Qln Prestige Five: They’ve Done It Again
As I listened to the latest offering from the Swedish speaker manufacturer—the Qln Prestige Five, or P5 for short—I struggled a bit thinking about how to describe their marvelous ability to reproduce recorded music…until something hit me.
Words and Photos by Dave McNair
Having just finished reading The Way of The Superior Man by David Deida, I’ve been thinking a lot about things in terms of masculine and feminine. Yin and Yang. Light and Dark. Protons and Electrons. Nature seems to create opposites that give us a greater appreciation for the differences in things and how these opposites attract each other. If you want to get metaphysical, this differences-attract concept may point to something greater. I’ll leave the reader to their own conclusions with regard to what this means in romantic relationships or cosmic unity, but I will chat about how Deida’s concepts got me to think differently about hi-fi and the Qln Prestige Fives in particular.
Something In The Way She Moves
…attracts me like no other speaker.
Readers of my Qln Prestige Three review (and Marc Phillips’ review of the Qln Prestige One) are certainly aware of my and some of the other PTA crew’s love for the sound and the approach that Qln’s founder and designer Mats Anderson (podcast interview here) has taken with his speakers.
So how does the sound of the Fives compare to the Threes?
The Prestige Five, with a base price of $17,500/pair, is described by Qln as a 2.5-way design, which is shorthand for saying it’s basically a 2-way with an added bass driver for the lowest frequencies. So it’s like a P3 with more bass? Not quite. Although it definitely has more bass. Lots more bass!
But more than that, the overall sound is simply a larger, more refined version of a P3, the same great imaging qualities and dynamic speed with an added something that gets me closer to the music. Maybe it’s a mysterious attraction to its feminine charms that my masculine inner core recognizes.
I’ve temporarily relocated my mastering setup to my living room to make way for a remodel of the garage which will turn it into a more comfortable and better sounding studio space. In the process, I’ve found the Acora SRC-2 to be the perfect mastering speaker, at least for me. It tells the truth in a mission-critical, angular, masculine way and it’s still loads of fun to listen to. The Acora speaker is Brad Pitt to the Qln’s Angelina Jolie. It’s also what I have been listening to for work, day in and day out, so when I swapped out for the Prestige Five it took a bit of time to become acclimated. My fellow audiophile, professional music producer, PTA writer and snappy dresser, Grover Neville, happened to be visiting my place during this changeover. During his stay, Eric Franklin Shook visited. Eric is not one to miss a good party.
Grover was a big help in positioning and fine tuning the P5 setup. We ended up using a small quantity of foam to plug the last ½” of the lower bass port in each speaker, both of us feeling the tighter low end better suited my room acoustics.
The sound was classic Qln: extremely impressive image portrayals, smooth yet detailed, and lots of deep, punchy bass.
What’s New, Pussycat?
The cabinet shape of the Prestige Five is similar to a Prestige Three, but a bit taller and considerably deeper. Then there is that extra driver. But what exactly has changed “under the hood”? Take a deep breath before we dive in and I’ll tell ya.
I reached out to Mats Anderson (Qln founder and designer) for the scoop on any new tech. I was not surprised to find out a LOT of things are different.
The P5 mid-woofer shares the same Kevlar cone material as the one in the P3 but that’s about where the similarities end.
In partnership with ScanSpeak to develop custom drivers for the Qln line, Mats specified an underhung voice coil assembly as opposed to the much more common overhung motor system. I was not aware of the advantage of an underhung voice coil design until Mats explained it to me: it’s a short voice coil in a long magnetic gap. This means the cone movement never takes the voice coil past the core of the magnetic field. Having the voice coil always in the magnetic sweet spot makes for greater linearity of movement, and far less change in inductance, which results in a massive reduction in nasty sounding intermodulation distortion. Additionally, the more audible and egregious-to-the-ear odd-numbered components of any harmonic distortion are substantially reduced. I’d call that a win/win.
The dedicated woofer, which is crossed over at 190 Hz, is the same type of design but uses an aluminum cone—with its high stiffness to mass ratio. Any undesirable coloration from the sound of aluminum is not an issue in this lower frequency range.
The P5 crossover is the same style of constant impedance topology as the P3 but with higher quality components. Mid woofer and tweeter coils in the P5 have low loss, flat profile wire (foil) windings as opposed to round wire used in some coils of the P3. Bypass capacitors in this part of the crossover are the expensive copper foil type. Resistors also received an upgrade by using non-inductive types throughout with non-inductive film resistors in series with the tweeter. Fancy!
Qln Prestige Five, In Use
My system during this time consisted of the QLN Prestige Fives (or Acora SRC-2) powered by either a pair of my reference Pass Labs XA-200.8 or a pair of the Audio By Van Alstine DVA-M225 monoblocks or an Audio Hungary Qualiton APX-200. Preamp was the mighty and musical VAC Master Preamplifier with phono stage. About 90% of the time I played records via an Acoustic Signature Typhoon Neo with TA-5000 tonearm or my Rega P10.
Towards the end of the review period, I used the most excellent TW Acustic Raven LS turntable and 10.5 inch arm. A Charisma Audio Signature One was the cartridge for a majority of the time except for an Acoustical Systems Palladian cart. Digital playback provided by an Innuos Zen Mini feeding a Border Patrol SE-I or Chord Qutest DAC. Cable used was Cardas Clear for line level, speaker, and power with a balanced run of Cardas Clear Beyond for the phono cable on the TW ‘table.
Since I’ve moved my mastering setup to the living room, the hifi gear is off to the side and necessitates a longer run of balanced cables so I’m using some Mogami from the studio. I have two runs, a pair from the VAC preamp and a pair from my mastering console that I simply swap as needed.
As I mentioned, speaker placement was farther out in the room than usual to uncouple that meaty low end from the wall behind the Fives. Trust me, the Fives need lots of breathing space to sound their best, at least in my room.
As with the Prestige Three, the Five is not a difficult speaker for an amplifier to drive. While not considered high efficiency with a spec of 89db, I never got the feeling that amps I’ve used ever broke a sweat, even at high volume. By comparison, speaker placement was quite a bit farther out into my room from where the Prestige Three previously stood. This allowed the massive P5 low end to breathe a bit more.
As a side note, the Fives have the same aluminum outrigger extensions that hold the four screwed-in cones that either contact the floor directly or sit on some supplied pucks that the Threes use. I’m being nit-picky but I’d like to see a better feet arrangement, something that makes height adjustment easier to get the speakers bubble leveled. I’ve heard this may be offered in the future.
Back to the sound, I heard all the attributes of what I love about the Prestige Threes but taken to greater heights. The Fives continue with the Qln house sound that my ears partly attribute to a unique combination of very well chosen dynamic characteristics and a carefully engineered frequency response. The dynamic thing I hear is probably related to the unique low resonance cabinet construction using Qln’s Q Board technology. You hear more of what the driver is saying but the cabinet still being wood (although with Mats’ clever inner elastic sandwich construction) lends an organic musicality to the sound.
This is mostly just conjecture on my part based on listening to a lot of speakers in this class, but whatever the reason, the Fives have lots of resolution yet in an ear-friendly way that I would not describe as total neutrality–yet I find it extremely satisfying, firmly in the listenability gradient of my imaginary accuracy/listenability matrix yet leaning towards the midpoint. If I wanna compare it to another very well designed and popular loudspeaker in this price range, the Wilson Audio SabrinaX, the SabrinaX seems very masculine to me as in Joe Friday’s credo of “Just the facts, ma’am.”
Take for example the stunning post-rock album by Talk Talk, Spirit Of Eden. This is a record that is mostly quiet but punctuated with passages that are VERY loud and somewhat abrasive. On the first cut, “The Rainbow,” there is the loud, wailing, amplified crunch of classic blues harp. On some speakers this can be pretty grating, but on the Prestige Fives the intent and intensity is there but in a more palatable manner. The same goes for the very loud electric guitar parts that have all the intense, wiry jangle that goes with a Fender Strat or Jazzmaster plugged into what sounds to me like a Vox AC-30 amplifier. The nose of the midrange and chime of the guitar upper harmonics for this combo is lovingly reproduced by the Qln Fives, but again with more of the perspective of a listener near the front of the stage as opposed to having your head in front of the Vox speaker cabinet where I’m sure the mic was placed on this recording.
I heard an impressively smooth upper midrange frequency response, coupled with a super punchy sense of dynamics, and a slightly forgiving leading edge to transients. The Prestige Five absolutely slams when playing tunes with a punchy groove. Huge bass transients seem to start and stop on a proverbial dime—yet with a subtle sense of refinement that makes things oh so easy to listen to. Especially loud.
Life Is Too Short For Not Enough Bass
Regular readers of my musings will know I’m a bass freak, and the Prestige Five delivers mightily in this department. Was it too much? Sometimes I thought so. It’s very possible that the Prestige Fives gave me a taste of what overloading my room sounds like, at least on a few big-bass selections but not on the majority of things I listened to.
In fact, for a lot of recordings that are either non-hyped or a bit wanting in the lower frequency region, the Prestige Fives brought lots of goodness to a platter party.
Still, I wanted to get some more perspective so I went over to my local purveyors of fine playback systems (and modern furniture), Ember Audio + Design, to do more listening. Ember is a Qln dealer so I could compare side by side a pair of Prestige Threes and Fives. They also have a special sounding demo room that I know as well as my own.
Both speakers sounded great, especially powered by a pair of Audio By Van Alstine DVA-M225 amplifiers that I took with me on one of my visits. This was a match made in heaven. I did NOT hear an overpowering amount of low-end in their larger exhibit room with this configuration of speakers and amps but it still sounded huge. And deep.
The AVA monoblocks turbocharged the already impressive dynamic slam of these handsome Swedish siblings. In the larger Ember room we could really open up the volume to test the limits. Ember owner Chris Livengood streamed some super intense Swedish style metal and dialed it up to airport tarmac level. WOW. I have never heard something so intense, and so loud, sound so clean and effortless. No, I wouldn’t want to listen at that volume on just about any other occasion other than this little test-the-limits scenario, but boy was it impressive. I could still use my female-essence simile but this time she was a tall, big boned, Viking queen in full armor that could use her broadsword to take out an entire invading mob—when not sitting on the board as CEO of Viking Inc., making sure the kids hand in their mead brewing homework AND overseeing the preparation of the victory feast. Women have the edge in more ways than most men like to admit.
Little sister Prestige Three is still a winner for me in its price class, but big sister Prestige Five is clearly a big performance step-up in just about every way. I found the top end of the Five especially clear and clean. I think the Three and Five might even share the same tweeter so it’s probably a crossover related thing that shows off all those ultra premium use of components used in the Fives—along with Mats’ voicing to balance out the added depth of the bass and slightly more filled in lower mid.
Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch
It was a great pleasure to cycle through my tried and true test records.
A lot of those records in my mental list of system testing attributes have hella big bass. I played those and marveled at the rave level gut punch the Fives displayed but I found a lot of records and digital selections that did NOT have subterranean low end to be very satisfying.
The hair raising you-are-there quality of A Meeting By The River, the masterpiece of East meets West by Ry Cooder and VM Bhatt, was as real sounding as ever.
Fredo Viola’s My New Head sounded amazing. With its layers upon layers of creepy percussion and sound effects as a backdrop to evocative melodies and lyrics, I always find it to be a satisfying listen. The P5s helped aid my total immersion in Fredo’s strange Beach Boys-meets-a-Tim Burton-soundtrack world.
The Fives are not a speaker that makes everything sound good. Bad stuff still sounds shitty and great stuff produces goosebumps. But there is a bit wider tolerance of listenability that makes the Fives special for me.
My ears have become very used to the extreme amount of information coming out of the pair of Acora SRC-2s that I’m using as monitors for my day to day mastering work (and listened to for fun when I have time and headspace) but the Qln speakers are not exactly chopped liver in this regard. On repeated swaps that sometimes lasted for a week or more, when the Fives were in the system I had no trouble getting my dose of detail, midrange presence, bass clarity and all the other things that make for a great listening experience. But just a little more curvy and silky skinned.
The Qln Prestige Five, In Closing
Having spent a lot of time listening to the Prestige Threes, one of the things on my wish list for the eventual release of the Fives was a slightly more filled-in mid-bass. You know, that thing that a 2-way stand-mounted loudspeaker and many 2-way floorstanders don’t quite do. It’s that thing that 3-ways do—but then again so many 3-ways lose the plot in other areas. This is apparently one of the benefits to a well designed 2.5-way–it has the coherence and imaging of a great 2-way but fills out the power response in the mid-bass a little more AND gains the ability to play louder, go deeper, with wider dynamics and lower distortion. Bingo. That describes the Five perfectly.
If you love the sound of QLN Prestige Threes but have a large room and you like the ability to play loud and have oodles of big, fast, clean bass, the Fives could be your new magic lover. If you haven’t heard the Threes but have heard good things about them and are considering some big boy speakers for your system which currently seems too meek for your room and listening tastes, the Fives deserve a serious audition. At just $17,500 USD a pair for the matte walnut finish (other fancier looking finishes are available for a bit more) the Qln Five has one of the most impressive price/performance ratios of anything I’ve heard in this price range.