Now that Brexit has finally been resolved, the British can get back to making great sounding hi-fi, maintaining that stiff upper lip about the Royal family, and lamenting another dismal season for the Gunners. Life is almost getting back to normal in the U.K. with its COVID vaccination program way ahead of the rest of Europe. The British may not be able to make food worth digesting, but their ability to make audio equipment is second to none. British hi-fi gear occupies a spot in almost every system in my home; 13 components and counting. The British are also really good at building affordable audio components that deliver excellent sound quality, keep its value, and have proven to be reliable if you know what to buy. One brand that really understands the performance/affordability concept is Q Acoustics. The Q Acoustics 3030i bookshelf loudspeakers at $399 are the main course in this full English breakfast
Very much like Jason Statham’s character in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the Q Acoustics 3030i are a tad unleashed. They communicate music like an effortless weapon, and with some serious punch in the lower registers with the right amplifier. They borrow a lot of their driver technology from their much larger sibling; the Q Acoustics 3050i floor-standing loudspeaker that retails for almost twice the price.
I’m a huge fan of the 3050i, but I can see how some might find their somewhat restrained sounding presentation a tad boring with the wrong amplifier. The Croft Acoustics Phono Integrated and NAD C 316BEE V2 integrated amplifiers are great matches with the 3050i, but that took a lot of trial and error.
The 3030i are not a replacement for the existing 3020i (one of the best-reviewed bookshelf loudspeakers on the market), but a larger model for those looking for more bass punch.
Q Acoustics have tweaked something in the cabinet design and crossover of the 3030i because they dig just as deep as the larger 3050i, and sound significantly more robust than the 3020i; their presentation takes a firm step forward. Just like Bacon.
The 3030i is not a very difficult loudspeaker to drive (88 dB, 6 ohms) but it definitely benefits from an amplifier with some grip and midrange punch. Stay away from amps that veer dark because the 1-inch soft-dome tweeter needs some illumination.
Q Acoustics use binding posts that are almost flush with the rear of the cabinet and it certainly gives you some extra room if you have to place the loudspeakers close to the wall.
The 3030i are rear ported 2-way bookshelf loudspeakers and while they are supplied with foam bungs (you stuff them inside the port) to reduce their bass output in that placement scenario, we’re going to advise that you leave them in the box.
The 3030i are large and unusually deep bookshelf loudspeakers; the 13-inch depth might be problematic for bookshelves and even some media units.
We highly recommend investing in the stands that were designed specifically for the 3030i; the top plate and overall height of the stand place the tweeter 36-inches above the floor.
The Q Acoustics 3030i require an amplifier that is light on its feet, but also capable of delivering a punch. Brad Pitt’s character was almost impossible to understand (one of his best roles), but he had character and was able to pivot when required. The Cambridge Audio CXA61 is a bit like Mickey; minus the incomprehensible part because it’s damn good with vocals and detail.
The CXA61 can deliver 60 watts/channel and minus the weird omission of a phono stage, has almost everything you could ask for a future-fi piece of audio equipment; 3 digital audio inputs, support for Bluetooth aptX HD, 32-bit/384kHz PCM digital audio (using the USB input), and a really clean industrial design.
It might lack the Thor-like power of the Edge A integrated amplifier, but the $999 CXA61 is no lightweight when pushed.
The midrange is very transparent sounding, and the top end is quite detailed and smooth.
Cambridge Audio has really stepped it up over the past 5 years and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a piece of their equipment that doesn’t deliver both excellent sound quality and value.
Colin Farrell delivered one of his best performances in The Gentlemen and like the Rega Planar 3/Nagaoka MP110 combination – it’s all business. Don’t try to overthink it. Don’t try to play games with it or pretend you’re more sophisticated than you are. The Rega has been around the block a few times and knows how to handle itself.
So how do you put all of this together?
The Q Acoustics/Rega/Cambridge Audio trio is the basis for a hi-fi system to take you many years into the future with support for vinyl playback, hi-res streaming, and other legacy components if this is going to be for both music and watching movies.
Add the Bluesound Node 2i streamer to keep the price down and quality high; Cambridge offers a compatible streamer for almost $500 more but the need for an external phono preamp and the desire to keep the price below $4,000 for the entire system made us pick a product from the Commonwealth.
The Full English
Q Acoustics 3030i Bookshelf Loudspeakers ($399.00/pair at Amazon)
Q Acoustics 3030FSi Stands ($209.00 at Amazon)
Cambridge Audio AXA61 Integrated Amplifier ($999.00 at Amazon)
Cambridge Audio Alva Duo Phono Preamp ($299.00 at Amazon)
Bluesound Node 2i ($549.00 Amazon)
Rega Planar 3 ($945 at Turntable Lab)
Nagaoka MP-110 ($99 at Amazon)
QED Reference XT40i Loudspeaker Cables ($134.99 at Amazon)
For more information: The Best Affordable Bookshelf Loudspeakers