Last November at the 2019 Capital Audio Fest, I had a fantastic time hearing numerous amazing systems and meeting some great folks. One of the many rooms I enjoyed was hosted by Well Pleased AV and consisted of an Innuos music server, Vinnie Rossi integrated amp, and a pair of attractive yet modest looking Qln Prestige Three speakers. I found the sound to be instantly compelling. My friend and fellow audiophile Grover Neville sat down with me to listen. After hearing about thirty seconds of music we glanced at each other with that look that said, “There is something really special going on here.” I think I mumbled something like “These are perfect.”
Words by Dave McNair
Fast forward a few months. Mark Sossa, the American distribution partner for Qln, was extraordinarily kind enough to drive a pair down from northern Virginia to my place in North Carolina. I met him at Ember Audio + Design so owner Chris Livengood could have a quick demo before setting them up at my place for more extended listening. It was great to hear them in a large and acoustically very different room than my home listening space. By the time I got to the store, Mark and Chris had found a good spot for the Prestige Threes.
We listened to a wide selection of music streamed off an Innous server and feeding a Naim Streamer to Jeff Rowland pre and mono amps, and I was impressed once more. This time, I was impressed with not only with the Qln Prestige Three’s sonics but also their ability to fill a room about four times larger than the one at CAF.
Even at a moderately loud level there was good bass with plenty of low-frequency extension combined with a clear, clean sound and no hints of strain. These good looking little towers seemed to laugh at whatever we threw at ‘em. I was secretly relieved that my positive memory hadn’t been wrong. I couldn’t wait to get em home.
Back At The Crib
In my listening room, Mark and I reassembled the metal stands and integral cone feet, along with the supplied black metal pucks for placement between the cones and the floor. Over the next several days I fine-tuned the initial placement which started off at the same spot where my Dynaudio Special 40’s are usually placed, about 34” from the back walls and on either side of a fireplace which has lost the battle against stereo components and records. Who needs a fireplace if it’s the best spot for the system?
The Qln Prestige Threes are a simple (on the surface) yet visually appealing two-way, a distinctively shaped mini-floorstander covered in a quality hardwood veneer. The cabinets have a rear-leaning tilt that seems to defy gravity while giving the front baffle a slope to provide time alignment of the drivers. A small magnet-held dust cover (which I removed as per owners manual suggestion for serious listening) and a single set of WBT binding posts completes the picture. I thought they looked very attractive in my living room. So did my partner Linda, who in times past had asked me about the B&W Nautilus 801s – as in when were they going to be moved to my studio.
During fine-tuning and placement, I used a nifty bubble level app on my phone to get both speakers perfectly level after finding the best distance from the back wall for that sweet spot of low-end linearity and spatial presentation. Imaging snapped into focus with the speakers leveled, and it wasn’t subtle. I ended up with an almost direct toe-in to my listening position. The manual suggests toe-in angle experimentation to adjust imaging to taste.
So what does the Qln Prestige Three sound like? The overall frequency response is pretty much exactly what my ear likes to hear, such as a midrange to die for. Try as I might, I couldn’t hear anything between 100hz to 8K that seemed out of place, no bumps or holes, smooth as silk but with no sense of the music being presented politely or any homogenizing effect. I heard a planar or electrostatic type of cohesiveness and a lack of coloration but with a cone driver type of authority and sense of dynamic contrasts. Music seemed to issue forth off of a totally colorless canvas with no apparent obstacles between me and the recording.
This box-less sound, this disappearing speaker act, is coupled to a very satisfying low end that in my room extended to what seemed like the low 30hz region. I was never tempted to turn on my sub even though I did…just to see what would happen. The Qln Prestige Three has a low end that is so extended yet tight and free of any muddying resonances that the sub detracted from what was going on, regardless of how I tweaked and adjusted.
The soft dome tweeter that QLN designer Mats Andersen uses perfectly complements the 177mm coated Kevlar cone bass-mid driver with a rear-firing flared port. (Both drivers sourced from ScanSpeak.) The treble always felt detailed and revealing but just as integrated and smooth as the mids.
During my listening sessions, I realized the Qln Prestige Threes were luxuriously satisfying at low and moderate levels. They don’t need to be loud to be totally engrossing. But they’re also loads of fun to crank. Most of my audition time was at a moderate level but these babies love to rock. Using a Bel Canto 500S at 250 watts a side was plenty to make the Qln Prestige Three loudspeakers get up and dance. I also spent time using the most excellent Audio Hungary Qualiton APX-200, a 100 watt per channel vacuum tube amp. The APX-200, in typical tube amp fashion, presented a deep and more layered sense of space that the speakers were more than happy to reveal.
It was fun to hear that they could not only present a more holographic soundstage with a good tube amp, but boogied just as hard with less than half the power. I had the feeling that even with a moderate sensitivity of 87.5 db, the speakers would work well with low-powered amps.
What The Heck Is Going On Here?
Since I’m the curious type, I had to have a conversation with Mr. Anderson about how he gets these unassuming little 2-way floor standers to seemingly break the laws of physics. He was kind enough to talk to me about what makes these critters tick.
I quickly gathered that there isn’t anything going on that’s dramatic or sensational (except the sonic results) with the Qln Prestige Threes, but rather a carefully thought out approach informed by years of experience and engineering refinement. According to Mats, it’s all about the resonance control of the complete system and the performance of that 6.9-inch mid-woofer. The treated Kevlar cone, along with a copper ring fitted inside the guts of the driver, acts as a type of passive servo control. The cone treatment and ring combine to manage cone breakup, smooth the upper response and flatten the impedance curve. The very low tuning of the port and carefully controlled cabinet resonances is part of what makes the low end sound tight and extended beyond what one would typically expect from appearances. Mats told me the characteristics of the mid/woofer and crossover circuit makes for an easier load on amplifiers, especially tube type. Plus, the smoothed, wider bandwidth allows for a high crossover point to the tweeter (quasi first-order slopes) of about 3.7K. This allows the tweeter to stay smooth and extended because it’s not trying to grab lots of air which would be required at a lower crossover point.
Qboard is QLN’s name for the cabinet’s curved, sandwich-style construction using a layer of glue with special resonance reducing properties. Apparently, this is a big part of creating a very silent background with little coloration imposed on the music signal. High-quality components in the crossover, physically assembled for lowest resonant behavior, are chosen by using measurements and ear tests allowing the drivers, cabinet, and crossover to play together as a more complete, holistic system.
More Listening Observations
I listened to some favs by way of vinyl played on a Rega P10 with Dynavector 10X5 cartridge, or CDs and streaming off a Macbook using Roon and Qobuz to feed either a PS Audio or Berkeley Audio Designs DAC. It didn’t take long for me to get a feel for what the QLN Prestige Threes could do. It did take a minute for my brain to adjust to the flat, low coloration vibe compared to my Dynaudio Special 40s. Ok, that’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison since the P3s are about three times the price of the 40s, but they are both 2-way ported designs and I couldn’t resist the fun of comparing.
I switched back and forth a few times. My initial reaction to the familiar, instantly likable and somewhat rock and roll presentation of the Dyns was hijacked by the seamless presentation of a razor flat midrange with refined, smooth, detailed highs and deeper, tighter bass of the Qln Prestige Threes. However, it almost feels wrong to characterize different frequency ranges because the darn things are so coherent.
Imaging was excellent on both speakers, with the 40s being a bit better in lateral, pinpoint specificity and the Qln Prestige Threes having a deeper and more expansive image.
Playing a vinyl copy of the cut “Sharkey’s Day” from the Laurie Anderson album Mister Heartbreak sprayed my listening room in a wash of Adrian Belew’s signature animalistic squawks and squeals from his electric guitar. Laurie’s voice floated on top of a solid foundation of Bill Laswell’s bass that the QLN’s seemed to love reproducing. Lots of layers of sound here.
Roxy Music’s Avalon on redbook CD is a longtime favorite of mine for music and sonics, a classic example of mixer Bob Clearmountain’s creative use of ambiance to paint a riveting soundscape. Enveloping and punchy on the QLN Prestige Threes.
Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden was a revelation. The room ambiance surrounding the drum kit was totally clear and defined like never before. Bass and dynamic contrasts were vividly rendered with all the instrumental tonalities having a rich and organic quality. Mark Hollis’ vocal emotion was front and center, seemingly lit by a single spotlight on a dark stage.
Streaming some cuts off the Billie Eilish album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was like swimming in an ocean of deep bass. Incredibly, those little 6.9 inch woofers pressurized my room with no sense of strain like there were a pair of 15” servo-controlled subs hiding somewhere. Shocking!
Speaking of Ms. Eilish, quite a bit has been made of her and sibling Finneas having recorded the album at home in a bedroom. So I pulled out Sufjan Steven’s excellent Illinois album to hear another example of a good record done in a variety of non-professional recording spaces. I can’t remember it sounding better. Great sounds for an indie budget production and musically lots of fun.
Thelonius Monk’s Criss Cross sounded fantastic on the Qln Prestige Threes. All the instruments have a recognizable yet slight amount of crunch that I’m very familiar with from using tubed recording gear of that era. Besides Monk being a favorite of mine for obvious reasons, this particular recording has just the right amount of that vintage tube and tape flavor without being too messy or distorted.
Sigur Ros’ debut album Von coming from the Qln Prestige Threes never sounded spookier. I found the ethereal, and lush soundscape more engrossing than usual.
Tinariwen is a group from Northern Mali that I find captivating and genre-defying. Listening to their record Amadjar seemed like I was in the Sahara Desert at night with the musicians in front of me playing their unique style of World Music. The Qln Prestige Threes took it right off the palpability scale.
Have My Cake And Eat It Too
Do you love the low bass and tight punch of a well-designed cone driver in a transmission line or sealed box loudspeaker?
Do you crave low bass that plays loud and clean but need a smaller footprint speaker that usually requires a subwoofer(s)?
Do you love certain speakers with a silky yet detailed treble that image so well the system seems to disappear?
What if you could have all this in a moderate-sized, attractive floor stander that’s easy for most amps to drive?
For serious listeners who want it all, and at a price ($9,500/pair) that is beyond reasonable for something clearly in the land of the high-end ultra performers, the Qln Prestige Threes not only do all these things, they do them very well.
(And an Editors Choice Award Winner!)