Published On: April 17, 2003

KEF Reference 205/201/202C and PSW4000 Subwoofer Reviewed

Published On: April 17, 2003

KEF Reference 205/201/202C and PSW4000 Subwoofer Reviewed

The Reference line utilizes the new Hypertweeter which is designed to give extended flat responses up to 50 kHz and tail off to 70 kHz. Our reviewer found them to be "very smooth in the midrange and lower midrange down to a strong lower bass response." The soundstage was "very large and deep, imaging was excellent, detail was plentiful"

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KEF is on a roll. When we tested the new, revitalized Q series, we discovered that not only did we like the sound, but also the new look. I liked that system enough that they ended up at my brother's.

Additional Resources
Read more KEF reviews here.
Read top performing bookshelf speaker reviews here.
Read top performing Floorstanding speaker reviews here.

Powered by a Marantz 9200 receiver, they sound really good, and are an excellent competitor in the moderate price range. Now KEF has re-done their Reference line, and the styling has gone from slightly dowdy to art deco beautiful. The Reference line consists of the 201 "bookshelf," the 203, 205, and 207 floor-standers, the 202c and 204c center channel speakers, and the 206ds dipole surround speaker. The most obvious comparison is to arch rival B&W's Nautilus line, with a complete family of speakers sharing build quality, technology, and sonic traits. For this review we tested the 205 ($8,000) as fronts, the 201 ($3,750) as surround speakers, and selected the 202c ($2,000) center channel speaker. These came in what I think is the most attractive color, maple with silver trim. The speakers are very pretty with tapered sides (to decrease standing waves), excellent build quality, gorgeous veneers and, on the maple version, attractive silver and grey trim. Perched on top of all the Reference speakers is the new Hypertweeter in bright, chrome silver. Although the line is also available in cherry and black, those speakers seem more subdued because of their black trim. No, I would take the maple ones, and leave the gray grilles off.

Unique Features - The entire Reference line shares the new Hypertweeter, designed to give extended flat response up to 50 kHz, and tail off up to 70 kHz. While CDs and DVDs carry information up to 20 kHz, DVD-Audio and SACD discs carry useful information up to 40 kHz. Although this is above the threshold of human hearing, the extended response is supposed to increase headroom and give a sweeter, more airy top end. The Reference series also shares the Uni-Q driver array, which places the tweeter in the center of the midrange driver to provide as tight a point source as possible. The tweeter handles only frequencies above 400 Hz to minimize distortions to the midrange driver.

The 205s add a pair of 8" bass drivers that give useful bass down to 45 Hz. The 201s have a 6.5" bass driver, and the 202c has two 6.5" bass drivers. All the bass drivers are ported in the front below the driver. Because the midrange, tweeters, and Hypertweeters are essentially the same on all the speakers, the all-important tonal properties are very similar, creating a very smooth sound field. Added to this combination was the KEF PSW4000 powered subwoofer with a 12" driver, also finished in maple.

Installation/Setup/Ease of Use - Testing was done with two sets of processor/amps, the Krell Showcase units and the Sunfire units. Cabling was done for the front three with AudioQuest Gibraltar bi-wire speaker wire. The Reference line speakers are all set up to tri-wire, but jumpers are available to single or bi-wire. The Krell DVD Standard and McIntosh DVP851 provided the source material.

Final Take - I started by testing the 205s in two-channel mode. I found them to be very smooth in the midrange and lower midrange down to a strong lower bass response. Although the listening room was fairly live, in 2-channel the 205s had a good, rhythmic, and tight bass response. The highs had a tendency to sound a little bright with certain material, something that was emphasized a bit with the Krell gear. The Sunfire processor and amp have a slightly more laid-back top end,
and seemed to mate with the KEFs just a little better. The soundstage was very large and deep, imaging was excellent, detail was plentiful, and there seemed to be significant air around instruments. Except for the occasional sibilance, the overwhelming conclusion was one of smoothness, as the midrange manages to thoroughly express detail without being fatiguing. The midrange is very transparent and ever so slightly forward. The midrange blends smoothly into the upper bass, and the lower bass provides a firm rhythmic kick to music. The lower midrange slides so smoothly down to the kick of the lower bass that you can almost visualize the bass response as creating a foundation upon which the vocals sit.

Read much more on Page 2

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I actually took some time to hook up the 201s as front speakers before setting them up as surrounds. Sonically, they are very similar to the 205s in the midrange and highs, and actually generate a reasonable amount of tight, rhythmic bass but, of course, nowhere near as much as the 205s. After hooking them up as surrounds, and adding the 202c center channel, I began to demo 5.1 music material. All speakers were set to full range, and the subwoofer was turned off for the initial testing. The sound field projected by the system was very cohesive, very wide, and detailed. The amount of bass produced with all speakers playing was truly surprising, as it was deep, copious, tight, and rhythmic. In fact, it would at times overwhelm the live, moderately sized listening room and verge on being boomy, but this was not the fault of the speakers as much as the listening environment. Frankly, these speakers sounded wonderful, transparent, smooth, and non-fatiguing with music material. Adding the sub was simply overkill, as it just was not needed.

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A few words on the PSW4000 subwoofer: it is powerful, attractive, and designed to go deep and loud. It does not produce the tight, musical bass of my little REL Strata III, but the deep, floor-shaking bass that adds the realism to home theater. I, personally, did not find the need for the sub for music with this system but, with movies, it is a powerhouse. I really liked the included remote control with the sub that allowed you turn it on and off, change the level, frequency, and phase with the push of a button. Why can't all subs have a remote like this? Moving on to movies, the same characteristics that I enjoyed with music made movies a delight. The 202c center is especially clear and intelligible, and anchors the system very well. Panning between speakers is excellent as the sound field never changes signature sonically between the speakers, and once again creates that sense of cohesiveness that I have talked about. This is mainly due to the use of the same midrange and tweeter drivers throughout the line, which is not only intelligent, but also absolutely necessary for high quality home theater reproduction. The sense of detail is excellent, which draws one into a movie, and creates total immersion. Although many prefer a dipole speaker for the surrounds, I still prefer direct radiating, as it is much better for high-resolution surround formats. The 201 simply does not disappoint, and does an excellent job as a surround speaker although, like my reference system's B&W Nautilus 805, it is often just loafing through its job.

What is there to say negative about this system? Besides the brightness with occasional material or equipment, the only thing I have to complain about is that it costs somewhere north of $16,000. So, I know what you are thinking: for that kind of money, it better deliver! Well it does, and KEF should be proud of the fact that this system not only sounds great, but looks beautiful as well. KEF has made significant improvements to their Reference line, and boy are they on a roll.

Additional Resources
Read more KEF reviews here.
Read top performing bookshelf speaker reviews here.
Read top performing Floorstanding speaker reviews here.

Suggested Retail Prices:
KEF Reference 205: $8,000
KEF Reference 201: $3,750
KEF Reference 202c: $2,000
KEF PSW4000: $2,500

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