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.
Imaging through the dual UniQ drivers is usually very well defined. It takes only a little fine-tuning to get them sounding sharp and on focus in most room situations. During near-field listening sessions the stand mount speakers were able to hold a vocal image just above the computer source screen, ever so gingerly spaced in between the two sets of drivers.
The R300 did a marvelous job of delivering natural sounding treble. Smooth and grainless, the similar-style Elac UB-5 bookshelf sounded aggressive and almost shouty by comparison in the same section of the frequency spectrum. High hat and cymbal splash is defined on the R300, but doesn’t greet listeners with and unnatural edge or sizzle that lesser drivers can often fall prey to in an effort to recreate an exciting presentation. Mid tone texture felt right at home as the centerpiece of the frequency sweep. The strings soar and detail is rich as it is nuanced. The opening guitar from the 24/96 transfer of Led Zepplin’s Bron-Y-Aur Stomp isn’t mic’d with exceptional closeness, but it still managed to appear dimensional and held well in space through the R300 from its laid back location. As the rest of the instruments in the freestyle feelin’ song rev up, it’s still easy to pick out the acoustic instruments as they are delivered in smooth layers separated from each other, even as things get more busy. Some of the early Zepplin tracks can get a bit muddled, but the KEFs managed to recreate a very slick arc to the playback that leaves a sense of body and belonging to instrument. As the hand claps come after the guitar intro, they land to either side in the mix with the same tight recreation, tight enough to easily discern that a few of the beats land a little off kilter from each other occasionally. When the ragtag bass drum lands in the song, it hits with a thud and bounce that feels faithful the playful nature of the recording.
The R300 frequency response is rated down to 50 Hz, and a tone sweep down to that level reaffirmed this number (if not a even a little more reach). Could they get by with an external subwoofer to round out the low end stretch? Sure. But even with the single tone sweep, with the enough volume the R300 by themselves could rattle teeth. That’s not to say they are bassy by any means, but rather they harness the capability to deliver on a far grander scale. The previously-mentioned plug gives a versatility to the setup game that somewhat negates too much rhetoric from getting in the way of evaluating the bass. Out of the box and unplugged, there is quite a bit of reach and plenty of new depths to uncover in the name of entertainment. Normal 2 channel listening perhaps sets a good thump over a pleasurable area, but balance as with all things, is the key here. Never do the R300’s seem overreaching or congested. All key elements sit well together in a harmony that melts away into the background. If you need more, the R300s can produce. Unlike many audio products across the market, these KEF bookshelves don’t sound distinctly lush or overly analytical. They find a nice common ground in between the two extremes that sits very well on the teetering scale.
The three letter company knows what its doing. The R300s hit that sweet spot tucked into a unique niche. The less-than-floorstander size gives big sound from a more manageable, significant-other-friend-ly-er-ish look. The fit and finish are classy, upscale and defiantly offer more than many others, which can’t be overlooked. These 3 way delights are the step up from the LS50s. Razor sharp sound, serious focus and a swift, dynamic response all make these stand mount loudspeakers a must-audition for anyone in the game for a bookshelf-style music maker.
More Info: http://us.kef.com/r300