|• iQ50 tower speaker ($450 each): 51∕4-in woofer, 51∕4-in mid/woofer, 3∕4-in tweeter; 32 in high; 221∕2 lb
• iQ60C center speaker ($550): (2) 51∕4-in woofers, 51∕4-in mid/woofer, 3∕4-in tweeter; 201∕8 in wide; 193∕8 lb
• iQ10 minispeaker ($450/pair): 51∕4-in mid/woofer; 3∕4-in tweeter; 117∕8 in high; 97∕8 lb
• HTB2SE-W subwoofer ($1,200): 10-in woofer; 10-in passive radiator; 250-watt amplifier; 153∕8 in high; 26 lb
My mother would hate KEF speakers. Not because of the sound, though. She would disapprove because KEFs let me do what she spent years teaching me not to do: slump down in my chair. KEF is famous among audiophiles for its devotion to concentric drivers: a tweeter mounted in the center of a woofer.
KEF calls this design Uni-Q. With conventional tweeter-above-woofer speakers, if you shift your head up or down, your ears move closer to one driver and farther from the other, causing cancellation of certain sound frequencies. But because the sound waves from the Uni-Q woofer and tweeter emerge from the same place, your ear is always at the same distance from both drivers, and the sound of the midrange and treble barely changes at all whether you’re standing or sitting. Even in the leaned-way-back position that my mother insisted would someday leave me lurching like Quasimodo, I hear the same sound quality that I’d enjoy if my posture were as erect as Barack Obama’s.
The iQ Series speakers deliver the benefits of Uni-Q at modest prices. Savvy surround-sound freaks will notice that if you combine the line’s smallest tower speaker, the iQ50, with the iQ60c center speaker and the iQ10 minispeaker, you can put together a 5.1 or 7.1 system in which every speaker uses the exact same concentric driver arrangement: a 5¼ -inch midrange/woofer surrounding a ¾ -inch tweeter.
KEF sent me a 5.1 system comprising two iQ50s for front left and right, an iQ60c center speaker, two iQ10s for surround channels, and one HTB2SE-W wireless subwoofer. KEF seems to have spared no effort in designing the iQ Series. The curved enclosures look really swank and also have acoustical benefits. The drivers and ports are elegantly flush-mounted. The midrange/woofer rises above the speaker’s top plate, finished off by a handsome aluminum trim piece.
To augment the bass, KEF adds one extra 5¼ -inch woofer to the iQ50 and two to the iQ60c. However, such small drivers can’t deliver the deep bass in movie soundtracks, so for my review system, KEF also included its new HTB2SE-W. One look at the HTB2SE- W’s design and you know it’s intended more for the décor-conscious listener than for the home-theater enthusiast. However, the compact chassis incorporates a fairly robust 10-inch driver, a 10-inch passive radiator, and a 250-watt amp. A tiny wireless transmitter that connects to your receiver is included. You can place the HTB2SE-W vertically like a wheel or horizontally like a flying saucer.
The consistent dispersion of the Uni-Q design makes these speakers a snap to set up. Whether you point them straight out or toe them in to face you, you won’t hear a big difference in the mids and highs. KEF’s sole miscue with iQ is the short jumper cables supplied for the speaker-cable binding posts, which can be removed to permit biwiring. The jumper cables spoil the sleek design, and they’re much more cumbersome to install than the usual sheet-metal jumpers, especially if your speaker cables are tipped with spade lugs.
Any resentment I felt about the jumper cables was dissipated when I went to install the HTB2SE-W. Subs don’t get any friendlier. I used a short RCA cable to connect the transmitter to my receiver’s subwoofer output, plugged in the subwoofer and the transmitter’s power supply, and switched them both on. In a matter of seconds, the subwoofer was up and running. What few controls KEF provided I didn’t need.
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