The Q7 is so low in coloration and distortion, and so high in transparency, that it sounds like whatever source, cables, and electronics are driving it. I’ve never encountered a loudspeaker whose character changed so dramatically with ancillary equipment. The Q7 is a colorless, transparent window back through the playback and recording chains, laying bare everything in the signal path back to the original musical creation. Yet, the Q7 isn’t analytical or “ruthlessly revealing.” Despite the crystal- clear transparency and powerful resolution, the Q7 has a sense of ease and relaxation, of sinking into the listening seat totally absorbed.
Another important factor that contributed to the Q7’s stunning sense of realism is its transient speed. No dynamic loudspeaker has, in my experience, approached the Q7 in the fidelity of transient reproduction. The sound of a drumstick hitting the head jumps out of the mix with a lifelike impact and immediacy, making other dynamic loudspeakers sound sluggish by comparison. And just as quickly the transient is gone with no overhang or smearing. The Q7 has a very fast “settling time”—a transient event doesn’t perturb the loudspeaker and cause it to sound different in the milliseconds after the transient is over. This quality is related to “self-noise,” a term that describes a kind of low-level “chatter” from a loudspeaker that follows the music’s dynamic envelope like a shadow. You can hear this self-noise most easily on solo piano as a grunge superimposed on the timbre after the transient attack of the hammer hitting the strings. When reproduced by a loudspeaker with very low self-noise, the piano’s timbre has a bell-like clarity. You can also more easily hear the harmonic structure change as the note descends into the hall’s ambience. Moreover, low self-noise results in better resolution of that ambience, the miniscule spatial cues that create the sometimes convincing illusion of the recording venue’s acoustic replacing that of your listening room.
The Q7’s startling reproduction of steep transient attacks imbues the music with a life and vividness that’s missing from all but ribbons and electrostats. But unlike those planar designs, the Q7 reproduces transients with the correct weight and impact behind them—the antithesis of drums sounding like pencils striking oatmeal containers. If you want to hear just how realistic drums can sound, listen to Roy Haynes’ superbly recorded kit on the SACD Love Letters, or Jeff Porcaro on the Sheffield direct-to-disc LP James Newton Howard and Friends through the Q7. The Q7’s transient speed conveys the energy and vitality that great drummers bring to the music in a way I have not previously experienced. This loudspeaker can change your musical perception of familiar recordings as you discover new-found rhythmic expression and nuance. I would even call the Q7 horn-like in its dynamic verve, immediacy, and “jump factor.” This quality is revelatory on another percussion instrument: piano. So much of the dilution of a reproduced piano’s sound is due to this slowing of transient attacks followed by overhang that robs the instrument of its vibrancy.
It wasn’t just drums and other percussive instruments that benefited from the Q7’s ability to start and stop on a dime; trumpets, for example, came to life and soared as though let out of a cage. There’s a transient component in a trumpet’s initial attack that, when smeared, dilutes the sense of presence. The Q7 revealed so much more of Roy Hargrove’s dynamic expression on the fabulous SACD Jazz in the Key of Blue [Chesky]. This album also showcased the Q7’s resolution of microdynamic detail in drummer Jimmy Cobb’s gentle brush work and delicate cymbal strikes. The Q7 revealed to me just how important transient reproduction is to the gestalt of music listening, and why reproduced music often falls so short of the sound of live instruments.
Astonishingly, this transient fidelity wasn’t confined to the midrange and treble but extended into the very lowest bass. The bottom-end impact of bass drum and timpani was startling, both in the suddenness in which the sound begins and the suddenness with which it stops. I’ve never heard a loudspeaker that combined such dynamic agility with deep extension and weight. The new Reference Recordings disc Playing with Fire contains some interesting music spectacularly recorded; the huge bass-drum whacks on the opening track will lift you out of your seat. Moreover, the Q7 was completely unperturbed by deep bass, massive bottom-end impacts, complex passages, and high playback levels—all at the same time. Even with the most demanding music at the highest playback levels the Q7 remained perfectly composed in a way that most loudspeakers do not. There wasn’t a hint of congestion, hardening of timbre, or reduction in dynamics. And the Q7 goes low, with organ pedal points pressurizing the room.