Alex Munro - Q Acoustics

Q Acoustics has been a success right from the start. Its first products, the 1000 Series, shook up the UK loudspeaker industry, received unprecedented praise from reviewers worldwide and scooped prestigious awards. More awards followed with the release of the upgraded 1000i Series, and even more for the 2000 Series. However, not satisfied with merely designing conventional loudspeakers, Q Acoustics' design team introduced Q-AV - the world's first speakers to feature BMR (Balanced Mode Radiator) drive units, enabling for the first time, the whole family to hear perfect home cinema sound, wherever they sat within the room. The Sunday Times predicted that "some day all speaker systems will be like this".

Just when it seemed the company would no longer be interested in producing loudspeakers for demanding audiophiles, it introduced its new flagship called Concept 500. Once Ken Ishiwata started using them during his presentations and various shows, things started to gain real momentum. A lot of people became interested in these special speakers, and Q Acoustics just kept on going. To find out how this idea was born and how this young company managed to take such a spectacular leap forward, from making low-budget boxes to becoming one of the well-known hi-end brands, I decided to talk with Alex Munro, brand director at Armour Home.

Thank you for finding some time to do this interview. But first, to get us started, I'd like you to tell us something about yourself.

My name is Alex Munro and I'm the Brand Director of Armour Home. We own a number of brands directed in different areas of audio. Our largest brand is Q Acoustics and that's what I'm going to talk about today, but we also own QED which makes speaker cables, interconnects, HDMI cables, etc. We also own Goldring which manufactures phono cartridges, and Audica which makes commercial audio systems for retail, restaurants, hotels, places like this, and we also own a brand called Systemline which makes installed audio for multiroom and other applications. But today we want to talk mostly about Q Acoustics. Q Acoustics is now 13 years old. Pretty well the same team has been with it from the beginning. We've always been a young brand, but now we are a teenager. I don't know if our behavior will get worse, but we'll wait and see. Since the beginning, we started with our first range of products which was called 1000 Series, and now we have a number of different ranges spanning both hi-fi and home cinema, screen sound enhancement products like soundbars, and also custom installation products.

I'm guessing Q Acoustics is not the first audio company you're involved in. So what were your first steps in this business?

I have an engineering degree in communications engineering. In my second last year, I wrote to all of the loudspeaker companies in the UK and asked if they will give me a summer job. Very kindly, KEF replied, so I went to work for KEF during the summer of my third year in university. At the end of the summer break, KEF's technical director, a very clever man called Laurie Fincham(Raymond Cooke, the founder, was still in charge of the company at the time), said to me - look we enjoyed having you, would you like to come back when you finish your degree? So that's what I did. I spent 7 years with KEF, then 10 years with Tannoy, and in between, I worked with pro audio - 5 years in entertainment and also 4 years in public address systems and voice alarms. I had a quite wide range of audio experience throughout my career. About 13-14 years ago, along with the designer who works for Q Acoustics now, we created a new business called Audica. Later we sold that to Armour Home and I went with it. Audica is now a commercial brand and Q Acoustics is focusing on home audio.

Alex Munro - Q Acoustics
The 3000i speaker family.

Some say that home audio is even more challenging than professional and installation gear. Would you agree?

Well, it's certainly different. That's why one of the things that distinguish us in Q Acoustics is that we see as much importance in the visual, mechanical, and industrial design of our product as we do in its acoustical design. We see this as a partnership and try to arrange it so that neither of the partners ever have to compromise. So they can both get what they were looking for when we design a new loudspeaker. And I would hope that in looking at our products from the very beginning, you can see a family resemblance in them because it's been the same visual, industrial, and mechanical designer since we started. We have used different acoustic designers, but also for a long period of time, so that we can have this consistency in our products.

The first speaker that comes to my mind when I think about Q Acoustics is Concept 500, but most of all you're not known for making less expensive models. How does it work? Did you want to get higher and higher from the very beginning?

I think it's very natural to get better and better in what you do, whatever it is. To tell the whole story, we must go back six years when we created a product called Concept 20. It originated from quite a high volume product in our 2000 Series called 2020. We went to our designers and said we'd like a special edition of this speaker. It's been a very successful product for us, so we wanted to celebrate that with a special edition. We talked about it for a long time. They came back and said that frankly speaking, there's not a lot they could do to make the drivers better. They were already optimized for this kind of cabinet, they worked very well, that's why it was such a successful product. But one of the biggest problems in loudspeaker design has always been the cabinet and trying to make it silent. There was still a lot of room for improvement in this area, far more than could have been done about the drivers. They came up with a very interesting technique, which we call Gelcore. Basically, you have the sandwich of an outer layer of MDF and an inner layer of MDF, which are separated by a thin layer of adhesive that never sets. It's like a gel. If it went hard as an adhesive does, it wouldn't create what we were trying to create - a cabinet as silent as possible.

What was the next step?

The success of that model took us down the journey for the last six years, wherein each new product we were trying to improve on that. The reason for that is that there is something which is very commonly discussed in electronics, which no one ever talks about in speakers - signal-to-noise ratio. We are accustomed to talking about this in electronics, and now it's nothing unusual to have the signal-to-noise ratio exceeding 80 or 90 dB. Sometimes you see over 100 dB. But ironically, people are connecting these amplifiers with a fantastic signal-to-noise ratio to speakers that have a very poor signal-to-noise ratio. And that's why we believe not many people are willing to discuss it. Because typically it's not very good. Gelcore was the first step. Concept 20 was a bookshelf speaker, so we wanted to make a dedicated floor stand. The problem is - how do you stop the energy from the speaker being transmitted down the stand and then radiating out into the room? So we actually put a Gelcore platform on the top as an interface between the speaker and the stand. Something else we did was to make the stand high massive, so it was actually twice the weight of the speaker itself. And the combination of those two helped us reduce the radiation you get from the stand, coming out to the room and blending with the sound you hear from the speaker.

Alex Munro - Q Acoustics
Concept 500 in Gloss White/Light Oak finish.

Some of the speaker manufacturers just tell you to put monitors on stands you can buy elsewhere. Some make their own stands, but often you would buy them purely for aesthetic reasons. But you treat a stand as an integral part of a speaker, is that correct?

In a nutshell, yes. Intuitively this is very simple because when you look at the high-frequency unit on a loudspeaker of even one of the low-frequency units and you compare it with the other areas that are capable of radiation, their dimensions are significantly different. For example, the side wall of the cabinet just needs to move a tiny amount in order to cause distortion which you're hearing along with the direct sound coming from the speaker. Of course, our aim as a speaker maker is to turn the electricity from the terminals into the sound field, which is exactly what the artists and recorders wanted. Not to add anything, not to take anything away. The distortion you can get from the cabinet itself is a very significant element in this, and something that really not enough attention is being paid to. So when we moved from the first Concept 20, we produced a floorstanding product where Gelcore made an even bigger difference because of large radiating areas. Then we made a center channel, and for me, the center channel is by far the most important part of the home cinema. We're all accustomed to listening to voices, the majority of dialogues comes from the center channel, along with other important elements of the sound, so getting that very low distortion here is a very important element too. Shortly after that, we took a big step of moving into a higher price category than we've ever been to before, and that was two years ago with the launch of the Concept 500. We realized that in moving into this price category means we're going to have more budget to be able to put more technology into the product, thus we were able to take another step in making the cabinet more silent than ever before.

Alex Munro - Q Acoustics
New Concept 300 on Tensegrity stands.

When Concept 500 came out, everyone was surprised by its price. For a Q Acoustics product, it was very expensive. Now it's followed by a monitor - the Concept 300. Is it just a smaller version of the Concept 500, without one of the bass drivers, and in a smaller cabinet? Or is it something different?

No, it's very different. From all the things we've learned over the years, one of the benefits of having a very stable team is that you can learn from previous products and incorporate new ideas in new products. That's what they're for. You can't just use the same idea forever, it's not the way we do things. When we tried first prototypes of the Concept 500, we found out that a single Gelcore was not going to be sufficient for the cabinet of this size. So we actually have a twin Gelcore or a Dual Gelcore in this model, where you have three layers of MDF, all slightly different depths, and then between the - two layers of glue that never sets. The next thing we did was to have a close look at the internal bracing. For many years speaker engineers have been intuitively putting braces in cabinets like shelves inside a wardrobe, and very often not really measuring their effectiveness, but just making the assumption that by putting the shelves in somewhere close to the drivers (which are causing a lot of vibration), we'll get a better result. And here's the thing - you can actually make the vibrations worse with a badly placed brace than it was before you started. We spent a lot of time looking at the precise points in the structure we needed to join together in order to minimize the energy coming outside the cabinet. We call it point-to-point bracing because we use a counter-intuitive technique of placing the brace, measuring the outcome with the accelerometers placed outside the cabinet, and then moving the brace until we find exactly the right place for it.

So it's not modeled on a computer, but rather experimenting on the real thing?

It's very important to measure the result and make sure that you actually make improvements. Each time we factor in something like this, we look towards getting the right result and making sure that we have.

What else did you learn designing the Concept 500?

Oh, quite a lot actually. For example, the way it's vented and tuned is really quite unique. Any tall cabinet is like an organ pipe. And naturally, by being a tall long cavity with a hole on one side for the reflex port, it's going to behave like one. In order to minimize the resonance from that, our engineers put pressure sensors inside the cabinet and looked at the points of maximum and minimum pressure, and then joined them together. So inside the Concept 500, there are these pipes called Helmholtz Pressure Equalizers, and they're exactly placed in order to achieve that. There's damping inside it that looks almost like horse's hair, to make sure the pipe doesn't resonate in any way. What's important is that - as always with new technology - you find something that works, and then you trickle it down to other ranges. So when we improved our 3000 series to 3000i, we incorporated point-to-point bracing in all of the models except the subwoofer, and we put the Helmholtz Pressure Equalizer in the floorstanding 3050i. You get this trickle-down benefit if you can afford to do it within the budget, and we managed to do so in the 3000i which has been very helpful for that range.

Alex Munro - Q Acoustics
Terminals in the Concept 300 with jumpers allowing for high frequency toning.

Some people say that companies who do this trickle down thing first introduce new technologies in hi-end products to make people pay for it, and then it gets down to less expensive models when they're sure that the investment has already paid back. Is that what you did with this technology?

From an economic standpoint, we feel that in a higher price product, firstly we have to find out if we can actually do it. It's a low-volume product so you can do something like this more easily, and if you believe it's been successful and it's been well received, you start wondering if it can be adapted in a lower price product. Bearing in mind that Concept 500 is 7 or 8 times the price of a 3050i, it's a big gulf to cross. But we believe it was worthwhile. It's a simplified version of the technology that was developed for our flagship model. Of course, it's a version that we can afford, but it's working. You know, something like point-to-point bracing has no cost. It's not a large cost once you've done the development work to make sure it's in the right location. Just putting the same element in the right place makes the whole loudspeaker better.

Don't you have a feeling that it's not something you should emphasize? I mean, from a customer's point of view, if a loudspeaker manufacturer puts some bracing in a cabinet, they must know where to place it, don't they? It can't be based on guesswork. Are you saying it's uncommon to know where these strengthening beams ought to be placed? Is making measurements of the cabinet something extraordinary?

You know, we have an expression in English, which is "not invented here". It means that designers don't like to take the technology from their competitors because they didn't invent it. So they may have a set of beliefs in a different direction and it's difficult for them to change this direction because they don't want to be seen taking an idea from their competitor.

Alex Munro - Q Acoustics
The 3090i center channel speaker.

Talking about competition, Bowers & Wilkins engineers use their sophisticated Matrix design which is a three-dimensional honeycomb structure that reinforces the cabinet at small intervals and in every direction. They say that these elements have to be cut perfectly because if you just add more MDF panels and fill the empty spaces with glue, it won't work at all. Would you agree with that?

Yes. Obviously, we looked quite closely at what many people do. One of the hazards of it is that it takes so much space inside the cabinet, that it's hard to retain sufficient bass performance from a particular size of the cabinet. So for us, that would be the trade-off of approaching it that way.

Apparently, your cabinets are very advanced, but what about the drivers? After all, that's what most speaker manufacturers are focusing on. Continuum, Flax, MSP, Radial... We know all the names and materials used by different companies, but when it comes to Q Acoustics, I don't recall anything like that. Should I?

Of course, there's no denying that drivers are very important, but once you have them, it's also very important to make good use of them. Firstly, the drivers in our loudspeakers are compliantly mounted onto the cabinet so they don't send vibrations onto the whole structure. Secondly, the high-frequency unit has been specially designed to have an extremely smooth off-axis response. For me and my colleagues, this is the most important aspect of a high-frequency unit for two reasons. The first one is that when you hear the speaker, a portion of what you are hearing comes directly from its drivers, but much of the sound is bouncing off the floor and ceiling, bouncing off the side walls, and what you're hearing in that situation is off-axis. If the off-axis response is very different from the on-axis response, when it combines together in your ear, you're not hearing a very pure sound. It's been muddled by something that's very different. On the contrary, if you keep an off-axis response as close as possible to the on-axis response, it's a very good thing. The second reason is to make the listening window or the sweet spot bigger by not having just one place where people are hearing the response that we wanted them to hear. As for the bass units, in Concept 500 they seem quite small compared with the whole cabinet, but they actually allow for very wide frequency response. This loudspeaker goes to 41 Hz. Do you know what's important about 41 Hz?

Alex Munro - Q Acoustics
A close-up shot of the tweeter used in Concept 300 speakers.

Ehm, yes?

When I was a young man, I was in a band. As you know, the tall boy always has to play the bass guitar, and the low E on the bass guitar is precisely 41,2 Hz. Therefore I liked the idea of speakers that would reproduce even the lowest note of a bass guitar. In my life, I owned many, many speakers and very often I was trying to be able to reproduce this sound, but in real life, it's not that easy. In a previous company, we actually made a speaker that went down below 20 Hz, and we sold it commercially. It was very interesting, but then came other problems, because this speaker caused a lot of room resonance, and consequently we backed away from this idea. It's often not about what you can achieve with your gear, but rather about the performance you can have in normal living spaces. If you have a large listening room, it's quite okay, but in smaller rooms, you're going to get all the resonances you wouldn't get with a 'normal' speaker. In order to get such a low-frequency response with a relatively small driver, it needs to have a long throw. What's extremely important is keeping the driver linear while it is doing a long throw. We also like to have a very flat frequency response in the usable area. When we design a loudspeaker, even before any crossover or any equalization is applied, it makes our work so much easier if we have a nice, flat frequency response. You can see that this driver is very linear, and you can hear it. Within the crossover of the Concept 500, we incorporated a simple solution which lets users adjust the response at high frequency plus or minus half a decibel. It's not very much, but it's just enough to compensate for thick carpets, thick curtains, etc. In a wooden or glass-filled room, where its furnishings might reinforce the high frequency and you might want to turn it down a little bit, this would deaden the high frequency a little bit. It's something we're trying to do in all of our products. We do this with low frequency as well. With Concept 500 and other products, we provide four bungs you can put in the reflex port. The reason for doing that is that not everybody has a symmetrical room, not everybody has a room where they can place the speakers far from the rear wall, especially with the lower-price speakers. If our customers have to put the speakers closer to the rear wall than we recommend, they can always insert the foam bung. It will just turn down the bass a little bit, but it also extends the bass, so you don't just lose the bass response - you get a lower bass as well. We encourage people to experiment and find the balance they are comfortable with. In Concept 500 we even use two degrees of this - an annular ring foam and an also a second bung, so you have two different levels of toning down and extending the bass.

Many speaker manufacturers are doing the same thing. In some speakers, you even get two or three different port endings in order to modify the sound. Another way of doing it is to fit the cabinet with two reflex ports tuned to different frequencies so that users can block one of them, or both if they prefer.

Yes, and it's very clever. But some customers like putting speakers on wall brackets or they place them literally on a bookshelf. Whenever I'm demonstrating this to somebody, what I normally do is I walk up to the wall talking, and if they listen to the way my voice and its timbre changes as I get close to the wall, everything is clear. It's even more dramatic in a corner. It completely changes your voice, and similarly, it changes what comes out of the speaker. Everyone can hear it.

Alex Munro - Q Acoustics
Q Acoustics is also known for making interesting home cinema speaker packages.

"Q Acoustics is a young brand. No heritage. No tradition. No old black and white photographs. We believe that to be the secret of our success." - this is a statement I found on your website. Can you explain that?

Well, it's very true. It's becoming less easy to defend that statement now we are a teenager, so maybe we have to look it back again and adapt it to suit. Firstly I should say that we are not lacking in experience, because all of us, all of the people connected with Q Acoustics have plenty of experience. But when you have a brand that's 40, 50, 60 years old, you can get 'painted into a corner' by things you have previously done. And even though some of these ideas might be wrong, it's hard to escape from them because you said in the past that it's the technology you believe in. It's hard to reverse these decisions once they existed for such a long time and been the foundation of your company. What has made it easier for us as a new entrant is that we can learn from other people's experience as well. Our aim was and still is to enter a new area and provide the best performance at a price category we're entering. Consequently, as the last people in, we can see everything other people did before us and ask ourselves what we can do to outperform the others. That's easier than being the first in and watching everybody else coming after you.

So is it possible that you, uhm, how can I put this... Put the brand to sleep and then start again with another name?

Haha! That's not our plan because the brand is growing very rapidly and gathering a lot of momentum, but still, it's the fraction of the age of some of the others. Also, some brands do not survive in the same way when their founder disappears. You know, I've seen that with a number of businesses, not just speaker manufacturers, but other audio companies, and it's happening all the time because audio is not the type of business that is easily run by accountancy. It's best run by enthusiasts and managers who know what they're doing. Most of the very successful managers I've met in audio have been engineers, and they actually understood every element of what they were trying to achieve. They did it mostly for the sake of doing it, not for the sake of making a living. But if you're successful, hopefully, you can make a living as well.

In other words, you don't want the brand to be growing around a single person?

Oh, no. I'm purely here representing the brand and my colleagues. My role is to try and communicate what we're doing to people like you and our commercial partners, and equally to take back from these conversations the things I learn when I'm out in different places where we do business.

Maybe it's just me, but I have a feeling that these products designed almost entirely by a single person, usually the brand's founder, have more personality. They are more original, often they break some of the rules, but there's also soul and passion in them. They tend to have more character than products designed by a committee.

Don't mistake what I'm saying with a committee. We always have a balance between mechanical and acoustical design. Typically there are two people who work very closely together and are leading the design effort. The input they receive is really what is our target. When we want to enter a new area, we would have a brainstorm and make a clear decision. Are we going to start making soundbars, yes or no? Are we going to make active speakers, yes or no? Are we going to introduce a hi-end passive speaker, yes or no? Those are the targets we decided upon as a business, and then the designers come up with their ideas in order to achieve our aim, which is to outperform our competition in this area.

Alex Munro - Q Acoustics
New finish inspired by Aston Martin sportscars.

Another word repeated very frequently on your website is 'innovation', but most of your speakers look fairly normal from the outside. What is so innovative about them?

One of the first things I learned as an engineer and then as a commercial person, especially in audio, is that there is no benefit in a feature, without the benefit. Thus we always have to associate a particular aspect of the design with the benefit that's growing from it. These two things are always working together. Firstly, if you want to establish whether the product is outperforming other product, you just have to make an A/B comparison and make up your own mind. There's no other way to measure it properly. In the end, every customer has to make a decision after listening to our speakers. One of the things we find very flattering is the number of other manufacturers using our products in their demonstrations. Ken Ishiwata was one of the first people to pick up the Concept 500, but since he did, many others followed. We know that Cambridge Audio has the Concept 500 in their demonstration room in London and use it at various exhibitions. We have Cyrus, another British company just at an exhibition in the United States. They wrote back to us just to say how wonderfully it went with Concept 500. For us, it's a fantastic endorsement. These people can choose anything, and they have no business relationship with us other than asking us if they can use our speakers, but when they give us positive feedback, it makes us very happy.

That's great, but from a customers point of view, you have many different brands and almost every single one uses technology no one else has. It's getting more and more difficult to know the difference between real innovation and marketing gimmicks. It almost looks like everyone has to make up some clever acronyms to justify the price of their products...

I think that innovation is far less important than the overall result. If people want to attach acronyms to why they're getting the result they're getting, that's up to them. I think that the end user can draw comfort from when they see good reviews and awards for a particular manufacturer or particular model, but even more important in this day and age is the peer-to-peer recommendation. When people scroll through a website and see comments like "I bought a pair of these speakers and they work very well with my 25W valve amplifier", "I bought a pair of these speakers and they work very well with my 100W receiver", "I bought a pair of these speakers and they work very well...", and so on. What really matters is having something that serves many different purposes, not just one perfect element where everything else isn't quite so good. And also, having something you can live with from an optical perspective, something you like the look of, and something that will look good in ten years or so. Speakers that wouldn't age like a fashion garment. It's only after you've lived with a product for a while, you will really get to know it. Our aim would be to delight, somebody. To exceed their expectations. Not to just hopefully meet them, but actually to exceed them. Let them listen to a few things each day and think "wow, that's great". For me, the measure is really very simple because I had many experimental sound systems coming into my home, and I know when it's good - it's when I just want to listen to more and more music. If I just want to pick more records I'd really like to hear, or play my favorite music and think "wow, I never heard it sound so good". That's what it means to be delighted by the experience I'm getting from a particular product.

Alex Munro - Q Acoustics
Gelcore isolation platform in the Concept 300.

I'd like to ask you about the new Concept 300 which is a smaller sister of Concept 500. But it's not a bookshelf speaker, is it?

No, it's basically a standmount version of our flagship model. When you design a speaker like this, you have to consider which elements of a larger design you would carry across and which elements in the Concept 300 will be unique and new. First of all, we had a very, very good tweeter with a wide off-axis response and a wide dispersion, so we've carried it over. Concept 300 also has our point-to-point bracing, but it doesn't have the Helmholtz Pressure Equalizer because we are talking about a much smaller cabinet. There is a different bass driver, which looks very similar, but we had to change the magnetic circuit in order to get lower bass out of the small cabinet. We still use the same technique of mounting the drivers so you don't get any vibrations getting onto the cabinet. There are no baffle screws holding the drivers in. They are held from behind on a compliant mounting. There's a special ring inside, and the drivers are pulled in from behind using a tensioned screw that can never loosen. What's very different about Concept 300 is its stand. You see, one of the problems of stands is that they can radiate the energy into the room. So we completely changed the relationship between the speaker and the stand, compared with what has come before. Firstly, at the bottom of the speaker, you can see a plate which we call an isolation base and it sits on a compliant mounting with the whole cabinet. You have four screws and springs which allow for setting just the right tension, which is a clever way to stop the stand vibrating. The material we used here has a resonance well below the audio frequency, at about 10 Hz, and it doesn't give you a looser bass because the mass of the cabinet is so high. The bottom part of the cabinet prevents sending the energy from the speaker down the stand, and also the other way round. If you live beside a busy road or a train station, if you have an underground train under their house, as many people in London do, this system stops the energy coming up through the stand and into the speaker. The stand for the Concept 300 is really quite unique. It's using a technique called tensegrity. You have three poles and some steel cable in order to keep them in the right places. This has a couple of benefits. Firstly, there's no bending moment in it. The poles are under compression, and the ropes are under tension, but there's no bending moment. Secondly, there's a very small radiating area. So even if the energy was getting to the stand, very little vibration can come out of them. Also, being a pyramid like this, it is inherently stable. Tensegrity is not a new idea, it's been in architecture for a long time, but it's new in audio. That's why we have applied for a patent for using it in speaker stands.

Talking about fighting with resonance, how effective is the speaker itself, and how effective is the Tensegrity stand?

We believe that it's a combination of the two that lets us get the best possible result. We are only selling the speaker and stand as a combination. The question people would ask is how can I choose between Concept 500 and Concept 300, if they are in fact both floorstanding products. The answer is, of course, the size of the room and its acoustics. We think that in a larger room you would go for Concept 500, but in a smaller room, Concept 300 will be a better choice. One of the other benefits of the Tensegrity stand is that it doesn't take too much space and impact your line of sight in the room, so the decoration and furniture won't be obscured by it.

I must say, what I especially like about them is the finish. Using wood veneer and lacquer in a cabinet, on the same surface even, is very unusual.

You're right, it was quite difficult to do these joins, but you can do it with the right amount of precision. In Concept 300 we have introduced a new finish. It was in fact inspired by Aston Martin. They have this beautiful grey finish with a silver flake in it, and we have called it silver and ebony. We are using dark wood with narrow lines which really looks similar to ebony. But the other finishes are very nice and luxurious as well.

Alex Munro - Q Acoustics
Tensegrity stand is an idea adopted from architectural designs.

Are you going to introduce more hi-end models in the future? Or are Concept 500 and Concept 300 just an ultimate expression of what a floorstanding and standmount speaker can be?

I think for the immediate future it's going to be the latter. Concept 500 is our flagship, and Concept 300 is a standmount version of it. There's quite a big gap in price between these two and the 3000i series, so I think we will look into filling that gap with a new series. We also have a lot of other projects going just now, so while the Concept 500 is still relatively new, the Concept 300 gives it a bit more momentum. I don't think we are going to change it or create any distractions from it in the near future. But never say never.

One of the most successful models in the 3000i series is the 3050i. Perhaps it's a speaker most people think of when they hear the name Q Acoustics. What's so special about it?

Well, it's had a lot of awards, and it's seen as a very good value floorstanding loudspeaker. Secondly, we trickled down some of the technology from the Concept 500 into it, this iteration of it, and it has four very nice finishes - Carbon Black, Graphite Grey, Arctic White and a very realistic vinyl which is we call English Walnut. You can feel the veneer texture on your hand going across it. But most of all, it's the performance. It has 265mm drivers, a very good quality tweeter, obviously not the same as our Concept 500, but still very good quality, which means it's producing a great performance. The basic design of this model goes way back to our 1000 Series. It works extremely well, but we've been adding little innovations when we can to constantly improve it.

Alex Munro - Q Acoustics
One of the award-winning Q Acoustics speakers - the 3050i.

Many loudspeaker manufacturers are now into soundbars, installation speakers, in-wall speakers, and outdoor speakers. Is this just a trend which is going to go away, or something much stronger?

I think these solutions are getting so popular because people don't just have two speakers in their home no more. In addition to having a room where they listen to two-channel audio, they have home cinema rooms, sound systems for their home offices or playing computer games. You know, the gaming industry is bigger than Hollywood now. It's very attractive to make a sound system that you can put under a computer monitor and give people the pleasure of playing their games with enhanced sound experience. The in-wall thing is very interesting. There's that convention to think of an in-wall speaker as a compromise, and I see it completely differently. A lot of what we talked about today is how to solve the problems coming from cabinets and not knowing where the customer is going to put their speaker. When you have an in-wall speaker, you have neither! As long as you design it with the same care and attention as you do for the drivers in your box loudspeakers, you've got every opportunity to make it just as good in terms of sound. And there's no reason why you shouldn't. This way you can give people the pleasure of listening to a very high-quality sound, but without imposing too much on their room. I think it has become even more of an issue when people go from two-channel to five, seven, eleven channels, or now of course - Dolby Atmos. If you think about all of those box loudspeakers, you have half of your house covered with speakers. If I was doing an installation, I would simply add a second skin to both the front wall and the ceiling, with enough gap in it to install some speakers, and solve it that way, not having to put up with too many boxes in my room. One of our very interesting products is an in-wall subwoofer. Again, you can solve the problem of having a big box somewhere in the room by purchasing an in-wall subwoofer, or - preferably - two in-wall subwoofers. It's very easy to do. You just need a power amp between your receiver and two in-wall subwoofers. There's still the installation, but at least they're hidden. I think that in the future we will have more wireless installations, but you still need to get power to the speakers, so you might as well just use the speaker cable and passive speakers.

Alex Munro - Q Acoustics
The M2 soundbase speaker.

What about active speakers? This is one of the other hot trends right now.

I think you have to give people the choice to do it whichever way they like. There are big design benefits of switching to active speakers, of having a speaker-amplifier combination. You don't have to worry about a big passive crossover, you can design an amplifier that will not blow the tweeters, and - what's perhaps most important - you can have a perfect match. Users are constantly asking is this amplifier going to work with these speakers... Here you don't have this problem at all. Some people are still not convinced, and we don't want to force them to buy active speakers, but you have to remember it's a concept that's been with us for thirty years or so. The real difficulty has always been about the retail channel, but now many people want to have the flexibility of an upgradeable system, not just buying it once and then selling it to buy another one. Passive speakers aren't aging that fast, but you always have to look closely at where the source material is coming from. If it's from a tablet or a smartphone, we have to create products that connect with that very simply and easily. If in the future there's a different method of bringing the program material in, we would have to look for a different solution. You know, a lot of material people enjoy in their home comes through television, so having a good way to connect your sound system to the television is a very important aspect as well. Some people, even while listening to Spotify, are actually looking on a cover art on their television, or reading the lyrics on their tablet. We just have to be conscious of the way people want to enjoy the source material in the future and try to accommodate that.