Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 27" iMac with 5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 3.01, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming, COS Engineering D1 & H1,AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi Formula, Fore Audio DAISy 1
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Wyred4Sound STP-SE MkII, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVC module), COS Engineering D1, Nagra Jazz, Nagra Classic [on review]
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1, F5, F6, F7; Bakoon AMP-12R; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics One SE Up NC500MB monos; LinnenberG Audio Allegro monos; LinnenberG Liszt monos [on review]; Pass Labs XA25 [on review]
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Black Cat Cable redlevel Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, Titan Audio Eros cords between wall and conditioners and on the amps
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands [on loan]
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Review components retail in Europe: $6'999/pr

Listeners with the RAM of young elephants will remember John Bau's iconic 6.5" two-way monitor, Spica's 'the wedge' TC50 from the ex Stereophile headquarters of Santa Fe. Its success led to the brand's eventual acquisition by Richard Schram's Parasound. The Spica and its TC60 successors were compact 2-way monitors with a nearly 45° sloping baffle whose soundstaging virtues were the talk of the mags back when.

Listeners blessed with the memory power of fully mature elephants might even reach back two years further to 1981 when the Swedish Qln Audio speaker brand from Gothenburg, first formed in 1977, introduced their original truncated-pyramid monitor Qln One [right]. Today's owner Mats Andersen had joined them as designer by 1982 and become part owner in 1986. In 2003 the company sold and new ownership pursued different directions. However, Mats reacquired Qln in 2012 to revive for it his original vision.

The short brief for today's back-to-the-roots Qln Signature 3 is the same sloping shape for "perfect time alignment and minimal baffle area"; cabinet construction of Qln's proprietary Qboard®, a constrained-layer high-density sandwich material with viscoelastic glue for purportedly excellent damping of the Swedish-made "dead" enclosure with 28mm baffle; a customized ScanSpeak 1"/25mm soft dome tweeter plus 7"/18cm Kevlar mid/woofer in a rear-ported configuration; Mundorf parts like oil-filled caps and pure copper terminals; and Qln's own internal hookup wiring.

The longer form adds 8Ω nominal impedance, 87dB sensitivity, a -3dB bass point of 42Hz, 12.5kg weight and dimensions of 37x26.5x36.5cm HxWxdD. Available skins are Walnut, satin White or natural oiled Oak.

2018 should still see the addition of a floorstander which is to inherit the trademark sloping baffle of the Signature 3 to perhaps look like a bit a Meadowlark Shearwater of yore. The spring of 2019 will see the launch of a 40th anniversary model to celebrate the first time-aligned Qln One monitor which is expected to make a public appearance at that year's Munich show. And that's the return of Qln in a nut shell.

What could crack and drop that nut is a $7'000 tag. Doesn't that seem awfully loaded for a compact monitor by a mostly forgotten Scandinavian company and their relaunch of a 40-year old design? In hifi time, that's an antique. What could it have which a modern Sonus faber, Harbeth or Focal—insert your favourite costly monitor—does not? That's where I felt a frosty Nordic wind come on; coincidentally just in time for early March 2018's "beast from the East" Siberian cold front wreaking snowy havoc across Europe. But it also triggered honest curiosity. After all, Spicas remain venerated on the used market. And a bull's eye 2-way from the last century, especially when updated with the very latest drivers and whatever filter adjustments those require, could remain perfectly competitive and desirable even if a Qln badge still won't play to brand recognition and intangibles like resell value and pride of ownership.

To learn just how Mats Andersen had overhauled the original to make it fully 2018 compliant, I asked for a then-and-now picture; and to correct any assumptions we might entertain in grand style—no matter how seemingly reasonable—about actual progress in speaker design across this specific time period. After all, how much can really have progressed when so-called passé driver tech à la Cube, Rethm, Voxativ and Zu cellulose widebanders continues to sell well against hi-tech drivers of beryllium, ceramic, diamond, magnesium and various nano composites? Ports remain ubiquitous. So do non-parallel wall constructions and constrained-layer materials. So do 1st through 4th-order filters, with anything steeper still exceedingly rare when executed in the analog domain. In those terms, had the original Qln One simply been well ahead of its time for 2018 to just have caught up with it? From the website, we learn that the first Qln Signature upgrade over the Qln One ran from 1986-1989, used the original enclosure but rounded over its frontal edges and added the black felt. The Classic Signature of 1989-2003 sported a yellow ScanSpeak Kevlar mid/woofer and Seas soft dome. The current Signature 3 is the 4th generation since with a superior tweeter, better filter parts and changes to the internal damping.

As to the meaning of Qln, "it combines the founders' names Nils Lijeroth and Lars Qvicklund whose initials N, L, L and Q became Qln. Lars left Sweden for the US during the mid '80s, Nils was my partner in the company from 1986-1999 but passed away from cancer in 2014. Today I own the company outright."

A September 2013 review in the Swedish Hifi & Musik magazine shows the tweeter change of the first Signature upgrade.
... to be continued...