Q Acoustics M2 review: A compact sound base that sounds small against the competition
Then, along came Sonos Playbase , which sounds better than many sound bars and 'bases. With a renewed appreciation for the "speaker you can plop a TV on" category comes products like the Q Acoustics M2. While it's not as "fancy" as the Sonos product it manages to be both a whole lot cheaper and able to offer one important feature the Playbase can't: HDMI . But how does the Q Acoustics compare against products its own size, like the affordable Fluance A40?
At $349, the M2 is firmly in the midrange of TV speakers, and is fairly likable for the price. Like the company's similarly priced M4 before it, the M2 eschews good looks for performance, but the M4 sounds a bit better. If you're set on a sound base though, our favorite non-Sonos choice is the cheaper Fluance AB40, which offers even better sonic capabilities.
The M2 is available now for $349, £299 or AU$549.
Compact, with HDMI
The M2 is a compact sound base that kind of resembles a backgammon dice cup in person -- it's a long, rectangular tube with rounded edges. At 21.6 inches (550mm) wide and 3.6 inches (93mm) tall, it will accommodate most medium-sized TVs (up to 55 pounds (25 kg)). Bear in mind if your TV has legs at each end, rather than a pedestal, the M2 might be too tall to fit under it. It's designed for the TV to sit on it.
The soundbase features the same Balanced Mode Radiator (BMR) drivers as the Media 4 in addition to a rectangular, 6-inch bass driver and these are driven by an 80-watt amplifier. Unlike the M4, the M2 lacks the ability to add a subwoofer later.
Where the M2 trumps its larger brother is in the ability to connect your TV to it via HDMI ARC -- your TV, especially if it's on the cheap side, is more likely to have HDMI out than optical out, the alternative. It lets you hear your flatscreen's onboard sound, but it won't work with sources such as a Blu-ray player, as representatives for Q Acoustics confirmed, so you'll have to keep them plugged into your TV. The M2 offers Bluetooth , optical digital, USB, stereo RCA and a 3.5mm input. The rear also includes a manual three-mode EQ switch to allow for different placements, including putting the unit inside a cabinet.
There's a source select and power toggle on the top of the speaker, alongside volume buttons. The M2 also ships with a credit-card-shape remote with a minimum of controls -- the company recommends using your TV's remote instead.
How does it sound?
The Q Acoustics M2 maximizes detail and articulation, but lacks punch. Q Acoustics claims the M2's BMR drivers deliver 180-degree, room-filling sound, but that wasn't in the cards for us. The M2's soundstage only spread slightly wider than the speaker cabinet.
That wasn't a limiting factor when we watched quiet, dialogue-driven dramas such as the biopic "Queen of the Desert," when the M2 was a pleasure to use. Nicole Kidman's narration sounded excellent.
Upping the ante with "Avatar," the M2 still sounded clear, but spatially small and lacking in impact. When we switched it for the somewhat larger, but much cheaper ($249) Fluance AB40 sound base, quality improved. Now the soundstage spread across the front wall of the CNET listening room, and the tonal balance warmed up. The two bases' sounds were polar opposites: The M2 was clear, but spatially cramped; the AB40's sound was broad and tonally fleshed out. The AB40 is much bigger in size, measuring 3.9 inches high, 26 inches wide and 14 inches deep. So if a smaller footprint is a priority, the M2 will be a better way to go.
Returning to the M2, we fiddled with its MoviEQ processing in hopes of coaxing more oomph from the soundbase, but the AB40's sonic heft still trumped the M2's.
We next listened to music on the "From the Basement" best-of collection from the UK TV series, and the M2 played loud without strain, and dynamics were lively. Radiohead and PJ Harvey's music sounded credible over the M2, that much was clear, but again the Fluance AB40's greater gravitas trounced the M2's sound.
We pitted the M2 against its larger M4 counterpart with the movie "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets." In the market scene, a large dog-beast pursues the heroes through twisting streets, then across the planet and beyond. The M2 sounded a little cramped compared to the M4, which sounded bigger and more dynamic. The machine gun bursts and the sounds of teeth rending steel simply had more room to stretch out on the M4. At this point, the M4 was already ahead, but we found that if we added a sub -- something you can't do for the M2 -- there was no contest: the M4 is the better product.
Should you buy it?
In the end we respected the Q Acoustics M2 for its clear voice, and liked its compact size, but we wanted more than it delivered. Taken on its own, the M2 sounds fine, and not every sound base buyer is seeking a big, brawny sound. For those folks, the M2 deserves strong consideration for its ease of use, tidy dimensions and low-distortion sound.
For the money, though, we'd suggest looking at the Q Acoustics M4, Fluance A40 or even the Zvox Soundbase 670 (which at $350 is now $150 cheaper than when it launched).