With movie and TV streaming services on the rise, more of us are turning to the living room or bedroom to binge on the latest content. While TV picture quality constantly improves in the latest tellies, it's rare that audio direct from such screens is at its most capable - unless you're forking out thousands of pounds.
If you want to boost TV sound at a more reasonable price point, you need to look at something like a soundbar or soundbase, the latter being a neat under-the-TV option.
British company Q Acoustics already has some successful soundbars on the market, so its first foray into the soundbase market, with the M2, brings with it bags of experience and plenty of bassy wallop, too.
Is the Q Acoustics M2 designed to go under the TV?
- 550mm x 93mm x 338mm; 5.8kg
- 2x 20W BMR drivers, 1x 40W subwoofer
- Optical, HDMI in (ARC support), RCA, 3.5mm AUX
- Bluetooth aptX for wireless streaming
The principal idea of a soundbase is for you to place your TV on top of it. The Q Acoustics M2 can support TVs up to 25kg in weight, which by 2017 standards gives you a lot of room to play with, since a lot of modern sets are pretty light. Do make sure that your TV's feet/legs will sit on top of the soundbase's dimensions, however, as various tellies won't.
The Q Acoustics M2 sports a fairly plain design, which makes it look like "just another black box" - but that's fitting for a product that you want to more-or-less hide in plain sight. It's not a looker like the Sonos PlayBase, for example, but then Sonos has a clear design ethos - plus that base costs £400 more, making it more than double the Q Acoustics M2 proposition.
Connections to the rear include a digital optical input, HDMI input that supports ARC (Audio Return Channel, so you can use your TV remote to change the volume), RCA input and 3.5mm AUX. You also get aptX Bluetooth for wirelessly streaming from compatible devices.
On top of the soundbase is a power button, which can also be used to change the audio source and volume up/down buttons. Q Acoustics also supplies a credit card-sized remote to control volume, source, power and adjust the EQ from music to movie.
Is the Q Acoustics M2 stereo or surround sound capable?
- Music and Movie EQ presets
- Generous selection of inputs
Q Acoustics has given the M2 two different EQ presets: Music and Movie. It's pretty clear which mode is meant for which scenario and, by default, the M2 runs in Music mode out of the box. You'll probably want to leave it in this mode when watching regular TV, as it gives you a more direct sound compared to the expanded soundstage that Movie mode offers.
If you mess around with the equaliser settings and forget which mode you're in, Q Acoustics has a nifty way of letting you know: press the EQ button on the remote and if the square of light around the power button turns red then you've put it into Music mode; if it's yellow, then that's in Movie mode. This square of light also denotes which source you're using: white for optical; blue for Bluetooth; green for line-in 1 and 2; and purple for HDMI.
The M2 only outputs audio in 2.1 channels, i.e. stereo with centre sub. It doesn't emulate a full 5.1 surround system, nor can it handle Dolby Atmos. That's to be expected at this price, though, and we don't feel it's a negative considering how well it performs in its 2.1 setup. Besides, not everyone wants the bells-and-whistles audio setup that'll cost considerably more cash.
We placed our M2 on top of a cabinet during testing, but if you don't have such luxury or wish to place it inside a cabinet, Q Acoustics has integrated two different modes. Switching between these modes will adjust the sound profile accordingly, so it doesn't reverberate within the cabinet space, instead firing sound directly into the room.
How good does the Q Acoustics M2 sound?
When it comes to sound, we can confidently say the Q Acoustics M2 delivers a huge, room-filling sound with impressively clear detail, right from the off.
Some soundbars and soundbases are all about the bass - giving more attention to big explosions and the classic downpitched "wooom" - but can neglect vocal clarity. With the M2, however, vocal performance is among its strongest assets, punching through the low-end bass to keep you engaged with the action on screen.
That's not to say bass is left struggling, not even one bit. When we first heard the M2 at a preview event we were impressed with the level of support it gave movie soundtracks and music. But after setting it up in our own room at home, our impressions were elevated even higher. There's not too much bass, or too little: Q Acoustics has hit the balance just right, delivering an incredibly well-balanced sound that should leave other soundbases quaking in their boots.
The soundstage can't fully rival or emulate 5.1 surround sound, so can't quite reach the levels of some rival soundbars, but the M2's 2.1 stereo performance is exemplary. It adds extra depth to movies that you just don't get from a TV, or other soundbars and bases at this price for that matter.
Playing both the John Wick movies (one after the other, not simultaneously) was a perfect example of how much extra the Q Acoustics M2 adds. From the rumble of the engine from John's '69 Mustang, to the intensity of gun shots, plus the hard-hitting soundtracks - it was all delivered with energy and excitement. The improvement over a typical TV's sound quality is like chalk and cheese.
One of the main reasons for its top-notch performance is the BMR (Balanced Mode Radiator) speaker drivers, which promise to deliver a 180-degree sound field and eliminate the so-called "sweet spot" in the room. All we can say: it works. Because of our room setup, we had to sit 90-degrees to the M2, so it wasn't firing right at us. But when we moved to sit face-on to the product it didn't make any difference at all. It's an impressive design and one that we imagine will help a lot of consumers when it comes to placement - as there's no need to worry about being in the perfect position.
It's not just TV and movie viewing that the M2 can improve, it's a dab-hand when it comes to music too. Q Acoustics is a hi-fi company at its heart, so music quality shines in Music mode. Many soundbars can be good at improving the sound of your TV, but fail miserably when you want to play music through them because they put too much emphasis on bass. Not so the M2, which keeps bass levels just right so that vocals can cut through.
If you want to improve the sound of your TV on a sensible budget, then the Q Acoustics M2 is a great stereo with subwoofer solution. It provides a huge step-up over typically thin TV sound, while comfortably out-performing rival products at a similar price.
Sure, there may be other accomplished products out there, such as the Sonos PlayBase, which can obviously integrate with a Sonos system if you have one, but it costs a lot more. The M2 is all about cost effectiveness.
Importantly, the M2's sound profile is great. Whether in Movie or Music modes, the BMR drivers and sound-adjusting profiles ensure it sounds wide and rich from all angles. You can really turn it up when you want to show off to your friends, or keep it down if you don't want to disturb the neighbours.
After a week of using the M2, we disconnected it from our TV just to see what the difference would be. All we can say is we had to plug it back in immediately, because its sound improvement is something that we can now no longer live without. A pricier system might be fancier, but at this price we don't care: the M2 delivers everything we could want and more.
The alternatives to consider
The Sonos PlayBase is just as easy to recommend as the Q Acoustics M2. It sounds phenomenal and can be used as part of a Sonos system, either for music or a complete home theatre experience. You do get a lot for your money, but you need to spend £400 more to get the PlayBase over the M2. Is it worth it? Some will say yes, we however, would suggest you seriously consider the M2 before making any brash decisions.
Read the full article: Sonos PlayBase review
If it’s full immersive audio you’re after, but you don’t have space for a full-sized speaker package, the Samsung HW-K750 Dolby Atmos soundbar will hold you in good stead. It’s great at emulating the enveloping sound effect Atmos provides, all from a soundbar, a couple of compact and easy-to-place speakers and a subwoofer.
Read the full article: Samsung HW-K750 review