Granted, left-to-center-to-right channel separation is not as great as it would be in a traditional surround sound system (remember, the HTF 8003 enclosure is only a bit more than a yard wide), but even so the HTF 8003 manages to throw a much wider soundstage than I expected it to do. Better still, because the compact HTF 8003 can be positioned directly below the screen of most flat panel TVs, and because it produces soundstages with excellent image height, you have the pleasing sensation that movie dialog is coming directly from the center of the screen—not from above or below the screen as can be the case with many systems.
Because the HTF 8003 driver array is as elaborate as it is, some might be tempted to ask, “can I use the KEF soundbar as a full-range standalone product?” The answer is that the soundbar, alone, will give you far better sound than most TV speaker systems could ever hope to produce, but that for best—and more nearly full-range—results you really should plan on using a sub. This is where KEF’s companion HTB2SE-W wireless subwoofer comes in.
The HTB2SE-W is a variation on KEF’s familiar HTB2 sub—the one that looks a fair amount like a flying saucer stood up on one edge. Frankly, I would have thought the industrial design of the HTB2SE-W would be too adventurous for most tastes, but I would have been wrong. There’s just something about the exquisite look and feel of KEF’s flying saucer sub that put a smile on the faces of a broad cross-section of prospective buyers, whether they be conservative, middle-of-the-roaders, or wild’n’crazy guys. Perhaps it’s the fact ithat the sub is so striking to look at that it registers more as an artful sculptural object (or even a conversation piece) than as a piece of audio equipment. As I hinted at the beginning of this blog, there are times when not appearing to be audio gear can work in a component’s favor.
In simple terms, the HTB2SE-W is a compact subwoofer featuring a 10-inch bass driver, a 10-inch passive radiator, a 250-watt Class D amplifier, and that is set up for either wired or wireless use via KEF’s 2.4 GHz “intelligent,” interference-free wireless signal technology. Under this system, subwoofer outputs from your AVR or controller are fed to a paperback book-sized wireless module that broadcasts bass signals to the woofer. A receiver on the woofer end decodes the signals and feeds them the subwoofer’s amplifier. Voila, wireless bass. People to whom I’ve shown the system in the Nextscreen offices have reacted enthusiastically to the wireless system—many of them mentioning that they liked the idea of being able to place the sub wherever they wished without having to string signal cables all over the place.
One nit I would pick with the KEF sub, however, is that it provides no adjustable gain (or sensitivity) control at all, instead relying on a “SmartBass” signal-sensing mechanism to trigger the sub’s auto-on function. In The Perfect Vision listening room, however, I found my test AVR’s subwoofer outputs were (at least initially) having trouble in triggering the KEF’s auto-on circuit. I eventually found a workaround and was able to calibrate the sub and soundbar as a complete system, but both KEF and I found the problems with the auto-on circuit puzzling, if not disconcerting. For this reason, KEF is sending me a second sample of the sub to try.
For this reason, I’ll offer only limited comments on the first sample of the HTB2SE-W that I received. Once calibrated, the sub matched well with the HTF 8003 and added a quite noticeable and welcome measure of bass weight and depth. Guest listeners have commented that the sub blends so well with the soundbar that they had the illusion that the soundbar was somehow magically transformed into a more or less full-range speaker (whereas it was not obvious that the bass was coming from the subwoofer at all, which is exactly the kind of comment I like to hear). That said, though, my first impression was that the soundbar is the real star of the show, while the sub, though beautiful to look at and quite serviceable in its way, is the lesser of the two products, and one that can potentially be outperformed by much less costly (albeit less stylish) subs that I’ve heard. But let’s wait for the second sample of the sub to arrive before forming final judgments.