Like the KHT9000 rig, the KHT6000 system does a fine job with surround imaging and soundstaging, though the presentations of the systems are not identical. The KHT9000's sound is characterized by smoothness and seemingly limitless dynamics, so that your overarching impression is that soundstages are big, spacious, and hold together well even at high volumes. The KHT6000's sound, on the other hand, is characterized by broad dispersion, resolution, and focus, so that soundstages are deep and wide, with smooth yet very precise three-dimensional imaging. This was illustrated well by the multichannel SACD version of David Chesky's Concerto for Flute and Orchestra as performed by the Area 31 ensemble [Chesky]. This striking composition features a rich, intoxicating blend of orchestral and percussion elements (some traditional and others not); and through the KHT6000 system, you'll hear each instrument's distinctive voice and dynamic signature, with instruments and performers precisely positioned within a huge threedimensional soundstage.
One tradeoff, however, is that when pushed hard the KHT6000 system eventually exhibits some coarsening of midrange textures and "splashiness" on hard transients, which are your cues to turn the volume down. Don't get me wrong: the KHT6000 system offers great dynamics for its size and price (much better than competing "lifestyle" systems), but it understandably runs out of headroom well before the KHT9000 system does. Paradoxically, the KHT6000 system's dynamics are so good, and its typical sound so clear, that you may sometimes feel tempted to turn the system up louder than you should.
The KEF system reproduces well-crafted film soundtracks beautifully, capturing the subtlest of inner details while taking blockbuster effects in stride (again, provided you don't have volume levels cranked to the moon). One striking example occurs in the "Battle Stations" and "It All Turns Psychological" scenes from Wolfgang Petersen's classic war film Das Boot [Columbia/Tristar, Director's Cut Edition]. Here a British destroyer spots and attacks a German U-boat, as the submarine's crew frantically, yet silently, strives to escape. On one level, the thunderous blasts of depth charges detonating nearby are impressive and terrifying, but the almost unbearable tension of these scenes derives just as much from the tersely whispered commands passed from the captain to his crew, the whir of machinery and the gurgling sounds of water as the sub maneuvers, and the ominous creaking of the hull as the submarine dives beyond its rated depth to avoid destruction. The KHT6000 system covers both ends of the spectrumthe big blasts on one end, and the frantic whispers on the other—with equal grace.
An important question: Can KEF's "lifestyle"-oriented KHT6000 system hold its own in comparison to the best non-lifestyle speaker systems in its price range? Yes, it can—though some tradeoffs are, of course, involved. Von Schweikert's comparably-priced System 12, for example, sounds smoother and can play louder than the KHT6000 system, but the KEF probably has better resolution and imaging. Similarly, Triangle's Odyssey Major system sounds warmer and more dynamically alive, but the KEF is less colored and comes with a superior subwoofer. Indeed, the KEF system stands its sonic ground against stiff competition, while giving flat-panel display devotees the slim-line styling they crave.
To sum up, the KHT6000 system offers many of the virtues of KEF's award-winning KHT9000 system at about half the price, and while it cannot match the big system's sheer dynamic wallop, it does offer offsetting strengths in soundstaging and imaging precision. No other speaker system at this price offers more advanced technology, and none balances the "looks cool/sounds good" equation more effectively, so that I've got just one word for the KHT6000 system: Bargain.