Updating its original 3020 stand-mounted design, Paul Rigby reviews the Q Acoustics 3020i speakers
I loved the last iteration of the 3020 stand-mounted speakers from Q Acoustics. In fact, you can see the review of those very speakers HERE.
For the price, there was – still is – very little out there that can even think about competing.
Who better to set themselves that very challenge than Q Acoustics itself then? Which is exactly what it has done, adding a letter ‘i’ at the end of the name, as a flourish.
Taking the new stand (also shelf and wall-mounted) speakers out of the box, what hits you about the 3020i speakers is just how different they are in design and look. Frankly, the family resemblance is receding fast. The original 3020 design looked neat, tidy and efficient in terms of its lines and curves. The 3020i speakers look completely detached from that original design direction.
In what way? I was offered a review pairing in a wood finish and, in that mode especially, they look stunningly beautiful. For this price point, the design just takes your breath away. They really do look like pieces of furniture, such is the attention to detail and finish. They look like a pair of £2,000 speakers.
Featuring a sensitivity of 88db, they are also larger, 25% larger, in fact spanning 170 x 278 x 282mm while the weight has risen to 5.5kg per speaker. Which promises much for bass, of course – but we’ll see about that in a moment.
Inside the cabinets you’ll find P2P bracing, supporting parts of the cabinet itself, there’s also a 22mm decoupled “High Frequency Driver” with a wide surround that may help sound dispersion. Again, we’ll see. A mid/bass unit is slung underneath spanning 125mm.
I like the new binding posts. They’ve been inserted to improve the “structural integrity” to the enclosures and feature sockets deep enough to accept 4mm Banana Plugs. The design means that the speaker can be positioned very close to a rear wall, if required. I found them solid and robust.
Finishes include Graphite Grey, English Walnut, Carbon Black or Arctic White. All are finished with a chrome bezel around each driver plus included magnetic speaker grilles if you need them.
I began sound tests via Nat ‘King’ Cole and the title track from the original 1965 album, L.O.V.E (EMI).
The 3020i’s response is quite fascinating, especially when compared to the previous model. The original 3020 is quite dry in the upper mids, compared to the 3020i, which puts some emphasis on the 3020’s detail. That is, there is a slight claustrophobic quality to the original 3020 which enables the ear to pick up finer detail on the right channel’s strumming guitar and certain areas of Cole’s vocal.
Let me go into more detail on this area. Early in the song, Cole sings these lines, “L is for the way you look at me/ O is for the only one I see/ V is very, very extra-ordinary”…and so on. When he sings each letter, he adds a vocal sustain and his voice drops to a bass growl. There’s vibrato in there. On the original 3020s that vibrato is better translated than the 3020i speakers. It’s easier to hear and aurally track. So, in some respects, the 3020i loses a certain amount of precision. Instead, the 3020i adds a host of other changes.
To begin, there is a slight sweetness in the midrange from the 3020i and a smooth aspect which gives the impression of the music flowing with zero friction. The rhythms just ease by like a lazy river on a Summer’s day. It’s quite mesmeric.
Next, the 3020i adds a sense of air and space where there was relatively little with the original 3020 speakers. This means that the mix is better translated in terms of natural reverb. For example, there was a lot more reverb off the Cole voice from the 3020i design, via the the backing orchestra.
Thirdly, the structure of the soundstage is such more superior with the new 3020i speakers. The stereo image is just as strong as before but, via the 3020i speakers, the Cole vocal adds much more dimensionality. That is, the Cole voice is pushed way back, giving the soundstage a greater 3D effect. That helps to isolate the Cole vocal so it reverb doesn’t clash with the orchestra.
Finally, there is a greater sense of tonality via the 3020i speakers. Piano has a realistic complexity, brass has a humanistic vibration during crescendos while the upright bass presents a startling resonance which tells the ear that the double bass is a big box, basically.
I moved to more dynamic a fare and an original cut of Greenslade’s excellent Time And Tide, from 1975 and Warner Bros.
The slight sweetness from the 3020i speakers added a touch of warmth to the drums but there was also an attractive organic nature to each drum strike and, more than that, when the drummer roamed across his kit in a slow, lazy manner, hitting different drums in turn, the tonal contrast between each drum was easily displayed, providing a rich, layered soundstage.
The infusion of air around each instrument helped to lift each, adding to the overall pace of the music, while giving the presentation a rather epic feel. The piano sounded positively ‘grand’, for example.
If you prefer a slightly drier sound and, hence, more focus on pure detail then you might want to stick with the 3020 originals. That said, apart from the slight smoothing sweetness from the 3020i speakers (which is a Marmite type of attribute), there are so many new extras and sonic benefits that flow from the 3020i designs that you really won’t be disappointed. Despite the detail aspect I mentioned, the 3020i has no vices. No blooming of the bass, no brightness in the mids and no pinched treble while the extra midrange insight and tonal realism gives these speakers an expensive feel. How the company produces this sort of performance from the given price point is beyond me.
Q ACOUSTICS 3020i SPEAKERS Price: £249 Tel: 01279 501111 Website: www.qacoustics.co.uk
GOOD: midrange insight, tonal realism, smooth mids, imagery, design
BAD: Some might dislike the slight midrange sweetness
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