KEF KIT100 Speaker System Reviewed

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 KEF KIT100 Speaker System Reviewed

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You just gotta love marketing guys. They probably assumed that the only people who remember the original usage of the name 'KEF KIT' are now such old farts that it's OK to resuscitate the moniker for something with absolutely no connection to DIY speaker building. In 2004, 'KIT' stands for KEF Instant Theatre, and it's just so, so laddish a name that you have to smile. How many magazines will - automatically - head their reviews, 'Nice Piece of KIT'? (RIP, Mr. Cooke.)

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But smiling is what the KEF KIT100 is all about, because - amidst a plethora of budget home theatre dreck - here's a room-friendly, user-friendly, BWFH-friendly system that, well, doesn't suck. The obverse is that it doesn't set the world alight, either. But that is to damn the KEF KIT100 with scant praise, because it is so clever in so many ways that even ye of the high-end disposition might find a use for it. For my money, it is to painless home cinema what Tivoli is to radio.

So let's get this out of the way: KEF's method for extracting the semblance of five-channel surround from two speakers is not a substitute for a true 5.1 set-up. Not that KEF claims to replace five discrete channels with its Uni-Q/NXT hybrids. Their slogan is 'Surround yourself with sound, not speakers,' and it's absolutely true 5.1 up to a point, that point being a decent frontal area slightly greater than 180 degrees. If set up correctly, the sound will extend to the sides...but forget Star Wars flyovers and bullets flying from front-left to rear-right.

If you approach the KEF KIT100 with this in mind - that it's a sane compromise rather than an attempt at defying the laws of physics and psychoacoustics - you just might find that the package is the home-cinema solution to recommend to non-enthusiast friends with the usual cost/space/evil wife considerations.

What they'll get for �1200 is absolutely EVERYTHING bar a monitor. The two boxes contain a pair of KIT100 speakers, a stylish KIT100 PSW subwoofer and the KIT100 DVD, a single die-cast zinc unit housing a DVD player, an AM/FM tuner and the processing. Around the size of a London phone directory, you can hide it away thanks to dimensions of only 2.32x12.75x10.31in (HWD), and most people won't even know it's there. Which would be a pity, as it's gorgeous and cool in a very iPod-y way

Also supplied are all the accessories you need: a remote control, dedicated wiring, indoor aerials, pictograph instructions a moron could follow. The only option is a pair of dedicated floor stands at �150 per pair; straight out of the box, the speakers are fitted with circular plinths so you can stand them on shelves.

In a way, the subwoofer is the heart of the system because everything links to it. Inside is a 10in long-throw woofer, but that's just part of the recipe. The single mains cable plugs into its back and a single block-plug connects, via two leads emerging from it in single 'Y'-cord style, to the left and right main speakers. The sub also contains all the amplification in its 15.6x6.9x20.3in (HWD) chassis, a handsome silver enclosure with a mirrored front. A computer lead also connects from the sub to the main DVD/tuner unit, to accept all signals and control data. That's it. Aside from minor assembly of the floor stands, should you opt for them, set-up is a true no-brainer.

Every command appears on the remote, with the front of the DVD player containing only power on (from stand-by; main power on/off is on the subwoofer), source select, volume up/down, play/pause and open/close. Mirror-finished like the subwoofer, it's uncluttered, with only a blue-lit display to show you the status of the chosen source: Dolby or DTS, track number, times, mute, tuner channel and status, including RDS, preset number etc. At the back, in addition to the single computer socket that connects it to the sub, are a SCART for VCRs or external DVD players, video inputs and outputs for component (progressive scan), composite and S-Video, optical digital inputs and outputs, and three line inputs for stereo sources including VCRs, TV, set-top satellite boxes and the like.

KEF stresses that the KIT100 DVD does NOT feature a virtual surround system, 'like most of the others on the market.' Hear, hear, say I. Instead, it has five discrete channels, with real Dolby Digital and DTS processing and five analogue amplifiers in the sub. KEF doesn't state power output, but it's irrelevant as, like the Niro system, it's a 'closed' system in that you have to use the provided sub and satellites. But more about that anon, power-wise.

KEF also points out that, 'the only "virtual" channel is the permanent phantom centre channel. In our view Uni-Q (used for left and right) does a great job at creating believable phantom centre with decent dialogue intelligibility.' Because the KIT includes a deliciously clear and simple on-screen set-up programme, you also get a demonstration of how it handles true 5.1 sources, including the efficacy of the phantom centre.

Like nearly all A/V processors, you set levels by scrolling through the five channels and the subwoofer. Thus, you will hear in turn the discrete front left and right, rear left and right, and the phantom centre channel with the noise signals used for the set-up. And that's how you will hear the limits of the circa 180 degrees of surround. Note that you must follow the speaker positioning regime to the letter, especially the severe toe-in, or the surround sound aspect will be compromised.

In the KIT100 speakers, a 4in Uni-Q driver with 0.6in tweeter is mounted at the front of the 9.33x4.7x10.23in (HWD) die-cast aluminium, magnetically-shielded chassis. Narrow but deep, the rear section houses the NXT surround speakers, positioned directly behind the fronts. The flat panels behave in a dipolar manner and, 'rely on a combination of excellent bloom in the front near-field plus side wall reflections for gaining good surround effect.' So you can see that KEF isn't taking any chances: the main left/right signals come through their coaxial-like Uni-Q speakers, while the surround effects are via NXT panels, thus sidestepping the whole issue of NXT quality. Devious, eh? You get the diffuse benefits of NXT and the sound quality of KEF's dynamic drivers, especially useful for your stereo CD listening.

KEF has employed an 'all purpose' audio mode as the default, so inserting a DVD will default to either Dolby Digital or DTS depending on the disc menu default (or the user-override), while CD and tuner default to Dolby ProLogic2 Music and the TV input defaults to Dolby ProLogic2 Movie. KEF hasn't forgotten grown-ups, either. 'For those CD music purists who want nothing to do with surround, it is easy to cancel "all purpose" and select good old stereo. However, the listener will probably notice that the bass level is set too high in this mode because the unit is set by default to maximum "wow" factor for DVD movies. However, nothing could be more simple than to back off the subwoofer a few dBs on the remote control for more pleasing sound on music!' At last: some honesty at mass-market level.

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