FOR Bal­anced, en­ter­tain­ing sound; good build and fin­ish AGAINST Noth­ing at this price

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

Ear­lier this year, we re­viewed KEF’S mighty Ref­er­ence 1 stand­moun­ters. These speak­ers de­liv­ered a per­for­mance so com­plete that even that hefty £5000 price tag started to look en­tirely rea­son­able.

But no mat­ter how great value it is, such a prod­uct will al­ways be out of the reach of most peo­ple, so that’s where the new R3s come in. Part of the com­pany’s re­cently in­tro­duced premium R se­ries, the R3s of­fer a large chunk of the Ref­er­ence 1’s en­gi­neer­ing con­tent and sonic per­for­mance at a frac­tion of the cost.

Sin­gle drive unit

KEF’S dis­tinc­tive Uni-q driver ar­ray is at the heart of these speak­ers. While it may look like a sin­gle drive unit, it is ac­tu­ally a two-way ar­range­ment where the tweeter is po­si­tioned right in the throat of the midrange driver. This isn’t easy to do prop­erly, but such a con­fig­u­ra­tion is claimed to im­prove dis­per­sion and in­te­gra­tion.

The Uni-q ar­ray de­sign has been con­tin­u­ously re­fined since the late 1980s and this lat­est gen­er­a­tion is the 12th it­er­a­tion. It uses a 25mm alu­minium dome tweeter with a 12.5cm alu­minium midrange unit and fea­tures a host of de­tail re­fine­ments to the mo­tor as­sem­bly, sus­pen­sion and drive unit struc­ture to re­duce dis­tor­tion and im­prove per­for­mance over ear­lier ver­sions.

The R3s are a three-way de­sign, with a ded­i­cated bass driver. Such a con­fig­u­ra­tion means that each driver – tweeter, midrange and bass – can be op­ti­mised to work in its spe­cific fre­quency band and tuned with less com­pro­mise than a two-way al­ter­na­tive would de­mand. The trade-off tends to be the greater cost and com­plic­ity of try­ing to com­bine three drive units to work as a co­he­sive whole. That’s why most ri­val com­pa­nies don’t bother at this level.

The R3’s bass driver uses a 16.5cm hy­brid alu­minium/pa­per cone that aims to com­bine rigid­ity with good damp­ing

char­ac­ter­is­tics. It’s a vented de­sign to help with dy­nam­ics at high vol­ume lev­els. The bass is tuned by a rear fir­ing port, which uses the same flex­i­ble con­struc­tion as KEF’S suc­cess­ful LS50S, which the com­pany claims re­duces res­o­nances and dis­tor­tions.

The KEF’S sen­si­tiv­ity is rated at an av­er­age 87db and nom­i­nal im­ped­ance is claimed to be 8 ohms, though a min­i­mum value of 3.2 ohms sug­gest that an am­pli­fier with a bit of grunt would be good. We use our ref­er­ence £15,000 Gamut D3i/d200i pre/power com­bi­na­tion for much of this test – its out­put of 220W per chan­nel makes the KEFS sing. Rega’s £950 Elex-r (72W per chan­nel) is some­thing more likely to part­ner the R3s and does well too.

We like the speaker’s clean ap­pear­ance. But even here the de­ci­sions have been made on per­for­mance grounds. 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.

Brace your­self

Over­all build qual­ity is ter­rific. The en­clo­sure feels im­mensely rigid thanks to some clever brac­ing tech­niques that com­bine re­in­force­ment with damp­ing. On the out­side, these speak­ers look classy and are fin­ished beau­ti­fully. All the edges are crisp and the gloss fin­ish on our black sam­ples is lovely. Of course, £1,300 is still a lot of money, but these speak­ers look worth it and more. The R3s are also avail­able in gloss white and a more tra­di­tional wal­nut.

De­spite be­ing rel­a­tively slim and com­pact boxes – the KEFS stand just 42cm high – the R3s are ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing a good amount of bass weight and au­thor­ity. In our test room they sound most bal­anced well away from all walls.

We would sug­gest po­si­tion­ing them at least 70cm into the room as a good start­ing point. 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 if you want pin­point stereo imag­ing. We start se­ri­ous lis­ten­ing once ev­ery­thing is di­alled in prop­erly, which doesn’t take long thanks to the KEF’S well-bal­anced pre­sen­ta­tion.

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

KEF claims the rear-fir­ing port de­sign will re­duce dis­tor­tion

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