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.
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.
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.