Three particular qualities impressed many of the guest listeners who heard the KEF system in action. First, though the speaker is only 37.8 inches wide, the soundstages produced by the speaker seem much, much wider than that. While you might not achieve the ultra-wide soundstages you could potentially achieve with a full-on multi-piece surround system, the KEF system does better than it has any right to for its size. Second, the top-to-bottom cohesiveness I heard from the system was very impressive—better, in fact, than that achieved by some KEF speakers using larger Uni-Q arrays. One important collateral benefit of this cohesiveness is that the speaker sounds quite good even when you listen to it “off axis” (that is, from well to the left or right of its centerline). Finally, for listening to movie soundtracks, the KEF speaker often gives the illusion that the sounds of actors’ voices are emanating directly from the center of the screen—not from some indistinct position above or below the screen. The result is a higher level of dialog intelligibility, and thus a greater sense of involvement in the film at hand.
KEF has gone to great lengths in order to give this compact speaker decent dynamics and bass extension, and I would say their efforts were at least partly successful. Although the HTF8003 offers only moderate sensitivity (87dB), it can speak with surprising dynamic authority and expressiveness provided you feed it adequate amounts of power. Just be sure to respect the fact that this is a very compact speaker whose maximum output level (rated at 106 dB) is lower than that of many full-size speaker systems you may have encountered. However, despite the fact that the HTF8003 uses triple bass drivers and passive radiators, it does not go extremely low (useful bass reach, I would say, extends only a bit below 100Hz).
To put these observations in context, it helps to bear in mind that this one-piece, three-channel speaker system is not much larger than, say, a large mailing tube of the type you might use for shipping a rolled-up poster. Given its diminutive size (which is, after all, a big part of the product’s appeal), the HTF8003’s performance is actually pretty amazing. Note, too, that The Perfect Vision listening room is probably a somewhat larger space than would be optimal for this speaker. Even so, the little KEF more than held its own in our room, and would likely sound even better when used in a smaller space.
The KEF HTB2SE-W subwoofer is long on convenience and style with many visitors commenting on its distinctive industrial design, its superb fit and finish, and on the sheer coolness of its wireless features. On one hand, the woofer is a solid performer that can play pretty loudly, goes reasonably low (claimed bass extension reaches down to 30Hz), and offers a good measure of bass pitch definition. On the other hand, there are a lot of excellent value-priced subs on today’s market, so that I cannot help but think that the HTB2SE-W is quite expensive for what it is and does. I suspect that listeners willing to sacrifice some of the KEF’s undeniable stylishness and “coolness factors,” would find there are other subwoofers (from firms such as Definitive, Paradigm, PSB, and others) that offer as good or even better performance (in terms of deeper bass extension, better pitch definition, and greater dynamic clout) for less money. But in fairness, I should point out that many guest listeners were both satisfied and favorably impressed with the HTB2SE-W’s performance, and almost all of them said they especially appreciated the fact that the futuristic KEF “didn’t look like a subwoofer.” While the latter point has nothing to do with sound, per se, it does speak to the subjective appeal of the KEF woofer, which in a sense creates the illusion that there really isn’t a sub in the room.
To give the KEF system a good workout I put on one of my perennial favorite film soundtrack test sequences: the “Warrior’s Death” scene from Apocalypto.
In “Warrior’s Death”, the film’s protagonist, Jaguar Paw, makes a final stand against the fierce Mayan captain who has captured him, killed many of his comrades, and relentlessly pursued him through the jungle. Part of what makes the scene so powerful is that it tells its story partly through its expertly crafted soundtrack music, and partly through selective emphasis of natural sounds from the chase and the jungle itself, but with almost no dialog at all. As Jaguar Paw sprints away from his pursuer, the frantic (and quite complex) rhythmic pulse of the soundtrack quickens and becomes more and more urgent, while deep, ominous synth-bass “washes” represent the increasing danger as the enraged captain draws ever closer. In the background, we hear the surprisingly realistic sound of a jungle downpour, which at once reminds us that Jaguar Paw is literally drenched with fatigue, and of the fact that his pregnant wife and young son are trapped in the bottom of a stone well that is slowly filling with water.