The relentless march of technology occasionally claims a few casualties along the way. With the move towards touchscreen phones, we lost the tactility of physical keyboards, and the arrival of MP3 players a decade ago put back sound quality in a way that they audio industry still hasn’t full recovered from.
Q Acoustics’ M2 Soundbase (priced at $350/£299/AU$549) is here to right one particular wrong, and that’s what’s happened to TV sound quality since the move away from big fat CRTs towards slim LCD panels.
Previous generations of TV were so deep that they could add lovely hefty speakers without anyone batting an eyelid, but modern flatscreens are so tight on space that the race is on to pack in the slimmest set of speakers possible.
The M2 isn’t going to blow your socks off with amazing surround sound, but what it will do is restore the full-bodied stereo sound that TV buyers used to take for granted in the CRT days.
We’ve covered a lot of soundbars here at TechRadar (in fact we’ve got a guide to the best soundbars you should check out if you’re interested), but soundbases are a little different.
Rather than being designed to be mounted underneath - or sat in front of - your TV, soundbases have a much deeper form-factor that means they’re better suited to acting as a stand for your TV. The Q Acoustics M2 also has the added benefit of a toggle switch that alters its sound to let it work better in case you’d rather stash it away inside a cabinet instead.
But for most people, the 550mm x 93mm x 338mm M2 is going to sit on top of your existing cabinet with the TV resting on top of it (up to 25kg of weight is supported), and thankfully it’s design is neither eye-catching nor ugly. It’s a fairly nondescript black box, and while Sonos’ PlayBase is comparatively more stylish, we appreciate an accessory that doesn’t distract from the main event, the TV.
Along the front is a speaker grill that houses its two 2.3-inch Balance Mode Radiator (BMR) drivers that provide a 180-degree sound that Q Acoustics claims means you won’t have to sit directly in front of the speaker to get the best sound performance.
These two full-range drivers are joined by a downward firing subwoofer on the soundbases’ underside.
The only physical buttons you’ll find visible on the soundbase are a pair of volume controls and an input switcher that also doubles as an LED indicator. It’ll turn blue for Bluetooth (no surprises there), purple for HDMI-ARC, white for optical, and green for line-in.
Considering the lack of physical buttons, we were concerned we were going to have to rely a lot on the fairly piddly included remote. Thanks to the wonders of HDMI-CEC however, we were able to safely leave it in the box while our TV’s remote took over volume duties.
If you’re reliant on an optical or line-in connection then you might not be so lucky, but the only time we had a reason to use the physical buttons on the soundbase was when it went into standby mode, and we had to cycle through all available inputs to resurrect it.
Curtail your expectations. The Q Acoustics M2 is not the kind of soundbase that’s going to beat you round the head with all the latest audio technologies. You’re not going to find Dolby Atmos or DTS:X packed inside its diminutive black housing, and nor are you going to find the kinds of digital signal processing that’ll trick your brain into thinking that a surround sound setup is emanating from it.
Instead, what you’re getting are 2.1 channels of decently produced TV audio, but we guarantee it’ll sound better than 90% of the televisions on sale today.
Bass response is the first thing you’ll notice. The soundbar’s downward firing sub has a nice low rumble to it, which really added a nice amount of weight to Hanz Zimmer’s Blue Planet 2 score when we gave it a test listen.
It’s not the most powerful sound in the world, but it makes up for this by being beautifully controlled, and that’s a trade-off we’ll take any day of the week (especially when living in any sort of close proximity to noise-sensitive neighbors).
This detail continues all throughout the sound spectrum. The soundstage offered by the Q Acoustics M2 isn’t the widest around, but the sound separation it offers makes it feel broader than it actually is.
There’s next to no harshness or syballence in the vocals, and everything has a delicious amount of clarity to it.
Switching the soundbar into movie mode (done with a quick press of the remote’s ‘EQ’ button) is like flipping on a speaker’s ‘loudness’ switch. Everything suddenly got a lot more grand and epic, but while it was much broader in scope we wouldn’t say the sound was definitively better.
We imagine most people would be better served by leaving the soundbase on its music mode for most viewing.
The soundbase’s compact design means it fitted nicely underneith our TV, and it was easily controlled through our HDMI CEC-equipped ARC port.
A plethora of other inputs mean your audio needs should be met, regardless of your TV model.
The soundbase provided a lovely, controlled upgrade to our TV’s built in sound. From bass to trebles, soundtracks have detail and depth aplenty.
If your TV supports HDMI-CEC then please be sure to use it so you can avoid using the flimsy credit card-sized remote. It’s not the biggest inconvenience in the world, but it’ll be easily lost in most living rooms.
The Q Acoustics M2 is also best avoided if you want any form of surround sound. This is an accessory that’s about improving upon your sound, not overhauling it.
When the soundbar occasionally put itself into standby it was a pain having to cycle through its inputs to restore sound.
The Q Acoustics M2 isn’t the kind of product that’s going to revolutionise your living room, but then it isn’t trying to, and its reasonable $350 (£299/AU$549) price tag is proof of that.
But what it does do is offer a significant boost to your TV’s sound. It won’t do anything more, like surround sound or Dolby Atmos. Instead, it’ll offer what your TV can already do, but with much more power and control.
And it does it exceptionally well.
- Our guide to the best soundbars has all our top picks if the soundbase form-factor isn't for you