The Q Acoustics M3 soundbar offers a solid sound with a strong bass foundation in spite of the absence of a separate subwoofer. It is a promise that makes more new soundbars nowadays, but can Q Acoustics make it happen? We look for it in this review.
What is the Q Acoustics M3?
Q Acoustics is a company that has built a good reputation in the UK for providing lots of audio pleasure at a reasonable price, especially when it comes to home cinema. With this positive image, it is inevitable that consumers in the Benelux are also starting to embrace the brand. In this review we zoom in on a new device from Q Acoustics, the Media 3 or M3.
It is an affordable sound bar without a separate subwoofer. Another special feature is that the M3 is designed to be placed on a TV cabinet, but can also be placed in a piece of furniture. Think, for example, of a low cabinet with a 20 cm high slot. As a third option you can hang the M3 on the wall. At the back there is an EQ slider that places you in the right position, depending on how the soundbar is set up.
The M3 is related to the Media 4, a soundbar from Q Acoustics that was very well received. But the newcomer is not really a successor, because the Media 4 is still for sale (for the time being). Strangely enough, the M3 with a price of 399 euros is also slightly cheaper, while it has some extra options. The ability to connect via HDMI is the most important novelty.
The M3 has a beautiful design with a special element: the soundbar rests on a metal base that lifts the whole a few centimeters. It therefore floats above the TV cabinet. This has not only been done to make the device more beautiful, but above all so that the woofer mounted at the bottom can spread smooth low tones. The foot also serves as a bracket, you would want to hang the M3 on the wall. That is in itself already well-regarded, but even better at design is the piece of optical deception in which Q Acoustics succeeds. Actually, the M3 in the base is a rectangle, not really special for a soundbar. But due to a smooth interplay of lines, this soundbar seems much more rounded and slimmer from the seat. At his ends he even seems almost flat. This effect is not very good on photos, but in reality this design trick works very well to give the M3 a light, pleasant look.
The sleek design is certainly not marred by many lights or buttons. Three controls are visible: two volume buttons with a central power button surrounded by an LED. The color of this LED light changes according to the selected input. For example, red is HDMI and blue is Bluetooth.
How nicely the M3 is finished, so cheap is the included remote. It is a miniscule thing that is doomed to disappear from the sofa after a few days. We get it, something has to be saved if you want to release a nice soundbar for 400 euros, but this could have been better.
We will be honest: in general we prefer a soundbar with a separate subwoofer. Why? Mainly because slender soundbars contain small drivers that are usually not good at producing bass. It is simply impossible to create a full-range speaker of a few centimeters in diameter. If you force a small driver to display a wide frequency range, it does not sound and you get distortion very quickly. If you add a subwoofer, you will relieve the small drivers in the soundbar so that they produce better midrange and highs. Technically there is a lot to be said for the popular soundbar plus wireless subwoofer combination.
Nevertheless, a lot of soundbars without a separate subwoofer appeared this spring, including at Bose and Samsung. The Q Acoustics M3 is also one of them. This soundbar is therefore put on the market as a compact solution that does not occupy much space but still produces a full sound thanks to a built-in woofer. Simplicity that takes up little space, that’s what it’s all about.
The M3 is already taking a good start. You unpack the soundbar in a few dozen seconds and connecting does not take much longer. There is one HDMI input and you connect it to the TV. If desired, you connect additional devices via the optical input or the two analog inputs (one stereo cinch, one 3.5 mm jack). So you can quickly connect an audio output from a console, a music player or a CD player to the M3. There are no additional HDMI inputs, so devices such as a Blu-ray player or TV decoder must be connected directly to your television. The audio of these devices flows back from the television to the M3 via the HDMI-ARC cable. Does that sound complicated? Normally this process runs smoothly, although you may enter the menu of your TV HDMI-ARC (and possibly HDMI-CEC) switch. Remember that this functionality can be called something different with your TV brand.
Can also stream
People often use a soundbar to listen to music. We are therefore pleased that the M3 allows Bluetooth streaming – and we are even happier when it appears that the codec support is very wide. In addition to the standard (and avoidable) SBC codec, the Q Acoustics soundbar likes MP3, AAC and aptX. That means that with almost every smartphone you can count on a reasonably good streaming quality.
Since the M3 has an NFC chip (just next to the power button), the pairing of our Huawei P10 with the soundbar is controlled. Just tap and press ‘confirm’ on the phone screen, and the connection is made. If you have a device with NFC (like a laptop) that you want to stream with, press a hidden Bluetooth button on the back of the soundbar.
Now that we are working with Bluetooth, we immediately want to try out the M3’s musical skills. Via Spotify we put on ‘Silver Eye’, the new Goldfrapp album. We immediately look up, because the built-in woofer is more present than expected. The basses are quite punchy and incisive enough to convey the beats in the smooth ‘Anymore’ well, although it should be just a bit deeper and more detailed. The reproduction of voices and details is quite good, with a modest artificial touch on things like acoustic guitars. The M3 knows how to fill the room well without making tones sound harsh. We certainly heard other soundbars from this price point that were less strong in terms of music.
One advice: accept that the M3 does not try to create a surround experience, and you will be quicker satisfied. If you realize that the soundbar contains ‘only’ two drivers next to the woofer, then it is also not surprising that there is no surround sound. But – and this is important – these two drivers are of the BMR type. And it is known for its broad appearance, which gives everyone in the seat a good listening experience. That is also true with the M3.
During the extremely exciting beginning scene of ‘Gravity’, where space shuttle ‘Explorer’ gets hit by the fragments of dozens of satellites and astronaut Stone around starts spinning around in space, you hear little of that turning around at the end of a robot arm coming back into the audio . That is different with a (much more expensive) Atmos setup. But the M3 keeps it exciting by clearly conveying Stone’s panicked breath, separate from the threatening soundtrack of the British composer Steven Price. The M3 manages to keep that separated from different sound sources, even in scenes with hectic soundtracks, such as ‘The Expendables 3’. If the whole crew keeps the enemy from a ruin (“There’s another wave coming!”, Stallone calls out, “How hard is it to kill?”, A malicious Gibson roars at it), then both these dialogues are clear, flying few million bullets in the round, and it just pops huge. There is a lot of spice in the M3.
With a heavy action movie like the third Expendables, however, that woofer can sound too fuzzy and unbalanced, we noticed during testing. The M3 was then on a TV cabinet with the EQ button on ‘on’. A good idea is to shift that EQ mode to ‘in’, even if the soundbar is not placed in a piece of furniture. There is then a lot less basic energy, and that can also mean an improvement in a separate setup on a TV cabinet. Definitely try!
With the M3 Q Acoustics lives up to its reputation. In this price segment you expect a lot of compromise and a good enough attitude, but given that this soundbar does not have an external subwoofer, it performs pretty well. In terms of brightness and room-filling capacity, nothing can be done about the M3. The detached ‘on’ EQ setting is too woolly and bombastic to our liking, but fortunately there is the more subdued ‘in’ mode.
Are you looking for a soundbar that is compact and beautifully designed, and can also fill the room with a firm and clear sound, then the M3 is a great choice. If you still want (a bit) to get a surround experience, we advise you to search further. In that case you will have to save a bit more.