With everything comfortably placed, I left the Brits alone for a couple weeks of casual, everyday use — “break-in,” if you like. Returning to duty, I began as always with two-channel, full-range (no-subwoofer) listening from the R100s alone.
As to sound, well, here’s the lazy reader’s executive summary: These are very fine small speakers. The R100 immediately grabbed my attention with a level of clarity obviously above the norm. For example, the multilayered massed strings of the Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings (Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, from an old Sony CD) sounded vibrant and distinct despite generous hall sound.
Well-recorded voices get full value from the R100s. One of the best — James Taylor’s peerless baritone — sounded utterly natural via the little KEFs. When I played “Jump Up Behind Me” from his Hourglass CD, I heard just the right degree of warmth and fullness (a lot), but also a crisp attack of initial consonants, with no hint of sibilance.
Range, too, was impressive, especially given the R100’s size. Music rich in bass, such as Hourglass, sounded remarkably solid, with full, rounded tones that carried a stronger dose of fundamental in the lowest pop-bass octave (40-80 Hz) than I usually hear from speakers this size, plus unusually even note-to- note balance (suggesting smooth response).
Unsurprisingly, the KEFs shone even brighter on the best multichannel recordings, like an SACD of chamber symphonies from the Second Viennese School (Summit Records DCD592). Playing the stereo mix of this SACD yielded gorgeous string densities and a tight yet faithful stereo image that spread the orchestra believably across a wide soundstage, with a somewhat dry, but solid, illusion of depth. With all 5.0 channels on the job, each instrument’s tonal arsenal and spatial location were even more convincingly rounded out.
The R400b handily covered the work left by the R100 and R200c, both of which produce some useful response into the lowest octave. With my preamp/ processor’s crossover set to a low 60 Hz, I got a seamless sub-to-satellite transition, and very satisfying deep bass. (This despite the KEF sub’s omission of the filter-bypassing “LFE Input” that’s typical among higher-end woofers.)
On the beautifully produced War Horse, the little KEF sub did not disappoint: Absent perhaps a third-octave of the very deepest bass, this compact subwoofer does everything you should require in a room the size of my studio (about 3,200 cubic feet) or even, probably, a bit larger. Deep bass effects such as those in the battle scenes in Chapters 17 and 21 were replete with floor-bending bottom octave. In my initial setup, the R400b did display a touch of the 60- to 80-Hz emphasis that plagues so many sub/sat setups. But changing the front trio’s crossover setting to “full” in my preamp/processor’s setup menu, and thus allowing the R100s and R200c to roll off naturally rather than sending any of their bass to the sub, virtually eliminated it, yielding tight, effective deep bass.
The R200c center speaker’s near-perfect match to the left/right R100s maintained unchanged tonality to a much farther off-axis angle than any sensible seating arrangement would require — a fringe benefit of Uni-Q’s smooth, consistent directivity.
Add in the R800ds surrounds, which are effectively dual R100s in dipolar array, and you have a superbly well-integrated surround sound system. (I remain a dipole advocate for movie sound, as well as for the kind of music surround I most favor.) The spatial results on Spielberg’s WWI extravaganza were, in a word, thrilling. Scenes such as the no-man’s-land sequence, with whizzing bullets and cross-firing machine guns, revealed impressive cohesion from front to back, even on discrete effects.
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