Soundbars are an interesting and relatively recent development in the history of audio, introduced starting around 1998 by Altec Lansing (you or your parents might have had computer speakers from them back in the day), and evolving over the next couple of decades into the consumer audio phenomenon we have today. They are, by and large, a recognition that people want to get excellent audio out of their media, but often don’t have the ability to run wiring and install speakers all the way around the room. The goal is to get good, room-filling stereo with good bass so all those space explosions sound appropriately explosion-ey; all without 8 speakers, a tuner, and lots and lots of wires.
There are many models on the market aimed at the budget conscious, but the drawbacks with these is usually a combination of poor durability (building out of plastic or composite materials), mediocre sound, and falling back to extra speakers to create separation or bass emphasis. But if you’re buying a sound bar for the simplicity, why would you want extra speakers?
Enter Q Acoustics, a small UK-based brand that has delivered some seriously award-winning speakers over the years. They’ve recently turned their eye (ear?) to sound bars, and to the US market. Their new M3 sound bar brings high-end sound and design with a mid-range price for people who don’t want to deal with a lot of cables, but who want to truly enjoy their media.
There’s a certain truth about audio components that’s counter to many other product lines: lighter is not always better. When you pick up a speaker and it feels solid and heavy, you get a feeling you’re getting something good. The M3 weighs in just under 9lbs, and it looks and feels good. It’s definitely not fragile, and you know it’ll stay put there you place it. Very wisely, it’s designed to be either table mounted or wall mounted, allowing for a lot of placement options. If you’re using it with a TV, it’ll sit nicely underneath on a media stand, but if you just want a speaker that’s an order-of-magnitude above the Bluetooth bricks available, it’ll look beautiful out on a table as well.
Hooking it up is straightforward (as one would hope it would be); just run an HDMI cable from your TV to the unit. But note that it’s designed to work with an ARC (audio return channel) HDMI output, of which you’re TV may have only one, so check the manual. The special feature here is that the sound bar now becomes an extension of the TV, and the TV’s remote will control the sound bar’s volume. There are also options for optical, RCA, and Bluetooth connections (the latter with the highest-fidelity aptX codec, and NFC).
The sound is excellent. Mids and highs are crisp and clear, especially dialog. Bass is startling, and you might look to see if there’s a separate subwoofer hiding somewhere, but no. The M3 does it all on its own, needing naught but two wires (HDMI and power) to keep the clutter down. We currently have it running off a TV in our 14′ x 16′ master bedroom, and it will easily fill the room and, if we’re not careful, annoy the neighbors with the sound it puts out (I think we need some rugs to soak up some of the sound off our hardwood floors).
So, the bottom line is this: you can spend less on a sound bar and get more wires and less sound. Or, you can spend more (in some cases, a lot more), and get something that’s slightly better. Or you can take the middle road, and get a really nice-looking, nice-sounding sound bar for a decent price that will make you smile every time something you’re watching gets explosion-ey.
[Note: Q Acoustics sent us a review unit.]