Here’s a product that fills you with confidence from the moment of arrival — attractive and well-designed packaging, the soundbar itself doubly wrapped and weighty. Soundbars come in various varieties. Some use a separate subwoofer for the bass frequencies, but Q Acoustics aims to deliver the whole sound from its Media 4 soundbar alone, which is priced at a rather reasonable $749. Can it achieve a full balanced sound on its lonesome?
We certainly have confidence in the brand. Q Acoustics now has more than a decade under its belt, and has kept to its stated goal of producing high-quality speakers that perform above their price bracket. The company has won multiple awards at home and abroad — in Australia our own Sound+Image has previously recognised the company’s surround-sound speaker packages for their exceptional value, and in the recently-announced 2017 Sound+Image Awards, this Media 4 (called the M4 for short) won Soundbar of the Year under $1000. And that’s a difficult category, because it’s hard to deliver everything required of a soundbar at such a price, given that of course it’s not only a speaker — it has the amplifiers inside, and needs to handle a variety of inputs to be versatile in different systems.
So how does the M4 approach this tricky equation? For starters it does away with a separate subwoofer box, as mentioned above. To compensate for this, the M4 is not the usual cylindrical and slim soundbar, but instead has more the shape of a wide horn — widest at the front, with the sides angling back to a narrow rear. That allows more internal volume, the better to support a decent driver size, the likes of which can’t be accommodated in those slimmer bars.
Nor is there any attempt to fake up a surround sound — indeed we’re glad to say this is a trend among soundbars in general. In their early days, when they were seen as a lifestyle replacement for a full speaker package, soundbars often advertised that they could deliver some variant of “super surround” from their position at the front, and of course they could almost never do much more than phase up the sound, doing more damage than good. These days soundbars are more about upgrading from basic TV audio, and at this level, it would be poor allocation of funds to attempt anything more than stereo, or 2.1 here to be precise. The 0.1 is a single downfiring bass driver a substantial racetrack shape some 10 × 15cm with twin voice coils, behind a rectangular grille right underneath on the base of the M4 (right). So don’t put this soundbar on a soft fabric surface, and do add the supplied feet, which will give that woofer room to do its stuff.
There’s some 50W of power specified for driving the woofer, with another 25W each for the pair of 65mm round BMR drivers on the front of the M4. BMR stands for ‘Balanced Mode Radiator’, a type of speaker unit popular among several UK companies, including Cambridge Audio. Indeed a BMR driver is almost two speakers in one, combining a midrange cone that moves in and out using conventional piston motion, but fronted by a flat-mode tweeter surface which ripples across its entire surface using a flat-panel technology originally developed by NXT, which itself grew out of UK speaker company Mission in the 1990s. Aside from their clever dual operation, the flat-mode part of BMR drivers creates a wider dispersion and less rapid decay of level than conventional cones, allowing listening positions more to the side without losing the sound balance.
We love how Q Acoustics has positioned the socketry here. That relatively small flat back surface has been kept sensibly clear of inputs, having instead two sturdy hook recesses which allow wall mounting; a solid plate is provided for this.
The space behind the side angle on the right is instead used for the socketry, and Q Acoustics assists neatness further by providing a right-angled mains socket (with a hard power toggle switch next to it) and even a handy RCA cable pair with right-angled sockets at one end.
In addition to those RCA analogue inputs there’s a minijack analogue input, and an optical input, which will be the best choice for most people to plug in their TVs. And there’s a subwoofer output, should you later get the urge to upgrade the bass.
Note that this is not a smart soundbar. Against the current trend to have endless electronics built into everything, the M4 doesn’t network, there’s no multiroom abilities hidden within. But it does have Bluetooth, with the aptX codec if your device supports it, and with tap-to-pair NFC if your device supports that. Otherwise you can pair your phone or tablet or laptop simply by changing the M4’s source input to Bluetooth or holding the rear ‘Pair’ stud button to set off its pairing availability.
Otherwise the Q Media 4 is applaudably simple. It senses a signal on its optical input and so turns on with the TV, and will also put itself back into standby again if it receives no signal for 20 minutes, saving power.
You control volume using the neat little remote control supplied, which has just five keys in a vertical line — power, source, volume up and down (perfectly positioned under the thumb), and mute. On the soundbar itself it’s even simpler — just power, and volume buttons. No sound modes, no surround modes, no phrase trickery. No money wasted on DSP, bonus drivers or endless lights.
This focus on sound proved to be a wise use of funds at this price level of soundbar. The driver combination sounds real and unveiled, its midrange notably wider than smaller thinner soundbars, the overall sound more organic and less synthesised than designs using excessive processing. The underlying bass can really catch a tune here, but it’s the midrange that makes the difference, delivering vocals with lushness, dialogue with clarity.
And there’s plenty of level available, without any notable sense of distortion as you turn it up — Q Acoustics quotes a 1% THD figure (quoting 10% is not uncommon on soundbars), and a perhaps optimistic claim of 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response within a 0.5dB envelope — we got very little below 40Hz in our room, and far more energy once into the mids and above, but this is enough to balance the sound and make for enjoyable music, both through Bluetooth from our iPod touch, and from video sources. It’s a rare thing indeed for soundbars to play music well — some very expensive ones achieve the task OK, but under $1000, we usually recommend keeping the bars for the movies. The M4 is an exception, delivering enjoyable music with a balanced sound. We cranked an episode of Rockwiz, as one should, and were delighted to enjoy proper levels of entertainment after having recently suffered the performance of several rivals in this regard.
Inevitably there are limits — on occasion a little low-mid bloom could creep behind male and low female speech, but clarity was never reduced. And of course some rivals bring networking and app control, which Q Acoustics has chosen to leave out, in favour of seeking a better sound.
Q Acoustics’ decision to keep the extras down to Bluetooth and keep things simple pays dividends in this enjoyable and accurate-sounding soundbar. The horn shape has aesthetic finesse, that neat cable management is clever, and there’s easy wallmounting. Goodness, what a lesson in keeping it simple and saving funds for the things that matter.
Q Acoustics Media 4 soundbar
+ Great sound for the price; Good with both movies and music; Bluetooth with aptX
- No networking or multiroom
Drivers: 2 x 65mm BMR, 1 x racetrack woofer (10 x 15cm)
Power: 2 x 25W, 1 x 50W (1% THD)
Inputs: optical digital, RCA analogue, minijack analogue, Bluetooth with aptX
Dimensions (whd): 1000 x 90 (+15mm with feet) x 142mm