KEF Q Se­ries Q350 Speaker Sys­tem

Coin­ci­dent Atmos.

Sound & Vision - - CONTENTS - by Mark Fleis­chmann

ONE OF THE HEAD­LINES I con­sid­ered for this re­view was “What Be­comes a Leg­end Most.” It’s a poignant song from Lou Reed’s New Sen­sa­tions. Be­fore that, it was an ad­ver­tis­ing slo­gan that sold mink coats in ads fea­tur­ing Judy Gar­land, Lau­ren Ba­call, and Mar­lene Di­et­rich, among oth­ers. Some­how, it fits KEF, the Bri­tish speaker man­u­fac­turer re­spon­si­ble for nu­mer­ous driver-re­lated in­no­va­tions, in­clud­ing the Uni-q coin­ci­dent ar­ray. KEF’S Muon and Blade tow­ers have the fra­grance of lux­ury about them.

The LS50 mini-mon­i­tor is a crowd­pleas­ing pea­cock, al­ways strut­ting down the run­way in new col­ors. How­ever, less af­flu­ent sur­round au­dio­philes can have a slice of the KEF tra­di­tion in the new and af­ford­able Q Se­ries. And no in­no­cent lit­tle minks had to give up their lives.

Ba­sic Black

Un­like the lu­mi­nar­ies above, the Q Se­ries isn’t es­pe­cially fancy look­ing. The matte black vinyl-clad ap­pear­ance of my sam­ples was de­cid­edly plain, aside from a pro­trud­ing KEF badge. The line in­cludes three floor­stand­ing speak­ers: the Q950 ($900/each), Q750 ($750/each), and Q550 ($550/ each). Then there are two mon­i­tors, the Q350 ($650/pair) and Q150 ($550/pair), as well as the Q650c cen­ter ($650) and the Q50a Atmos-en­abled el­e­va­tion mod­ule add-on ($500/pair). The lat­ter can sit atop any of the floor­standers or mon­i­tors to bounce Dolby Atmos or DTS:X height chan­nels off the ceil­ing.

KEF makes a pointed sug­ges­tion by ship­ping all Q Se­ries mod­els ex­cept the Q50a with­out grilles.

And KEF’S on­line man­ual for the Q50a con­firms that grilles are in­cluded for that model (see “In­side the Box”). If you want grilles for the other speak­ers, you can buy them at ex­tra cost. But if you do that, your guests won’t see the fairly sub­tle blue Uni-q Driver Ar­ray let­ter­ing on the edge of the bas­ket, and shame on you for hid­ing a leg­end be­hind drab fab­ric. The sys­tem un­der re­view here com­prises four of the Q350 mon­i­tors, topped with four of the Q50a, plus the Q650c cen­ter and the Kube12b sub­woofer ($700), for a to­tal price of $3,150.

The Uni-q ar­ray is the cen­ter­piece of most KEF prod­ucts. The tweeter is mounted in the cen­ter of the throat of the woofer or midrange driver, ef­fec­tively us­ing the cone as a wave­guide, al­beit one that is mov­ing with the au­dio sig­nal. The Q350 mon­i­tor mates the 1-inch tweeter with a 6.5-inch woofer, while on the baf­fle of the Q650c cen­ter the 6.5-inch Uni-q is flanked by one ad­di­tional woofer to the right and one Aux­il­iary Bass Ra­di­a­tor (pas­sive ra­di­a­tor) to the left. The Q50a places the tweeter at the apex of a 5.25-inch woofer. All di­aphragms are alu­minum.

Atmos-en­abled speak­ers are the con­ve­nience-over-performance, and there­fore not sur­pris­ingly the most pop­u­lar, method of adding height chan­nels to your sys­tem. The best ef­fect is achieved by mount­ing ac­tual height speak­ers over­head. How­ever, that so­lu­tion is of­ten un­palat­able, so bounc­ing the higher fre­quen­cies of the height signals off the ceil­ing pro­vides a rea­son­able sense of el­e­va­tion in a prac­ti­cal man­ner. Dolby Labs tells us that Atmos-en­abled speak­ers work best in rooms with a flat, hard ceil­ing at a height of 8 to 9 feet, though up to 14 is ac­cept­able. Light fix­tures, mold­ings, and vents prob­a­bly won’t in­ter­fere much with the ceil­ing bounce; vaulted or an­gled ceil­ings and acous­tic treat­ments will.

The Kube12b sub places a

12-inch re­in­forced-pa­per cone driver in the front of a solid, sealed en­clo­sure re­sult­ing in a to­tal weight of 45 pounds. It’s pow­ered by an in­ter­nal 300-watt am­pli­fier, con­ser­va­tively spec­i­fied in RMS (not peak) power. In­tel­li­gent Bass Ex­ten­sion, or IBX, uses DSP to an­a­lyze the in­put sig­nal and re­duce bass ex­ten­sion as vol­ume in­creases to en­sure there’ll be use­able out­put even at high vol­ume lev­els. Even the in­puts are smart, auto-de­tect­ing mono LFE or stereo signals and ad­just­ing gain to match. Three DSP EQ set­tings tai­lor the sub’s out­put to the sit­u­a­tion with free­stand­ing, in-wall or in-cabi­net, or corner

The Uni-q ar­ray is the cen­ter­piece of most KEF prod­ucts.

place­ment. This may not be a sub­sti­tute for well-done room cor­rec­tion, but it af­fords more flex­i­bil­ity.

As­so­ci­ated equip­ment in­cluded a Denon AVR

X7200W A/V re­ceiver, Oppo BDP-83SE univer­sal disc player, Mi­cro Seiki BL-51 turntable, Shure M97XE car­tridge, and Denon PRAS10 serv­ing as phono preamp. All movies were on Blu-ray Disc.

Pre­cise, Not Fussy

The Q mon­i­tor and cen­ter cre­ate a sound­stage with pre­cisely de­lin­eated im­ages, and I’d ex­pect no less of a coin­ci­dent de­sign wielded with the ben­e­fit of long ex­pe­ri­ence. But they weren’t bright or un­duly fussy. The all-alu­minum­di­aphragm driv­ers sounded smooth and well be­haved at high vol­umes. They had good bass re­sponse, too, even be­fore fac­tor­ing in the sub. And that sub had plenty of out­put, no doubt as­sisted by its ro­bust amp. Start­ing with my usual de­fault sub and pro­ces­sor set­tings, I knocked its level down more than once. Some­thing un­usual was go­ing on here and I wished my re­viewer’s creed hadn’t forbidden the use of the re­ceiver’s room cor­rec­tion as one vari­able too many—though I did get in­ter­est­ing re­sults later on when I fooled around with the sub EQ modes.

Pi­rates of the Car­ib­bean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (DTS-HD Master Au­dio) had a thick tonal bal­ance that al­most tipped over into con­ges­tion—though my room’s un­cor­rected standing wave un­doubt­edly con­trib­uted to it. How­ever, ev­ery sub I re­view is af­fected by that, and yet it was more prob­lem­atic this time. A voiceover by Javier Bar­dem lo­cal­ized heav­ily in the sub, prompt­ing me to push the sub vol­ume down yet again, which proved to be a good move by the time I got to the bat­tle-heavy Dolby Atmos demos.

They be­gan with The Mummy, a Tom Cruise swash­buck­ler that uses its Atmos height chan­nels spar­ingly and not al­ways in the most ob­vi­ous places. My fa­vorite in­stance was the low ex­ha­la­tion of air mov­ing qui­etly around the un­der­ground tomb, a sub­tle ef­fect that ben­e­fited enor­mously from tim­bre-matched speak­ers all around. In a scene where the tomb raiders are un­der at­tack, the hiss of air­borne ex­plo­sives pre­cedes a sat­is­fy­ing all-chan­nels boom, with force from the 6.5-inch woofers as well as the sub. The sound­field was gen­er­ously big, no­tably un-speaker-bound, and not as cut and dried as I might have ex­pected. The over­all ef­fect was full and rich, con­fi­dent in its pre­sen­ta­tion but not un­duly finicky, with a high com­fort level.

Com­fort level con­tin­ued to be an as­set in the next Atmos demo, as my binge on sea­son 7 of Game of Thrones con­tin­ued with the last four episodes. Episodes 5 and 6 are book­ended by bat­tles fea­tur­ing Queen Daenerys mounted on a fire-breath­ing dragon, re­pelling first a hu­man army, then an army of the dead (though at a ter­ri­ble price). With the sound mixer opt­ing for ag­gres­sive use of the height

The Q mon­i­tor and cen­ter cre­ate a sound­stage with pre­cisely de­lin­eated im­ages.

speak­ers, of­ten fill­ing all nine of the Denon re­ceiver’s amp chan­nels, the KEF sys­tem stood up well to these mas­sive and ex­tended dy­namic chal­lenges, main­tain­ing its smooth­ness as well as its poise at high vol­umes.

Job, Mick, and the Lizards

Vaughan Wil­liams’ Job or­ches­tral suite and Symphony No. 9 ar­rived on hy­brid SACD from Chan­dos with sur­round and stereo mixes. The sur­round track omits the LFE chan­nel, but that didn’t pre­vent the re­ceiver’s bass man­age­ment from di­rect­ing a pipe-or­gan blast into the sub, which rose to the thun­der­ing oc­ca­sion. Com­ple­ment­ing this high-vol­ume vir­tu­os­ity was the del­i­cacy dis­played in ex­tended solo pas­sages for vi­olin and flugel­horn. At ei­ther end of the dy­namic scale, the speak­ers had a su­perb spa­tial sense—and while a good mul­ti­chan­nel record­ing makes that eas­ier, there was no mis­tak­ing the speak­ers’ con­tri­bu­tion to the seam­less in­te­gra­tion of in­stru­ments and their re­flec­tions from the orig­i­nal venue’s walls.

The golden age of the Rolling Stones, the Mick Tay­lor era, ended with It’s Only Rock ’n Roll (LP). It was de­light­ful to hear the coin­ci­dent ar­ray track­ing his fluid gui­tar parts, with their ever-chang­ing tim­bres, as they weaved around the mon­u­men­tal rhythm parts and oc­ca­sional leads of an un­der-theweather Keith Richards. Char­lie Watts was more prom­i­nent than usual in the mix, which could only help; the mon­i­tors and sub made his bass drum kick like a mule. It seemed muddy, though. I switched the EQ Macero’s clean, ungim­micky pro­duc­tion, re­pro­duc­ing a brac­ing fresh­ness. I liked the way the mon­i­tors and sub brought out the sub­tle tune­ful­ness of Steve Piccolo’s bass play­ing.

The one thing I haven’t said yet about KEF’S Q Se­ries is what a great value it is, nes­tled be­tween the step-up Ref­er­ence line and the com­pact-satel­lite-based home theater pack­ages. You can have a 5.1.4-chan­nel Atmos treat­ment with re­fine­ment and a whole lot of woof­ing and sub­woof­ing for just north of three thou­sand bucks. At $650 a pair, the Q350 would also serve with dis­tinc­tion in a twochan­nel starter sys­tem—at half the price of the pop­u­lar LS50 min­i­mon­i­tor. And I’m im­pressed by how much performance KEF got out of the $700 price of the Kube12b sub. A leg­end has to be earned. KEF con­tin­ues to earn it.

Au­dio Ed­i­tor Mark Fleis­chmann is the au­thor of Prac­ti­cal Home Theater: A Guide to Video and Au­dio Sys­tems, now avail­able in both print and Kin­dle edi­tions.

An ad­di­tional woofer and a pas­sive ra­di­a­tor flank the coin­ci­dent ar­ray in the Q650C cen­ter­chan­nel speaker.

Mount­ing the tweeter in the cen­ter of the woofer al­lows the woofer cone to act as a wave­guide.

KEF’S Q50a Atmos mod­ule is de­signed to fit atop both floor­stand­ing and mon­i­tor speak­ers.

place­ment mode from in-room to corner. The sub wasn’t ac­tu­ally in a corner, but now I was get­ting op­ti­mum Char­lie; I wished I’d done it sooner.

The self-ti­tled de­but of the Lounge Lizards (LP) com­bines sax­o­phon­ist John

Lurie’s hook-laden quasi-jazz com­po­si­tions with Th­elo­nious Monk cov­ers and the dis­tinc­tive atonal gui­tar play­ing of Arto Lindsay. The mon­i­tors abet­ted Teo

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.