UK-Based KEF has a product line that runs deep. High fidelity and home theater flow through the company’s veins and offer targeted solutions in nearly every direction. Looking for the one of the best? Check out the Blade. Out of your range? Check out the Blade II or Reference 3 options, I’ve heard both perform with simply top tier sound on many occasions. Looking for something a little more simple? KEF makes desktop pairings down to its EGG ($499) and MUO ($349) options for first-timers and students.
Todays subject falls somewhere in the middle of all this. It’s located at an intersection of partial convenience towing the high end slowly down towards the masses. The R300 bookshelf ($1799) finds itself below the Reference line, but above KEF’s budget Q line. With the 2-way LS50 stealing most of the spotlight these days, its important to take a closer look at 3-way concentric designs like the R300 as another budget options of the same order are also quietly sliding its way into the collective audiophile consciousness. The math is simple, free up more drivers to do specific tasks distinctly tailored to their relative size. A driver for every category and, in the case of the R300, mid and treble directionally firing from nearly the same source point. All lovely characteristics to help set a fine stage for success.
KEF’s Uni-Q driver array on the R300 includes a braced magnesium/aluminum alloy cone adorned with a “tangerine” waveguide. Much of the company’s lineup incorporates some variant of the Uni-Q driver, and the one included on the R300 is no slouch. The 6.5-inch plain clothes bass driver features little adornment on the front end, but does come paired with a rear-firing porthole. To this reviewers eyes, the external looks and polish of KEFs design are one of the markets leaders and set a perfect tone for the high end sound developed on the other end of the mechanics. And so it is with the R300. One cannot review this bookshelf without talking about the high-end finish and external looks that deservedly accompany the almost $2k price tag. Sound is everything, but the R300 looks and sounds the part.
The cabinet is weighty, the finish doesn’t look cheap and feels almost comforting to the touch. The metallic trim of the drivers adds to the already strong character of the collective and every crease, slot and knob is fitted perfectly within the cabinet. The review unit we received was adorned with a walnut finish, and while some might prefer either the rosewood, gloss white or piano black, the color could chameleon its way into a finished den or endtable with little effort. At 15.2 inches deep (and with a rear firing port), the R300 is bookshelf in name only. Like other members of the (non-floorstander) trade, the aluminum bass driver sounds its best when its given a little breathing room from a wall, and supported by speaker stands from underneath. But KEF didn’t leave consumers alone on this front (or back as the case may be) either. Included with the speaker is a pair of adjustable foam plugs for the rear port. These fitted adjusters actually include a removable center which allows for a second setting which further augments both air pass-through and the hole circumference. This surprising add-on actually came in very handy throughout the critical listening process and included tangible, useful options during setup. During critical listening a medium sized room, (on speaker stands) with at least 6 ft of space behind them, the R300s felt a little big in the low end at room-filling volumes. Inserting the foam plug decreased the response considerably, but perhaps a little extra thinned out for that full visceral response. With the foam plug in and the center removed, the goldilocks story came promptly to an end with a satisfactory flat response with plenty of dynamic range. Nearfield listening provoked an entirely different experience. The best response came from the plug fully removed, perhaps a result from the lower volume required to play at close range similar to a larger desktop setup or close set studio operation. Of course, close proximity to any wall out of necessity might trigger a desire to “plug in”, but the variable here is simply stupendous in its ability to create yet another tool to fine-tune a listening room.