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.
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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.
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