A pretty face hides the right connections, but the M3 lacks the bass grunt we want from a standalone soundbar
It’s always heartening to see a revised product come along that addresses some of the issues we had with a previous model. That’s certainly the way we felt when first hearing about the Q Acoustics M3 soundbar. It’s not exactly a successor, but it’s definitely closely related to Q Acoustics’ M4 soundbar, which really impressed when we listened to it last year.
The M4 wasn’t without its problems, though. The remote isn’t very good, the audio profile can’t be adjusted, there’s no HDMI connection, and it’s enormous. Q Acoustics has paid attention, and addressed several of these issues in the M3; but while it delivers in some areas, it takes away in others, robbing us of the perfect product. We’ve taken an extended first listen, and here’s how it measured up.
The M3 curves and flows in design where the M4 preferred sharp corners and straight lines. The M3 is still a large soundbar though, stretching more than the entire width of our 40-inch television. The front is covered in a curved mesh grill, hiding a pair of Balanced Mode Radiator drivers, which are designed to give a super-wide 180-degree stereo soundstage, avoiding the need for everyone to sit in the audio sweet spot to get the best sound. The 2.3-inch BMR drivers, which are slightly smaller than the M4’s drivers, are joined by a dedicated 4-inch x 6-inch downward-firing driver in the built-in “subwoofer.”
We still found ourselves listening for a bass kick when the program demanded it, and were left feeling short changed.
One of the main missing features on the M4 soundbar is an HDMI connection, but Q Acoustics has added it to the M3, and it makes a huge difference. The HDMI connection supports the Audio Return Channel, or ARC, feature. This means, provided you have an ARC-compatible HDMI connection on your TV, you can use the TV’s remote to adjust the soundbar’s volume. Sounds like a small thing, right?
Not for the M3, because the supplied remote is equally as horrid as the M4’s. It’s a credit card-size piece of plastic that’s fiddly and cheap-looking. It’s wonderful not to have to use it. The HDMI also represents the best connection point when it comes to fidelity, though we wish the M3 included HDMI inputs to connect components directly.
The remote isn’t totally useless, as it does have an extra button on it labeled MoviEQ. This activates an enhanced audio setting, almost like a “loudness” mode, that emphasizes the bass and widens the soundstage further. It’s joined by a switch on the rear of the soundbar that adjusts the sound produced depending on how the bar is mounted — either on the wall, in a cabinet, or freely on top of a stand.
We found that regardless of the speaker’s placement, it was worth messing around with the switch, as the sound could be tailored to our liking. It ended up sounding best (to our ears) on the cabinet setting, despite not being in a cabinet. The HDMI connection is joined by an optical port, RCA and 3.5mm line-in, USB, a sub-out, Bluetooth AptX, and NFC.
A metal stand is attached to the soundbar, raising it about an inch off the deck, and protecting the subwoofer. It’s slim and blends in with the surroundings, giving the speaker a cool “floating” look in the right light. The power button is surrounded by multicolored LEDs, indicating the soundbar’s connection state. The light turns blue for Bluetooth, pinkish for the television, and red for standby. It also flashes to show the MoviEQ mode has been activated.
The M3 has an attractive, compact design that looks modern and stylish — it’s vastly better looking than the chunky M4, though not as unobtrusive as Sonos’ new PlayBase.
How does it sound?
While the sound is impressive, it can’t match the M4. The meaty build of the M4 gives it a deeper, more powerful sound, while the M3 has a brighter, more treble-intensive sound and lacks the bass thump we desire. Watching the noisy, excitement-filled start to Star Trek Into Darkness, the shouts of the planet’s natives and the howl of the wind is overpowering compared to the deeper rumbles of the impending volcanic eruption.
The BMR drivers produce a wide soundstage with wonderfully clear dialogue.
A solution is to activate the MoviEQ mode, which pumps up the bass and expands the soundstage; but it doesn’t calm down the higher frequencies to balance everything out. It’s not uncomfortable, but it does make you wish for a way to tweak the EQ manually. Watch a dialogue-centric TV show like Netflix’s Better Call Saul, and the problem still exists, but the strong midrange performance makes it easier to forgive.
We still found ourselves expectantly listening out for a bass kick when the program demanded it, and were left feeling short changed. While the M4 doesn’t need an external subwoofer, the M3 may benefit from one. Playing music through the M3 also lacked the bass we desired. It’s worth mentioning the M3 was demoed box fresh, so the bass response may improve after the speakers have run-in.
While we wanted more bass, the rest of the M3’s audio performance is very pleasing. The BMR drivers do produce a very wide soundstage, regardless of whether you’re sitting directly in front of the bar or off to the side.
Dialogue is also wonderfully clear and balanced, and as a whole, the M3 is a vast improvement over the standard speakers inside our Samsung 6-series television. The speedy Bluetooth also made it easy to connect our iPhone.
Q Acoustics hasn’t raised the price to cover the additional tech and the prettier design either, and the M3 is actually cheaper than the M4. It’s $350 in the U.S. (or 300 British pounds in the U.K.), undercutting the M4 by $80.
Very few people want thumping bass from each speaker in the house; but it’s an important component of every audio experience, and the Q Acoustics M3 shows what happens when it’s just a little too subtle. The good news is the M3 sounds sweet enough, and is priced competitively enough, that it’s not a deal-breaker if you eventually have to add a small subwoofer to complete the package. Doing so is a relatively painless upgrade that should satisfy both the bass fiend and the audiophile inside.
- Sleek design
- HDMI with ARC support
- Wide range of alternative connections
- Simple setup
- Wonderfully wide soundstage
- Bass response is lacking
- Cheap, fiddly remote control
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