So-called “sound-bar” speakers have become a popular option for enthusiasts who want much better sound than the speakers in their TV sets can provide, yet who require a visually unobtrusive solution. As most readers will already known, many products in this category claim to provide a reasonable facsimile of 5-channel surround sound from their slim enclosures—some with more success than others. But other manufacturers, the British firm KEF among them, believe that it makes more sense to build sound-bars that reproduce just the front three channel’s worth of information. The mindset, of course, is that it is better to handle the left, center, and right channels well, rather than to do a potentially mediocre job of covering five channels. This is precisely the thinking that inspires the design of KEF’s new HTF8003 Front Speaker ($800).
The HTF8003 is a one-piece, L/C/R speaker that packages three discrete channels in a slim, gloss black enclosure that measures just under five inches tall and a little over three feet wide. The speaker leverages KEF’s signature Uni-Q driver array technology, where the basic concept is to provide a clever, two-way, driver-within-a-driver where a tiny .6-inch aluminum dome tweeter is positioned within the “throat” of a larger (in this case, 3-inch) mid-bass driver. Through this arrangement the two drive units share the same acoustic centers and are inherently time-aligned—factors said to promote superior coherency and imaging. Each of the HTF8003’s three channels gets its own driver set comprised of one 3-inch Uni-Q array, one 3-inch low frequency driver, and one 3-inch passive radiator. In short, there’s much more to this little speaker than first meets the eye.
Despite all this driver technology, the low bass output of the HTF8003 is limited, so that for full-range (or at least near full-range) applications, KEF recommends using its new HTB2SE-W Wireless Subwoofer ($1200)—a variation on KEF’s familiar, flying saucer-shaped HTB2 sub. The subwoofer features a 10-inch woofer teamed with a 10-inch passive radiator, with the combination driven by a 250-watt class D amplifier. But the design feature many homeowners will appreciate most is the HTB2SE-W’s built-in wireless connection system, which is compact, easy to use, and gives users tremendous freedom in woofer placement (not to mention getting rid of unsightly subwoofer signal cables running all over the room).
Consider this sound-bar/subwoofer system if:you want a well-made and visually unobtrusive home theatre speaker system that gives you surprisingly high-quality reproduction of the front three channels, but that makes no attempt to reproduce surround-channel information at all. While the system is offered only in gloss black, its fit and finish levels are very high, and guest listeners were unanimous in their praise for its stylish design and handsome good looks. Many listeners commented that they found the system to sound unexpectedly “big” and “robust” given its modest size.
Look further if: you have your heart set on owning a true surround sound rig. There are other manufacturers, such as Definitive and Polk, who build surround-oriented sound-bar type systems. But do listen carefully and choose wisely. You may find that, in the end, you actually prefer the clean, pure sound that the KEF system is able to achieve with its front channel-only approach. Be aware, too, that the manuals for both products are primarily pictorial, with only minimal written explanations for setup/installation procedures.
HTF 8003 Ratings (relative to comparably-priced sound-bar speakers).