Q Acoustics M3 Soundbar

Tech Radar

You may not have heard of Q Acoustics before but the British audio brand has been around since 2006. The company produced some great-sounding speakers throughout the years but, like every other speaker maker, Q Acoustics began making soundbars because of consumer demand. 

The company’s first soundbar, the Q Acoustics M4 , wowed us with its sound, value and ease of use. While it wasn't much to look at, the M4 topped of our list of best soundbars for its exceptional performance-to-price ratio. That means its little brother, the $350 (£299 or about AU$500) M3, has some big shoes to fill. 

Design

While the Q Acoustics M4 was a bit conservative with its boxy styling, the M3 looks sleeker with curves and a fancy silver stand that makes the speaker look like it's hovering when viewed dead on. We hesitate to call it pretty – especially when compared to the competition – but it’s definitely a step up from the M4. 

Thanks to the silver stand, the Q Acoustics M3 can be placed on a flat surface or wall mounted. Since wall mounting changes the orientation of the soundbar, you’ll have to flip some switches on the back of the unit before mounting it. 

Measuring in at 7 x 100 x 12.5cm (H x W x D), the M3 isn’t exactly 'small' but it's petite enough to fit most entertainment cabinets. If you decide to wall mount it, the M3 won’t stick out as far as the M3 thanks to the new, slimmer design. 

Build quality of the Q Acoustics M3 is good, and it's definitely sturdy, but there is a lot of plastic – the black grille and silver stand are made of metal but the soundbar body is made of plastic. 

The plastic doesn’t detract from the build quality at all, but the power and volume buttons on top do. (The buttons feel cheap when pressed and make a sharp click.) It’s not a deal breaker by any means, especially since you’ll only need to press them when switching sources since volume can be adjusted via your TV’s remote control. Q Acoustics bundles a remote with the M3 but it’s utter rubbish. Stick to using your TV’s remote instead.

Around the back you’ll find inputs for HDMI (ARC), optical, RCA, and aux. The inclusion of HDMI is a departure from the M4 which did not include the popular input. Instead, M4 users were forced to the optical connection. 

If you're planning on running the M3 sans wires, there’s Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX support built in and pairing with the M3 couldn’t be easier. If your phone has NFC enabled, simply put your phone on top of the soundbar and you’ll be prompted to pair. While it's not as seamless as something like the Sonos Playbase , using the M3 as a Bluetooth speaker for your mobile device is still pretty straightforward. 

Setup

Setting up the Q Acoustics M3 is extremely straightforward. All you need to do is find the HDMI ARC port on your TV and plug in the soundbar. 

For our TV, we had to dig in the TV’s menu to change the audio output to Bitstream and PCM format. We were initially left confused as this step wasn’t mentioned in the quickstart guide but it was simple enough to figure out. 

Bluetooth pairing is achieved via NFC or via the Bluetooth button on the back of the soundbar. Pairing works just like any other speaker and the soundbar remembers up to 8 different devices at a time. 

Remember, if you’re wall mounting the soundbar or putting it inside a cabinet, you’ll want to toggle the switch on the back to the appropriate setting. 

Performance

Like the M4, the M3 provides an exceptional price-to-performance ratio, giving listeners a balanced presentation for music and movies. The soundbar can get loud and has no problem filling the room with sound. That said, there is some sibilance and distortion and high volume, but you really have to be pushing the soundbar hard to hear it. 

Where the M3 falls flat is in its low-end: Bass is a weakness of the M3 and it sounds bloated and uncontrolled at times. Bass-heavy songs sound boomy and movies lacked the impact of more expensive soundbars. That’s not to say the bass M3’s bass sounds bad, but there’s definitely some room for improvement. 

Despite some problems with the lower registers, music sounds good overall with a slightly warm presentation in the mids and bass regions. Watching movies, the Q Acoustics M3 did a great job adding more excitement and weight to fighting and action sequences. Glass shattering sounded more realistic and punches landed with authority. The M3 could benefit from added bass impact of a subwoofer but most users will be satisfied with its sound out of the box. 

Surprisingly, while movies sounded quite wide, music sounded center heavy and lacked the expansive soundstage of more expensive soundbars and speakers. Cars moving across the frame, bullets flying from off screen and dialogue all sounded very directional with impressive sound stage width and height. It’s apparent the M3 was tuned for movies and not music.

So, where is your money better spent? 

Let it be said that the Q Acoustics M3 sounds great for its price. You’ll have to pay a lot more money to get better sound. However, spend $50 (£30) more and you can have the Q Acoustics M4, which sounds even better. You’ll have to live with the M4’s boxy design and optical-only connection but those tradeoffs may be worth it for those looking for the best sound. 

It’s a bit strange that Q Acoustics is offering both the M3 and M4 as they are more similar than different, especially with only a $50 difference between them. While the M4 sounds a bit better, the M3 is more modern in its design and input selection with the inclusion of HDMI ARC. 

Verdict 

If you want a soundbar that just works, sounds good and doesn’t break the bank, the Q Acoustics M3 is a winner. It sounds better than most entry-level soundbars but is ironically overshadowed by its own brother, the M4. For a little more money, you should consider getting the M4 for its better sound if you don’t mind losing the HDMI input. 

Performance of the Q Acoustics M3 is more oriented toward movies than music so keep that in consideration. Music performance is fine but sounds confined compared to the way the M3 sounds when playing movies. The Q Acoustics M4 was such a hit that the M3 had a lot to live up to and, for the most part, it does. 

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