once the supplied labels displaying your speakers’ consecutive serial numbers have been stuck onto the back of each, it is all but indistinguishable from a factory-built product.
Falcon technical consultant, Malcolm Jones, was KEF’s chief design engineer during the period in which the mylar dome T27 and Bextrene cone B110 were developed so knows the technology better than anyone and has been able to perfect Falcon’s manufacturing process to achieve production consistency. The B110 units supplied with my Q7 kit have matched responses and the T27 tweeters measure within +/- 0.25dB of one another. The T27 is also fitted with a perforated brass grille, this often overlooked component not only protects the mylar dome from curious fingers but is integral to the LS3/5A’s tuning, tailoring high frequency dispersion and enhancing the speaker’s much-loved image depth and width.
The Q7’s rebated baffle is veneered to match the cabinet walls and the stapled, velcro skirting that attaches the grille on LS3/5a is replaced with hidden magnets. Keen eyes will also notice the missing felt square around the tweeter that’s present on the 3/5A to reduce diffraction. These may, on the face of it, look like relatively minor cosmetic changes but – in tandem with the 23.2 crossovers and more porous cloth grilles – they have the potential to make for some interesting differences in sonic presentation.
It is incredibly difficult to describe the BBC voicing to those who haven’t heard it. Listeners who adore this legendary mini monitor do so especially for the way it reproduces midrange frequencies with lifelike presence and clarity that is devoid of colouration commonly associated with a box enclosure. It’s been many years since I had the pleasure of listening to an LS3/5A, an audition that left such an impression it led to my purchasing the more affordable, T27- and B110-equipped, cylindrical-form Jim Rogers JR149 that’s satisfied my periodic cravings for a mini monitor listening experience for more than a decade. While the 149 is a very cohesive, well-balanced and arguably more versatile speaker, the 3/5A delivers a special depth and spaciousness that remains extremely hard to emulate.
I begin my audition with the Q7 set up 30cm from the rear wall and just over two metres apart. I am driving it with Yamaha’s (former) flagship A-S3000 amp, and using Schiit Audio’s Yggdrasil D/A converter with a Mac Mini that serves up my library of CDs and hi-res downloads. I rarely spin vinyl but my recent acquisition of a meticulously restored Revox B77 reel-to-reel tape recorder inspired me to transfer a few of my most cherished albums to quarter-inch tape. Fortunately my LP collection is far smaller than my digital catalogue so bankruptcy isn’t on the horizon just yet.
I thread up the 15 IPS tape transfer of Gerry Rafferty’s City To City and press play. Aiming the speakers straight ahead soon confirms toe-in is not required. The Q7 has precise imaging that seamlessly fills the space between the speakers and stretches out comfortably beyond the outer edges of the enclosures to cast a panoramic soundstage that’s in sharp and even focus. Rafferty’s voice is locked in place and is set back slightly, while the band is spaced generously around him. On other speakers his distinctively warm vocal timbre often comes across as overly chesty, but through the Q7 it has a near perfect balance of body and brightness.
My 60cm speaker stands are shorter than ideal for a monitor of this size but, even though the acoustic centre of the speaker is almost a foot lower than my ears, I do not sense that I am looking down onto the performance. The Falcon throws an image tall enough to convince that the musicians are in front of me and in the correct proportions. I try elevating the speakers but the gain in stature is fairly subtle and – as the bass is slightly leaner I revert to the original height.
Hearing this album on this speaker is like viewing the past through a much clearer lens. Everything is more defined and there is an openness to the presentation that makes it possible to pick out subtle accents and flourishes that previously went unnoticed. In Island, for example, it’s easier to follow the different strumming patterns of the acoustic guitars, and the peripheral contributions from the slide guitar and accordion are not only more intricate but also more integral to the romantic mood of the song. The bass line is measured and even handed in volume with no favouring of particular notes and suggests the Q7 does not share the LS3/5A’s ‘bass bump’ tuning.
I switch things up and put the Q7’s agility to the test with the original UK CD release of Peter Gabriel’s So. As soon as Tony Levin’s iconic bass riff to Sledgehammer drops I’m compelled to tap my hands and feet to the funky rhythm. The Falcon’s bass is tight, tuneful and punchy and has no problem at all keeping up with Levin’s staccato phrasing, while the crisp horn stabs and snare cracks penetrate through the mix with utter purpose. Gabriel’s lead vocal was unfortunately recorded with a good measure of sibilance and this mini monitor makes no attempt to temper the edginess, it is ruthlessly revealing of recording imperfections commonly found in pop and rock productions.
As Don’t Give Up fades in, the Q7’s proficiency in articulating bass lines becomes even more apparent. Levin’s quirky ostinato has harmonic thirds that can trip up less able speakers and become a dissonant boom, but, being a sealed design that does not rely on a port to achieve the desired low frequency extension, the Q7 keeps these notes solid, clean and distinguished. The incomparable Kate Bush is introduced in the chorus with a swell of synth strings that build in intensity to create a huge wave-front that cascades over me. Her tender words of hope and encouragement aren’t overpowered by the surge; her beguiling voice projects with such a pristine tone it gives me goosebumps, that’s how transparent the Falcon’s midband is. Just when I think the gift stops giving, the song transitions into the African-influenced coda and the loudspeaker suddenly doubles in size, such is the bottom end heft of Levin’s response to the track’s unexpected lift in mood.
How low this Falcon swoops is, of course, steered by the dimensions of the listening space. At just over four metres long, my room is advantageous to a loudspeaker of this size as the resulting mode handily props up the Q7’s bass roll-off before it drops too much. As a result – and even though its -3dB point is specified at 60Hz – the Q7 produces useful output in my room down to 40Hz. This captures the low E on a four-string bass and serves many styles of music very well indeed. Pull the speaker further into the room and you inevitably lose some of this support, the presentation becomes leaner although the midrange perhaps gains a little more expression. Many LS3/5A owners insist on siting their monitors at least one metre from the front wall for the best clarity and imaging. This, in my view, isn’t necessary with the Q7. Though I eventually settle on a distance of just over half a metre, the speakers still image superbly just 30cm from the wall and remain agile and free from overhang.
It’s wishful thinking to expect any mini monitor with five-inch woofer to produce slam that you can feel, it simply does not have the cone surface area to shift a large volume of air. I put on Chabrier’s España from Chasing The Dragon’s España – A Tribute To Spain expecting to be underwhelmed, but I am instead left grinning in surprise and disbelief. The Falcon sounds far bigger than it ought to with this grandiose, orchestral piece and responds to its sudden explosions in energy almost as convincingly as it articulates its micro-dynamics. It obviously doesn’t have the palpable and visceral impact of my Celestion Ditton 66 with 12-inch drivers, but its ability to depict the reverberant acoustics of the concert hall in such stunning, airy detail effectively makes the front wall of the listening room disappear and fools my brain into believing the scale is larger than it is.
The Q7 hits harder and deeper than my similar-sized JR149 which, in turn, offers slightly more extension than the LS3/5A, so I’d expect the Q7’s more extended bass to be easily noticed in direct comparisons with the latter. It does, however, require a fair bit of headroom for this; if you’re into full-scale orchestral performances I recommend an amplifier with at least 50 watts per channel to ensure clean transients. Smaller-scale chamber music isn’t as demanding as it typically has less dynamic range and low frequency content. I complete my audition with Chasing The Dragon’s Binaural Baroque but actually find myself preferring the Q7’s delivery of the bigger stuff. This recording – perhaps due to being made in smaller venue with closer mic placement – accentuates the upper frequencies of the violins and is too brightly lit by the Q7 for my tastes, it isn’t presented in as relaxed and effortless a manner as the España recital.
With the right source material, Falcon Acoustics’ Complete at Home Q7 is a stunning mini monitor that presents a level of detail and openness seldom achieved in a speaker at this price. Add in the cachet of it being a close descendent of the legendary LS3/5A and – against the backdrop of current 3/5A pricing – it becomes a bona fide bargain.
It’s no secret that the LS3/5A isn’t a universal loudspeaker; owners are very aware of its strengths and weaknesses and manage these accordingly. While the Q7, in its standard specification, is more versatile in that it has stronger bass extension and faster dynamic attack, its brighter voicing does make it more predisposed to revealing tonal flaws in recordings wherever they exist. Those seeking a more forgiving presentation do, however, have the option of upgrading to the Silver Badge 3/5A crossovers and thicker Tygan grilles, the cost of which still ends up well below what Falcon’s current flagship Gold Badge LS3/5A retails for. Whether this financial incentive is enough to counterpoise the prestige of owning what some believe is the finest LS3/5A made to date is matter of individual choice.
Sources: Mac Mini running Audirvana+ and iTunes, Revox B77 reel-to-reel
DAC: Schiit Yggdrasil v2
Amplifier: Yamaha A-S3000
Loudspeakers: Jim Rogers JR149, Celestion Ditton 66
Room treatments: GIK 244 first reflection absorbers, GIK TriTrap bass absorbers