KEF is a well-known British maker of loudspeakers, and the availability of its products is high—comparable to Bowers & Wilkins. While many would drool over the iconic MUON or the exclusive Blade, it is KEF's main-line speakers that most of us earthlings could realistically obtain. In this guide, we go over some simple facts that separate the three series that KEF has to offer, the REFERENCE, R, and Q Series.
Needless to say, price is usually a good indicator when different products come from the same manufacturer. KEF is kind enough to separate its three series considerably on this front: The large floorstanding REFERENCE 5 costs 15000 GBP per pair, the R11 costs less than a third at 4000 GBP, and the Q950 again less than half at 1430 GBP. The question, however, remains:
What separates these speakers?
Inside and outside, there are roughly four main areas that separate these three series:
Off the bat, the Q Series, being the cheapest of the three, is exclusively of 2-way (2.5-way) design. The other two series are 3-way speakers. That is, even on the floorstanding models (Q950, Q750, & Q550) the midrange and bass drivers are not discrete. This means that these entry-level floorstanders cannot deliver harmonic purity across the entire frequency range, and that towards lower frequencies this may be the most noticeable.
Moreover, while the Q Series floorstanders appear to have three bass drivers, they do not: Only the middle one of the three is an active driver (200mm on the Q950, 165mm on the Q750, and 130mm on the Q550) made of paper cone. The other two are in fact Auxiliary Bass Radiators (ABR). Hence, while KEF's marketing material claims them to be bass-reflex loudspeakers, there is not reflex port on these floorstanders (even though the bookshelf speakers are bass-reflex); the Q Series floorstanding speakers are indeed passive-radiator speakers.
On the one hand, passive-radiator speakers have some advantages over bass-reflex speakers (see Wikipedia for more details). On the other hand, combined with the 2(2.5)-way crossover these speakers may not sound as large as they appear.
All three ranges feature KEF's unique Uni-Q array: By placing the tweeter at the center of the midrange driver, the result is broader frequency range emanating from the same source. This design reduces the "sweet spot" effect and is a "trademark" of KEF.
On the Q Series bookshelf speakers (Q150 and Q350), the Uni-Q driver is moved to the middle of the cabinet, while a Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) port is place towards the top at the rear. This design reduces midrange leakage and improves clarity.
On the R Series, a redesigned motor system improves the midrange of the Uni-Q array, and the area between it and the tweeter has been re-imagined. The new structure eliminates resonances between the two drivers, resulting in higher clarity and more detailed treble than ever before.
A "Shadow Flare" design, which comprises carefully profiled transition surface that extends the waveguide effect of the Uni-Q. This sets the tweeter inside a "shadow" region. at the points where the potential of diffraction is high.
The REFERENCE Series feature a similar design, though with higher grade materials constructed in a more sophisticated manner. For example, the drivers feature neodymium magnet, and the front baffle is made of ultra-strong laminated aluminium / resin composite. The structure of the Uni-Q array is more complex.
When it comes to bass drivers, the REFERENCE Series feature a vented magnet assembly, a large aluminium wire voice coil, and an exceptionally light, stiff, and strong aluminium diaphragm. This sets it apart from the traditional paper cone design. In the R Series, the bass drivers each has a shallow concave aluminium skin sitting atop a paper cone. These innovative engineering elements reduce distortion and enhances details in lower frequencies.
The REFERENCE Series is hand-built in Maidstone, UK, while the R and Q Series are manufactured in China. The range of cabinet finishes on the REFERENCE Series are definitely more beautiful. For those who appreciate the HiFi system not only as a source of audio excellence but also as a decorative touch to their home, the difference is remarkable.
That, however, is not to say that the R Series does not complement contemporary homes well, even if a more luxurious look may be harder to obtain here.
What Are Their Applications?
The Q Series loudspeakers, though adequate, may be best suited for home theater applications. The floorstanders in this series are weaker in lower frequencies. This most likely will not cause a problem with a couple of subwoofers added, as is usually the case in home theaters. In this series, a Dolby Atmos speaker (Q50a) is also included, making 7.2 or 11.2 systems possible. Compare to those in the other two series, these loudspeakers are also easier to drive.
The R Series may be suitable for both home theater and audio-only applications, though the sweet spot maybe a dual-purpose system, where the main floorstanders can be used for audio and the entire system for movies. For small rooms, a couple of R Series 3-way bookshelf speakers (KEF R3) may be a great choice. There is also a Dolby Atmos speaker (R8a).
The REFERENCE Series is best for either audio-only or dual-purpose systems. Every unit in this series is beautifully-made and harmonically superior. The only reason not to choose them would be the cost: The large floorstanding REFERENCE R5 costs 15000 GBP per pair, and even the bookshelf REFERENCE 1 costs 6500 GBP.
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