Q Acoustics 3010i review: Compact, good-looking, great-sounding – pick three

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Q Acoustics has earned quite the pedigree across its family of affordable audio gear over the years and, while its soundbars are a firm favourite in Expert Reviews’ testing lab, I’ve only recently been introduced to its family of hi-fi speakers. Now that I’ve spent the last few weeks putting its compact 3010i bookshelf speakers through their paces, though, it’s clear that it’s not just TV audio the firm is good at.

Q Acoustics 3010i review: What you need to know

The 3010i are the new, improved version of the Q Acoustics 3010. These passive bookshelf speakers sit in the middle of Q Acoustics’ range, and promise full-bodied sound from a very compact design. The driver specifications are similar to the outgoing model, partnering a 100mm mid/bass driver partnered with a 25mm ring dome tweeter, but the speaker cabinet has had some major changes.

The 3010i’s are still a dainty 150mm wide but they now stand 18mm taller and are a considerable 50mm deeper. That increased cabinet size has allowed Q Acoustics to squeeze an even bigger sound from its compact speakers and, in tandem with a reworked crossover (the electronics that split the high and low frequencies between the two speaker drivers) you can expect improvements across the board.

The only thing to bear in mind is that you can’t just plug these directly into your laptop. As these are passive speakers, you’ll need external amplification in the form of a Hi-Fi amp or AV receiver.

Q Acoustics 3010i review: Price and competition

The Q Acoustics 3010i cost £199, which is a pretty reasonable price, but not as reasonable as its predecessor, the 3010, which has now been reduced to around £100 per pair.

The 3010 may lack the finesse and scale of the new models they still have plenty to offer – pop them either side of a TV and you have a pair of speakers that’ll handle music and movies with aplomb. Buy two pairs, and you’re well on your way to a capable surround sound setup.

If you want more volume, bass and scale than these tiny bookshelf speakers can muster, then it’s worth setting your sights on larger bookshelf speakers, such as Monitor Audio’s £280 Bronze 2. These have larger cabinets that balance serious bass slam with a fine eye for detail.

And if you don’t already have a Hi-Fi amp or AV receiver, and would rather have active speakers with amplifiers built-in, then you’ve got plenty of options too. The Wharfedale DS-2 provide Bluetooth streaming and punchy sound for £179, while the £280 Edifier S880DB offer more refined sound quality and looks for a little more cash.

Q Acoustics 3010i review: Features and design

This is a handsome pair of speakers. You can forget the classic hi-fi boxes of yesteryear, though: the 3020i cut a far more modern, streamlined dash. The rounded-off corners look great and, if the matte white pair sat in my testing room is too much for you, you can pick up a pair in more subdued “Graphite Grey”, black, or walnut veneer.

Whichever you choose, though, the 3010i’s build quality is beyond reproach. The point-to-point cabinet bracing makes for a impressively solid-feeling pair of speakers. Knock on the side of the 3010i and the cabinets sound well-damped, which bodes well for sound quality.

There are other neat design touches. If you don’t fancy getting Blu Tack on your pristine bookshelves, rubber feet on the 3010i’s underside give the speakers a solid connection to the surface beneath. What’s more, threaded holes on the underside make it possible to screw them directly to a pair of dedicated wall mounts, which is perfect if you’re thinking of using them as rear speakers in a surround sound setup.

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Q Acoustics has responded to one of the minor complaints about the previous generation, too. Flip the 3010i around, and you’ll notice that the angled binding posts of the previous generation have been replaced by a much more sensible side-by-side pair. Better still, 4mm banana plugs now slot all the way in; with the previous model banana plugs always sat proud of the binding post.

Q Acoustics 3010i: Sound quality

I tested the 3010i with a wide range of different equipment and in a variety of locations but one thing remained constant: whether they were hooked up to an 18-year old Sony amplifier, Naim’s £2,000 Uniti Atom, sat on dedicated stands or just plonked on an Ikea bookshelf, they consistently delivered a sound belying their tiny stature.

Compared with their predecessors, the 3010, the 3010i initially sound a little flat and lacking in excitement. The forward, attacking sound of the 3010 has been softened, with Q Acoustics taming the punchy, in-your-face mids and highs in favour of a more refined, delicate balance.

The benefits soon begin to reveal themselves, however. Voices and instruments initially seem to lose a little clarity and presence, but swapping back and forth reveals the 3010 to sound nasal and congested compared to the new models. They now sound far more natural and full-bodied, with music looming larger and deeper between the speakers.

Orchestral music benefits hugely from the 3010i’s added scale and more refined tonal balance and, while both models are too small for truly earth shaking bass, the 3010i go a couple of notes deeper than their predecessors, providing decent output down to around 35Hz. Crank them up, and it’s surprising how much bass these little speakers can put out.

The 3010i have their limits. There isn’t the depth or the detail, nor the ability to unpick dense layers of instrumentation that you’ll get from pricier bookshelf speakers such as my PMC DB1+, but the overall performance is out of this world for £199. In this featherweight category, the 3010i are highly impressive performers.

Q Acoustics 3010i: Verdict

The Q Acoustics 3010i ably prove that old adage: good speakers really do come in small, attractively-designed, affordable packages.

Whether you’re looking to put together a Hi-Fi system on a budget or simply don’t have room for larger stand-mount or floor-standing speakers, the 3010i are unlikely to disappoint. These compact bookshelf speakers pack more sound per pound than you have any right to expect for the money.

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