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Q Acoustics 3020i review: Big, smooth sound from small, affordable speakers

The Q Acoustics 3020i bookshelf speakers combine cutting-edge design with excellent sonics.

Ty Pendlebury Editor
Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
Expertise Ty has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast. Credentials
  • Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Ty Pendlebury
Steve Guttenberg
4 min read

A relatively young brand in the world of hi-fi, Q Acoustics has been producing budget hi-fi since 2006. We first heard the company's products with the unique bolt-on Q-TV 2 speaker and were pleased when the brand finally gained US distribution last year.


Q Acoustics 3020i

The Good

The affordable Q Acoustics 3020i give smooth, rich sound in a relatively compact design. The speakers are well built, look sweet and are available in a number of attractive finishes.

The Bad

Despite simplified speaker connectors, the 3020is are not suited to wall-mounting. The Elac Debut B6.2 offer better performance for the same money.

The Bottom Line

The Q Acoustics 3020i bookshelf speakers combine cutting-edge design with excellent sonics and are suited to systems with tight space requirements.

While competitors such as Elac and Bowers & Wilkins are shifting to a more "exciting" sound, Q Acoustics is going the other way. The 3020 was a fairly bright speaker, but the updated 3020i offers a refined sonic design with a smoother midrange and deeper bass. This makes it a much better match for the typically thin sound of many AV receivers.

While the Elac Debut 6.2s cost the same and sound better, they're bigger and more generic-looking than the 3020i. If you need a pair of speakers for a smaller system, these babies offer a lot for the money. The Q Acoustics 3020i are available now for $299, £249 or AU$599.

Staying small by going deep

Sarah Tew/CNET

The bigger the speaker, the more air it can push and (in gross general terms) the better it sounds. But not everyone has room for a set of floorstanders, like Q Acoustics' 3050i, or even large bookshelves like the Elacs, in their living room. 

The 5-inch woofer of the 3020i helps keep the speakers compact at 6.7 inches wide and 10.9 inches high. Their biggest dimension is actually depth -- 11.1 inches -- which creates a 25 per cent increase in volume on the model before it. The box itself offers something Q Acoustics calls P2P bracing for less cabinet vibration.

The woofer is paired with a 22mm (0.86-inch) decoupled "High Frequency Driver" with a wide surround, which the company claims offers a wider stereo image than before.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The cosmetics are a little flashier than before, with a metallic surround on the woofer and a seam-free cabinet with a vinyl wrap (black, white or walnut) that also covers the front of the speaker. The speakers come with magnetic grilles, which is a welcome addition at this price.

While the original binding posts looked kind of cool, they were a little impractical. By mounting the terminals flush on the new versions and eliminating the scooped-out section, the speakers have better structural integrity and will fit in even tighter spaces than before.

The speakers offer a frequency response between 64 and 30 kHz (+3 dB, -6 dB) while the company recommends an AV receiver between 50 and 75 watts.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Oh, those tweeters, how they hypnotize

At the end of 2017 we found much to admire about the older Q Acoustics 3020 speakers, but the new 3020i's deeper cabinet and other design refinements no doubt contribute to its bigger, more satisfying sound. The 3020i sounds like a speaker tuned for audiophiles. By that we mean it doesn't try to impress with boosted bass or exaggerated detail. Instead it provides a clear portal back to the recording session, or as much as one could reasonably expect for a speaker of the Q Acoustics' size and price.

Vocals from Diana Krall, Fleet Foxes and Willie Nelson all sounded "right," and there was a great sense of body and articulation. Acoustic guitars were likewise natural. The Q 3020i is an easy speaker to listen to.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For our first round of comparisons we brought out a set of Elac Debut 6.2 bookshelf speakers, which are close to the same price, but considerably larger than the Q 3020i. The Debut 6.2 played louder with greater ease, and vocals sounded even better. The Q 3020i's soundstage is somewhat smaller and its bass didn't extend as deeply as the B6.2's. The Q's depth aside, sound quality is in some ways dependent on speaker size, and the B6.2 scored an easy win in this contest. 

Next we pitted the Q 3020i against the older and 25 percent smaller Q Acoustics 3020 speaker. They share the same design DNA and sound similar, but the new speaker's gains in upper bass and lower midrange warmth were readily apparent. Or to put it another way, the older speaker sounds brighter and smaller, as if its treble is boosted, while the Q 3020i is a much better balanced, more grown-up sounding speaker. The Q 3020i's smoother tonal balance maintained its poise with bright recordings.  

We were perfectly content with the Q 3020i's sound, as long as we weren't playing the Beastie Boys or any other music that sounds best played really loud. When pushed, the Q 3020i's sound hardened a bit, while the B6.2s handled higher volume without strain.

Once we stopped comparing and just listened to the Q 3020i, we really liked what we heard. We had a $999 MoFi StudioDeck turntable in for an Audiophiliac review, and the Q 3020i was more than good enough to let us bask in the sound of this remarkable machine.

Should you buy them?

The Q 3020i will delight astute audiophiles and music lovers with its refined sound. The improvements on the 3020 original are apparent as soon as you open the box and continue when you press the play button. For anyone looking for small, high-performance speakers, the Q 3020i deserves serious consideration. 


Q Acoustics 3020i

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Sound 8Value 8