We have already reviewed the floorstanding model from Q Acoustics’ latest updated 3000i Series of high-value loudspeakers. We liked it very much — sufficiently to award the 3050i our Sound+Image 2019 Floorstanding Speaker of the Year under $2000. But this series also includes two sizes of ‘bookshelf’ models, the 3010i and the 3020i. We’ve decided to bundle these two remarkably high value sets of speakers together for this review, given their similarities — though also some differences.

3000i Series: listen in stereo or build
a home cinema speaker system from
any combination of 3050i floorstanders,
3010i (smaller)/3020i standmounts,
3090i centre speaker and 3060S subwoofer.

Before digging into them, we should mention that as part of the same range as the 3010i, 3020i and 3050i are the 3090i centre channel and 3060S subwoofer — the complete set is pictured opposite. Clearly you could add those to some combinations of stereo speakers to make a full home theatre package. But here we’re listening to them as stereo pairs.Stylistically they’re clearly in the same family as the 3050i floorstanders. The edges where the top and bottom meet the sides are rounded, with the attractive vinyl wrap smoothly following the curve all the way around. They’re available in four finishes: Graphite Grey, English Walnut, Carbon Black or Arctic White. The same finish is on the baffle and rear, although this will commonly be hidden by magnetically-secured cloth grilles.

Both the 3010i and 3020i are bass reflex loaded, with a small port at the top rear of each. Foam bungs are provided so that you can tune the bass performance if you’re putting them near walls and so on. At the bottom rear are sort-of binding posts. These are inset somewhat into the enclosures so that they don’t protrude as much as normal. They support banana plugs, bare wire or spade lugs. In either of the latter cases, getting a good tight grip on the cable is made easier by the larger than standard diameter of the securing nut.

Both speaker pairs use the same tweeter, a 22mm soft-dome unit that’s decoupled from the enclosures. With the 3010i, this crosses over to a 100mm bass/midrange at 2600Hz. For the 3020i, it’s a 125mm bass/midrange and 2400Hz. Both are rated at up to 30,000Hz at -6dB, and to the mid-60s at the bass end. The larger unit is specified at 88dB sensitivity for one watt and one metre, while the Q3010i is only 86dB.

The cabinets are fitted with Q Acoustics’ ‘P2P bracing, to keep things solid and reduce resonances. If you’ve been interested in Q Acoustics speakers for a while, one of the changes from the previous model is an increase in speaker volume of 25% for each. The smaller model stands 253mm tall. The 3020i adds 25mm to that. Both of them felt solidly built and quite weighty for the size.

It’s never a good idea to listen to one set of speakers and then move on to listen to a second, lesser, set. The latter will inevitably sound worse than they would if one came to them fresh.

(Going the other way round risks making the better speakers sound even better still. But we’ll try to discount appropriately.)

So we started with the 3010i speakers. Note that since they were supplied as stereo pairs, we listened to stereo music, not surround sound content, even though we installed them initially in a home theatre speaker system. We were using a mid-priced home theatre receiver, with Pure Direct mode engaged (which can make a big difference on some models! — see elsewhere in this issue). This cuts out the subwoofer and all other processing.

The first thing to note is that these speakers do need power. Not hundreds of watts, but a decent amplifier with a reasonably large clockwise turn of the volume knob.

We started on the smaller speaker pair with, well, what else but Deep Purple. The thing that immediately stood out in the opening bars of Lazy was the delightful handling of the cymbals.

They were gorgeously precise, coherent, and placed with that lovely feeling of space in a three-dimensional soundstage. That was replicated with When a Blind Man Cries, although in this case the cymbals in question were biased to the left, rather than in the centre. The overall tonal balance was the essence of that classic English ‘mellow’.

We switched over to vinyl and started ‘Get the Knack’ spinning (The Knack’s debut LP, our copy being from back in the day, not a recent re-issue). And we were just a little disappointed. The speakers sounded a touch thin, uncertain with the music.

Just about then we had a minor epiphany. The 3010i speakers cost less than $500 a pair. Who would be most likely to purchase these speakers? Well, it could be just about anyone, really. But perhaps the most likely home they’d find would be with a young person, perhaps in their teens or student-finances-constrained early 20s, who wants the best sound that can be managed at low cost. Maybe with a second-hand but decent quality stereo amp. Maybe a Chromecast for modern digital audio. Maybe a turntable. CDs? The youth of today rarely use such things (and don’t know how to look after them anyway).

So I pulled out a 20-year-old Cambridge Audio A1 mk3 Special Edition integrated amplifier (still available for forty to eighty quid on eBay, we note) and plugged the speakers into it. For source we used a Chromecast Audio and a (nice new) Rega turntable. The amp has the optional phono pre-amp installed. And that’s how we did the rest of our listening, not just with these speakers but with the 3020i speakers too.

Whatever one says about the different sounds of amplifiers, we’ve got to say that this combo was a delight. The sound of the 3010i speakers filled out, became enriched. And it tightened up.

The bass didn’t mysteriously appear. Kick drum? Not so much. Bass guitar, though, was solidly present in the mix, a touch recessed compared to larger speakers, but still eminently present, able to be clearly followed.

The fact is, these speakers instantly started sounding, well, large. They retained that mellow character. There was little difference in the treble compared to the receiver. The full soundstage was just as evident. The drum kit was tight and pierced the mix properly.

Most importantly, the performance was fun. The Knack produced semi-garage, semi-pop, punk-influenced music that isn’t intended for intellectual analysis. There’s a reason why My Sharona went to number one nearly everywhere.

These speakers, driven by the Cambridge Audio amp, brought that life and fun out. And even though the Cambridge Audio amp offers only 30W per channel, the combination proved adequate for comfortable to quite loud listening, with no apparent stress. Head-banging levels, perhaps not so much.

While The Knack was still on the platter we switched over to the 3020i speakers.

Can we make a suggestion to budget-limited listeners? Try to dig up that extra hundred dollars. The 3020i speakers are just like the Q 3010i speakers, except that they make everything that little bit bigger. Most obviously, they are noticeably more sensitive. You’re going to get higher levels for whatever amplification you have available. We had them loping very comfortably with the Cambridge Audio amp. You also get a slightly fuller bass, and a touch more depth.

After The Knack, we went to Pat Methany and Lyle May’s ‘As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls’, a fascinating jazz fusion disc. We say disc because we have it on both vinyl and a polycarbonate/aluminium sandwich. We started with the former.

The bass guitar line near the start was solid, and could have been produced by mid-priced floorstanders. Even more surprising was the earthquake-like rumble, soon afterwards. Our initial impression was that it was all there, with deep, random power. On reflection, the deepest frequencies were absent, but the loss was barely noticeable due to the strength and fullness of the mid-bass content. Regardless, it was convincing.

As was the chime-like percussion that comes soon after, delivered in their properly layered depth by these speakers. There’s a highly reverberant drum which comes in afterwards, and this was missing some of the deepest elements of the reverberation we’re used to with speakers that cost four times the price of these. (We switched to the digital version to replay this, just to make sure that the bass hadn’t been filtered out of the LP version, but the result was similar.) That was about the only significant weakness in their performance.

But, hey, $599. Hey, only 278mm tall. Hey, a pair of speakers that will completely fill a good-sized dorm room with glorious music.

The Q Acoustics 3010i or 3020i speakers are fine hi-fi speakers for those requiring great value, and good-looking in their various finishes too. As a low-cost way to start in high-quality sound, these are a great first step on an audiophile journey.

Q Acoustics 3010i and 3020i stereo loudspeakers

+ Fine ‘English’-style sound
+ Brilliant value for money
+ Attractive styling and build

- Somewhat reliant on quality electronics

Q Acoustics 3010i
Price: $499 (pair)
Drivers: 1 x 22mm tweeters; 1 x 100mm bass/midrange
Frequency response: 65-30,000Hz (-6dB)
Crossover frequency: 2600Hz
Impedance: 6 ohms
Sensitivity: 86dB (2.83V/1m)
Power: 50-75 watts (recommended input)
Cabinet: bass reflex, rear port
Dimensions (hwd): 253 x 150 x 252mm
Weight (each): 4.1kg

Q Acoustics 3020i
Price: $599 (pair)
Drivers: 1 x 22mm tweeters; 1 x 125mm bass/midrange
Frequency response: 64-30,000Hz (-6dB)
Crossover frequency: 2400Hz
Impedance: 6 ohms
Sensitivity: 88dB (2.83V/1m)
Power: 50-75 watts (recommended input)
Cabinet: bass reflex, rear port
Dimensions (hwd): 278 x 170 x 282mm
Weight (each): 5.5kg

Contact: Indi Imports
Telephone: 03 9416 7037
Web: www.indimports.com