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Q Acoustics was founded in the UK in 2006, but has appeared on the radar of US buyers only in the last few years. Until recently, Q has aimed its efforts at the budget sector, earning enthusiastic reviews and commercial success.
But during that time the company also been quietly working on a product considerably more upscale, though still affordable in a marketplace now glutted with products at if-you-have-to-ask prices. The result is the Concept 500 ($5999.99/pair), first seen in the UK in 2017 and recently made available here. But you won’t find it at your local audio shop (if you still have one); in the US it’s currently sold only online, through Q Acoustics’ US website, with a 30-day, money-back guarantee that includes shipping costsboth ways.
When the review samples arrived in two huge, well-padded, double-thick cartons tied to a shipping pallet, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. This might be familiar territory for those who review multi-hundred-pound speakers costing five or six figures per pair, but not for me.
Yet while the Concept 500 itself is relatively largethe biggest speaker Q Acoustics has ever madethose boxes were a little misleading. The speaker sits 45.3″ high, but only 7.8″ wide and 13.8″ deepit shouldn’t look overbearing in a room of medium to large size. The speakers are delivered with their metal bases, or plinths, firmly attached, rather than the usual “some assembly required.”
The Concept 500 is a two-way system employing a 1″ soft-dome tweeter and two 6.5″ mid/bass drivers, the three drivers arrayed in a vertical D’Appolito configuration: a column with the tweeter in the middle.
The driver configuration is only part of the design. With the Concept 500, and in cooperation with Fink Audio-Consulting, in Germany, Q Acoustics has launched a serious attack on speaker-cabinet vibrations. The approach they’ve used is sophisticated. It avoids the extreme-mass solutions popular in cost-no-object speakers, but impractical with speakers priced for the real world.
In a white paper, Q Acoustics describes the four key aspects of the Concept 500’s design in more depth than I have room for here. The main cabinet material is MDF, commonly used in loudspeakers for its low cost, workability, and good damping properties. (Humble particleboard, once used for speakers in audio’s Jurassic Age, is even better damped and easier to work with, but MDF is stronger, denser, and free of voids.) It’s the three other aspects of the design that set the Concept 500 apart, though two of them, bracing and constrained-layer damping, aren’t really new. The bracing in the Concept 500 consists mainly of cross-bracing between the sidewalls rather than the more conventional shelf braces. This cross-bracing, which Q Acoustics has trademarked P2P (point to point), is used primarily near the top of the cabinet, where all three drivers are. Using finite-element analysis and laser interferometry, Fink has determined that this is where the bracing will be most needed and most effective.
The cabinet walls comprise triple layers of MDF, separated by a proprietary, nonsetting gel that Q Acoustics calls Dual Gelcore. These constrained layers convert cabinet vibrations into heat.
Last but not least, tuned tubes inside the cabinet quell internal resonances (standing waves) that develop in the longest dimensions of a speaker enclosure. Q calls this Helmholtz Pressure Equalization (HPE). Standing waves aren’t typically an issue in the shorter width and depth of this speaker cabinet or most others, or in the shorter heights of smaller, stand-mounted designs; the frequency of those waves is easily squelched by conventional damping materials, typically wool or polyester batting, used in most speakers.
Both drivers are proprietary, and designed specifically for the Concept 500. I’m usually skeptical of claims of proprietary driversthere are hundreds of superb off-the-shelf drivers that are used in many speakers, including many high-end designs, often with no, or only subtle, custom modifications. Designing drive-units on the one hand and using them to design an original multiway loudspeaker on the other are distinct and rarely overlapping technical skillsit’s much like expecting an electronics designer to create the integrated circuits, resistors, capacitors, and transformers she plans to use in an original amplifier.
But I have no reason to doubt the claim. The Concept 500’s woofer has an impregnated/coated paper cone, a rubber surround, and a large (35mm) voice-coil wound with a double layer of copper-clad aluminum wire (CCAW). To reduce distortion, there are an aluminum inductance-compensation ring and a copper cap on the pole piece.
The 1″ (28mm) soft-dome tweeter of coated microfiber has a wide surround claimed to offer wide dispersion, high power handling, and low dynamic compression, and a copper-capped pole piece of its own. The gently dished front plate around the tweeter appears too modest to act as a waveguide. The drive-units are secured to the cabinet from the rear by being attached, under spring pressure, to the cross-braces. This eliminates the typically conspicuous front fastening screws.
The crossover network is fourth-order acoustic, Linkwitz-Riley. According to Q Acoustics, it comprises parts of very high quality, including premium polypropylene capacitors, and a Mundorf air-core inductor so heavy that it’s secured to the bottom of the cabinetthough I didn’t take it apart to confirm this!
While the shape of the Concept 500’s cabinet is conventional, the look isn’t. Designed in conjunction with Industrial Design Associates Ltd. (UK), the speaker is available in two finishes: Gloss Black or Gloss White, with wide bands of glossy veneer in Dark Rosewood (with Gloss Black) or Light Oak (with Gloss White) across the rear third of the sides and top and on the entire back. Taste will determine your choice, but I’d look no further than the gorgeous black and rosewood of the review samples. Magnetically attached grilles are included. The only change I’d prefer is in the plinth, an attractive and unique open ring offering good stability, with a choice of spikes or hard, rounded feetbut it comes only in silver chrome. For me, gloss-black chrome would look better with the darker finish.
Around back you’ll find the portfoam plugs are included to partially or completely block it if needed, but I didn’t use them. Also on the rear panel are two pairs of high-quality input terminals, and three more terminals closer to the top of the cabinet, spanned by removable jumpers. The jumpers can be used to configure the speaker for flat response or ±0.5dB in the treble. I used the +0.5dB setting for most of my listening.
My listening space measures 16′ by 21′, with an oddly sloped ceiling at an estimated average height of 9′. But this space is part of an open floor plan: one 21′ side is almost entirely open, producing an acoustic space actually far larger than 16′ by 21′. This area also accommodates the home-theater setup that I use for my work for our sister publication Sound & Vision, and includes two projection screens that I can fully retract when the main attraction is music. The room is relatively live, but the floor is largely covered with thick rugs. Against the back wall, several feet behind my listening seat, shelves filled with books, CDs, and videos rise from the floor almost to the ceiling.
I drove the Concept 500s with a new Marantz AV8805 surround preamplifier-processor used in two-channel stereo mode, together with Outlaw Audio’s new Model 7220 power amp, specified to output 220Wx7 into 8 ohms. To meet this spec with all seven channels driven, the Outlaw needs a 20 amp power line. My outlets are only 15 amps, but that limitation was irrelevant for this review, for which I used only two channels.