Q Acoustics builds mighty-fine loudspeakers, and for its first self-powered offering, the company could have modified any of its existing designs by bolting on an amplifier and calling it a day. What it has wrought instead is a complete high-end audio system that can accommodate nearly any source: analog or digital, wired or wireless, streaming or locally sourced; one that can be incorporated into any of the most common home-audio and smart-home ecosystems.
The Q Active 200 system consists of a pair of self-amplified, wireless two-way bookshelf speakers and the Q Active Control Hub (the company will soon offer the same technology in a tower speaker system, the Q Active 400). The broad range of audio sources the Hub can handle range from a server on your network, to most of the popular streaming services, to a turntable equipped with a moving-magnet cartridge. It can then send that music both to its own speakers and to other audio systems on your network, using Apple AirPlay 2 or Google Chromecast.
The company will soon offer a Works with Alexa variant of the Hub that will enable the speakers to be incorporated into Amazon’s smart home and multi-room audio ecosystem as well. The company tells me it might eventually produce a Hub that supports both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa in one box. As it stands, you can swap Hubs and keep the same speakers if you ever switch smart home ecosystems. The Hub by itself sells for $400.
This is an in-depth review. If you care more about performance than a deep dive into specs and what makes the system tick, just click here to go to the review’s performance section.
The Q Active Control Hub
The Hub has an onboard Wi-Fi 5 network adapter, plus an ethernet port if you have the infrastructure to take advantage of a wired network connection. Audio inputs include HDMI with ARC, a Toslink optical digital audio, and analog stereo RCA. Connect a turntable equipped with a moving-magnet cartridge to these last inputs and you can flip a toggle switch to activate an onboard phono preamp. You can also connect your turntable to the Hub’s grounding terminal to prevent ground-loop-induced hum.
The only music source not supported is a USB storage device. The speakers deliver plenty of low-end oomph (I’ll get into their specs and performance later), but the Hub has a subwoofer output if that aspect of the system just doesn’t scratch your itch.
While the HDMI port supports ARC (Audio Return Channel), this is strictly a stereo audio system; the Hub won’t decode Dolby Digital or any other soundtrack formats. That said, the speakers’ incredibly wide sweet spot tends to present dialog as centered in the sound stage. HDMI CEC support means you can use your TV remote to control the volume when you’re watching the TV. The Toslink input auto-senses incoming audio and will power the system on as soon as a signal is detected.
In addition to wired inputs, the Hub can play music via a UPnP server on your local network (e.g., a NAS box), and it supports all the leading streaming-audio services, including Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, Qobuz, Spotify (via Spotify Connect), and Tidal. There’s also a Bluetooth 4.1 radio on board if you want to play music stored on your smartphone. The Hub can accept bitstreams with up to 32-bit resolution and 192kHz sampling rates, although it will downsample them to 24-bit/96kHz before sending the digital audio to the speakers.
The Q Active 200 is Roon Ready, too, so while it doesn’t offer native MQA support, it can perform as a Roon endpoint and play MQA-encoded tracks after they’ve been “unfolded” by a Roon Core (a Roon Nucleus server or a computer or NAS box on your network that’s running ROCK—the Roon Optimized Core Kit). This makes it possible to play MQA-encoded tracks stored on a server or streamed via Tidal’s Tidal Masters service tier.
Incoming digital audio from the HDMI or Toslink ports is run through a sample rate converter, where it is re-sampled to 24-bit/96kHz resolution to eliminate audible aliasing. Incoming analog audio is likewise converted to 24-bit/96KHz digital audio for the same purpose. To minimize jitter artifacts, a low-jitter master clock in the Hub times streamed audio, Bluetooth audio, and re-sampled data coming from the sample rate converter. Post processing, digital audio is streamed to the speakers using a dedicated 5.8GHz link, where a digital signal processor (DSP) outputs PWM (pulse-width modulation) audio to the Class D amplifiers powering each driver. I’ll discuss this aspect in more depth in the speaker section, but the upshot is that the audio signal remains in the digital domain until it’s amplified and sent to the speakers’ drivers.
Up to three Q Active systems can be deployed in a single home—each system will use its own discrete wireless channel, so they don’t step on each other—but you can also use Chromecast- or AirPlay 2-compatible components if you need coverage in more than three rooms, or if there are areas in your home where you don’t need such high-resolution audio. Bear in mind that when streaming to other components, you’re subject to the limitations of the components receiving the stream. Chromecast can support bit streams up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution, for instance, but AirPlay 2 is limited to 16-bit/48kHz resolution. Both technologies support lossless audio formats, including FLAC for Chromecast; AirPlay 2 uses the Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC).
Touch-sensitive buttons on the front of the Hub let you control most aspects of the system, apart from volume control, but Q Acoustics provides a wireless remote control so you can hide the Hub in a cabinet. The 5.5 x 1.5 x 3/8-inch (HxWxD) remote has raised but non-backlit buttons for system power, mute and volume up/down, play/pause, track forward/back, and source selection. It communicates with the Hub using 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, so there is no line-of-sight requirement.
The speakers themselves also have touch-sensitive buttons for volume control and source selection. Alternatively, you can control the system using Google Assistant or Apple Siri voice commands (once the system has been added to your Apple Home app). The coming Works with Alexa version of the Hub will, of course, support Alexa voice commands. All of this obviates the need for a dedicated Q Active app on your phone.
Q Active 200 speaker design
The Q Active 200 speakers are wireless, self-powered, two-way bookshelf models. The only cables you’ll connect to them are power cords—there are no wires connecting the speakers to the Hub, and there are no wires connecting the left and right speakers to each other. In fact, there is no left or right speaker until you designate them as such by setting a toggle switch on the back of each speaker’s cabinet. Having the front drivers in each speaker asymmetrically mounted looks odd, but the design yields two important benefits: It enables the speaker baffles to be reinforced at the strongest points of the speaker cabinets—the tops and sides—and it gives the listener the ability to adjust the speakers’ sweet spot depending on where they’re sitting.
In a near-field listening environment—using the speakers with a computer, for example—you’ll get the best performance with the drivers on the outside edge. If you’re in a more conventional listening environment—such as sitting on a couch across the room—you’ll want the drivers on the inside edge. A second toggle switch on each speaker instructs its internal DSP to change the speaker’s voicing to compensate for speaker placement. The speakers are a ported design, so it’s best to allow some space between the speaker and the wall. If that’s not possible, or if you hang the speakers on the wall, you can set a three-way toggle to indicate if the speaker is close to a wall or close to a corner. The third choice is having the speaker in free space. Q Acoustics also provides foam bungs for the speaker’s ports if you still find the bass too boomy for your taste.
If you intend to hang the speakers, you’ll want beefy hardware: Each cabinet measures 11.2 x 6.7 x 11.4 inches (HxWxD) and weighs 16.5 pounds. Q Acoustics provided its trippy-looking, 3-foot-high Q FS75 stands ($499) for this review. They’re inspired by the Tensegrity speaker stands the company designed for its Concept 300 speakers, which we reviewed in the spring of 2019. The stands are designed to minimize unwanted reflections, and they come with spiked feet to reduce the surface area of the stand that contacts your floor, reducing unwanted vibration (rubber tips are provided so the spikes don’t damage hard-surfaced floors). Q Acoustics even provides cable-routing clips that keep the power cords strapped to one of the stands’ legs, so they don’t dangle.
Q Acoustics mounts a pair of 2.25-inch, full-range, Balanced-Mode Radiator (BMR) drivers in the front of each Q Active 200 speaker, behind a non-removable grille designed to prevent damage from curious children’s fingers. BMRs are valued for their ability to deliver a wide soundstage; plus, the ones in the Q Active 200 operate down to 150Hz, where crossover to the onboard subwoofer occurs. Sound at and below that frequency is non-directional, which enabled Q Acoustics to mount the 4.5-inch, high-excursion subwoofer in the rear of the enclosure, where it fires into a waveguide that directs airflow to the vents on the sides of the cabinet. Time-delay circuitry digitally delays audio signals from reaching the BMRs to keep sound from the front-mounted drivers and the rear-mounted subwoofer precisely time aligned.
Each of the two BMRs and the subwoofer are powered by its own Class D amplifier. Q Acoustics says the system puts out 100 watts of continuous power and 280 watts of peak power. The system’s frequency response range is 46Hz to 20kHz (-6db).
Q Active 200 speaker performance
I reviewed the Q Active 200 system using tracks ripped from CD, encoded in FLAC, and stored on a NAS box on my server (I used the Plex media server and client). I also streamed CD-quality music from the Tidal HiFi music-streaming service. Roon Ready had not yet been enabled at the time of my reivew, and I don’t have a turntable, so I didn’t evaluate those aspects of the system’s performance. I didn’t evaluate the system’s performance with TV audio, either.
As mentioned earlier, I used Q Acoustics’ Q FS75 stands for my evaluation. Q Acoustics says the stands’ 3-foot results in the benefit of smaller footprint, but the tradeoff is that the speakers aren’t at ear level when you’re seated. On the plus side, I didn’t find that the height compromised my listening experience. Per the company’s recommendation, I oriented the speakers so that their BMR drivers were on the inside edges of the cabinets.
For near-field listening, its recommended to switch the speakers so their BMRs are on the outside edges of the cabinets. This is possible because as I noted earlier, a toggle switch designates each speaker as either “left” or “right.” Since the speakers were less than a foot from my built-in entertainment center, I configured the speakers’ boundary settings as close to a wall. I did not, however, find it necessary to put the foam bungs in the speakers’ bass ports.
The duo behind Steely Dan—Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker—were notorious perfectionists in the recording studio (and Fagen still is), so I frequently avail myself of their catalog when evaluating speakers. Queuing up “What a Shame About Me,” from the band’s Two Against Nature release, I was immediately impressed with how the Q Active 200 crisply rendered the splash of the drummer’s cymbal that opens the track. The subwoofer quickly demonstrated its ability to deliver a deeply satisfying low end when the drummer’s kick drum comes in, joined by an electric bass groove. Avail yourself of the secondary subwoofer output on the Hub if you must, but I’d wager most people won’t find it necessary.
Chimes enter the picture in the track’s second measure, traveling from left to right across the sound stage and back again. The speakers’ super wide dispersion creates such a massive sweet spot that I was able to hear the effect no matter where I stood in my 12 x 16-foot home theater. I went back in time to the band’s eponymous Aja album to play “Peg.” Chills went down my spine when Michael McDonald joined the chorus with its intricate harmonies.
To evaluate the system’s ability to handle horns—trumpets, saxes, and whatnot—I turned to a band with the world’s best horn section: Tower of Power. Playing “Squib Cakes,” from the funk band’s Back to Oakland album, the Q Active 200’s dynamics knocked my socks off. The bari sax notes literally punched the air, but there was no drama lost when the quieter flugelhorn solo came in. And I could hear every note in Chester Thompson’s frenetic organ work.
If the Q Active 200’s $1,999 price tag isn’t a non-starter, it should be on anyone’s shortlist who’s in the market for a compact, high-performance, state-of-the-art stereo audio system. It’s super versatile, it can handle just about any digital or analog source, and it can support multi-room audio systems based on either Chromecast or Apple AirPlay 2.
Above all, it sounds absolutely fantastic, utterly justifying its price tag.
Q Acoustics takes a crack at its first powered speaker and knocks it right out of the park.
- Impeccable high-resolution audio performance
- Handles just about any audio source, analog or digital
- Roon Ready
- Clean power to spare
- Stereo only, there’s no support for any surround-sound formats
- Optional stands are optimal, but they’re also very pricey