QLN may not be the biggest name out there in HiFi, but they have been building a steady following with the release of several simple, yet effective design elements into their Swedish-based loudspeakers. I personally have been blown away with not only their demos at audio shows, but with our full review of the legacy two-way bookshelf Signature 3.
The biggest takeaway from that experience? The Signature 3 has the capability to act like a full size speaker – big sound, full bass and a non-fatiguing detailed top end. So naturally when QLN’s Sales Director Mark Sossa asked me if I wanted to hear the newest bookshelf called the Prestige One, I jumped at the opportunity.
In fact, the P1 and the Signature 3 do share a lot of the same origin story. The “Prestige” line (which includes the Prestige 3 two-way floorstander and Prestige 5 two-and-a-half-way flagship) has now fully replaced the Signature series as QLN’s main stable of offerings. But there are several differences to the overall build, not the least of which is move away from a separate front baffle to a one-piece cabinet that fits more with the overall aesthetic of the Prestige line. Internal guts are new as well, with updated bracing and a crossover network with learning implemented from the successes of the P3. Another big physical shift is the addition of a separate base piece, which allows for the P1’s custom stands to be securely attached via a mounting screw. Overall, I find the looks just a smidge more refined, pulling heavily from Prestige floorstanders I’ve seen at hifi audio shows over the years. With the acoustic damping cutout it’s not the most fully original front-facing panel ever, but the truncated pyramid cabinet shape adds to mystique for a conversation starter at the least. The Prestige One looks high-end in Walnut Matte, and can be ordered with other color options including Walnut Piano and White Satin. Sitting on a pair of stands, the bookshelf style box feels visually refined, a heavy hint and a wink wink as to what is capable from the Scan Speak drivers held within.
As any good acoustic designer will tell you, there is much more to a loudspeaker than simply the drivers that make up the grand sum of vibrations. Reducing cabinet resonances and standing waves is key to keeping things clear and concise during playback. In the Prestige One, QLNs calls this their Qboard technology. Everything on the inside of the cabinet has received some effort to reduce wave interference, including connectors, crossovers and the internal structure. Like the Signature 3, the two-way design comes courtesy of a 8-ohm rated 7-inch woofer and 1-inch soft dome tweeter. The dispersion of the laid back angle (plus readily available damping surround) lends itself to a more laid back approach to the staging, and one that deftfully finds itself in the high preference arena compared to more aggressive or in-your-face type signatures. Don’t misconstrue this as a ding on the imaging or tonal response, for it is neither. The stage is set in a relaxed and natural way, effortless in its placement and command of any sonic situation.
QLN Prestige One Sonic Impressions
Listening impressions took place with a variety of amplifiers including the PASS Labs INT-250 and the Naim Uniti Star. Sources also include the Mofi Electronics Ultradeck Turntable with UltraTracker Cartridge along with my beloved Oppo BDP-105. Cabling was done via AudioQuest.
I first listened to the older QLNs and recalled everything I liked about them – a spacious and airy top end, relative tonal neutrality, a deep and layered midrange, and bigger bass than you’d expect for a monitor this size. This is still an excellent speaker with a neutral character.
Plugging in the new Prestige One however was a different world entirely. Bass immediately was cleaner and less boomy in the room, while also giving the impression of reaching lower. Across the midrange and top end, the sound seemed better damped and less splashy, the auditory image was more focused and precise. Details came through with a greater sense of transparency and immediacy and the tonal character of sounds was more apparent.
Alongside the greater sense of control was an increased perception of dynamics, both in punch and in micro dynamic contrast. Small gradations were more evident, but the larger macrodynamic swings also placed me into the music more. With the older QLN I was able to discern many facets of the recording with ease, but with the new Prestige One I could feel the energy of musical performances in a way that was more deeply informative.
While both speakers were plenty coherent, the newer QLN also seemed cut from a more coherent sonic cloth, with the texture of bass and treble on the older model sounding splashy and loose in the lows, giving a slight U-shape to the frequency response. By contrast the new one sounded like it was tuned to a gentle B&K style downward tilting curve, that was much flatter and that had much more controlled cabinet vibrations and directivity. Room interactions in the same spot seemed less severe with the new speaker, and generally musical enjoyment and immersion were enhanced. While either speaker could be a great studio or critical listening tool, the Prestige Ones gave me greater musical satisfaction.
Ultimately, while both are competent, the new speaker feels like a solid upgrade from the older one, and has a quality that reminds me much more of a smaller version of the Prestige 3’s, which is high praise indeed.
Whatever black magic voodoo that makes up the Qboard tech inside the QLN Prestige One, it appears to be working in fine order. What started with the Signature 3 has moved into something tighter overall. At first listen it starts with the bass, slightly more refined, and with a feeling that less of the vibrations are falling outside the space they should be occupying. It’s simply tighter. But upon further inspection, one finds that the entire presentation is indeed tighter by several measuring sticks – from focus to nuance to texture. This is a movement in the right direction and draws heavily from so much of what the rest of the Prestige series does to impress in big environments. With a sensitivity of 87 dB SPL 1 Watt at 1m and 8 ohms, the speaker can fill a reasonably sized room, and all the while continues to act like a full-sized floorstander in many respects. It can, and does, pressurize a room. It has a soft touch when things are tender, but can provide the dynamic swing necessary to handle tough passages. It’s a top performer that’s one of the best in its category, and given the nearly $7k asking price, that nearly takes it to one of the best overall. Sure, you can go physically bigger and get more, but in the two-way standmount arena, the QLN Prestige One is one of the very few that pulls off this kind of synergy, bass performance and natural resolution.
More info: QLN Prestige One
If you would like to hear more about QLN and their design philosophy, you can check out this interview from The Occasional Podcast featuring founder Mats Andersen, available for download on iTunes and the embed below.