KEF XQ Series and psw3500 Loudspeakers Reviewed

KEF XQ Series and psw3500 Loudspeakers Reviewed

When listening to DVDs, "the five main speakers created a seamless sound field." Our reviewer noted that "if I had my eyes closed, I would have believed I was listening to five identical speakers." Special effects got special treatment as "helicopter flyovers sounded utterly realistic and all speakers contributed to the solidarity of the sound field..."

While small, unobtrusive speakers are the craze these days for most newbies putting together a home theater, that's only because they haven't had the experience of hearing what a full-sized package can deliver. And they also might not realize how good a full-sized system can look.

But KEF, based in Britain, has been making innovatively designed, technologically advanced speakers since 1961, and the company hasn't slowed down for the 21st century.
KEF's new XQ series endeavors to deliver high-end performance for a more modest cost than the company's Reference line. They're not cheap by any stretch of the imagination - the system as configured here lists for more than $7,000. But, the quality built into it was immediately evident when I opened the shipping cartons. After extracting the speakers, I had to admit that they were beautiful.

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The Maranello Red finish that KEF sent along matched absolutely nothing in my home theater, but it sure looked luxuriously beautiful - certainly not something you'd want to hide away. If red's not your thing, take a look at the natural maple, silver, graphite metallic or pearlescent finishes also available.

Unique Features
All of the satellites in the KEF system have a Uni-Q array consisting of a 6.5-inch midrange driver with a .75-inch aluminum dome tweeter mounted at its acoustic center. This isn't a conventional coaxial speaker, but what KEF calls a "co-incident" drive unit. The intent is to create a "point source" for smoother off-axis performance. Each speaker also features a bullet-shaped Hypertweeter on top of the cabinet that extends the upper frequency response to 55 kHz.

That's well beyond the audible range, but if DVD-Audio discs and Super Audio CDs are going to have output up there, you might as well be able to reproduce it!

The floor-standing XQ5 is a four-way speaker with two 6.5-inch bass drivers, the Hypertweeter and the Uni-Q midrange/tweeter array. With a height of more than 40 inches, the speakers are unquestionably large. They are, however, slim and elegantly rounded. The curves are not just about elegance - they're to reduce standing waves inside the cabinet that could color the sound. Black grilles are provided, of course, but I preferred leaving them off. What's the point of having an anodized aluminum baffle and covering it up with black cloth? Even the two ports on the XQ5 make a design statement. They're not round; they look something like a partially-eclipsed moon. Again, that's not just for looks. It's to cut harmonic distortion and turbulent noise.
They do look cool, though.

The XQ1 is the XQ5's little brother, sporting a Uni-Q midrange/tweeter array and Hypertweeter. The single port looks identical to that on the XQ5, and the curves on the cabinets are equally attractive. If I were putting together a system strictly for home theater use, I'd consider saving some bucks by using XQ1s for the front and surround left/right channels. They can't go as low as the XQ5s, but with a subwoofer to pick up the bottom octaves they don't need to. They're capable of filling all but the largest home theaters with expansive sound. (For stereo music listening, stick with the XQ5s.) The available XQ1 stands ($400/pair) are attractive, though they're shelf-mountable.

The XQ2C center channel speaker, like the XQ5, is a four-way design - two bass drivers, a Uni-Q array and a Hypertweeter. Unlike the XQ5, it's a sealed box. Despite its rounded cabinet, it perched comfortably on top of my rear projection television and blended amazingly well with the XQ5s and XQ1s.

Bringing up the bottom end in this system was the PSW3500 powered subwoofer. This large, oval sub doesn't match the XQ series, but it looks far better than most subwoofers I've seen. There's no need to hide it behind a couch. Its coffee-table height opens up a lot of possibilities. It has a 12-inch down-firing driver and an amplifier rated at 300 watts.
Click to Page 2 for Installation, Listening, and the Final Take.

Installation/Setup/Ease of Use

The hardest part of setting up the KEF system was moving the speakers into place, simply because they're big and heavy, and the finish is so good-looking that it makes you overly cautious. Finely-machined feet and spikes are provided for the XQ5s, and feet are provided for the XQ1. The downfiring sub stands on integral feet. I placed it slightly to the right of the front right speaker, which worked well in my room.

All the speakers in this system, even the sub, are magnetically shielded. All the main speakers can be bi-amplified and feature dual binding post pairs. The sub has only line-level inputs, but a couple of speaker-level adaptors are included so you can input a speaker-level signal to the sub's RCA jacks. The sub's rear panel also has line-level, high-pass outputs for connection to an amplifier and several switches to tailor its operation. For example, there's a Music/Cinema switch to add impact when watching movies. I left it in the Music position, as there was plenty of impact the way it was!

There's also a low-pass filter switch that lets you set the rolloff rate at either 12 or 24 dB per octave. A remote control supplied with the sub allows you to adjust the most important parameters - power, level, crossover, phase - right from the listening position. And if you need to hide this attractive sub out of sight? A supplied infrared receptor plugs into the IR extension input on the rear panel.

Final Take
I began by auditioning this system with stereo music. The XQ5s delivered a solid soundstage, whether I was listening to the Ramones or Miles Davis. I could have sworn that the center speaker was playing during some tracks, though, of course, it wasn't.

I then switched to multi-channel music and movies - specifically, the DVD of Ray, a biopic about the musical genius, Ray Charles. There's no question that the movie deserved its Best Sound Mixing Oscar ® (or that Jamie Foxx deserved his Best Actor Oscar ®). The five main speakers created a seamless sound field. If I had my eyes closed, I would have believed I was listening to five identical speakers. Ray didn't have too much going on in the sub's region, so I switched to another DVD movie, the 2005 release of Assault on Precinct 13. Assault is, ultimately, a forgettable movie. But its Dolby Digital soundtrack sure does rock. There's plenty of gunfire and explosions in the flick, and the PSW3500 really brought them into my home theater. The helicopter flyovers sounded utterly realistic, and all the speakers contributed to the solidity of the sound field. Against my better judgment, I watched the entire flick, not because I cared about the characters, I just didn't want to miss any of the cool sound effects coming from this fabulous speaker system.

If you are looking for speakers you can hide away, don't look at any of the models in KEF's XQ Series. But if you're looking for something that's as nice to look at as it is to listen to, you owe it to yourself to visit a KEF dealer as soon as you can.

KEF XQ SERIES AND PSW3500
KEF XQ5 Front Left/Right Speakers
Amplifier power: 15 - 150 watts
Frequency response: 45Hz - 55kHz
(2) 6.5" bass drivers
Uni-Q array with 6.5" midrange driver and
.75" aluminum dome tweeter
(1) .75" titanium dome Hypertweeter
Enclosure type: ported
41 1/24"H x 9"W x 12"D
Weight: 53.5 lbs
XQ5 (Front L/R) in Maranello Red - $3,000/pair

KEF XQ2C Center Speaker
Amplifier power: 15 - 150 watts
Frequency response: 60Hz - 55kHz
(2) 6.5" bass drivers
Uni-Q array with 6.5" midrange driver and
.75" aluminum dome tweeter
(1) .75" titanium dome Hypertweeter
Enclosure type: sealed
10 3/4"H x 24 3/4"W x 12"D
Weight: 38.5 lbs
XQ2C (Center) in Maranello Red - $1,200

KEF XQ1 Surround Speakers
Frequency response: 45 Hz - 55 kHz
Uni-Q array with 6.5" midrange driver and
.75" aluminum dome tweeter
(1) .75" titanium dome Hypertweeter
Enclosure type: ported
16 1/2"H x 9"W x 12"D
Weight: 20.25 lbs
XQ1 (Surround) in Maranello Red - $1,500/pair
XQ1 Stands - $400/pair

KEF PSW3500 Subwoofer
Amplified power: 300 watts
Frequency response: 30 - 250 Hz
12" down-firing long throw woofer
40Hz - 140Hz variable crossover; 250Hz fixed
17 3/4"H x 23 1/2"W x 15 1/2"D
Enclosure type: sealed
Weight: 49.75 lbs
PSW3500 Subwoofer - $1,200 each

Total System MSRP - $7,300

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