Q Acoustics Concept 300: Magic happens when a budget audio brand makes $4,500 speakers

Ask an audio engineer what their biggest hurdle designing an awesome speaker is, and chances are it’s not a lack of knowledge or technology, but budget constraints. Any engineering team at a reputable audio company has the know-how to design an awesome speaker if price weren’t an issue. The difficulty lies in maximizing performance at a given budget.

So what happens when Q Acoustics, a high-value company whose speakers mostly range from $200 to $500, decides to let loose? First, you get the $6,000 Concept 500, a pair of tower speakers that launched in late 2017 to rave reviews. And now, you get the Concept 300, a more compact pair of bookshelf speakers that might still be a steal at $4,500.

I had the chance to spend some time with them this week, and I’m counting the days until I listen to them again.

Where most high-end speakers focus primarily on adding more drivers or building them with exotic materials, Q Acoustics is all about the cabinet that surrounds the drivers. It’s not that difficult to make drivers that sound really good, and to that point, Q Acoustics uses ordinary materials for its woofer and tweeter. But on most speakers, this sound becomes distorted by resonances in the cabinet, creating interference that muddies up detail and the stereo field.

Q Acoustics gets around this with the Concept 300 in a few clever ways. First, is something called ‘Dual Gelcore,’ an update to technology it introduced with the Concept 20 and 40 a few years back. Each speaker is built like a Russian nesting doll, made up of three layers of MDF wood. The two gaps between these are filled with a special gel that absorbs vibrations. Anytime the cabinet vibrates, the gel absorbs the energy and converts it into heat. (The Concept 20 and 40 only used one Gelcore layer).

But this was true of the Concept 500 as well. What really sets the Concept 300 apart is its ‘Tensegrity‘ stands, and the way Q Acoustics couples the speakers to them. In fact, the stands are such a crucial part of the vibration-reducing equation that Q Acoustics includes them with every purchase. They also might be the coolest-looking stands out there.

Aluminum rods bear the weight of the speakers, while steel cables under tension keep the rods in place. This creates a strong, stable structure with minimal volume, reducing the potential for sympathetic vibrations through this stand. Furthering this effect is a spring-loaded base on the bottom of the Concept 300s, which absorbs even more vibrations. This and many other touches lead to a cabinet that the company claims is near silent; you can read Q Acoustics’ white paper for more.

But okay, you get it: the speaker gets rid of bad vibrations. So how do they sound?

As many speakers as I’ve heard through my line of work, my experience with products above $4,000 is more limited. I also don’t feel comfortable making comparisons with speakers I haven’t heard in my own listening environment.

So what can I say? They sounded glorious. They were some of the best speakers I’ve ever heard. Even though I was sitting far left of the sweet spot, they displayed one of the most remarkably well-defined stereo images I’ve had a chance to listen to. The midrange seemed to have perfect tonality, I could hear all the small details in music I’ve heard a hundred times – something I normally reserve for headphone listening.

To be fair, Q Acoustics brought me to Flux Studios in Manhattan, so I had the advantage of hearing the speakers in an acoustically-treated room. The Concept 300 are passivespeakers and don’t attempt to do any room correction the way many speakers with digital signal processing do, and could very well sound different in a lesser room.

And being passive, they’re ‘only’ rated at 55hz(-6dB) for bass extension. That’s certainly solid in the realm of passive speakers, but I’ve been spoiled by active speakers that can dig deeper than you’d expect. They have plenty of thump, but you might want a subwoofer for movies and the like.

Still, I knew I was listening to something really special. I’ll leave it at that until I get the chance to spend more time with them in my own, not quite-so-fancy living space. I’ll be waiting eagerly.

Published February 2, 2019 — 02:24 UTC

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If tech companies are hurting journalism, can they also help save it?

As professions go, journalism isn’t exactly known for its stability. The last half of January only served to highlight this, with dramatic layoffs across several top-tier digital publications, including Vice, Buzzfeed News, and the Huffington Post. But buried under a heaping pile of pink slips and P45s was a rare spot of good news.

The business wing of the Raspberry Pi foundation today announced the acquisition of two print tech magazines formerly belonging to the UK’s Dennis Publishing, namely Custom PC and Digital SLR Photography.

You read that right. Print.

This move arguably saved these publications from the chopping block. Over the past decade, technology journalism’s struggling print wing has been trapped in a terminal death spiral, with the loss of several iconic titles, including PC Zone, MacUser and Computer and Video Games.

Although Dennis Publishing MD John Grewal said the aforementioned titles had made £4.2 million ($5.5M USD) for their parent in the past decade, they were not part of its “new strategic focus.” Dennis is also aiming to sell the website Know Your Mobile, although this isn’t believed to be part of the Raspberry Pi deal.

Tech journalists — well, all journalists, really — tend to look at change with an eye of trepidation. Acquisitions are often used as an excuse for savage cost-cutting measures, with seasoned and loyal writers fired and replaced with cheaper freelancers. But actually, there’s room for hope here. For starters, the Raspberry Pi team actually believes there’s a long-term prospect for success in print, and over the past few years has quietly built a portfolio of titles under its Raspberry Pi Press arm. You could make the case that today, the Raspberry Pi project is every bit as much a publisher as it is a computer manufacturer.

In 2015, it acquired Raspberry Pi fanzine The MagPi, and has quietly developed it into the publication of record for the community. The Raspberry Pi Press also owns Wireframe, a gaming publication with an emphasis on the developer side of things, as well as Hackspace Magazine, which targets the maker community.

If I worked for Custom PC, I’d be glad that it was being taken over by someone with a long-term vision for the industry, rather than, say, a private equity firm looking to make a quick buck.

And then there’s the fact that there’s a tremendous synergy between the Raspberry Pi project, and the publications it’s acquired.

Take Custom PC, for example. Although you can’t change the RAM or the CPU on a Raspberry Pi computer, there are other (arguably more meaningful) ways to can customize it, thanks to its built-in GPIO ports. For example, you can turn it into a poor man’s TiVO by attaching the Raspberry Pi TV Hat.

As for Digital SLR Photography, again, there are obvious synergies. The Raspberry Pi computer forms the basis of countless photography projects. You can use it to control the camera itself, or to power accessories like sliders, in order to take stunning panoramic photographs.

To be clear, I don’t for a second believe the Raspberry Pi Press will turn these publications into advertorials. I think, for the most part, things will remain business as usual.

So, wait. What’s happening?

It’s rare to see a technology publication become so deeply intertwined with a tech company — although I note that the Raspberry Pi project, with a non-profit foundation at its heart, isn’t exactly what you’d consider to be a traditional tech company. Tech journalists cover companies; they seldom work for them. That’s arguably because there’s a lot of bad blood between the Fourth Estate and the tech industry. Part of the problem is that publications compete with Google and Facebook for the same shrinking pool of advertising money, and right now, they’re losing — badly.

There’s also the fact that many of the publications feel hard done by, especially as far as Facebook is involved. Websites and blogs live at the mercy of Facebook’s ranking algorithm, and traffic from the world’s biggest social network site all but dried up in 2016 after it made significant changes. Another problem is that many publications feel mislead by Mark Zuckerberg, after he overstated the revenue and traffic potential of social video, forcing sites to pursue the financially ruinous tactic of pivoting towards video. But when you look beyond that, there are signs that the tech industry (and, perhaps more accurately, leaders within the tech industry) is recognizing the value of written content, and is investing heavily in this.

The most interesting example is Stripe, which owns a publishing house that focuses on books that offer deep, often philosophical takes on economics and technology. Since first launching in July, 2018, Stripe Press has published four titles, with a further two coming soon.

Another great example is the iconic Time Magazine, which was acquired last year by Marc Benioff — the deep-pocketed philanthropist founder of Salesforce. And of course, there’s The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

And if we’re just focusing on tech-related content, you could also mention Microsoft, which owns LinkedIn, and consequently Lynda.com.

What comes next?

Although the Internet has made it easier than ever to become a publisher. From deep journalism to opinion pieces, from contemplative thinkpieces to and makeup tutorials, if you’ve got an idea, you can share it with an audience of potentially millions — or even billions.

But despite that, making the numbers work remains an ever elusive challenge. Finding a revenue model that’s simultaneously scalable, predictable, and repeatable seems impossible for all but the largest publishers. The acquisition and formation of publications by tech magnates and companies, therefore, shouldn’t be sniffed at as a potential lifeline for this struggling industry.

This is also true for traditional print publications, which have struggled over the past few years. In the case of Custom PC and Digital SLR Photography magazines, the acquisition by the Raspberry Pi project could bring about a new infusion of money, creativity, and crucially, could expose them to a new generation of coders and creatives that possibly have never bought a magazine before.

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Q Acoustics Concept 300: Magic happens when a budget audio brand makes $4,500 speakers

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National Geographic and more map the future of marketing at TNW2019

When done right, a marketing campaign can be one of the most powerful ways for brands to attract and engage audiences. But how can you stand out from the crowd? From seamless CGI in movie promo to using the #MeToo movement to rebrand yourself, we’re seeing technology and new strategies pave the way for meaningful marketing and storytelling.

It’s exciting to think about the possibilities of new mediums and tech to tell authentic stories in the future. At TNW2019, our technology conference in Amsterdam, the Re:Brand track will explore just that. We already have some cool speakers lined up, from brands that are at the forefront of powerful marketing. Don’t miss National Geographic, Zendesk, and more share their visions for the future.

Want a sneak peak at what our speakers will talk about? Here are some of the major themes they’ll be exploring:


Brand identity is dynamic – it’s important to reinvent yourself to keep up with the emerging landscape. The problem? People tend to dislike change. For example, we’re still getting used to Slack’s new logo.

So how do brands keep their customers loyal to them through a rebranding? Speakers like Toke Nygaard, CCO of Zendesk, will discuss how the most successful rebrands of the year pulled it off. He’ll walk through the strategies and choices that have the most powerful impacts, and how to weather the potential backlash.

Check out Zendesk’s video explaining their rebrand:

From product to purpose

How can brands build communities and start movements? Creating a strong brand ethos can be very rewarding, but it’s hard to get it right. It has to feel like a natural step, and come from a sincere place.

A great example of a brand that successfully embodies an ethos is National Geographic. With a focus on the beauty of nature and humanity, it was a natural step to align their brand with the fight against global warming.

Their Executive Vice President of Global Brand Strategy, Emanuele Madeddu, will talk about how he develops strategies and award-winning multimedia campaigns. Don’t miss his TNW2019 talk!

Changing channels

The words we use matter. In the world of marketing, the mantra “be authentic” has lost all meaning. So how can we ensure that we’re using the right messaging, and on the right channels?

At Re:Brand, we’ll talk about the latest platforms, tools, and communication strategies that will have an impact in the coming years. Alain Sylvain, CEO of Sylvain Labs, will discuss how marketers have overused terms like innovation, diversity, and empathy – and how it’s not too late to reclaim them. Drawing from neuroscience and pop culture, he’ll share how these terms can help reinvigorate our creativity to produce, well, innovative marketing campaigns.

If you’re in marketing, branding, or advertising, the Re:Brand track is for you. Don’t miss our lineup of speakers discuss the latest technology and trends that will keep you ahead of the game – get your TNW2019 tickets now.

Want all the latest news about TNW2019 in realtime? Follow @TNWEvents on Twitter and Facebook!

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This week’s Facebook-Google-Apple drama, explained

With so much happening in the tech world, this week feels like it’s 21 days long. The highlight of the week has been the Facebook–Google–Apple saga that’s seen numerous developments with major privacy implications over just a few hours. There’s a lot to chew on in this story, so I’d like to present a timeline of events to help you catch up with what’s been going with these three tech giants over the past couple of days.

Late Tuesday night, TechCrunch published a sensational story detailing how Facebook paid $20 to users – some in their teens – to let the company monitor their activities on their iPhones. It used a rehashed VPN app, named it Facebook Research, circumvented the App Store to distribute it, and used non-Apple beta testing platforms like Applause, BetaBound, and uTest in order to avoid running afoul of Apple’s policies for software on its platform.

As part of what it called “Project Atlas,” Facebook asked testers to install the Research app via a URL and verify the app by installing a separate enterprise certificate and grant the app extensive permissions to monitor and access user data. Hours after the report was published, Facebook said it had shut down the Research app.

Credit: TechCrunch
uTest campaigns

Now, ideally, iOS enterprise certificates are meant to allow developers to test apps internally within their organization, so that they can extensively test their software under real-world conditions. This helps ensure that the final version of the app that’s made available to users is bug-free.

According to Apple’s policy, a company can’t distribute apps to users, ask them to sign it with an enterprise developer certificate, and collect data. So the Cupertino-based company revoked Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate on Wednesday:

We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization. Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple. Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case to protect our users and their data.

This step rendered all Facebook’s internal iOS apps ineffective, including the shuttle app it used for transporting staff between different parts of its massive headquarters. The company’s employees were understandably upset over the rift between the two firms; one of them told Business Insider, “This is probably one of the worse things that can happen to the company internally,” and “Apple hates Facebook so it is their attempt to take Facebook down.”

Meanwhile, TechCrunch found that Google also used Apple’s enterprise developer certificate to distribute a similar iOS app called Screenwise Meter. It rewarded users for granting access to their usage data on their phones. Google quickly apologized and shuttered the app.

Google’s Screenwise Meter app for iOS

Earlier this morning, Apple revoked Google’s enterprise developer certificate as well – rendering some of the early versions of Maps, Gmail, and the company’s internal cafeteria app unusable. Within hours, Google said in a statement that its enterprise certificate has been restored. Last night, Apple reinstated Facebook’s certificate as well.

There’s more: Yesterday, Facebook sent out an internal memo defending its Research Program. The memo said that TechCrunch’s claims of Facebook ‘spying’ on the users are false. The company didn’t admit or apologize for violating Apple’s privacy policy; rather, it said, “Apple‘s view is that we violated their terms by sideloading this app, and they decide the rules for their platform.”

While Apple did its job of keeping companies from misusing its enterprise developer program, some critics think that the iPhone-maker wields a lot of power over others.

It’s surely necessary to keep companies like Apple in check, but in this particular instance, it was simply following its App Store guidelines.

If there’s one key takeaway from all this, it’s that Facebook needs to take a good, hard look at its methods of collecting and monetizing user data in order to keep shareholders happy. From that internal memo, it’s clear the company’s not apologetic about it.

It’s been a stressful week. Grab a drink, y’all.

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Review: Cambridge Audio’s Yoyo (L) is a hi-fi Sonos alternative with Google Cast

The most popular wireless speakers tend to be part of a walled garden. Sonos, Google, and Apple’s speakers force you into their own wireless protocols, with few or no inputs for wired sources. Though they all sound great in their own way, they might not be the best choice for audio enthusiasts looking for versatility.

If you’re looking for a wireless speaker that offers convenience, sound quality, and flexibility, Cambridge Audio’s $400 Yoyo (L) is a good place to start.

You may not be familiar with Cambridge Audio, but it’s been making audio equipment for over 50 years. Best known for its hi-fi amplifiers, DACs, and occasional speakers, the company has recently dabbled into the mainstream with the introduction of it Yoyo line of wireless speakers.

There are three variants of the speakers, the (S), (M), and (L). As you might guess, they’re differentiated by size (and price). The Yoyo (S) is a small battery-powered Bluetooth speaker, while the (M) is a pair of portable bookshelf units. The Yoyo (L), on the other hand, is meant to stay at home. It’s a curious cross between a wireless speaker and soundbar, but one that also gives away its enthusiast roots.

One key difference between this and a Sonos Play:5 or Google Home Max is the wealth of inputs and practical controls. It comes with Google Cast compatibility and the usual 3.5mm aux jack, but also includes Bluetooth (not AptX, unfortunately), Spotify Connect, optical, and HDMI ARC inputs. There’s no AirPlay, but a USB-A port is also on board for charging optional component like an Amazon Echo Dot.

Another neat touch: the unit can be programmed to accept volume inputs from your TV’s remote, should you choose to set it up as a soundbar via optical or the 3.5mm jack. I also greatly appreciate that you can access almost all the features from the touch-sensitive buttons atop the speakers – I hate being forced to use a remote – or worse, an app.

It’s a lot more flexibility than wireless speakers normally provide, allowing me to connect the speakers to my TV, PC, and digital piano simultaneously. Though there’s no AptX support for Bluetooth, I do appreciate the NFC sensor for quick pairing; it’s handy if you have a guest who might want to play music.

Though high on functionality, the Yoyo (L) is also one of the classiest-looking wireless speakers out there. Shaped like a rounded square, the drivers are covered in an attractive, acoustically-transparent fabric and the top features a soft-touch finish. It’s smaller than either the Google Home Max or Sonos Play:5, and unlike some speakers from hi-fi brands, it’s inconspicuous enough to blend into any decor.

Despite its relatively svelte shape, the Yoyo (L) is packing 6 drivers – a tweeter and woofer for the left, center, and right channels. These, combined with the company’s experience with amplification components, yields a sound that belies the price point and market.

What gives away Cambridge Audio’s hi-fi pedigree is its emphasis on transparency and accuracy over playing loud and boomy. Sonos and Google’s speakers sound great, but in a crowd-pleasing, mainstream sort of sound. Detail and refinement are occasionally sacrificed for bass presence, leading to boominess or distortion.

When the Yoyo (L) starts playing, it hits you with a degree of transparency not present on its immediate competition. The highs stand out most, remaining sharp and clear, while the midrange is liquidy smooth. The bass does not reach as low as a Sonos or Google’s flagships, but it has less bloat than those too, remaining tight and controlled during busy passages. Another note of refinement: unlike so many popular speakers, you don’t need to play the Yoyo (L) loud for it to sound its best. The clarity remains even as ‘everyone else is asleep’ volumes.

Less impressive is the stereo separation. It’s decent, but not as good as a proper soundbar, let alone a pair of bookshelf speakers.  Mind you, I almost never recommend someone buy a single speaker or soundbar over a pair of stereo speakers anyway, but if you’re limited in space, this is a good alternative to consider. I just wish Cambridge Audio gave you the option to pair two speakers together like most other wireless speakers.

Point is, these sound like a good pair of hi-fi bookshelf speakers, just compressed in terms of soundstage width. But Cambridge Audio also recognizes the more mainstream audience it’s targeting and provides different EQ settings for different types of audio: Movie, Music, TV, and Voice. Moreover, there’s a separate bass control if you don’t mind sacrificing a little refinement for extra thump.

It’s not perfect. Again, I wish you had the option pair two speakers for true stereo, and I would’ve liked to see a subwoofer out to fill in that last bit of missing rumble and thump. If you want something with those features, and have $1,100 to spend, you can take a look at the outstanding KEF LSX. But at $400, and if you can live without a huge soundstage, Cambridge Audio’s Yoyo (L) is a standout Google Cast speaker offering a wealth of flexibility.

Published January 31, 2019 — 17:59 UTC


ProductYoyo (L) by Cambridge Audio

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