I was well aware of the reputation of the British brand Q Acoustics prior to these products. It wins lots of awards and I’d heard them at several shows, so when I was offered the chance to hear them at home I got greedy and took both Concept 20 monitors and Concept 40 floor standers. The speciality of the Concept models is the Gelcore material inside the enclosure. Q Acoustics actually puts a box inside the box you see and between these two enclosures they use Gelcore, a material that remains elastic and damps resonances, turning mechanical energy into heat to reduce coloration and distortion. Q Acoustics claims a reduction of -6dB in the midrange and up to -10dB at high and low frequencies. The Concept 20 is a bookshelf monitor for use on a stand, the matching Q Acoustics stand is also damped with Gelcore. Also you can use small metal plates on the bottom of the speaker that fit into slots in the stand to make sure the speaker is firmly held in place. The Concept 20 is 265mm high and its the optional stand adds 655mm. The mid/bass unit combines with a 25mm tweeter and the speaker has a nominal impedance of six Ohms and a minimum of four Ohms, and therefore will work with most amplifiers. It has bi-wire connectors and a bass reflex port on the back and is available in high gloss black or white, with aluminium baffles and black covers.
The Concept 40 has a lot in common with the Concept 20, but there are a couple of differences. Two woofers in parallel extend the frequency range to 53Hz and increase sensitivity to 90db. It stands 972mm high not including the glass base with spikes. This base is screwed to the back of the speaker and adds stability, it also looks very good. Prices are £399 pounds and £999 pounds for the speakers and £199 for the stands.
For the listening I used a Bluesound Node 2 server with a NAD M51 DAC and Pass Labs amplification. Loudspeaker cables were the excellent QED Reference XT40 with Airloc ABS bananas. I tweaked the speakers by removing the plates between the bi-wire connectors and replaced them with pieces of cable, a good idea with virtually any loudspeaker. I placed them about two metres apart, one metre from the back wall and free from the side walls. They were toed-in to reduce side wall reflections.
First up is the Concept 40 with the double bass units and a large reflex port on the back, I was concerned that there would be too much bass in a smaller room, but the Concept 40 is very well tuned and behaves well. A good CD like Avantine by Agnes Obel contains a lot of information in the lower registers, but this doesn’t cause any problems, on the contrary bass notes go deep and grumble. The midrange produces good voices, understandable, clear and well placed in the room. The Concept 40 is a little restricted in the midrange compared to my usual speakers but those are rather more expensive. Higher notes never give any problem, the tweeter is as soft as silk without loss of definition or clarity. Avantine is a pleasant bubble of sound between the loudspeakers, with depth, height and width. Another good sign is that the stereo image doesn’t change whether you played soft or loud. Paul Stephenson’s voice on his CD These Days is just as enjoyable as Obel’s. He uses a wider variety of instruments and the speakers deliver a lively performance with background singers alongside traditional instruments like harmonica and acoustic guitars. His voice is convincingly reproduced which helps bridge the gap between singer and listener. Rachelle Ferrell injects new life into ‘My funny Valentine’ at the Montreux Jazz Festival, lovely piano notes are followed by a plucked bass, soft drums and her great voice. The bass lines are easy to follow but the while the softly tuned tweeter means the music is never sharp, it limits the impact of the already softly played cymbals. Midrange and bass are more in proportion, with the bass being tight, deep and well defined. The applause could be better and I wondered how the Concept 20 would deal with that.
An album made by the Retrospect Trio, containing sonatas by Henry Purcell, is like throwing a little party. The violin contrasts beautifully with the weeping cello and the harpsichord. The musicians are almost within reach from the listening seat but still not in your face, as soon as the music gets more cheerful the Concept 40 follows suit. When an organ takes over from the harpsichord the sadder atmosphere returns. The Concept 40 is like a loyal doggy, following the players’ every move.
Continuing with the same music on the Concept 20, most of the differences are clear from the start. The stereo image is wider, escaping from the loudspeakers and reaching further to the left and right walls. But at the same time instruments are smaller and lack some of the body that the Concept 40 offers. It seems that even Q Acoustics is unable to change the laws of physics. The Concept 20 is livelier and that might be an advantage with jazz. Indeed, Rachelle Ferrell gains in performance with more expression in her voice, making it easier to follow, and she is positioned in front of the band. The applause and crowd noises are from individuals rather than a homogenous mass. The deep bass on offer from the Concept 40 is naturally not all there, not in quality or quantity, it just doesn’t go as deep as before. Drums and piano sound nearly the same, but with an emphasis on higher notes from the piano, which has shrunk as a result. Visually the difference between the 40 and 20 is unmistakable, the 40 is big and impressive, the 20 looks a lot smaller and less intrusive on its stand. The Concept 20 is the better the speaker for small jazz combos. Playing Vienna Teng and her CD Warm Strangers the Concept 20 has a strong midrange that draws your attention, but her voice is rather rough and I have to reduce the volume level. The stereo image does not suffer from this; definition and detail are the same. Diana Krall’s take on ‘Look Of Love’ asks for an increase in volume, her voice is more relaxing, it’s the sort of music the Concept 20 seems made for. The music fills the room, puts Krall before the orchestra, gives freedom to individual instruments and at the same time remains coherent. It’s an airy and speedy sound that attracts the attention of the listener. Speed that is great for Katy Perry’s ‘Walking On Air’, with a pumping bass and hard hit drums. Not my cup of tea normally, but it works here. If you want more and deeper bass get a subwoofer or save up for the Concept 40 with its double bass drivers. Playing some John Legend before I shut down the amplifier the Concept 20 seems more than happy. The background choir on ‘Who Do We Think We Are’ has extra echo in the mix and pulls the stereo image deep behind the speakers, making them disappear from the room. I thought I had finished but Ballads from John Coltrane are my dessert for today and I keep enjoying both the Concept 20 and 40 as long as they are in the system.
Q Acoustics promised budget loudspeakers with excellent qualities and they justify as much. Sound quality is high in relation to the price, and the looks and finish are a bonus if high gloss white or black fit into your interior. Although the choice between the Concept 40 and 20 should not be about looks, I personally prefer the Concept 20. What should matter is the sound, the Concept 20 is lively, fast, snappy and easily disappears from the stage. But the consequence is that you lose some of the deep bass, which is not a problem for much jazz, easy listening pop and light classical works. If you prefer to play big orchestras, big bands or electronica that needs more bass and slam the Concept 40 is a better choice. In the midrange the Concept 20 is the more open, the Concept 40 is more balanced while the highs are almost equal for both models. Both are also easy to position in a room even though they are bass reflex types with a port in the back. The low end is tight and controlled and won’t disappoint. The final decision is one of price, £598 for the Concept 20 including stands against £999 pound for the Concept 40 is quite a large difference. But the gap in performance is just as wide and I personally would buy the Concept 40 if the budget were available. If price is the main issue then put your money on the Concept 20, because this is also a fine loudspeaker that really impressed me.