KEF R300: An Owners Journey
Hello my audiophile friends, up for your consideration is a review of my KEF R300 bookshelf speakers. My hope for this review is that I can do these R300’s justice in conveying how I made the transition from floor standing loudspeakers to bookshelf speakers, and yet emoting no love lost, nor buyer’s remorse. I apologize for the extensive background information; I merely want you to understand the meticulous level of research that went into this purchase. You be the judge.
First I would like to say that before arriving to my KEF R300’s, I literally researched speakers from every well-known company to boutique brands that are considered obscure by enthusiast standards. I looked into Aperion Audio, Anthony Gallo Acoustics, Gershman Acoustics, Ascend Acoustics, Living Sounds Audio, Salk Sound, Philharmonic Audio, Bamberg Audio, SVS, Tyler Acoustics, Tekton, ZU Audio and literally dozens of other manufactures. I was not limited to size of speaker per se, as my listening room is large enough to accommodate large floor standing units, 16 feet wide by 19 feet deep with a bay window off the right and a sloped wood paneled cathedral ceiling. I started this journey from a point of view that I knew I wanted to step up the sound quality of my existing system. While it was impossible to complain about my existing Monitor Audio RX8 loud speakers, I knew I had done everything possible to make them sound the best they could. I had gone so far as to pull out the lame one inch thick grey Styrofoam baffling and lined them with aluminum backed vibration absorbing material and re-stuffed them with generous amounts of synthetic wool. While this focused the mid-range much better and gave me another notch of cleaner bass, I just couldn’t shake that nagging audiophile “I must upgrade” feeling. And so goes the journey…
My dear reader, I may have this insatiable upgrade bug within me, yet I am very frugal in all other areas, especially where periphery costs are involved. The biggest limitation of my or anyone else’s audio pursuit is shipping costs. There are several east coast manufacturers that were just too cost prohibitive to demo at my California residence. I had talked to the very generous and kind owner of Philharmonic Audio about demoing, and I could not overcome the costs of “Trying” a set of speakers at a cost of $400 for nonrefundable shipping. Tyler acoustics and many others ended up blockading my extensive list through the shipping tariff. Trying to figure out what I would like based on reviews is a challenge, as each of you reading this would only take my own word with a grain of salt (naturally). I did look into used for those wondering, and with that, once non-refundable shipping and 3-4% PayPal fees (or fuel) were added, I could purchase a new set with warrantee at retail costs (No Thanks!).
Last and obvious consideration was my budget. Given my Monitor Audio RX8’s retail for $1,749 brand new, and completely grasping the laws of diminishing returns, I knew I would need to spend nearly twice this amount to get the level of improvement I could live with. Luckily, audiophiles living in this age have more choices than ever thought imaginable and again, my search took me more than 6 months. I suppose I should add that physical appearance was of an important factor here. Not only did my new speakers have to meet my definition of visually appealing, but there is the vaunted “wife approval factor” known as WAF. There were some awesome painted veneers out there or real wood schemes I thought she would go for that met a quick death. The cobalt blue offered by Bamberg, WAF killed it. Gorgeous natural maple from ZU audio, WAF killed it, natural bamboo of Ascend Acoustics, not a friggin chance…as you see, I was shopping for two. I visited a dealer carrying the Golden Ear Triton Two’s, I ended up really disliking the appearance, in person they looked like a pair of $3,000 black socks, wasn’t interested. Maggie 1.7’s looked like acoustic treatments and not speakers. I have two windows that both of the Maggies would have blocked…next! I admit I was intimidated by the very love/hate relationship involved with Vandersteen’s 2CE Signature II’s, and the limitations of my own integrated amp driving their large well damped cabinets. I had to find something that would match the power capabilities of my Marantz pm15s2 Limited Ed. Integrated.
I suppose I may very well irritate you or you may find me boorish, I have all these options and yet I was able to find such benign issues or I discounted a perfectly good set of speakers over something superficial, yes, I am guilty, and that is the point that reinforces my very conclusion and strengthens my final choice. I really wanted a pair of LSA statements, but, I also couldn’t stomach paying California resident taxes and shipping costs. I pay enough taxes, from my paycheck, and on living necessities, I will not give the state this added luxury for their own luxury. Had a local pair free of duties been available, this review could have ended differently, but we will never know. I found myself going back to specific manufacturer web sites, pouring over any verbiage I could find regarding specs, sales and ownership info. After further honing, LSA, KEF, ZU, Ascend Acoustic, Revel and, gulp…Polk Audio (the LSiM series) made my cut off.
The Polks and Revels F206’s were finally cut after further investigating and also experiencing a near similar driver array in my MA RX8’s, why would I try a more expensive version of the same thing? The LSA and Ascend made top list due to their relatively modest price of entry to get a ribbon tweeter. I would rule the Ascend out due to bass extension limitations and my superficial hang up with their light weight cabinets. Again, I could not locate a pair of LSA’s that I could subvert taxes and or expensive shipping, damn it! Being a cheap bastard also has psychological limitations. ZU and KEF (which actually brought Tannoy back into the fold). These three brands have ideological differences. ZU boasts its very own modified 10” drivers from Eminence of Kentucky; a wide band, super high efficiency operation and big boxes. KEF on the other hand was continuing to fine tune its new mid-range/tweeter combination engineered for the awesome Blades. The Tannoy, with its own coherence driver array, I couldn’t locate exactly what I was looking for in the US.
For no particular reason, KEF was receiving little attention in the beginning of my search, now it was the dark horse of this race. I found myself intrigued and compelled by of all things, the bookshelf model. A three way design, in a compact frame, with a brand new 6.5” aluminum pulp woofer, acting as a more thorough piston, I couldn’t help but become smitten. You see, my wife and I move often. In our 14 years of marriage, we have moved 14 times! The flexibility of a big sounding bookshelf speaker, versus huge and heavy floor standers appealed to my practical side, and the wife immensely approved. Now for my Libertarian friends and bean counters, I could get these from KEF direct, no shipping charges and no taxes for only $50 more than I paid for my MA RX8’s, add an additional $100 for decent sand filled stands. The specifications of the R300 was so close to that of the R500 floor standing version, that I saw no point in paying $700 more when I could use that toward a subwoofer and really flesh out my material. DONE!
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I sprung for the Rosenut wood veneer and 26” Pangea metal stands. I put four rubber feet under the KEF’s, the back two slightly larger to give the KEF’s a subtle down firing position to my listening spot, I like a big soundstage that appears from the top instead of those who point up from the bottom, I do not understand that given in every concert I have ever listened to, the stage is above the people…but I digress. Truncated version of my subwoofer search, I wanted to try out the Polk Audio Pro550wi, class D amp, down firing as preferred, remote for blending convenience, and best part, Polk Audio direct ship, refurbished with warrantee, free shipping and only $299 for what costs $539 on Amazon or Crutchfield brand new (can you hear me screaming like a school girl with excitement?). Again, I pulled out the cheap stuffing from the Polk sub, lined it with Fat Mat and synthetic wool. Interestingly enough, I give equal consideration to my cables, I haggled for a Wireworld Oasis 6 subwoofer IC, 4 meters with silver connectors, very nice cable for just under a hundred dollars. I bought the ZU BOK eleven gauge power cable with Wattgate connectors, 1.5 meter, just $72 and free shipping. Now my set up is ready.
I invested heavily long ago for my speaker cables, knowing I wanted one purchase to last me a long time and I have kept my 12’ run of Audioquest Rocket 88’s with the silver spades in full range configuration. The KEF’s R series have an ingenious bi-wire connection internally designed and executed with the twist of two knobs. Fantastic! Unboxing my KEF’s was special to me, having moved around my MA’s countless times, the size and weight of these R300’s was surprising in person. At just over 26 pounds per monitor (only the Focal 1008 BE would be heavier and price of admission several thousand dollars higher), I couldn’t believe how solid they were, very inert cabinets, no need for me to tamper. To take damping a step further, KEF actually uses fluid dynamics and attaches specific thicknesses of absorption material in the cabinet to tame unwanted "box talk". The aluminum ring around the drivers is absolutely beautiful in person, these look much more expensive in person. I had to get used to the Rosenut finish, not quite the warm character found in the LSA rosewood, but this was the most minor of quibbles, my wife wouldn’t go for the luxurious piano black finish, she actually gasped at me when I mentioned the gloss white (I guess she isn’t a Google fan). Regarding room placement, they really settled in at roughly 8 feet apart tweeter to tweeter. The left speaker is roughly 4 ft. from the left wall and the right just less than 4 ft. away. Both are 20 inches off the back wall, leaving plenty of room for the rear port to breath deep
Kef R300 Review by AVLAND UK
Ah, yes, finally the auditions. I am a big believer in long burn in times, new woofers, mid-range drivers and tweeters need to break in, cone surrounds have to loosen up and speakers need to be placed in their optimum spot. Integrating the subwoofer also takes some time, luckily, with both bought at the same time, they would break-in together. I like music as much as anybody, above all, I care about what songs or musical groups I prefer, not the genres they may be relegated to. From A Fine Frenzy, to Mid-Atlantic to ZZ Top, I have a harder time deciding which songs I should demonstrate for you.
Playing right now, Jefferson Airplane’s “Wooden Ships” downloaded from iTunes, is the largest, most full presentation I have heard to date. The electric lead is playing outside of the right speaker, symbols playing emanating directly from the left channel. Voices spread across the front, Grace Slick singing to me from just left of center, Balin and Kantner center to right. Percussion sounds moved around the front center depending on the placement of strike. My MA RX8’s always played instruments within the center, only reaching so far as to sound directly from the speaker itself, but never beyond its outer edges, the R300’s are remarkable for playing beyond borders. Playing the “Devils Backbone” from the Civil Wars, I am sorely reminded how I will not get the chance to hear Joy Williams and John Paul White sing together live. Turned up, she absolutely soars, the tremulous relationship seeping through each lyric. The thunderous bassline shakes my room, whereas the more subtle guitar strumming floats out. These KEF’s transfer harmonic power, with their ability to play to 110 db I need nothing more than this. Williams and White are fused together, reluctantly in life, but singularly beautiful in music. Neither is rendered dry, nor overly plump, all I can say is they sound just right.
A quick note about the sound stage; some individuals like to play with a buffer booster, which is usually a secondary tube buffer that alters the signal strength before the amp. It can attenuate or increase the sound stage to some degree. I must say, with these R300's, I merely need just increase the volume liberally and the sound wall is awesome, not cartoonish or beyond reality, but big, bold and beautifully full.
Moving on to the superb album “Joe Bonamessa live at Vienna Hall”, this is one of my favorite CD’s to keep in regular rotation. One must give credit to the terrific editing and sound engineering because the space of the instruments, the interaction with the audience, this is what coming close to the live sound is like. As Joe strums and taps his foot on the stage, the entire acoustic ambience is captured. On “Palm Trees, Helicopters and Gasoline”, every imaginable intricacy is laid bare. Playing the “Dust Bowl” he adds Lenny Castro on percussion, just behind and to the right, Gerry O’Connor playing the mandolin off to the left of center and Mats Wester playing a very strange fiddle called a Nyckelharpa. It is too easy to close ones eyes, crank this entire album up and visualize the stage. On this album, the Polk Audio sub helps add that additional layer of depth and kick drum mass. Having played this extensively between my MA RX8’s and the KEF R300’s, the MA’s can still show this album well, giving it energy and conveying the fun atmosphere, but that extra 10 to 15% resolution really shines with the R300’s. I had my older audiophile buddy come over, who happens to have a massive display of Phaselinear’s with dual 12” subs in his set up, run by a 500 watt SAE monster amp. He could tell without any doubt that the extra resolution was available, notes hung in the air longer, strings sounded so much more transparent, and speed…the drivers of the R300’s seamed to react with alacrity. It is hard to call a speaker slow, yet, where definition is my must have in an audio system, the KEF’s delivered in spades over my RX8’s, and I really liked those RX8’s.
For something a little more off the wall or lesser known, playing “Call for Clouds” by The Knoa; small recording studio ambience really shines through on the disc Odyssey in Atrophy. As an instrumental only album, symbols are ever so slightly tapped, the drumstick is struck on the rim of the snare and one can really hear how the hickory body of said stick contributes. The usual acoustic guitar comes in brilliantly, finger plucks, string movement and abrupt neck placement all transmit with appropriate sound strengths, nothing is overblown or subdued. There is brief use of electric guitar, which also muddies my ability to say what characterizes The Knoa, they have no other album, just this one modern take on classic progressive rock, be it of a more Yes quality versus a Rush power jam. Then they add some Pink Floyd-esque periphery noise to the track Preastoria; this song is lovely with the intertwined electric guitar and lead acoustic interchanging different time signatures. The drum kit is directly behind the acoustic lead, electric lead just to the right, while the bass is integrated across the entire front. If you like a subdued rock band that doesn’t do the twin screaming leads, yet you like a good pace and weight, you should give The Knoa a listen. I only warn you that MP3 downloads do not do the band justice, their CD is a must, as with all my music is ripped for computer playback.
At no point does these R300’s bite or sting, nor do they slack or hide tone; paired with my Marantz PM15S2 ltd. integrated and Musical Fidelity M1 SDAC, this is as good as it gets for the price paid for admission. My audio friend who is saving and waiting for his LSA statements, he had to tip his proverbial hat to the KEF R300’s. Even with the sub turned off, they hit, they smack and they can rumble, cutting off near the 40hz mark. Reflecting on all the choices I could have made and the price points involved, I cannot imagine anything within a thousand dollars of these R300’s being better cohesively across the board. Trickle down technology is alive and well, the uni-Q driver borrowed from the Blades really makes this speaker special. My own particular journey, needs, wants and expectations boiled down to finding the right balance, which for all intents and purposes, this combination hit more check marks on my list than alternate options.
In conclusion, I’ve heard many speakers from the competition, some for the heck of listening to. I have come across some amazing combinations, but their purchase price was several notches above my comfort zone. The most disappointing combination in my hunt was a pair of Martin Logan ESL’s paired with a NAD integrated; they sounded hard, lacked bass and were not as airy as I would come to expect. On the flip side, I had listened to a pair of Martin Logan Theo’s with a Peachtree Grand Integrated X-1, these were beautiful and I was reluctant to leave the show room. Definitive Technology BP-8080 was nice sounding if esthetically displeasing. Bowers and Wilkins CM-9’s were also disappointing to me for their price point; I wanted to like them and gave them two auditions. Logically, there are great options out there I didn’t get to listen to that I probably would have been just as excited by, nor does ones purchase initiate a lifetime of stubborn loyalty, it is about the music and having fun listening to it. For the time being, I am extremely happy with these KEF R300’s and I imagine they will be with me for some time to come.
Speaker: R300 R
Type: Three-way, monitor
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, aluminum dome
Mid-range (size in inches, type): 5, aluminum cone
Woofer (size in inches, type): 6.5, aluminum cone
Nominal Impedance (ohms): 8
Recommended Amp Power (watts): 25–120
Available Finishes: Rosewood, Walnut Veneer, Piano Black
Dimensions (W x H x D, inches): 8.3 x 15.2 x 13.6
Weight (pounds): 26.4
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