Speaker manufacturer Q Acoustics has been making some great budget equipment since the company first appeared back in 2006, and its latest 3000i series is its best yet. While it’s not the last word in transparency, the Q Acoustics 3030i offers tremendous fun from your favorite movies and rock tracks. It looks great, sounds great and is relatively affordable. When you throw in its great compatibility with budget equipment, I have no hesitation in proclaiming this a worthy CNET Editors’ Choice winner.
LikeExcellent performance for the moneyHuge, detailed soundPlenty of bass powerTidy, attractive cabinet
Don’t LikeLonger than normal break in period.
I used the larger 3050i speaker as part of my test system in the CNET audio lab before the start of the coronavirus outbreak. The bookshelf-size 3030i delivers some of the floorstanders’ power at a more attractive price. This $400 speaker manages to challenge competitors worth even more, including models from Bowers and Wilkins and the Elac Debut Reference. Unfortunately I’m not able to compare the Q Acoustics against its main competition, the slightly cheaper Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 ($350 at Crutchfield). Still, from my hours of listening to the Elac Debut I recall a leaner, more detailed sound compared to the energetic bass-richness of the Q Acoustic 3030i.
Design and features
The Q Acoustics 3030i houses a 6.5-inch woofer and 1-inch dome tweeter. While other companies such as B&W tinker with exotic materials for their main drivers, Q Acoustics uses a tested classic: paper. Er, “precision-formed cone made from impregnated and coated paper,” according to the company. It’s the same 6.5-inch driver that previously appeared in the 3050i floorstander.
Also like the 3050i, the tweeter is decoupled from the woofer, and the cabinet uses Q Acoustics’ P2P (Point-to-Point) bracing for a more inert cabinet. The sample I received came in Arctic White with a pleasing matte finish, but the speaker is also available in Graphite Gray, English Walnut or Carbon Black.
The front of the 3030i features chrome trim and the white speaker grille attaches magnetically. The back has a bass port and a pair of attractive binding posts. The cabinet itself measures 7.9 inches wide, 12.8 inches high and 13 inches deep.
Specs-wise the speaker is capable of a 46Hz-30kHz frequency response (+/-3 decibels, -6 dB) and can be driven by a receiver rated between 50 and 145 watts.
I’ve always been skeptical of “break-in periods” because in some cases they’re more about your ears getting used to a new sound than about any change in the component itself. Not in the case of the Q Acoustics, for while I was initially disappointed with the sound out of the box — bass was disjointed and the top end too bright. — the sound coalesced over a week and resulted in a dynamic, cohesive speaker.
The Q Acoustics were most at home with driving, energetic tracks. Songs such as the Foals’ Mountain at my Gates even managed to challenge my home reference, the much more-expensive Bowers and Wilkins 685. While the Q Acoustics was able to keep the boisterous track in control the Bowers and Wilkins sounded a bit trashy, especially during the frantic ending.
In my listening sessions I continued with more British fare and the Future of the Left’s stop-start track Bread, Cheese, Bow and Arrow. The Q Acoustics was able to capture the tail of the loud, staccato notes in a way that the Bowers completely missed. You could hear the bass drums and guitar disappear into the space the band were recording in (or perhaps the back corner of the reverb unit). Despite missing this detail, the B&Ws offered a more even-handed presentation while also keeping the excitement factor.
The latest album from The Strokes is a welcome return to form. With the down-beat opener The Adults Are Talking, the Bowers and Wilkins was better able to present the band members as a unit. Here, the 3030i’s propensity to extract detail worked against the speaker and the song disintegrated into a collection of individual instruments.
Bass-heavy material is where the Q Acoustics performed best, with plenty of rumble audible in tracks like Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy and Life by the Beta Band. These aren’t big speakers, but on a good set of stands they’ll be able to dig deep without too much prodding.
I then turned to the Elac Debut Reference which is a well mannered speaker but what it lacks is rock ‘n’ roll wallop and punch. The spirit of the Q Acoustics 3030i is pretty much the opposite of well-mannered; it fairly shouts “get up and dance!” In my review of the Elac Debut Reference I found that the Elac was better than the Q Acoustics at jelling as part of my mismatched home system when playing movies, and that was still the case after more time breaking in. That said, with a pair of sympathetic rears, like the 3020i ($315 at Amazon), the Q Acoustics 3030i will dig plenty of detail out of your surround soundtracks and deliver crisp dialogue while avoiding harshness.
Should you buy them?
In a word, yes. The 3030i offers excellent detail retrieval and a high-level of get up and go, while never straying into fatiguing territory, which is quite a feat. While the Elac Debut 2.0 is a great speaker too, it needs a little more care with system matching than the easy-going Q Acoustics. If you want an attractive set of bookshelf speakers with a peppy, enticing sound, the Q Acoustics 3030i is the best option for the money. I’d recommend it to anyone looking to start a new, affordable system.