Everyone loves the underdog. Having been one most of my life there is a special place in my heart for those that win when nobody expects that outcome. Those that refuse to quit and keep plugging away until they overtake the mighty who have sat on the iron throne. Q Acoustics have been the underdog when it comes to British loudspeaker manufacturers — but no longer.

Not only are they making some of the best loudspeakers for the money right now on either side of the pond — but some of the best loudspeakers period for those of us who truly care about better sound quality. The Concept 30 and Q Acoustics 5040 that we just reviewed are prime examples of that and based on the market response so far — consumers really wanted the 5000 series to be something special considering the price range of the lineup and they have been rewarded.

While listening to the 5040 over the past two weeks with two additional amplifiers; the Rotel S14 Streaming Amplifier and NAD C 316BEE V2 Integrated Amplifier, it dawned on me just how much things have changed over the past few years in the entry-level and mid-tier categories.

Q Acoustics 5040 Loudspeaker Pair with and without grilles

Very few of us get to play with the cost-no-object loudspeakers and components; and even though I have access to a myriad of products from dozens of manufacturers in that range, I really don’t excited by them anymore. Not in the same manner as products like the Q Acoustics 5040, Cambridge Audio CXA81, Naim Uniti Atom, or Pro-Ject X2B Turntable.

Access to sonic nirvana has never been more affordable and whilst not every manufacturer is interested in that part of the market, there is no question that consumers are; especially those who are new to our little corner of the galaxy and have jumped in because of the resurgence of vinyl and the exponential growth of digital music streaming.

You Found My iPhone In Indiana?

Indiana has been made popular again as the setting for Stranger Things, but my film memory takes me back to smaller films like Hoosiers, and Breaking Away that championed the underdog; the championship game footage and winning basket are certainly an emotional lift but the final moments from the race where the Cutters win the famed bike race in their hometown against the snobby rich kids from Indiana University is a genuine moment of triumph for the working class kids. Dennis Quaid and Paul Dooley are particularly strong in the film and it has never lost its charm. Available at Amazon.

Having started with the underdog angle, it would only make sense to explain why the Q Acoustics 5040 have me rather excited; their ability to perform so magnificently with amplifiers from $500 to $6,500 USD is not how things usually work in this category.

As I mentioned in my initial review, the 5040 demonstrated that they could rise to the occasion when driven by something like the $6,500 Cambridge Audio Edge A Integrated Amplifier; an amplifier that I usually use with the Magnepan LRS and most recently with the superb Bowers & Wilkins 703 S3. My review of the 703 S3 is forthcoming this month and the three loudspeakers offer a very different take on sound reproduction.

Which one is best? They all do specific things better than the other two loudspeakers and considering the price differences between the three of them — that’s been a rather interesting thing to uncover.

The review process in regard to the 5040 and 703 S3 took a slight nosedive when someone broke into our car this past week and stole my iPhone 12 which gets used as a remote for a wide range of streaming devices and platforms; how it ended up in Indiana has left me wondering about the state of my fellow Americans at the moment. Fortunately, my youngest loaned me her spare iPad whilst I waited for Verizon and Apple to get a new iPhone replacement for me.

NAD C 316BEE V2

NAD C 316BEE V2 Stereo Integrated Amplifier
NAD C 316BEE V2

Taking a quick look at the numbers, the $500 NAD integrated amplifier should not be an ideal match for the 5040, but as I discovered with the Q Acoustics 3050i — the numbers can be very deceiving.

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45 watts are enough to drive the 5040 in a room like mine (16′ x 13′ x 9′), but the tonal balance and speed are far more important in this particular case. The 5040 are more neutral sounding than the larger 3050i and the NAD offers just enough of a bump in the upper bass and lower midrange to change the overall tonal balance in a very positive way.

The NAD’s treble energy awakened the rather polite sounding 3050i and we were curious to see how that would play out with the 5040 which have a more open sounding top end, greater detail, and a slightly crisper sounding overall presentation.

After listening to Amy Winehouse, Dvorak, Don Cherry, Freddie Hubbard, and Ben Folds, it became apparent that my Clarus loudspeaker cables were not working as well with the NAD/Q Acoustics combination as they had with the Cambridge/5040 setup.

Out went the Clarus and I substituted both the QED Reference XT40i and Analysis Plus Black Oval 12 Loudspeaker Cables; both cables are 1/10th the price of the cables they replaced.

The QED is the more neutral sounding cable of the two and did very little in regard to changing the tonal balance of the NAD. The Analysis Plus is warmer sounding overall with less detail and certainly added more color to the overall presentation.

The bigger point is that the rather inexpensive QED and Analysis Plus cables were a better match than the Clarus.

Cambridge Audio MXN10 Network Player Angle
MXN10

The NAD worked well with both the Bluesound NODE and Cambridge Audio MXN10 Network Players; both units added some color overall to almost every track with the NAD which I felt was a positive.

The MXN10 digs a little deeper in regard to detail and is marginally more transparent sounding than the NODE; the Bluesound player rounds off the edges at both extremes and that might appeal to some with the 5040 if you are looking for a thicker sounding bottom end.

The NAD C 316BEE V2 can certainly work with the 5040, but don’t expect the little Canadian amplifier to control the loudspeaker with the same degree of authority as the much larger Edge A.

From a speed perspective, the NAD accentuates the excellent pace and timing of the 5040 rather well.

Rotel S14 Streaming Amplifier

Rotel S14 Integrated Streaming Amplifier Black Front with Remote
Rotel S14 Integrated Streaming Amplifier

I must confess that I have struggled with the S14 from the very beginning of the review process; and not because it isn’t a very capable sounding network amplifier. My issue is that it doesn’t excite me in the same way as the Rotel A14MKII Integrated Amplifier and that has proven to be a surprise.

Combined with the Bluesound NODE or Cambridge MXN10, the A14MKII is a more expensive proposition compared to the S14 network amplifier, but it just makes music move with greater immediacy and swagger.

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Rotel A14MKII Integrated Amplifier Front Silver
Rotel A14MKII Integrated Amplifier

The A14MKII feels like it has more to give and the overall presentation is more transparent sounding. The S14 can drive the hell out of the 5040 and 3050i, but it comes across as too loose in my book and I never really got into the presentation.

The bass response with either Rotel amplifier was thicker than it was tight and that might not be the worst thing with the 5040 which already have very well defined low response — but without the visceral impact of the 3050i.

I may have to give the Rotel/5040 combination another listen but my initial impression with the S14 was less than inspiring.

Q Acoustics 5040 Loudspeaker Rear Angle in Oak

Next Up?

Three very different sounding amplifiers from Unison Research, Marantz, and NAD.

Have I discovered my favorite combination? You will be very surprised by the final system configuration.

Where to buy$1,499/pair at Crutchfield

Previous stories about the 5040:

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