Soundbars are a wonderful way of upgrading your TV’s sound quality without impacting on living space, but they’re not for everyone. Their shallow cabinets often put a limitation on sound quality, making them too much of a compromise for discerning listeners.
That’s why Q Acoustics has come up with a more traditional alternative in the Q-BT3, a pair of powered hi-fi stereo speakers with a built-in amplifier, a variety of connections and Bluetooth – much like the Blue Aura X30 we reviewed recently.
There seems no end to its versatility – you can hook up your TV and boost movie playback, stream music wirelessly from phones and tablets or connect a laptop. It might cost a little more than most soundbars, but we’re hoping the step-up in sound quality is worth the investment.
Although not as convenient or space-efficient as a soundbar, Q-BT3 is visually striking and sublimely-made pair of speakers. They come in three funky colours – Juice Red, Urban White and Jet Black.
We tested the bright red version, which makes a fun, eye-catching addition to any room, contrasting stylishly with the curved black metal grille on the front (which we’re told can be removed with the right tools). Gently rounded edges soften the lines.
Build quality is superb too – the rigid cabinets feel pleasingly robust when handled. You can place them horizontally or vertically according to your setup (the Q Acoustics badge on the front rotates) and there are adhesive rubber pads to curb vibration.
The active right speaker houses all the connections. These include optical digital, analogue stereo RCA and 3.5mm minijack inputs, plus a subwoofer output if you want to boost bass output. The right speaker connects to the passive left using high-quality binding posts on the back of each (a 4m speaker cable is supplied in the box).
The right speaker also houses a digital-to-analogue converter (DAC), a 2 x 50W power amplifier and a Bluetooth 4.0 receiver, which is the obvious highlight. It supports apt-X to deliver better sound quality than bog-standard Bluetooth, and remembers up to eight paired devices so visitors can reconnect easily.
Each speaker uses a 100mm coated paper cone mid/bass driver and a 25mm silk dome tweeter – the sort of full-range array that you don’t normally get inside a soundbar – while the built-in DSP’s high-precision digital filters fine-tune the frequency response curve.
Setup involves a little more faffing around than a soundbar, but not much. Connect the right speaker to the mains, link the speakers’ binding posts and plug in your devices. When used as a soundbar replacement, just connect your TV’s optical output to the right speaker and away you go.
On top of the right speaker are volume and power buttons and an LED that glows different colours to denote its status – blue for Bluetooth (natch), green for analogue, white for optical and red when turned off. It flashes blue when pairing with Bluetooth devices and slow flashes when muted. It took seconds to pair a Bluetooth device.
You can also control the speakers using the supplied credit card style remote. We don’t like the horrid blister buttons, cheap build quality and the fiddly size, but it’s hard to get worked up by a zapper that sports just five buttons – power, source, volume up/ down and mute, all arranged in a vertical line.
The Q-BT3 is a real jack of all trades, working brilliantly with TV shows, movies and music. No matter what you throw at them, these speakers handle the material with refinement and authority.
Unlike many soundbars, its sound is satisfyingly complete, going from deep, punchy bass right up to super-crisp top end without giving undue prominence to any particular frequency groups. We tested it directly after Toshiba’s budget SB3950E1 soundbar, and the difference was the sonic equivalent of walking from a dark tunnel into bright light.
We started with the Blu-ray version of Thor, and the Q-BT3’s class shone through from the very first listen. It makes the comic book action sound remarkably rich and fulsome, taking everything in its stride even at high volumes. Sounds are cleanly separated and skilfully organised within the wide stereo stage.
When Thor and pals square up to the Frost Giants, Q-BT3 fills the room with dynamic, weighty effects. There’s a fierce crunch as Thor’s hammer blasts the Frost Giants, while swords connect with a clean, metallic clang and shards of ice shatter with gusto.
These effects are backed up by quick, thumping bass hits. We’re impressed by the amount of bass these speakers produce, lending a decent sense of scale even without the involvement of a subwoofer.
The system also drips with detail and conveys dialogue beautifully. Voices are presented with all their nuances intact and stay locked to the centre of the soundstage. Deep-voiced characters like King Laufey have real presence. These impressive vocal abilities continue with TV material, where clear speech is of the utmost importance.
The Q-BT3 is equally impressive with music. Songs sound smooth and easy, with clear midrange, solid yet agile basslines and sparkling detail. The jazzy brass licks in Afro Elements’ Live Your Life are sharp and precise, with a clearly-defined leading edge. We tried music from an OPPO Blu-ray deck, an iPod and even a portable CD player, and in every case the Q-BT3 makes it sound great. We really can’t speak highly enough of these speakers.
If you want to improve your TV’s audio quality but feel uninspired by what soundbars have to offer, then the Q-BT3 is a fantastic alternative. Its superb, full-range sound trumps almost every soundbar on the market (and most powered speakers for that matter) turning music, movies and TV shows into things of sonic beauty.
But you don’t have to use it with a TV – it’s equally at home with a PC or as a wireless hi-fi, thanks to its built-in Bluetooth. There’s no end to its flexibility.
What’s more, build quality is of the highest order and we love the funky red finish. It’s relatively pricey and not as discreet or hassle-free as a soundbar, but with sound quality this good it’s worth the inconvenience.
Superb sound quality and funky design come together in Q Acoustics’ wonderful wireless speaker system