KEF R3 £1300

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Awards 2018 -

What if you could cap­ture the essence and bril­liantly com­plete per­for­mance of KEF’S mighty Ref­er­ence 1 stand­mounts, but at a frac­tion of their £5000 price?

En­ter the new R3s. Part of the com­pany’s re­cently in­tro­duced premium R se­ries, they of­fer a large chunk of the Ref­er­ence 1s’ en­gi­neer­ing con­tent as well as sonic per­for­mance, but for al­most a quar­ter of the price.

A dis­tinc­tive driver ar­ray

KEF’S dis­tinc­tive Uni-q driver ar­ray is at the heart of these speak­ers, but here with a re­fined mo­tor as­sem­bly, sus­pen­sion and drive unit. While it may look like a sin­gle drive unit, it’s in fact a two-way ar­range­ment where the 25mm alu­minium-dome tweeter is po­si­tioned right in the throat of the 12.5cm midrange driver.

The R3s are a three-way de­sign, so there’s a ded­i­cated 16.5cm bass driver with a rear-fir­ing port. Such a three-way con­fig­u­ra­tion means that each driver can be op­ti­mised to work in its spe­cific fre­quency band and tuned with less com­pro­mise than a two-way al­ter­na­tive.

The shaped trim around the Uni-q driver doesn’t just make the front panel look bal­anced by echo­ing the size of the larger bass driver, it also helps to re­duce dif­frac­tion ef­fects at the cab­i­net edges. That slim front looks smart and of­fers ad­van­tages in rigid­ity and dis­per­sion.

Over­all build qual­ity is ter­rific for the money. The en­clo­sure feels im­mensely rigid thanks to some clever brac­ing tech­niques that com­bine re­in­force­ment with damp­ing. All the edges are crisp and the gloss fin­ish on our black sam­ples is lovely. The R3s are also avail­able in gloss white and a more tra­di­tional wal­nut.

De­spite be­ing rel­a­tively slim and com­pact boxes, stand­ing only 42cm tall, the R3s are ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing a good amount of bass weight and au­thor­ity. In our test room they sound best bal­anced well away from all walls.

The Uni-q ar­ray dis­perses the sound in a wide and con­sis­tent man­ner, so toe-in an­gle to­wards the lis­ten­ing po­si­tion isn’t as crit­i­cal as it is with most con­ven­tional ri­vals for stereo imag­ing.

Ex­cel­lent midrange clar­ity

We revel in the R3s’ ex­cel­lent midrange clar­ity and abil­ity to ren­der the sub­tle dy­namic nu­ances with del­i­cacy. The KEFS cap­ture the nat­u­ral acous­tic of a record­ing su­perbly, show­ing a level of in­sight and de­tail res­o­lu­tion that’s way be­yond most ri­vals.

De­spite all the anal­y­sis it re­mains a mu­si­cal per­former, one that ex­cels in both dy­namic range and rhyth­mic sense, fo­cus­ing our at­ten­tion on the mes­sage rather than the me­chan­ics of re­play.

The KEFS also of­fer sonic scale and au­thor­ity be­ly­ing their phys­i­cal size, de­liv­er­ing an ex­cel­lent stereo sound­stage that is pre­cisely or­gan­ised. Ton­ally, the pre­sen­ta­tion is bal­anced and nat­u­ral – mer­ci­fully free of showy false em­pha­sis in any fre­quency band.

Choos­ing a Prod­uct of the Year from such a wide range of top-qual­ity speak­ers is usu­ally a real headache. Not this year.

KEF’S Uni-q driver clev­erly sits the tweeter right in the throat of its midrange driver

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