Q. He was James Bond’s quartermaster to curate his extravagant hi-tech spyware. In the home, we become our own Q by curating our playback sound with a loudspeaker of choice. Then our budget q.rates us. Let’s play at Bond, James Bond today by asking Q to loan us what technically constitutes an über speaker. But let’s also remain civilians not audiophile extremists to keep our budget – well, more civil. The Uber Co. offers cheap civilian rides to antagonize fully licensed cabbies in big busy cities. What should we call civil pay for über speakers? Let’s call it €5’500/pr. That you’d spend on a 6” 2-way Monitor Audio Platinum 100 G3 stand mount as one of John’s 10 components he’d love to review across 2023. What if instead, we could afford a proper 9.5” 3-way floorstander with bass to 28Hz? Would that be on; Q as it were?
Hello Qualio Audio. Their IQ is the first model by a new direct-selling Polish brand from the proven design duo behind Cube Audio. Factory direct cuts out the evil twins of distributor and dealer margins. That doubles our buying power if not more. Suddenly pricy premium drivers like Mundorf’s dipole AMT and elite midrange and woofer units from SB Acoustics’ top Satori range are all within our reach. Like the ‘best capacitor is no capacitor’ tune of direct-coupled amplifiers, the IQ sings the ‘best box is no box’ ditty across most its bandwidth. It does so with a translucent open acrylic baffle for its 6” midrange and accordion-pleated tweeter. The barely-there baffle makes the speaker look smaller because we see right through it. It also deletes box talk. That’s when air compressed by a box pushes back on a driver; and when that driver’s rear radiation leaks out through the cone.
If losing a speaker box is advantageous, why does the IQ keep its bass bin? Hello figure 8. It’s the colloquial term for an open baffle’s dispersion pattern. With all speakers, wavelengths below ~200Hz become long enough to wrap around their enclosures which can’t be infinitely wide. Rather than behave ever more directional to eventually beam as frequencies ascend, the sound turns omni or 360°. That reflects off all our room’s surfaces so at a minimum four walls, floor, ceiling plus hard furnishings. Here’s the difference with open-baffle bass. A box speaker traps its out-of-phase energy so it won’t cause mutual cancellation. Instead our omni bass reflections add free room gain if also temporal blur. With an open baffle, phase and anti-phase bass emissions are free to meet and cancel each other at the baffle’s edges. Looked at from above, this dispersion pattern suggests a figure eight. The narrow waist represents cancellation, the ‘o’ lobes front and rear radiation. So open-baffle bass suffers loudness loss from partial out-of-phase cancellation which sacrifices sidewall boundary gain where there’s no output. It’s free room treatment of sorts but requires loudness compensation. To equal the bass quantity of a ported speaker, an OB’s woofer surface must thus grow exponentially. It’s why in their bracket we routinely see at least dual 12ers if not 15- or 18-inch monsters not the IQ’s single 9.5”. Full- range open baffles can get physically quite broad as a result.
Back to our Polish IQ remaining a bit more on the QT. Using ported box bass secures the smallest possible enclosure if passive not DSP-assisted active 28Hz is our target. Mind the ‘possible’ qualifier. This is no small box. It’d simply have to be a lot bigger were it sealed; and by losing it altogether, would probably need two even costlier 15” woofers on an open baffle. Carl Marchisotto originally with Dahlquist then Alon by Acarian now Nola by Accent Speaker Technologies also mates open-baffle tweeters and midranges to ported bass. It’s a well-proven recipe. As speakers with Cube’s DNA which champions 0-order xovers (none), the IQ marches to its own beat also with the filters. Though the 6-inch Satori mid isn’t officially acknowledged or marketed as a widebander, our Cube designers with much experience in the field call it one relative to 15kHz reach. That allowed a shallow 1st-order filter at 8kHz, then the same gradient at 600Hz, meaning this driver still produces plenty of cover at 300Hz and remains audible at 150Hz. The outer drivers of tweeter and woofer enter on 2nd-order slopes. In one sense then the IQ operates its 6-inch Satori similar to a Zu which runs a whizzer-fitted big widebander up to ~8/10kHz then tacks on a ‘super’ tweeter for the last octave. Very much unlike a Zu, the IQ packs a dedicated bass weapon rather than lets a midrange pretend at specialist beast mode down low. It also differs from a classic 3-way’s 80Hz filter by upshifting that nearly three octaves to 600Hz. The IQ’s quasi widebander thus delegates not just the low and mid but even upper bass to a heavy-duty premium woofer which is specialized to move air and excurse hard. This combats a routine complaint with purist single-driver speakers. They lack the raw shove of a bass drum and below it get texturally ever more bloomy and loosey-goosey because they’re back-loaded by quarter-wave tapered tubes or other variations on rear horns.
In my book, the cannily christened IQ combines very clever design decisions. It adheres to Cube’s widebander ethos by eliminating a crossover anywhere near the presence region. It bolts on traditional ported bass for tauter more dynamic and extended low frequencies. It exploits open-baffle benefits above 600Hz while eliminating their size implications for the LF. It sells direct with multiple lacquer/veneer even custom options to do über on a more attainable budget. Yet still there’s more. You might have seen the derrières of certain Wilson speakers where user-accessible resistors allow for some response tweaking. The IQ does too. Where twin pairs of WBT terminals could suggest bi-wiring, the upper terminal in fact receives an included banana-terminated resistor from Mundorf’s 20-watt range. Qualio call the 1.8Ω value their default and standard include a second value. A collection of five more resistor packs is available for a small surcharge. That can install less treble cut with a 1Ω version then subtly ever more shelving down with higher resistive values. Without trim pots or jumpers, we get to dial in our preferred treble balance in the most purist way shy of a multi-tapped autoformer.
Still there’s more. Even though Qualio rate the IQ at a bog-standard 89dB, checking its subjective in-seat loudness against my master volume setting versus in-house speakers rated 93dB, I suspect that IQ’s sensitivity spec is significantly undervalued. Testing my suspicions with an Enleum AMP-23R confirmed it. The IQ takes little power indeed to reach cruising altitude above the clouds. 25 watts got far louder than I could stomach. Before all this sounds too good to be true, there’s a proviso. While the IQ is not demanding of signal voltage, it’s quite the current hog. This showed when I swapped the Enleum for 250-watt Kinki EX-B7 monos. Using the very same lateral Exicon Mosfet output transistors just many more per channel, particularly the midrange but even the lower treble improved. There’s a simple explanation. A dynamic dipole’s back doesn’t see the restorative force of compressed air. Instead it sees the same acoustic impedance as the front: our room’s total air volume. It’s why drivers specifically designed for dipole use compensate with stiffer suspensions of surround and spider. For our 6-inch Satori, higher current becomes that compensator for superior control and stop’n’go precision. Qualio Audio confirmed this.
It doesn’t mandate a high-power amp, just one which delivers proper current. Qualio recommend a Naim Nait integrated. I can see a Kinki Studio EX-M1 as ideal or their equivalent stereo amp. Alternatives from Cambridge to Rotel should suit as well. That’s it. Bar that requirement, the IQ is surprisingly unfussy, easy to set up and very easy to live with. It comes on song at already very low levels then tracks far more linear than most deep into party loudness. And, things don’t just get louder but bigger just as they do in real life. That too has an explanation. Unlike most, the IQ doesn’t kill off half its generated acoustic output above 600Hz. So it moves twice as much air than if it were a box. Higher air motion translates directly to greater dynamic range; a bit like a twin turbo without lag. Whenever the music gets even just a bit louder, it lunges forward with more exuberance. This takes no high SPL to notice. The principle applies to even background levels. This is a very energetic transducer and 180° opposite of anything dynamically monotone.
It also soundstages like a demon. This it shares with classic dual-concentric designs by KEF, Tannoy & Co. It’s often thought that their point-source behaviour and phase consistency are key. It’s certainly true that dual-concentric speakers tend to excel at depth of field with superior layer specificity. It’s as though in the farther reaches of the soundstage a (cough) Germanic fuss pot with a slide ruler laid down more heavily enforced law and order. Recorded space which during playback gets called ambient recovery has more to say. This ties directly back to our 600-8’000Hz Satori. It is a point source. After all, the highest musical fundamental occurs well below 4kHz. Anything higher is pure overtone so a harmonic. Here’s a cute experiment. Disconnect the padding resistor on the Mundorf tweeter. It breaks its signal path so the AMT mutes. WTF? Your music will continue unbroken. That exotic 6-incher really does hit 15kHz. True, the pleated Mundorf still adds some air, brilliance and sheen but nothing goes fundamentally amiss without it. Across where it matters, the IQ behaves like a classic widebander.
The combination of two big tweeters—the 6-inch Satori covers most the HF, the also large but folded so compacted AMT the very top beyond the limits of audibility—makes for very dynamic saturated highs with proper energy and gorgeous airiness. This goes beyond classic even twin-cone widebanders to compete directly with deluxe beryllium or planarmagnetic tweeters. Great treble always helps lock in image localization and champers-fizzy airiness assists hearing more spaciousness with its many subliminal trailing edges buried in the recording venue. Another reason why its staging feels so liberated and tangible must have to do with the open baffle eliminating common thru-cone effects. The loudest part of the room is always inside the speaker box. Since midranges usually aren’t ported, that’s especially true for them. Half their output remains stuck inside a sealed chamber bouncing around like blimey billiards. Do we really think that all this energy remains safely locked away so nothing makes it back out because speaker cones and their rubber surrounds are 100% soundproof? I believe that some must get out slightly delayed in time. Hearing the IQ seems to corroborate my suspicion. It tacitly doesn’t suffer the micro blur or fuzz which going back to even elite box speakers resurrects. So not only is its soundstage point-source specific and fully unfurled in the depth domain like a red carpet rolled out for visiting royalty. It’s also exceptionally lucid and high-contrast present. It’s cheap to say but really does stage entirely out of the box because there is no box!
Still there’s more. Back to dipole radiation, compare the sound of your voice in a completely bare bathroom to how you sound once curtains, towels, bathmats and other furnishings install. Early reflections across the vocal band have an enriching effect on tone. Before we’re moved in fully, a small bathroom with hard reflective tiles, mirrors, sink, bathtub and loo makes our voice sound fuller. Once we damp down many of those very early reflections with materials that behave absorptive across our vocal range, we again sound our normal flat and dry. Pavarotti is back to being just Pavel. Now you’ve made the connection. Because the IQ very actively pursues reflections across the vocal band by running open-backed, it boasts such bare-bathroom bennies. This is a purely passive/acoustic function. It doesn’t rely on any deep triode distortion from 2nd-order octave doubling or other tonal injections from active preamps whose extra gain is otherwise redundant. It’s why I enjoyed ideal tone density running my Sonnet Pasithea DAC direct into 1MHz direct- coupled transistor amps.
We’re still not done. Regular 6moons readers know that I’ve banged the cardioid subwoofer drum like a Taiko tamer. It means a dual 15-inch ‘folded open-baffle’ unit with a unique very directional radiation pattern and extension to 20Hz. More relevant for today’s discussion is that my new smart icOn crossover filter has a remote-controlled bypass switch. Normally its high pass sends +80Hz signal to the speaker amps, its low pass -80Hz signal to the sub amp. Bypass kills the sub and high pass to instead route the incoming full-range signal directly to the speakers. Sitting in the chair, I can toggle between filtered mains+sub versus unfiltered mains no sub until I tire of the exercise. That’s perfect to assess just how much or little any speaker leaves under the bass table. Voilà: unless I spin up ambient fare with strong synth bass below 30Hz, there’s no frequency response difference between sub and full-range IQ. There is a textural difference because the sub’s asymmetrical radiation with lateral nulls and a smaller lobe aimed away from the listener than at her eliminates two of my room modes and other reflective bloom which the IQ running wide open hits like any other speaker with box bass would. But relative to raw reach and power, the IQ is categorically subwoofer averse for 99% of all music. This isn’t imagination but based on instantaneous A/B. As shown, Qualio even include foamy bungs to stuff their ports should the IQ’s potent bass response overload your room.
Which gets us at the IQ’s final trump card: Cube Audio’s parentage. Buying a loudspeaker direct from Poland could be risky business. In this instance Cube already enjoy a solid reputation from a plethora of reviews and user feedback across a broad swath of outlets. On that score Qualio start fully formed very far from square one. Time to segue back to the beginning and today’s überations. What makes an über speaker? In no particular sequence, we should demand top- notch components. From crossover parts to drivers, the IQ hangs with all of the big boys. We also expect it to go loud without compression and deliver the full audible bandwidth. Check. We want uncompromised resolution so our shiny electronics with their even shinier specs aren’t held back. Double check. We expect it to be built to the Nines and look like an airbrushed fashion model. Checked out. Now reality caught up with us as you knew it eventually would. On that score the IQ cab is built solidly but certainly not overkill or even from exotic materials. No aluminium, tankwood, Krion, Corian, Avonite, concrete, stainless steel or metacrylate. It’s also just a squared-out box with basic if translucent baffle. There are no Avalon facets, Estelon twists, Sonus faber ‘lute’ shapes, Benesch organic carbon fibers, sloping baffles for time alignment, Kharma gold trim or other accoutrements of the über class.
But everything else I can think of as über it’s got in spades, including first and foremost performance. Here that starts at €5’500 a pair shipped in stout crates (certain finish options demand a surcharge). It’s as though Q lost the license to bill His Majesty’s secret slush fund while 007, very much his usual debonair self on super-fit sound, must make do with more ordinary-looking hardware. The Aston Martin is recalled and James Bond, still lethal, drives a Honda. To the right shopper, this demands not so much an interlude to think about as a fat Q.lude to dream in 4K colours while our imagination trips the lights fantastic. What aural adventures could we have if we raised our loudspeaker IQ? Over and out.
Further information: Qualio Audio