Soundbars give me anxiety. There are people who are chasing that ultimate home theater setup, who want to feel their bones rattle every time an explosion erupts on screen, but I am not one of them. I live in constant fear of upsetting my neighbors with an onslaught of massive sound they did not sign up for, meaning that every opportunity I get to test a soundbar is a mix of joy and dread, with only a slight edge to the former.
The latest is the M3 from Q Acoustics, a young audio company established in the U.K. in 2006 making its first foray into the U.S. market this year. Q Acoustics is known for its varied lineup of audio equipment that offers high quality sound at an affordable price. The M3 retails for $349.99, making it a thriftier option than similar offerings from Sonos, and a higher quality choice than the $100 fare you can find in big box stores.
Sitting in the middle means it won’t offer all the bells and whistles home theater enthusiasts might want from a device of this kind, but could be a great option for those just building their setups, or anyone looking to move beyond their TV’s built-in speakers. It still has to prove itself, though. At $350, it doesn’t have the benefit of being a harmless impulse buy like Vizio’s $99 alternative, meaning it has to deliver a sound that impresses.
Most soundbars are boring. They’re long, thin, black rectangles. Sometimes they have a separate subwoofer, other times not. Little excitement accompanies the hardware of a soundbar, typically. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to unbox the M3 and not find a long, thin, black rectangle. The first thing separating Q Acoustic’s hardware from its contemporaries is the pedestal, allowing room for the 4×6-inch downward firing subwoofer which, coupled with the angular shape of the grill, gives the entire package a far more interesting and sleek look. It almost looks aerodynamic, like it could take off from your TV cabinet and fly out the window.
The speaker is solid and well constructed, and though it shouldn’t have to withstand a beating, it will be up to the task of delivering your home audio for years. While not massive, the M3 is lengthy, stretching the entire width of a 40-inch TV, so you’ll want to keep your current furniture in mind. I was able to slide it easily into my setup, and I imagine most people would be the same. Even with it’s significant length, the M3 is thin enough to sit in front of your TV on most stands.
Aside from a small touch of branding on the front, the rest of the M3 is nondescript. On the top is an array of three buttons, power with volumes on either side, and framing the power toggle is an LED light that changes colors based on the source. Q Acoustics would have been wise to change the location of the lights, if not the entire button arrangement. Having the LEDs on the top of the speaker make them impossible to see if you have the soundbar level, or above, your eyeline. The location also causes issues with the remote, making it a challenge to establish a connection with the infrared receiver on the speaker.
That little rectangle, no more than a few inches long with six small circular buttons arranged in a straight line from top to bottom, is the most frustrating aspect of the entire product. Using it is a lesson in madness. It almost never works the first, or second, or third, or fourth or fifth time you press a button. You have to whip your arm about like you’re doing the nae nae until you find a position that works, and then not move an inch once you find the sweet spot. The good news is that the flailing can be avoided. Included in the host of I/O ports is an HDMI connection with ARC support. ARC stands for Audio Return Channel and it allows the TV to act as the conduit for all your sound. You can plug in numerous devices, a streaming box, gaming console, etc., into your TV and then use an ARC supported output to connect all those devices to your exterior audio equipment without the need for separate cables. For our purposes here, the great thing about having an HDMI ARC connection is that you can bypass the atrocious remote.
If you prefer a connection other than HDMI for your audio, there are RGB, digital optical and 3.5mm connectors along with Bluetooth AptX and NFC. Also on the back is a preset EQ switch, which lets users customize the sound based on how the bar is arranged in their setup; on top of the cabinet, in the cabinet or mounted to the wall. During my testing, the difference in sound was negligible, though the “On” setting seemed to be the fullest and most wide open. In comparison, with the EQ on the “In” setting, it was clear the M3 was pushing the sound outward more, with little audio heading upward. That proved the switch was doing something, but the effect is not one that will astound.
The sound is bright and crisp. The strength of this speaker lies in the high frequencies, with mids and highs taking a leading role. Bass is still present and is typically tight, though can get buzzy at higher volumes. My primary issue is not the lack of bass, but the coolness of the overall sound. I prefer my audio on the warmer side, and the M3 doesn’t offer that. You can’t accurately say it’s missing the low end, but the bass isn’t as well-rounded as I’ve heard elsewhere, leading to an overall sound that can feel thin and distant at times. The thump is there, but it’s not as impactful as I would like.
This rears its head when watching TV shows or movies, as well. In those moments where you expect the room to rattle, the M3 doesn’t deliver. Every so often, the speaker will emit a low rumble, but the level of immersion is not as good as it could be if the soundbar was paired with an external subwoofer. It’s a disappointment, surely, given that there is a dedicated woofer on board, but one that at least can be remedied down the road. The lack of power on the lower end is great for my anxiety, though. I was less worried about upsetting the neighborhood during my weeks of testing, but for $350 I would rather the neighbors be damned if it meant a warmer, more inviting sound that’s capable of making you feel that Michael Bay explosion.
Other than the wimpy bass, the rest of the M3’s audio performance is solid. The bar features Balanced Mode Radiator drivers, which are supposed to help with clarity for dialogue and widening the soundstage. Dialogue is clear in those shows and movies where it’s the driving component, but in action movies, imbalanced sound remains a very real issue. That’s not entirely the fault of Q Acoustics, but the BMR drivers touted to help solve that issue didn’t live up to the promise in my testing.
It may not blow you away acoustically, but the M3 does deliver audio that is solid given the price range. Certainly better than your TV’s speakers, and with enough detail and performance from the higher frequencies for a sound that is sure to please unless you’re prone to nitpicking. For my taste, the sound could be warmer, and I wish Q Acoustics had put as much dedication into drawing out the low-end as it did the mids and highs, but your taste may differ.
If you’re drowning in terrible, tinny sound from your TV speakers, the first logical move to upgrade your home theater setup is a soundbar. There are loads of options, in numerous price brackets, on the market which can make it tough to come to a decision as a buyer. Q Acoustics is hoping to make the choice easier with the M3, and in a lot of ways it has. The U.K. company’s soundbar is dead simple to use, and delivers a sound that will blow your TV out of the water, even if it could use a separate subwoofer to reach its peak potential.
For $349.99, the M3 offers enough quality to make it a good value. The additional subwoofer, which you may come to find you don’t need, would up that price, but even still there’s enough here to make the M3 a worthwhile purchase.