Just before the Munich High-End show this year, Hi-Fi+ was invited to Copenhagen to have an exclusive preview of Audiovector’s new QR1 standmount and QR3 floorstanding loudspeaker. Recently we took delivery of the QR3. And it is every bit as good in its final guise as we heard in late prototype form in the Spring. Better, in fact.
To recap, Audiovector has a long-standing reputation for making upgradable loudspeakers, where you send back your standard issue bookshelf or tower and come away with a better version of your loudspeaker with improved drive units, crossover, even cabinet bracing and rear baffle. The QR range offers none of that – what you see is what you get and what you buy today stays bought. There is no upgrade path, but in fairness I think this fits the potential QR model buyer better; the Audiovector upgrade path is perfectly understandable to the generation of audiophile raised on a diet of Naim power supply upgrades and swapping one Linn tonearm for a better Linn tonearm. That doesn’t necessarily hold for today’s Fit And Forget culture, where the best product possible is purchased and used without any consideration to future use.
Irrespective of upgradability though, Audiovector isn’t going to make a floorstander with this kind of specification in Copenhagen: the cost of paying skilled workers a decent enough wage means the end user price would be prohibitive. So, instead the QR models are built elsewhere in Denmark, and then tested by those skilled workers in Copenhagen. This requires setting up a means whereby that Air Motion Transducer folded ribbon tweeter is made to Audiovector’s specifications away from the company’s HQ. However, the company succeeded and this increasingly popular ribbon just got an order of magnitude cheaper!
Price tag aside, there is nothing about the QR models that shouts ‘cheap’. These are nicely finished high gloss black or white tower loudspeakers, with that AMT ribbon sitting in a tungsten/titanium housing that isn’t just brushed to look good, but is brushed two ways (outer section brushed top to bottom to match the visuals of the cabinet, the inner horn brushed from side to side to match the tweeter itself) and looks stunning. The gold mesh on the front looks good, too, but is there for a reason: it helps cut plosives and siblants.
The mid-bass drivers are also built to Audiovector’s specifications. These units feature two layers of aluminium cone, separated by a fibre filling and a foam glue. Audiovector calls this its ‘Pure Piston’ driver design, because it harnesses the rigidity and lightweight structure of aluminium, with the resilience and higher frequency break-up modes of foamed designs. As a result, where a typical 150mm aluminium mid-bass cone will start to have problems at around 800Hz – meaning the loudspeaker crossover needs to kick in right at the point of the most discerning part of our hearing mechanism – the driver in the QR3 crosses over up at 3kHz. Tightly specifying the drive units also gives Audiovector an advantage in crossover design, and this model has just a single component per driver and no EQ in the XO, OK!
This is another reason why the QR3 can perform well without higher costs; there are a lot of common design elements used in both models. The drivers and crossover can be used in both designs. And it means money can be spent cleverly elsewhere, like the double rear chambers to help reduce compression in the tweeter itself. But they are more than just the same speaker in two different sized boxes. The QR1 is a two-way standmount with a front-firing port. The QR3 is a two-and-a-half way with the same drive units, but one acts as a bass unit crossing over at 400Hz, while the other acts as a mid-bass driver, crossing at 3kHz, with the tweeter taking the frequency range up to 150kHz. Both are ‘Q-Port’ ported designs, with the QR1 a front-firing design and this a downward firing model. This makes both speakers relatively easy to install, and their comparatively undemanding loads and sensitivity rating make them easy to partner with almost anything. However, like all good speakers, they benefit from some more sensitive equipment partnering. Once again, those years working with Naim seem to have rubbed off on Audiovector’s design criteria, because these loudspeakers are at their most comfy when being by fed high-quality but not necessarily high-power amplification. Something beefy but in the 80W-100W region is ideal, here.
What’s great about the QR3 is their scope. Sure, they are not best used with very cheap amplification, where the quality of the ribbon tweeter outshines the electronics. And, if you are thinking this a great way to harness the sound of super-high-end audio, the QR3 is good… but not that good, and one of the more upmarket models from Audiovector’s own SR range might be more suitable. I used a few different combinations of Naim and Hegel electronics, as these seem to hit an QR3 sweet spot.
There’s a paradox here, but in a thoroughly good way. These are musically revealing, yet sonically unthreatening, loudspeakers. By that, I mean they get under the skin of the music you are playing, but the QR3 won’t render an MP3 file unlistenable unless it is something truly awful. Neither will it make signal compressed ‘loudness war’ albums like Death Magnetic by Metallica [Vertigo] sound like audiophile recordings of plinky-plonky jazz, but the QR3 will at least make the most of the thin, compressed recordings. Usually, this happens by sacrificing dynamic range in recordings that benefit from good dynamics, but the QR3 is dynamically exciting under these conditions. It’s not smoke and mirrors, and I suspect the QR3 is adaptable enough to be as dynamic as the music being played. It’s only when you compare the QR3 to larger, more effortlessly dynamic loudspeakers that you begin to hear where the limitations are. That being said, ‘larger, more effortlessly dynamic loudspeakers’ at this level don’t tend to sound very good, and those that do sound good don’t tend to cost as little as the QR3. It’s that sense of pragmatic balance that wins out.
But then there’s that tweeter, which is incredibly well-balanced and sounds smooth, detailed, open, and extends way up into the bat-eared regions. And then there is the big sound that makes for realistically-scaled instruments and image sizes in any kind of music. Finally, there is every last sense of a loudspeaker that can turn its hand to anything: I played slow-burn Boards of Canada and Mogwai thrash, through filigree Handel ornamentation, ZZ Top boogie, and more. Every piece was handled well (albeit the ZZ Top was handled a bit more ‘well’ than the baroque), with an infectious sense of rhythm, solid bass lines, and a very big image projected forward into the room. Most of all, however, the sound the QR3 makes is fun and easy to spend time with.
The Audiovector QR3 is one of those loudspeakers that makes you realise just how far good audio has come in the last few years. The performance these speakers deliver was hard to find at anything like the price a few years ago (thanks to that AMT tweeter) and its musically engaging overall performance is every bit as attractive to newcomers (who might have never owned anything apart from iTunes recordings) and long-standing audiophiles (who have a collection of high-res downloads) alike. Unless you want a pair of loudspeakers that can double up as a PA system, the QR3 might just be all you need and comes strongly recommended.
Type: Three-driver, two-and-a-half way, bass-reflex floorstanding loudspeaker
Drive units: 1x gold leaf AMT folded ribbon tweeter with S-stop ‘pop filter’ equivalent, 2x 150mm aluminium, foam/fibre sandwich ‘Pure Piston’ used as bass and mid-bass units
Crossover points: 800Hz, 3kHz
Frequency response: 30Hz-45kHz
Tweeter upper limit: 105kHz
Sensitivity: 90dB (2.83V, 1m)
Power handling: 200W (music)
Bass system: Downward firing ‘Q-port’ reflex system
Connections: five way, bi-wire loudspeaker terminals
Finish: High gloss black or white
Dimensions (WxHxD): 19×94.2×23.2cm
Weight: 15.4kg per loudspeaker
Price: €1,800 per pair
Manufactured by: Audiovector ApS
Tel: +45 3539 6060
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