(Editor’s Note: the following is a blog—not a formal product review. As such, it will offer some initial impressions of the products under discussion, but will as a matter of course address them in less depth than the full-length review that will follow in The Perfect Vision next month.).
Though it grieves me to admit this, there are times where I can be an insensitive guy. A classic case in point would involve discussions of surround sound speaker systems. I am, you see, one of those guys who just plain likes full-scale speakers systems—the more full-range and dynamically capable, the better. So, I can be a little insensitive when I show folks a system I think is pretty great, only to hear comments like, “EEeeew, that speaker system is too Huge/Ugly/Complicated (fill in the epithet of your choice); I wouldn’t let it in my house…”
My natural instinct, however bullheaded it may be, is to argue, “but why wouldn’t you want to make room for a killer speaker system; you like hearing great music and movie soundtracks properly reproduced, don’t you?”
Over time, however, I’ve mellowed a lot and learned to embrace the fact that different folks have very different priorities from my own, so that while they may love music and movies just as much as I do, they place a much higher priority on preserving the décor of their rooms, prizing good sound to be sure, but only if it can make itself heard but (mostly) not seen—leaving the room a clean, clear, uncluttered space in which to spend quality time.
With just such priorities in mind, several of my fellow Nextscreen employees recently approached to see if The Perfect Vision might consider reviewing some small, simple, yet very high-quality soundbar-type systems. And wouldn’t you know it; a review opportunity presented itself almost immediately in the form of KEF’s new HTF 8003 soundbar ($800) and matching HTB2SE-W wireless subwoofer ($1200). I’ve been working with the KEF system for the past week or so, and thought I would offer some initial thoughts and comments.
First off, let’s note what KEF’s HTF 8003 soundbar is and is not. The HTF 8003 is a high-performance, three-channel, single-enclosure loudspeaker—or, as KEF would put it, a one-piece “front channel” speaker. Note, then, that unlike many competing offerings, the KEF soundbar does not attempt to provide full-on surround sound from within its compact enclosure. Instead, it simply tries to reproduce front left, center, and right-channel information as well as possible, while offering an enclosure that is small, elegant, and visually unobtrusive.
With these objectives in mind, the tiny HTF 8003 is fitted with a surprisingly sophisticated array of drive units. Each channel is supported by:
In practical terms, this means that if you pulled the front grill off the HTF 8003, you would see a slender, 37.8-inch wide enclosure equipped with three sets of three drivers—one set for each of the three channels supported. It seems to me, then, that rather than trying to pull off single-enclosure surround effects, which is what most manufacturers try to do, KEF has instead thrown most of its efforts (and, apparently, most of the product’s build cost) behind trying to do an exceptionally good job with just the front three channels.
And in actual practice, the HTF 8003 does not disappoint. More so than most competing soundbars I’ve heard, this one offers very high levels of transparency, detail, and—especially—the elusive quality of coherency, which is an acknowledged strength of KEF’s Uni-Q driver system. By “coherency,” I mean that the midrange/tweeter array seems to speak pretty much with one voice; there is almost no sense of hearing separate drivers at work. While the tiny HTF 8003 has only so much dynamic “oomph” to offer, its overall sound is much more sophisticated and refined than you might expect. Picture this, then, as a soundbar that even high-enders might be able to appreciate (not that they would be willing to swap it for their full-sized speaker rigs, of course…).