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Q Acoustics Media 4 review: Keep it simple, sound bar

The Q Acoustics Media 4’s minimalist features set, built-in subwoofer, and fuss-free sound make an attractive alternative to more elaborate sound bar systems.

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Ty Pendlebury
Steve Guttenberg
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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.

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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.

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Sound bars without separate subwoofers are one of the hottest trends in home cinema right now. In the past six months alone, we have seen units from Samsung, Bluesound, Bose and Paradigm, in addition to newcomer Q Acoustics. All of these kinds of speakers have an integrated "subwoofer," but in testing we've found that most struggle to compete with a real sub. All but one, that is: the Zvox SB500.

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Q Acoustics Media 4

The Good

The Q Acoustics Media 4 sound bar offers sophisticated home theater sound in a single speaker, without a subwoofer. It's easy to set up and use, and sounds decent with both movies and music. It's more dynamic sounding than our favorite one-box sound bar, the Zvox SB500.

The Bad

It can't match the dynamics of sound bars with dedicated subs. The Zvox has better bass and more natural dialogue.

The Bottom Line

The Q Acoustics Media 4’s minimalist features set, built-in subwoofer, and fuss-free sound make for an attractive alternative to bulkier sound bar systems.

At the same price as the Zvox, Q Acoustics' Media 4 has its work cut out for it, and the challenges start with the brand itself. While Q Acoustics is well-known in British hi-fi circles, the Media 4 is the first product the company has released in the US.

When judged against its predominantly-American competition the Media 4 is a little more mannered, more "The Guardian" than "Guardians of the Galaxy" perhaps. It lacks bass extension, even compared to other units without subwoofers. One area where it did excel, however, was with dynamics. Compared against the weightier-sounding Zvox SB500, the Media 4 was able to go louder when the content demanded it, whereas the Zvox sounded compressed during loud passages. 

If you're looking for a simple, plug-and-play system with the option to upgrade to a sub later the Q Acoustics Media 4 is a good choice -- it sounds decent and it's well-built. 

It is available for $399, ‎£329 and AU$749. The unit is also available in the US with the optional 3070 subwoofer as the Q Acoustics Superbass Sound bar Package for $699.

Solidly simple -- without apologies

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Sarah Tew/CNET

With the external appearance of a demented boomerang, the trapezoidal Media 4 is 40 inches wide by 6 inches at its deepest point. At 3.5 inches tall, it's bigger than many sound bars and may block your TV's remote control sensor, and unfortunately there's no IR blaster to address that issue. Instead there are a couple of keyhole ports for wall-mounting. Unlike some of the plastic competition, the Q Acoustics features a solid MDF construction, and it felt sufficiently weighty when we pulled it out of the box. 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Q Acoustics isn't about fancy processing or sound tricks -- it's a 2.1-channel sound bar, and it's unapologetic about it. The sound is produced by a pair of 65mm Balanced Mode Radiators in conjunction with a 4-inch-by-6-inch bass woofer. Connectivity includes digital optical, a pair of analog inputs (3.5 and phono) plus a subwoofer output and aptX Bluetooth.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

In keeping with the minimalist theme, the remote control is a five-button affair -- Volume +/-, mute, input and power. It's not particularly ergonomic and small enough to easily lose, but power users will want to program a TV or universal remote instead.

Plug it in and go

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Q Acoustics Media 4's setup couldn't be easier, just hook up your cable box, game console, or Blu-ray player and you're good to go. There's no speaker calibration or subwoofer volume adjustments to fuss over. The Media 4's sound straight out of the box is commendably neutral, and it will definitely stay that way because you can't inadvertently press a button and turn on a sound processing mode to alter the sound. 

How it sounds

With "The Vessel," a quiet little film about a Latin American village still recovering from a tsunami that took the lives of 46 children 10 years ago, the Media 4 all but disappeared and let us focus on the story. Dialogue was clear and naturally balanced, and with the scenes on the beach there was plenty of seaside ambiance. 

On the other hand, the soundstage was narrow, not nearly as spacious as we've heard from competing sound bars such as the LG SH7B. We like that the Media 4 doesn't even try to conjure faux surround, but if you want a bigger, more room filling sound the Media 4 won't cut it.

For more intense home theater thrills, we popped on "Star Trek Beyond" and the Media 4's sound was competent but nowhere as dynamically alive and powerful as the SH7B. That system's separate subwoofer generated considerably more visceral impact to accompany the onscreen antics of the Enterprise. The Media 4 wasn't as exciting, and not just because it lacked the subwoofer -- the Media 4 is simply a softer-sounding system. Bass and treble controls would have helped a little, but as it stands we found the Media 4's sound too tame with action films.

JBL's Cinema SB 450 sound bar system also trounced the Media 4 in terms of dynamic impact and bass punch. Not every sound bar buyer needs that, however, and returning to "The Vessel" the Media 4 held its own against the Cinema SB 450, mostly because the Media 4's easygoing sound balance favored dialogue. Still, if you need a basic sound bar that boosts or enhances dialogue intelligibility, we recommend the Zvox SB500 Speaker over the Media 4.

With music, we preferred the Media 4 over the Cinema SB 450 at quiet volume levels; the Media 4's smoother, less-bright sound won that face-off. The Cinema SB 450 played louder with more bass oomph, but neither sound bar was at its best at high volume with music.

So the Media 4 comes off second-best compared with sound bar/ sub combos, but how does it sound against our favorite sub-free 'bar, the Zvox SB500? As it turns out, quite well.

While the Media 4 can't compare to the two-piece systems above, it's still more dynamic than the Zvox. The Thanator Chase from "Avatar" goes from very quiet (Jake's avatar walking through palm fronds) to very loud (trumpeting land animals and pounding drums) and the Media 4 kept up with the shift in dynamics the whole way. The Zvox wasn't able to convey those volume changes in the same way. 

But the Zvox did beat the Q Acoustics when conveying the scientists' voices and the sound of the forest itself -- the SB500 sounded more natural, especially with dialog. The Zvox was able to conjure up more bass too, which made the Media 4 sound a little thin. 

Should you buy it?

Sound bars like the Sonos Playbar and the Bose Soundtouch 300 may be available without a sub, but they really do need one for peak performance, which significantly increases the price. Though we were unable to test the unit with the matching sub, we believe the same goes for the Q Acoustics. It's able to put up a dynamic performance, but you do miss the edge that a dedicated sub gives you. 

While the Zvox SB500 is the speaker you buy if you never want a sub, the Q Acoustics Media 4 sound bar will appeal to buyers who want the simplest possible setup and user interface. As a result, the Media 4 probably won't be the best choice if you watch a steady diet of action films loaded with special effects, and is more likely to win over folks who prioritize natural sound.

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Q Acoustics Media 4

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Sound 7Value 9