These KEFS were trail­blaz­ers, how well do they fare to­day?

Trail­blaz­ing speak­ers that birthed a new de­sign – yes, but how do they sound to­day?

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

When we think of clas­sic KEF Ref­er­ence speak­ers of the ’90s, the leg­endary 105/3s come to mind. These floor­standers set the hi-fi world alight with their in­no­va­tive engi­neer­ing and class-lead­ing sound qual­ity. Hid­den in their shadow was the Model 101, the first Ref­er­ence stand­mounter to use the com­pany’s clever Uni-q driver tech­nol­ogy. In our books that makes them rather sig­nif­i­cant in their own right.

The quest for unity

Let’s talk about what makes the Uni-q unusual. In an ideal world, a sin­gle-drive unit would be able to cover the full au­di­ble band of fre­quen­cies, or at least enough of it to con­vince. Such a driver wasn’t avail­able back in the 1980s, and still isn’t now – not in any form that would be do­mes­ti­cally ac­cept­able any­way. The Uni-q is an at­tempt to get close to that ideal while still us­ing mul­ti­ple drive units.

While the Uni-q de­sign may look like a sin­gle driver, it’s ac­tu­ally two drive units in one chas­sis, with the tweeter po­si­tioned in the throat of the mid/bass cone. The idea is to make all fre­quen­cies sound as if they’re be­ing gen­er­ated from the same point, just as they would in that elu­sive per­fect sin­gle driver.

How­ever, such a two-in-one de­sign is dif­fi­cult to get right. There are hur­dles, specif­i­cally in get­ting the tweeter dis­per­sion to the level where the mov­ing larger cone around it doesn’t spoil the sound. Cup your hands in front of your mouth and move them back and forth quickly as you speak and you’ll no­tice that the move­ment changes your voice. The po­si­tion of the tweeter puts lim­its on its de­sign and the type of mo­tor sys­tem em­ployed. In­deed, Uni-q was made pos­si­ble only by the then newly avail­able Neodymium mag­nets, which are noth­ing less than chunks of pow­er­ful, con­cen­trated mag­netism.

KEF has spent decades op­ti­mis­ing all as­pects of the Uni-q ar­ray, try­ing a va­ri­ety of wave­guides, cone pro­files, sur­rounds and other re­fine­ments to im­prove per­for­mance. If the cur­rent Ref­er­ence 1 standmounters are any­thing to go by, the com­pany’s en­gi­neers have done a great job.

Dif­fer­ences and sim­i­lar­i­ties

Hav­ing just fin­ished our re­view of the su­perb Ref­er­ence 1s we con­nect the 101/3 and are sur­prised at the dif­fer­ence in abil­ity be­tween the two. Even so, it’s clear both prod­ucts dis­play a healthy dose of Kef­ness – that bal­ance of in­sight and live­abil­ity that the com­pany does so well.

It takes mere sec­onds to re­alise that the new speak­ers are bet­ter in ev­ery re­spect, from clar­ity and de­tail res­o­lu­tion right through to dy­nam­ics and low-end reach. But let’s not get too hung up on the com­par­i­son. De­spite shar­ing plenty of engi­neer­ing DNA, the two prod­ucts are light years apart in mar­ket po­si­tion – the 101/3s cost £550 in 1993, while the cur­rent Ref­er­ence 1s carry a price tag of £5000. Nev­er­the­less, we would have ex­pected some­thing closer to triple the price. That’s a clear in­di­ca­tion that over the years the Ref­er­ence se­ries has moved it­self sig­nif­i­cantly up­mar­ket.

The test of time

Let’s get this com­par­i­son into per­spec­tive. Even by cur­rent stan­dards, the Model 101/3s re­main ad­mirable speak­ers. The Uni-q’s ex­cel­lent dis­per­sion char­ac­ter­is­tics are ob­vi­ous in the way they de­liver a sta­ble and con­sis­tent stereo im­age, and in the pre­ci­sion with which sounds are lo­cated. We find we have con­sid­er­able flex­i­bil­ity with our lis­ten­ing po­si­tion, the 101/3s ef­fort­lessly de­liv­er­ing a sta­ble, fo­cused and ton­ally bal­anced sound across a wide range of seat­ing op­tions.

The speak­ers’ tonal bal­ance is full-bod­ied and re­fined. Play an ag­gres­sive record­ing such as Eminem’s

Bad Guy and the 101s re­main smooth and lis­ten­able. They have a de­cent amount of low-end au­thor­ity too, giv­ing a solid foun­da­tion for the rest of the sound.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, de­tail lev­els, dy­nam­ics and pre­ci­sion fall short of cur­rent £500 stan­dards, and the KEFS aren’t ex­actly rhyth­mic cham­pi­ons ei­ther. The com­pany’s re­cent prod­ucts have no­tably im­proved in this re­spect. The 101s sound more at home with clas­si­cal mu­sic, where their sonic so­lid­ity, fine in­te­gra­tion and re­fine­ment come to the fore. We play Stravin­sky’s

The Song Of The Nightin­gale and they de­liver a strong per­for­mance that brims with con­trol. There’s a pleas­ing de­gree of or­gan­i­sa­tion and an un­canny abil­ity to track a mul­ti­tude of in­stru­men­tal strands with­out los­ing com­po­sure or al­low­ing the sub­tler themes to be­come over­shad­owed.

These aren’t the purest ton­ally, and they have some cupped col­orations through the mid­band in par­tic­u­lar. It’s some­thing that’s quite ob­vi­ous with vo­cal-based ma­te­rial from the likes of The Un­thanks or First Aid Kit. KEF has worked hard over the years to make the Uni-q de­sign sound more trans­par­ent and it’s clear from cur­rent prod­ucts that the brand has been suc­cess­ful in this re­spect.

Com­fort and com­po­sure

Over­all, the Model 101/3s are a com­fort­able lis­ten. They’re not par­tic­u­larly en­er­getic and they round off the ex­cite­ment on up­beat ma­te­rial. Yet, we can’t help but ad­mire their com­po­sure, stereo imag­ing and ter­rific in­te­gra­tion be­tween the tweeter and mid/bass. Build qual­ity is ex­cel­lent too. If you’re a clas­si­cal mu­sic fan, or just some­one who prefers a more re­laxed ap­proach to mu­sic re­play, then these KEFS still have ap­peal.

“While the Uni-q de­sign may look like a sin­gle driver, it’s ac­tu­ally two drive units in one chas­sis”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.