KEF’s R300 speaker is a knockout – CNET

KEF is one of the few speaker brands that never lets me down, and they offer a wide range of models with innovative engineering and great sound. KEF’s LS50 was the Audiophiliac Speaker of the Year in 2012, and it’s still in production with a healthy worldwide following.

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The KEF R300 speakers

KEF

The R300 I’m reviewing today is the LS50’s bigger brother, and it’s part of KEF’s R Series which includes a smaller bookshelf model, the R100, and a range of tower speakers and home-theater models.

There’s an undeniable ease to the sound, the R300 doesn’t shout “detail” or “resolution,” but the clarity is there. It’s just easier on the ear, it’s closer to the way live, unamplified music sounds in real life. While listening to a friend playing acoustic guitar in their apartment, I never once thought the sound was hyper-detailed or high-resolution; the R300’s sound is similarly un-hyped. The treble is pure, no aggressive bite or glare coming from the R300, that’s for sure.

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Eddie is one of my more insightful audiophile pals and he’s obsessed with “tone;” he wants his music to sound tonally authentic. Eddie has a good point: audio systems might sound good overall, but don’t always get the tone right. The R300 absolutely nails it, especially with vocals — whether I’m listening to Frank Sinatra or Bob Dylan, the sound is remarkably natural and present. New Orleans legend Dr. John’s solo piano recordings also sounded tonally right, especially in the lower registers. His percussive touch, and hard-hitting style had plenty of impact.

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The complete KEF R Series

KEF

My review samples are finished in brilliant Piano white, but Piano black and real wood veneer finishes in rosewood and walnut are also available. I love the R300’s clean lines, but if you’d rather not look at the naked drivers the R300 comes with cloth grilles.

It’s a fairly large bookshelf speaker, the R300 measures 15.2 by 8.3 by 13.6 inches (385 by 210 by 345mm), and weighs a solid feeling 24.6 pounds (12.6 kg). You won’t find too many three-way speakers in the R300’s relatively compact size; the driver complement includes a 6.5-inch (165mm) aluminum woofer, and a Uni-Q concentric 5-inch (125mm) magnesium-aluminum midrange driver, with a 1-inch (25mm) aluminum dome tweeter. The Uni-Q’s mission isn’t merely space saving — this point source driver produces remarkably accurate, precisely focused stereo imaging.

Impedance is rated at 8 ohms, but it drops down to as low as 3.2 ohms, so for best sound make sure to pair the R300 with amplifiers that can handle low impedance speakers. The cabinet has a rear bass port, and a set of beautifully finished bi-wire speaker connectors.

The KEF R300, left, and LS50 right

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I have a pair of KEF LS50 speakers on hand for direct comparison and not surprisingly, the two speakers sound similar, but the R300 is weightier, fuller and delivers more low-end power. Dynamics pack a bigger punch with Led Zeppelin’s “Presence” album; returning to the LS50 I miss the R300s’ oomph.

Johnny Cash’s big baritone voice was fully intact and plastered a big fat smile on my face. That kind of authenticity is rare in speakers the R300’s size and cost, and even the KEF LS50, good as it is, forfeited some of Cash’s presence. Returning to the R300 restored it. Big band recordings like John Beasley’s terrific “Monk’estra” album swung like crazy, the R300 has the power to spare.

Still, the LS50 sounds awfully nice and is well suited to small listening rooms. The R300 fares better in larger spaces, but it’s still a relatively small speaker, so it lacks the bottom-end muscle of a well-designed tower speaker. As always, careful speaker-room matching should be part of the speaker-buying decision process.

The KEF R300 sells for $1,800, £1,000 or AU$2,795 per pair.

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