Should we call Q Acoustics’ M20 proposition a neat and flexible pair of Bluetooth desktop speakers, or an entire high-resolution wireless music system? Q Acoustics would no doubt prefer the latter, but physically, two versatile boxes are what you’re getting.
Essentially, the M20 is a pair of powered speakers designed to work wherever you feel like putting them – perched on a bookshelf or speaker stands; fixed to the wall; flanking your computer screen or your TV. They also have a lot of useful connections on the back – TVs, CD players, turntables and laptops can also be wired to the M20 through optical, RCA line-level, aux and USB Type B connections, and there’s a subwoofer output if you want to add one to the set-up. aptX HD Bluetooth is also onboard, meaning you can wirelessly stream high-resolution audio (up to 24-bit/48kHz) to them from compatible devices.
It’s not possible to remove the grilles from the front baffle of the M20 speakers, but if we could, we’d see a two-way design with 125mm mid/bass driver and 22mm tweeter. One speaker in the pair is the mains-powered 'master' and feeds the other through a supplied piece of speaker cable. In a further nod to ease of use, the back of the master speaker features a switch allowing you to allocate it as either the left or right channel.
The back of this master is where you’ll find all inputs, switches and also the amplification, which is 130W in total. The only features on the back of the slave speaker are a set of binding posts and the bass reflex port.
As you’d expect, Q Acoustics has carried over some established engineering techniques found in its passive stereo speakers, including P2P (Point to Point) internal bracing, which adds extra rigidity to the parts of the enclosure that most need to be stiffened, leading to a quieter cabinet.Q Acoustics M20 tech specs
Finishes x3 (black, walnut, white)
Cabinet type Two-way reflex ported
Frequency response 55Hz - 22kHz
Crossover frequency 2.4kHz
Inputs Bluetooth 5.0 (with aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, SBC, AAC), USB (24-bit/192kHz), optical (24-bit/192kHz), stereo RCA, 3.5mm
Power 2 x 65W
Dimensions (hwd) 279 x 170 x 296mm (11 x 6.7 x 11.65 inches)
Weight 5.1kg (passive speaker), 5.5kg (powered speaker)
The system's tonal balance can be tuned depending on whether the speakers are placed in a corner, against a wall or in free space, thanks to a further switch on the back of the master speaker which adjusts the bass response. And in case you need to place them flush against a back wall (which you may need to, considering they’re 296mm deep – easily as deep as your average bookcase), Q Acoustics has even supplied foam bungs for the reflex ports, to lower the level of bass. It’s worth experimenting here with what works for you, in your particular room, because once you get it right these speakers will reward you for it. We settle on placing them 20cm away from the back wall, angled in towards our listening position, and leave the foam bungs in the packaging.
The black plastic casework of these speakers looks classy and minimalist, rather than devoid of flair – but they’re also available in a white or walnut finish. On the top of the master speaker, you also get a power button framed with an LED light (which glows different colours as you press it to scroll through Bluetooth, optical, analogue and USB source options) flanked by premium-feeling volume up and down buttons.
The supplied remote is nicely designed and can also be used for playback control, volume adjustment and changing audio sources, although an indicator to register our button pushes would be welcome.
Provided you’re au fait with feeding the supplied speaker cable through binding posts and tightening them (rather than simply sticking a 3.5mm cable plug into the back of each speaker, which you could do if you have the necessary connectors), set up is simple – and Bluetooth pairing couldn’t be easier.
Although the M20 is not a wi-fi enabled proposition (it cannot support wireless network streaming), the main selling point over competitors at this price point is undoubtedly the pair of stereo RCA line-level inputs on the back of the master speaker, which allow us to physically connect an appropriate source, say a Bluesound Node streamer or Marantz CD6007 CD player.
Now, if we want to pause aptX HD and aptX Low Latency Bluetooth streaming from our phone to listen to an album on Tidal from the Bluesound, we can. And once we have connected a USB A-B cable from our laptop to the master M20 speaker, we can watch the news on BBC iPlayer with levelled up stereo audio, too. Q Acoustics' M20 speakers are ultimately convenient and continue to present various options however we consider using them.
The closest five-star competition to the M20 system that you might consider at this level is the Ruark Audio MR1 Mk2 desktop speakers, but put the two pairs side by side and the Ruark proposition is dwarfed by the Q Acoustics. It’s as if we’ve put a pair of full-sized hi-fi stereo standmounters beside a set of Bluetooth desktop speakers – but remember, there’s only a small difference between these two propositions in terms of price.
Sonically, too, the sound from the M20 feels fuller, louder and less compressed. Where the Ruark product seems to say “I’m meant for your laptop” and certainly does a splendid job there, the M20 has greater ambitions. Certain desks may actually be too small for the Q Acoustic M20, but this is ultimately a just-add-source solution that is designed for maximum flexibility in your home.
We stream I’ll Be Around by Yo La Tengo on Tidal from our iPhone, and the textured walking bass, guitar picking and sombre vocal comes through with space around the notes and at volumes that easily go loud enough even for larger rooms.
We switch to AC/DC’s Hells Bells and the right speaker is all angry, snaking guitar, while the left brims with bells and cymbals in an expansive soundstage. As the drums kick in, the Q Acoustic M20 displays a great sense of timing too, with all musical strands held competently within a cohesive mix.
When streaming Masterjam by Rufus and Chaka Khan, we become especially aware that there’s a deliberate refinement to the presentation here, with an easily handled treble that, while present and pleasing, won’t overexpose harshness in certain Bluetooth files and recordings. Chaka Khan’s effortless and gloriously belted vocal here goes up through the rafters alongside the horns and electric guitar, in a sensible and very listenable performance.
Q Acoustics has released an unfussy, just-add-source set of powered speakers that we find impossible to dislike. With all of the amplification squirrelled away in the master speaker and the plethora of connectivity and placement options covered, the M20 is far more likely to become your entire music system than it is simply your new desktop speakers – and for this money, you’ll be hard pushed to better the sound quality with hi-fi separates.
Read our review of the Ruark MR1 Mk2
Best hi-fi systems 2022: micro, vinyl and streaming music systems for the home
7 tips to improve your computer sound quality