As if inspired by science fiction films from the 1950s, KEF’s $1499 KHT 3000 system is composed of sleek elliptically shaped speaker satellite and center channels modules, plus a subwoofer that looks for all the world like a flying saucer. Some will find the system’s curvilinear design exquisite, while others might think it’s a bit over the top, but either way the KHT 3000 rig is bound to draw attention. And that’s a good thing, because—apart from space-age styling—this system offers listeners some very serious small loudspeakers.
The KHT 3000 satellites/center channel modules feature KEF Uni-Q drive units with small, waveguide-loaded dome tweeters positioned in the throats of ringshaped mid-bass drivers (essentially, a driver-within-a-driver system). But here the Uni-Q drivers incorporate two technical advancements that prove sonically significant.
First, mid-bass speaker diaphragms feature molded-in radial stiffening ribs said to improve rigidity dramatically. While the ribs look too small to make a significant difference, they in fact give the KHT 3000 modules a much clearer, more focused sound than previous small KEF speakers have achieved. Second, the diaphragms are supported both by outer and inner surround rings (not just the outer ring typical in most drivers). KEF says the inner rings help control driver movement, and improve power handling and dynamics. While the KHT 3000 system somewhat resembles past KEF sat/sub packages, it takes substantial steps forward in terms of sound quality.
Traditionally, KEF speakers have been known for their warm, gentle, almost self-effacingly natural sound, but the KHT 3000 system breaks new ground by offering a more forward sound that is rich in small transient and textural details. This voicing scheme works particularly well for films, making dialog more intelligible, and clarifying subtle effects that might otherwise be lost or obscured. On Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon the KEFs revealed the subtle inflections in Li Mu Bai’s voice during his quiet, passionate conversation with Shu Lien in the tea pavilion. The ability to convey passion, even when voices are barely above whisper levels, is something not all small speakers can pull off. The system also handles large-scale dynamics gracefully, doing a credible job on the Fhloston Paradise battle scene from The Fifth Element. Just bear in mind that the KHT 3000 satellites and sub will eventually run out of steam if pressed too hard for too long. The system can achieve reasonably high output levels even in largeish rooms, but if you hear audible signs of compression, know that it's time to back volume levels down.
On music, the KHT 3000 system’s voicing can be something of a double-edged sword. On one hand, the small speakers handle complex and richly textured passages with unexpected clarity and grace. On “Everything I Love” from John Abercrombie and Eddie Gomez’s Structures [Chesky, SACD], the KEFs revealed the energetic intricacy of Gomez’s bass playing, the dancing sound of Abercrombie’s guitar, and the restrained delicacy of Gene Jackson’s percussion. It’s this kind of expressiveness and textural richness that makes the KHT 3000 such a good system for the money.
But on the other hand, the KHT 3000 rig falls just short of the effortless treble smoothness and holographic imaging that are the hallmarks of KEF’s more expensive systems. But please don’t misunderstand. It isn’t that the KHT 3000 tweeters jump out to bite listeners, but rather that they exhibit a subtle, overly incisive quality that sometimes proves distracting. But one person’s too-incisive treble response might be another’s idea of “high definition” sound, and there’s no denying that this system provides a desirable degree of clarity, presence, and transparency.
Finally, the KHT 3000 sub complements the overall system sound, offering excellent weight and warmth, respectable pitch definition, and good though not great low frequency extension. The sub reproduced Hans-Jörg Maucksch’s plunging fretless bass lines from Sara K’s Hell or High Water [Stockfisch, SACD] with appropriate punch and power, though it smoothed over the inner textures of Maucksch’s bass to some degree. Even so, I think the hearty but slightly under damped sound of the KHT 3000 sub is far preferable to that of subs that whose bass is tight and clear, but anemic.
The KHT 3000 system offers striking contemporary styling, and sound to match. This is a well made system whose smallest details, such as the included tabletop speaker stands, show clever engineering and gemlike fit and finish. Sonically, the system combines elements of the traditional KEF sound with a brighter, more overtly detailed presentation I suspect many enthusiasts will find appealing. TPV