The Concept 20 from Q Acoustics is an interesting loudspeaker on paper and they certainly have their plaudits and so we were really interested to get them in for review. Ours arrived in a beautifully finished gloss white with matching stands and a price ticket of £350 for the loudspeakers and £199 for the stands.
One of the more interesting things we read about with the Concept 20s was the use of something Q Acoustics’ call Gelcore, which essentially incorporates a cabinet within a cabinet, where the inner and outer “cabinets” are bonded with a special glue type material that never really “sets” – hence the gel name I presume. The idea here is that this Gelcore interface allows the energy made by the movement of the drive units to be transferred through the Gelcore and be turned into heat energy, which in turn stops the cabinets affecting and colouring the final sound of the loudspeakers.
The speakers sport a soft domed 25mm tweeter decoupled from the cab by a “High Frequency Decoupler” (A sort of soft spongy material), a 125mm woofer and have an overall sensitivity of 88dB – they are rear ported. The idea of the decoupling material is presumably to allow the tweeter and the woofer to behave independently of each other – elegant, simple and great if it works.
The Concept 20s come with a very attractive looking loudspeaker stand that not only complements the styling of the loudspeaker perfectly, but also incorporates the same Gelcore technology used in the speaker cabs. The speaker stands are spiked (adjustable) and have a simple but nifty cable management arrangement down the back of them to keep your spaghetti in some semblance of order.
Set up is a simple affair with the instructions being clear and concise and within a quarter hour or so I’d managed to construct the stands and get them in position – no mean feat for someone as “IKEAly-challenged” as myself. Packaging too is also excellent.
First off we connected the speakers to the main rig firing down the main (large) room and to be honest they were a little lost in that we were asking far too much from such a diminutive loudspeaker – the listening position is about 5 metres from the speakers with a metre to a metre and a half to the side walls and a metre or so from the back “wall”.
Bring the speakers to a position firing across the room into what would be a pretty standard listening distance from the speakers (2.5-3 metres) and the game changes somewhat…ok, a lot! We found the best positioning was slightly pulled away from the wall and toed in towards the listening position a tad. For the duration of the review we used FLACs played from Foobar, through a Schiit Audio USB DAC and a Clones Audio 25i amp – we thought this in keeping with the loudspeakers price point.
As with most things we get in for review we let the Concept 20s break in for a couple of weeks before we listened to anything critically.
Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” has been on pretty constant rotation at Hifi Pig Towers over the last few months and so we thought we’d kick of proceedings with that.
The first thing you notice is that when sat in the “sweet spot” is that the imaging from the Concept 20s is very good indeed and you get a very accurate representation of the mix. The forward to back illusion is good and the stage has good height to it.
Niles Roger’s funky guitar is clean and tight and, for such a diminutive loudspeaker, bass is very good – not at all overblown and like the guitars the word I’d use is tight. Quite often with smaller speakers you seem to get the bass being over-exaggerated and sounding completely out of kilter with the overall balance of the speaker, but that’s not the case at all here! (Low frequency response is quoted at 64Hz). Hats were nice and crisp and (as I like it) everything starts and stops on a pin – perhaps this is down to the cabinet design and reduction in resonances?
Firing across the room the Concept 20s were able to go quite loud enough without breaking into a sweat and with the 25W a channel available we never found them lacking or wanting any more juice up them.
Switching to something a little more laid back and on with John Martyn’s “Solid Air” where you get a really nice insight into Martyn’s voice, with guitar also being nicely defined. Here I found the overall sound to be again clean and nicely balanced with a tight and controlled bass which, whilst not going as low as I’m used to with our much bigger floorstanding loudspeakers, was perfectly adequate. What stood out again was the representation of the stereo space with instruments being placed properly and the vocal being ever so slightly forward in the mix. That said, the speakers aren’t forward in that “in your face” kind of way and instead they seem to just let the music get on with what it’s doing.
Ok, these are small loudspeakers and ultimately bottom end is compromised to some degree, but again we had no complaints with the speakers in this across the room arrangement. For sure these are certainly loudspeakers I’d be happy to live with and I noted and in some ways the sound of these standmounts is quite beguiling and I found myself drawn further and further into the music.
The old cliché of the speakers disappearing is one I’ve truly never experienced in reality, but the Concept 20s do a pretty good job of simply not getting in the way, to the point you do forget they’re there and just listen to the tunes.
Phantom Limb’s “Playing with Death” from the album “Phantom Limb” really plays to the strengths of these loudspeakers with its simple arrangements and Yolanda Quartey’s rich and smoky voice – guitars sound like guitars and Quartey’s voice seems to have a real depth to it. The speakers really do open a bit of a window into the recording of the record and it is realistically portrayed. Snare drum was precise and snappy and again you feel there is an overall balance to the tone of the reproduced sound …and it has a toe tapping quality to it too.
On rockier albums such as Neil Young’s “Psychedelic Pill” you get a pretty believable sound on electric guitar and yet when there is simple acoustic guitar the speakers switch between the two effortlessly. On busier bits of music the Concept 20s never lost their cool and coped very well indeed.
The Q Acoustics are a well finished loudspeaker and the attention to details seems to be very high, but yet these remain a relatively inexpensive loudspeaker. The sound you get from them is more than perfectly acceptable and to my mind the only real downside to them is the bass extension – but then you’re never going to defy the laws of physics and get seriously gut wrenching bass from such a diminutive cabinet.
What the Concept 20s do well they do very well indeed and were I in the market for a pair of standmounts in the sub £1000 category then these would certainly be on my very short list along with the KEF LS50s. Indeed, if I had a surround sound system I’d be tempted to buy four or five and add a sub…they’re also just about small enough to fit on a desktop!
They are an insightful and revealing little loudspeaker too, so don’t think you can plug in any old MP3 and not notice that the source material is below par – MP3 is not to the point of unlistenable, but you certainly can tell MP3s apart from their lossless cousins when played with the Concept 20s and this suggests again that they are very revealing loudspeakers.
On electronica they do a good job with the whole gamut of sounds being apparent and on acoustic and simply recorded material they perform very well indeed with vocal and acoustic guitar reproduction being the absolute star of the show.
My one niggle with these speakers is that they really do need partnering with their dedicated stands and this does push the price up somewhat. However, even with the stands taken into account you have a pair of speakers that weigh in at £550 and for that you get an elegant, modern looking, unobtrusive and stylish design that will suit the modern home.
So, taking aside my little moan about the stands, I find myself having lots of positives to say about the Concept 20s from Q Acoustics and very little to really whine about. All I can say here is that if you are in the market for a pair of smallish standmounts for less than a grand then these really should be on your “must hear” list.